Saturday, October 21, 2017

Enrique de Malacca

As children, we learned in school that Christopher Columbus proved the world was round and that Ferdinand Magellan was the first to circumnavigate the world.  It probably won’t surprise you when I say that both statements are incorrect.

Columbus is back in the news:  The old sailor would be astonished to read some of the stories about him in today's newspapers.  The debate seems to boil down to just two camps:  Either the old sailor was a monster who was responsible for the murder and enslavement of millions of natives or he was a great navigator and explorer.  The truth, of course, is that he was neither.

Columbus did commit grievous crimes against the Amerindians, who had also committed their share of murders and thefts against the Spanish explorers.  Viewed through the lens of his own time, Columbus was better than average when compared with the rest of the Spanish conquistadors, but that is admittedly a low bar.

But what about the horrible diseases he is accused of bringing to the New World?

It is true that the natives of the New World had no immunities to the diseases of the Old World and it has been estimated that 90% of the estimated 100 million Amerindians living in North and South America died of diseases introduced unwittingly by the Spanish.  A lot of the protests against Columbus center around this, but people tend to forget that pretty much the same thing had already happened in Europe.

The plague, for example, is very much a disease of trade.  The disease could not travel across Asia, as the infected, flea-ridden rats died long before they could reach a settlement where local rats could be infected.  However, as soon as the faster-moving trade ships reached Europe from the far East,  the Black Rats ran down the hawser ropes, and the Black Death burned its way across Europe, killing approximately 75-100 million people during the 14th century alone.  

Farther away from the sea, the plague did not reach the cities until the camel caravans grew large enough that the strategically-located caravansaries provided periodic breeding locations for colonies of rats and fleas, enabling the disease to spread to the interior.

Wherever commerce goes, disease always follows.  Columbus may have initiated trade to the new world, but he was no more responsible for the inevitable result than Marco Polo was for the plagues devastating Europe.

If you want to find fault with Columbus, let's talk about his appalling math skills.  Despite the commonly believed myths (most of which were spread by an outrageously inaccurate biography written by Washington Irving—the same liar who had George Washington chopping down cherry trees and flinging dollars across rivers.), no educated person believed that the world was flat in the 15th century.  As early as the second century BC, Eratosthenes had even accurately calculated the girth of the planet within one degree.  Columbus—and everyone else—knew that you could reach China by sailing west from Europe.  The difference was that while nearly everyone knew it was too far to reach with the primitive sailing ships of the time, Columbus had convinced himself his destination was only three thousand miles away—within the range of Spanish caravels.

Part of Columbus’ problem was that he did not know that Arabic miles are half again as long as Roman miles.  By mixing together the two distances, the explorer managed to move—at least in his own mind—the location of Japan about 8000 miles eastward.  If he had not been lucky enough to stumble across a couple of continents located exactly where he believed he would find China, without a doubt his exhausted crew would have starved to death long before they sighted land.

Nor was is  the only error committed by Columbus.  According to his calculations, the approximate location of Cuba is roughly where Boston is situated. In January 1493, he carefully recorded in his log the sighting of mermaids, which he described as "not half as beautiful as they are painted".  He had actually sighted manatees, but I'll forgive him that mistake since by that time he had been at sea for over six months.  

None of the above is likely to settle the current arguments about Columbus, but I have a possible solution--let's start celebrating a different explorer, one whose accomplishments are above reproach, but who is fashionably politically correct. I give you, Enrique de Malacca, sometimes called Henry the Black.

In 1511, Portugal was desperately trying to seize control of the Spice Islands, the source of fabulous wealth for maritime traders.  Most people have forgotten that when Columbus sailed west from Spain, that he was in search of a faster and safer route to the Spice Islands. At the end of the 15th century, if a sailor could return to Europe with a couple of bushels of nutmeg, mace, and cloves, he could comfortably retire from a life at sea.  While Columbus and Spain explored westward, Portugal sought to control the eastward passage to the Spice Islands--actually the Malaysian Archipelago--by seizing control of Malacca, situated to control access to the Malaccan Straits.

One of those who participated in this raid was Ferdinand Magellan, who during the battle, captured a young man, whose name originally probably had been Panglima Awang.   Finding him unusually intelligent and possessing a gift with languages, Magellan made the young man his personal slave, christened him Enrique, and took him back to Europe.  Long before he arrived, Enrique had learned to speak Portuguese.

