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The Bayou Hippopotamus

Few ecologists will disagree that there are often problems that stem from introducing a new species into an environment. If the species succeeds in breeding in that new environment, the results are not always immediate, but they’re certainly felt before too long. In 1910, the introduction of a new species was proposed for the Louisiana bayou which, had it been successful, would have been all too easy to notice, had it started breeding successfully. That species was the hippopotamus, a creature that is very hard to miss. Hippopotamus in hyacinth, Kenya In the early 20th century, with its population growing nationwide and immigrants flooding into the large cities of the East Coast, America saw the beginning of a meat crisis. Supply of beef out West was consistent, but demand was just growing too fast to keep up. Meat was getting expensive, and it looked like we’d soon run out of room to raise cattle on. Congressman Robert Broussard (D-LA) came up with a plan to take care of th
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Is It Ukraine or The Ukraine?

  If you were paying attention to international affairs before the year 1991, you might have noticed that the name of the former Soviet Socialist Republic of the Ukraine, often referred to as “the Ukraine,” started to be referred to simply as “Ukraine” since then.  The definite article the was dropped from the name at the time, just like it appeared on the map for Hasbro’s Risk board game.  But why did it go?  And why was it there in the first place?  For that matter, why are many media outlets referring to the nation’s capital as Kyiv recently instead of Kiev, which has been the English name for the city for centuries? Hasbro Risk board.  Ukraine is even bigger than the Kievan Rus’ ever was!  Note: no article. Let’s start with the name of the country.  For years in English, the place was referred to as The Ukraine , whether it was under Russian domination, Soviet domination, or independent.  This is not exactly a direct translation out of Ukrainian or Russian.  It can’t be, since

Would you vote for a man with a hole in his shoe?

  In 1952, following President Truman’s decision not to seek another term in office, there was an open seat for the presidency, and it was hotly contested.  The campaign of General Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican nominee, was doing well at defining the Democratic nominee, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II.  Stevenson came from a wealthy background and had the air of an intellectual—and he was one.  Eisenhower’s allies in politics and the press exploited this, since intellectuals rarely fare well in American politics.  They dubbed him “Egghead”, taking the positive of intellect and turning it into a negative, with the added benefit of making fun of the governor’s baldness.  Eisenhower himself didn’t have much hair, either, but somehow such superficial attacks didn’t stick to the popular general. On Labor Day, with two months to go in the presidential election, Stevenson had some unexpected luck.  While preparing for a speech in Flint, Michigan, photographer Bill Gallagher, who had

The Eroica: Beethoven's Falling Out with an Autocrat

It’s exciting when a revolutionary comes along and promotes all the right ideas.  It feels like there’s a real change coming in the world when this person comes along, speaks what feel like simple and self-evident truths, rushing in like a fresh wind.  The French Revolution was a revolution of ideas, coming in on the heels of the American Revolution, which had brought into the world a nation founded on the principles of self-government and fair representation for all.  One such nation was founded, and now another one—The Republic of France—was on the rise. It was a big deal to the French, of course, among those who supported and opposed the Revolution.  But the Revolution was welcomed by many people in other countries, as well.  One admirer of the French Revolution was the German composer Ludwig von Beethoven, whose career was starting to take off at the time.  Beethoven himself had recently gotten over some major humps in his personal life, as well.  He was just starting to lose his h

Squonk

Old Pennsylvania legend, it is written, tells of a creature called the squonk (lacrimacorpens dissolvens) .  The squonk lives in the woods and is very hard to track down, though its cries are often heard, especially around twilight, when it’s said to wander about the hemlock trees.  It is elusive, and it wants to be.  The reason for this is that the squonk is one of the homeliest creatures in the world and it knows it.  Its skin is ill-fitting, covered with warts and moles.  It doesn’t like being so ugly, so its cries and tears are said to be caused by its weeping over its lot in life. Skilled hunters, it is said, can track the squonk by following the trails of tears it leaves.  Even so, the squonk is very hard to catch.  In fact, only one squonk is said ever to have been caught.  This feat was accomplished by a hunter called J. P. Wentling, who lived near Mont Alto, Pennsylvania.  He caught the creature by mimicking it and luring it into a sack.  His success is attributed to the fact

Why "Red" and "Blue" States?

  Often you’ll hear pundits or even journalists refer to “red states” and “blue states”.  This is used as shorthand for “conservative states” and “liberal states”, respectively, or “reliably Republican states in presidential elections” and “reliably Democratic states in presidential elections”.  You’ll sometimes hear someone say they could never live in a red state, or in a blue state.  This might give you the impression that these terms have been around forever.  Actually, this standard is only about twenty years old—or it will be twenty years old this November. Color-coded maps showing the outcomes of presidential elections are nothing new.  They’re more common in recent years, simply because color printing isn’t as expensive as it used to be, but you can find such maps pretty far back in the 19th century.  Red and blue are popular colors to use to mark which candidate won which states for the simple reason that those are the two dominant colors on the American flag.  Which color rep

Kilroy Was Here

As American troops made their way across Europe and the Pacific on their way to defeating the Axis, they were joined by someone else who seemed to follow them everywhere: Kilroy.  No one is exactly sure who Kilroy is, but there are pictures, and plenty of them—all of them cartoons.  Kilroy was a cartoon of either a bald or a balding man peering over a wall or a fence.  You can see his fingers on the wall, and his cartoonishly large nose stretches even farther than his fingers.  Invariably scrawled beneath this drawing came the legend “Kilroy was here.” Kilroy was a meme that predates the internet, and even the very existence of the word meme .  It was easy to spread around, since anyone could copy the simple phrase, and you didn’t need especially strong art skills to copy the cartoon.  For much of the mid-20th century, Kilroy seemed to be everywhere. Kilroy was in the Vietnam War (left), and earlier in Europe during World War II (right). Kilroy was all over the place