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The Turkey: America's National Bird?

Left to right: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin: for the birds--or were they?

In the 1969 musical1776there is a passionate discussion about what America’s national symbol should be.  Three of the delegates to the Continental Congress--Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams--argue with each other to support their favorite candidates.  Before breaking out in song, you hear Jefferson advocating that the dove, the bird of peace, represent the new nation.  John Adams advocates the majestic eagle.  Benjamin Franklin pushes for the intelligent, indigenous turkey.  If you’ll pardon the spoiler: John Adams wins the argument.
The song “The Egg” from1776
It’s a charming song, and an amusing scene, but I’m afraid it was just a myth.  What the song refers to is an actual committee that the three men were on that was tasked to come up with a design for the Great Seal of the United States.  It’s true that each man had his own idea what that seal should look like, but none of…

Why there were only four Englishwomen at the first Thanksgiving

At the first Thanksgiving, in November 1621, there were only four European women in attendance.  It’s not that more weren’t invited.It’s just that there were only four European women around.All the others died. -->
The Mayflower during its Atlantic crossing, fall 1620 (photo not available).
The Pilgrims’ first winter at Plymouth was harsh, and they weren’t ready for it.  Only five of the women in the group lived to see the spring.Most of the men survived, and 22 of the thirty of the children survived, too.  The Mayflower landed on November 16, 1620, right when winter was starting.  The Pilgrims figured it wouldn’t matter so much since they had traveled to a place well south of England, so the winter would probably be milder.  London is as far north as the city of Calgary, but its winters aren’t as cold as Calgary’s because the Gulf Stream current sends warm water and warm air, providing a much gentler climate for it and for western Europe.  This was not understood yet, but they learn…

Amikejo: The Esperanto-Speaking Country

After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, the victorious nations in the conflict got to redraw the map of Europe.  The Netherlands were set up as an independent country for the first time, which was welcome news in the eyes of Great Britain, who saw the new country as a kind of buffer state between France and Prussia.  The thinking was that that would help when the next war on continental Europe started, which the United Kingdom figured would come along sooner or later.
After the new nation was designed, there was some territory to the south that was disputed.  It was a small region between the Netherlands and Prussia (now Germany) called Neutral Moresnet.  It was about 1.35 square miles in area and shaped like a long, skinny pizza slice, pointing north.  Neutral Moresnet was divided into Prussian and Dutch zones.  It became particularly desirable after a zinc mine was discovered in the area in 1850, which was coveted by both countries.  When Belgium broke away from the Netherlan…

Duck and Cover

In August 1945, the first (and still only) use of nuclear weapons occurred in Japan, when the United States’ Army Air Corps dropped one atomic bomb each on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Within a week, the Empire of Japan had surrendered, guns fell silent in the Pacific Theater, and peace broke out all over the whole world forever.  Well, maybe not forever, but the United States did stand astride the world like a colossus.  It was a large, resource-rich, industrialized nation, and it had seen remarkably little destruction on its home soil.  While cities in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan and China had seen millions of civilians killed and much infrastructure demolished by bombs, the only significant attack was on the unindustrialized American island of Oahu, in Hawaii, where a good portion of its Pacific Fleet had been stationed when the Japanese attacked it in 1941.  But now, besides enjoying a healthy industrial base and being free of the burden of rebuild…