Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2018

Jumping the Shark

The Saturday Night Massacre

“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”—Richard Nixon, 1977

President Nixon in the famous Nixon/Frost interview, 1977 On June 17, 1972, a group of men were caught breaking into Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC.  This was the beginning of the famous Watergate scandal, when President Richard Nixon hired agents to conduct espionage on the Democratic Party, hoping to give himself an extra advantage in the presidential election that year.  When the election took place that November, Nixon won in a landslide, carrying 49 states.  Only Washington, DC and Massachusetts voted for his Democratic rival, Senator George McGovern.  Needless to say, Nixon was probably being a little too cautious where his reëlection was concerned.



Word got out, and the people and Congress started to call for an investigation.  Facing growing pressure, President Nixon asked Attorney General Elliot Richardson to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate.  T…

Trick or Treat: A History.

Halloween is often seen as a children’s holiday, or a holiday that used to be just for children but has since turned into an adult masquerade festival, too.  This was never really true.  In fact, getting kids in on the fun is a pretty recent development.

The roots of Halloween are kind of scary.  They date back to pre-Christian Celtic Britain, known then as the festival of Samhain in Ireland, or Calan Gaeaf in other Celtic-speaking regions.  It took place in the middle of autumn, like it does today, as a way to mark the coming of winter.  The souls of the dead were said to walk the earth, and people would dress up as the dead in order to protect themselves from these souls.  Later, the Catholic Church made November 1 All Saints’ Day, a celebration of Christian saints, and made November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to remember the dead.  These days were a major holiday on the Christian calendar, so October 31 was celebrated as the vigil before the real praying of the holiday got underway.  T…

What are Marshmallows?

As a kid, I always imagined the marshmallow to be some kind of plant.  I remember being surprised to learn that that stuff in the rocky road ice cream, that I just dropped in my hot chocolate, that I’m roasting over the fire, was not actually from a plant.  Later on I was surprised again to learn that the marshmallow is indeed a plant, no matter what it is that we eat as a confection.
Althaea officinales, aka the marshmallow plant
The marshmallow is a nice looking green plant with white flowers, indigenous to the Mediterranean region.  The first people to use it for anything were the ancient Egyptians, who found it to make nice decorations, and who also mashed up its flowers, roots and leaves for herbal medicine.  It was used to deal with irritated mucous membranes and different kinds of ulcers.  There was also a kind of ancient confection that they Egyptians developed, made from the roots of the plants, that evolved into the common Middle Eastern confection called halva, as well as wha…

American Tomatoes are Legally Vegetables

An oft-repeated expression you hear in America goes, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is knowing not to put on in a fruit salad.”  This is true in America and many other countries: however a tomato might be classified scientifically, it’s treated as a vegetable in cuisine.  Since a tomato is developed in the ovary of the flower of the tomato plant, it’s technically a fruit.  Fruits contain the seeds of the plant, which is why apples and oranges are fruits, like cherries, blueberries and grapes, and even beans and some nuts.  Since more people tend to engage in cooking and not botany, referring to a tomato as a fruit will only upset the most dedicated pedant.

There was a time when few people (besides botanists) gave this matter much thought.  Due to its savory flavor, tomatoes were referred to throughout the United States as vegetables.  The tomato was native to Central America and northwestern South America, and following a long period of time when they were thou…