The young slave's knowledge of the Spice Islands and his ability to act as a translator made him an invaluable aide to Magellan during planning the expedition to circumnavigate the world.  There is evidence that Magellan took Enrique to meet King Manuel I when he unsuccessfully sought royal patronage for the expedition to find a route to the Spice Islands by sailing west.

When the Portuguese king refused to fund such an expedition--just as he had refused to fund Columbus' trip--Magellan turned to the Spanish court, where King Charles I agreed to finance the expedition.  

In 1519, five ships left Spain,crossed the Atlantic, and sailed down the coast of South America.  After a trying voyage of eighteen months, Magellan finally reached the Philippines, where he was promptly killed by unappreciative natives, so he obviously did not sail all the way around the world.  But...remember Enrique?

Enrique, a slave, had come from the Philippines and had been taken by force to Europe, where he eventually joined the Magellan expedition, which then took him west, back to the Philippines—making him the first person in human history to circumnavigate the globe.  

And absolutely nothing is named for him.

Sadly, our hitherto unknown explorer fairly quickly vanished from the written record.  Magellan had promised Enrique manumission in case of his own death, and the surviving copy of his will confirms this.  However, when Magellan died, the other sea captains refused to honor Magellan’s wishes because Enrique was just too valuable as a translator.

Enrique, furious at not being freed, waited four days before deserting the ships, and disappearing among the multitude of Philippines islands.  No further records of one of history’s great explorers exist.

So, I offer this suggestion:  Let us stop celebrating Columbus or Magellan, and, instead, honor the humble, forgotten slave, who was, in fact, the first man to travel around the world.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Puerto Rico, Waiting in Heavy Harness

Puerto Rico is back in the news, an event that happens so rarely that most Americans forget that it is out there, much less that it is part of the United States.   And forgetting about Puerto Rico is something America has been doing for well over a century.  

While most Americans know that the US acquired the island after the Spanish-American War, very few can tell you why we got the island.  In large part, it was a minor by-product of our desire to annex Cuba.  And you are probably asking, “How did Cuba get into this?”

The Spanish-American War started over American concern about the incredibly harsh treatment by the Spanish towards the Cuban people.  The fact that American businesses had invested heavily in Cuban sugar plantations that were losing money because of the protracted revolution, the desire by some expansionist Americans to acquire additional territory, or even the many businessmen who lusted after a new market were all secondary reasons...At least in theory.

Few Americans remember that Puerto Rico had already been given semi-independence by the Spanish before the war started.  Nevertheless, U.S. Naval ships bombarded San Juan Harbor and American troops invaded the island.  After weeks of maneuvering with few casualties on either side, Spain surrendered the island, which along with Guam and the Philippine Islands was eventually ceded to the U.S. as territories in the Treaty of Paris. 

NOTE.  There are at least nine Battles of San Juan.  Two of them are naval battles in which old Spanish forts were destroyed by American naval gunfire during the Spanish-American War.  These battles should not be confused with the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba or the Battle of the San Juan River in Nicaragua, the fight in Peru, or any of the battles in Puerto Rico during the XVI, XVII, or XVIII Centuries.  Latin American countries possessing territory named after Saint John are strongly advised to change those names.

The island of Puerto Rico is 108 miles long, about 40 miles wide, and at the end of the war held more than a million people.  Despite its size and population, it was never even considered for possible statehood.  While hopes of annexation of Cuba would remain for several years, it was not seriously considered for Puerto Rico.

The great Cuban poet José Martí once wrote:  "Once the United States is in Cuba, who will get it out?”  Martí wasn’t so much worried about the U.S. taking Cuba as he was that it would just never leave.  It turned out the same was true for Puerto Rico.  In spite of a strong desire of the Puerto Rican people to have independence, the U.S. has simply kept them—for the good of the Puerto Ricans.

Simply put, the US did not believe the backward peoples of these newly-acquired territories were capable of self-government, of self-rule, or of handling their own lands.  They would have to be ruled—much as Great Britain was ruling India and France was ruling Viet Nam—until the local "savages" were capable of handling their own affairs.  Don’t take my word for it, here are quotes from the policy-makers of the day:

A New York Journalist wrote: "If we are to save Cuba we must hold it.  If we leave it to the Cubans, we give it over to a reign of terror--to the machete and the torch, to insurrection and assassination."

Admiral William T. Sampson agreed: "Cubans have no idea of self-government--and it will take a long time to teach them."

As did General Shafter: "Why those people are no more fit for self government than gunpowder is for hell."

Major Alexander Brodie: "The Cubans are utterly irresponsible, partly savage, and have no idea of what good government mean."

Major George M. Barbour: "The Cubans are stupid, given to lying and doing all things in the wrong way.  Under our supervision, and with firm and honest care for the future, the people of Cuba may become a useful race and a credit to the world; but to attempt to set them afloat as a nation, during their generation, would be a great mistake."

Governor-General John Brooke: "These people cannot now, or I believe in the immediate future, be entrusted with their own government."

Cuba would eventually be granted a limited self-rule, one where less than 5% of the population was allowed to vote in the first elections.  In Havana, the United States set up an extremely paternalistic form of limited government that was permanently equipped with training wheels and American-mandated safeguards.  U.S. micromanagement practically guaranteed bad government, eventually leading to the first military revolution in 1933.

Puerto Rico and Guam were not so lucky.  They were simply territories with appointed governors for over fifty years.  In the beginning, their people were denied American citizenship--a restriction that ended in 1917, just in time for 20,000 Puerto Rican males to be conscripted into the Army for WWI.  While the US government denied there was any connection between the two events, citizenship was granted after the US Army claimed that Anglo soldiers lacked immunity to tropical diseases and would thus be unable to defend the Panama Canal, where most of the Puerto Rican soldiers were sent.

Several lawsuits concerning these matters prompted the Supreme Court's incredibly bigoted ruling in 1901, in the Insular Cases.  In the Court's opinion, the peoples of these newly-acquired islands--being of both racial and ethnic minorities--would not “understand Anglo-Saxon principles” and as “alien races differing from us in culture and modes of thought” would be incapable of self-government.  It would be half a century before the Puerto Ricans would be allowed to vote for their own governor and almost as long before a Puerto Rican was appointed governor by the President.

NOTE.  The bigoted Supreme Court justice, Henry Billings Brown, who wrote that crap is the same racist jackass who coined the phrase “separate but equal” in the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case.  In a 'supreme' case of irony, the home he built in Washington D.C. now houses the embassy for the Republic of Congo.

The Insular Cases specifically noted that these reservations on citizenship should be short-lived as Congress should be working to provide solutions.  After more than a century, Congress is still working on it.  During this time, we have fought two world wars, given women the vote, flown to the moon, and put something claiming to be cheese in a can, but we still haven’t quite solved this problem.  According to the US Census, there is not one single person in America still alive from when we started working on that problem.  Lest you think all of this is old news, the Obama Administration successfully used the Insular Cases in court arguments in 2015 to deny Puerto Ricans voting rights.

People born or living in Guam, the Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico are "citizens".  They can move to any of the fifty states, but until they do, they cannot vote for a president, a senator, or a real congressman.  They have a "representative" in Congress, but he does not get to vote--he only has the right to speak in the House.  At the time of the Spanish-American War, the people of Puerto Rico had legitimate representatives in the Spanish Legislature, so they have actually lost rights since the war.

That bears repeating:  Puerto Rico has a larger population than twenty-one of the existing fifty states, but cannot vote in national elections.  Puerto Rico has a larger population than every other territory that joined the United States, but has virtually no chance of becoming a state.

You might be interested to know that, as an American citizen, you can vote in presidential elections while you are in Mexico, England, or any other foreign country, with the assistance of the local American embassy.  Sailors vote while serving at sea on American naval vessels.  Astronauts have voted from the International Space Station.  As a citizen, you lose that right while visiting Puerto Rico or Guam, where no American citizen—regardless of origin—may vote in presidential elections. 

The Treaty of Paris—which ended the Spanish American War and formally gave Puerto Rico to the United States—was ratified February 6, 1899.  That same month Rudyard Kipling published The White Man’s Burden:

Take up the White Man's burden-
Send for the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captive's need;
to wait in heavy harness
On fluttered fold and wild--
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

Kipling specifically wrote this in response to America's new imperial responsibilities to the peoples living on their newly conquered islands.  I have a question for you—Was Kipling serious or is this grand satire?

Are you sure?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Midnight in the Oasis or Why Can't My Toyota Get Pregnant?

Currently the stock market is having a bull market, meaning that stocks are overall rising in price while the market generally has confidence that business conditions will remain favorable.  If stocks were mostly declining in price, we would call this a bear market. 

No one knows the precise origin of these terms, but there are a couple of good theories.  The most commonly quoted origin has to do with the differing ways the two animals attack.  Bulls spread their feet, lower their heads, then charge while thrusting their horns upward.  Bears, however, attack with powerful downward blows of their front paws. 

On the other hand, my favorite explanation goes back to the late seventeenth century and the start of the London Stock Exchange, which was originally just a bulletin board in a coffee house on which prospective businesses would advertise for investors.  When the business climate was good, there were lots of bulletins, or “bulls”—as opposed to times when conditions were less favorable, so that the board would be “bare”. 

That’s a cute story, and while I like it, I also doubt it.  It's not really important:  never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  Four hundred years from now, the recent presidential campaign will probably be regarded by historians as an urban legend while the movie Titanic will be considered a documentary. 

In any case, the wrong animal is being used to symbolize a good economic market:  it should be called, "a camel market".  After all, international trade was literally started on the back of a camel. 

Interestingly, the world’s camels all originally evolved in North America, which is now totally devoid of any wild camels.  While humans were migrating eastward over the Bering Land Bridge to North America in search of large game, some of that large game was migrating westward across the same bridge to Asia.  As the population of people expanded in North America (reaching roughly 100 million by the time of Columbus), horses and camels vanished completely from the new world.  While no one can prove it, they may well have not just emigrated to Asia but may have been hunted to extinction here by the new two-legged immigrants from Asia and their descendants, too.

It is strange to think of camels as "American", but in reality, they are more American than apple pie.  Apples originated in Central Asia (you know, where camels are still used).  That is just as well, since "American as camel pie" conjures up the wrong image.

In the Old World, the camel’s future was still in doubt.  The camel is slow and an easy target for all sorts of predators. While there are herds of feral (escaped domesticated) camels almost everywhere—half a million in Australia, alone—wild camels can only be found in the Gobi Desert.  After the brief experiment with camels in the American Southwest in 1859, feral camels were still periodically sighted there as late as World War II.

Camels would probably have become extinct had it not been for the camel’s ability to give milk.  That’s right!—Long before people rode camels, they raised them for milk, wool, and meat.  Camel milk is so rich that you can live on it for a month without any other form of sustenance and in Somalia, camels are still far more likely to be eaten than ridden.

Somewhere about six thousand years ago, people began milking camels and probably didn’t start riding them or using them to carry cargo until about 3,500 years ago. 

At this point, the camel assumed a new role—in international trade.  The Silk Road was the trade route that connected the Mediterranean to the Far East.  It was the trade route for goods from China, Korea, and Japan, passing through Central Asia (picking up those apples), then coming through India and the Middle East to the Greeks and Romans.  It was how the fortunes that could be made with land trade stimulated ocean travel and eventually led to the discovery of the New World.

Without the camel, it is doubtful that trade along the Silk Road would have developed as it did.  The distances were great, water holes and oases were few and remote, and the route was frequently too rough for horses and mules.  While everyone knows of the camel's ability to go days—even more than a week in an emergency—without water, few realize the true logistic efficiency of the camel.

One camel could carry 500 pounds of freight, and a single camel herder could easily handle eight to ten camels in a caravan, moving as much as two tons of cargo up to sixty miles a day.  Caravans crossing Asia frequently had as many as 500 camels.  The profits this trade brought prompted people along the route to construct caravanserais for the travelers.  If you are unfamiliar with the word, think "motel" but usually constructed with an inner courtyard for the protection of the camels. ("I'm Aladdin for Cameltel 6, and we'll leave the lamp on for you.”)

If you are like me, you can read all that and it sounds great….But, what does it mean?  I’m just a poor dumb ol’ country boy, and if I’m going to understand what I’m reading about the Silk Road, I need to put this in perspective.  I need numbers I can understand.

Historians who study logistics have a method of studying the relative efficiency of various forms of transport.  Saying that a camel could carry more freight than a horse doesn’t really tell you much, since you could always add more horses to your supply train.  A better method is to tell you how many miles a ton of material could be carried with a ton of fuel.  This is known as ton-miles per ton-fuel.  (Don’t worry, I’ll do the math for you.)

For a reference point, let us compare camels to wagons and steam-powered railroads at roughly the time of the American Civil War.  I‘m arbitrarily picking that date, since we are all at least a little familiar with the kind of wagons and trains used during that period.  Let’s compare those methods of travel to camels (AKA "ships of the desert").

A team of six mules drawing a wagon carrying 1.5 tons of supplies could travel approximately 333 miles on one ton of food, but since the mules aren’t traveling through Virginia, they will need to carry a lot of water with them.  Working mules need eight gallons of water a day, so the mules pulling that wagon will consume a quarter of a ton of water every two days.  After we do the math, that mule-drawn wagon has an efficiency of 180 ton-miles per ton-fuel—only 56 per mule.  In contrast, a Civil War-era freight locomotive could travel only thirty-five miles or so on a ton of fuel, but its payload could be as high as 150 tons, yielding 5,250 ton-miles per ton of fuel consumed. (Steamboats, incidentally, did even better.)

Okay, now, let’s look at camels:  A camel needs more forage a day than a mule, but can go days without water.  Accordingly, a camel can travel about two months on a ton of food, but can only carry about 500 pounds.  After we do the math, the camel gets an impressive 430 ton-miles per ton fuel!  A single camel is more efficient than two wagons and a dozen mules.  That means a dozen camels is as efficient as a steam-powered train. 

Let us look at this another way.  Just for fun, let us take the example of my Toyota Pickup.  I can carry 1000 pounds and get 15 miles per gallon.  Gasoline weighs 7 pounds a gallon, so a ton of gasoline is about 286 gallons and will allow my truck to go about 4290 miles carrying half a ton of cargo.  This yields a ton-miles per ton of fuel ratio of about 2143.  This makes my truck only as efficient as 5 camels.  No wonder they are still using camels in the desert.  (On the bright side, my Toyota is about as efficient as 12 wagons and 72 mules, which explains why  no one is seriously using mules anymore.) 

One last point in favor of the camel.  While my truck has a radio, it cannot be milked or eaten in an emergency.  Nor is it capable of reproducing itself no matter how many times I let it play with other pickups.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Playing B-Ball in Honduras

So, there is currently another scandal in college basketball consisting of multiple indictments for multiple coaches at multiple universities for multiple crimes.  The NCAA has once again been shown to be about as effective an organization as the French Army.

Semi-professional athletics is a tremendous problem for campuses and it desperately needs to be changed—but not because of these recurring recruiting scandals.  People who think that is the biggest problem are missing the point. 

I’m not going to discuss in detail the cost of these programs—either you understand there is no Santa Claus, or you will never believe the truth.  An amazing number of people believe that these programs make money, or that the “profits” from football and basketball “pay for" the other sports.  Nonsense.  There are fewer than a dozen universities across the nation where the athletic departments break even. 

If you doubt this, do a little math.  How many seats are in your local football stadium?  What’s the average ticket cost?  How many home games are there?  Then, calculate the maximum income.  At Enema U, my alma mater, the football program would lose money even if every seat held three people.  Then, for fun, check and see who is the highest paid state employee where you live.  In thirty-nine out of fifty states, it is either a football or a basketball coach.  Remember that the next time you visit a state health care facility—your state did not hire the best doctor it could afford, but it got the best football or basketball coach your tax dollars could buy.

The recent indictments once again prove that the universities are very good at hiding the true costs of their athletic programs, but even the data they do release shows that athletic departments lose millions per year.

Beyond the financial costs of college sports, think about the way they abuse the "student-athletes" who participate in the programs.  If you recruit minority inner-city children to come to a university strictly for your entertainment—students who are otherwise neither prepared nor qualified to attend a university—then you toss them away when they either flunk out or become too injured to play, you are engaging in a new and particularly cruel form of slavery, which is! at best, immoral.

And colleges frequently recruit athletes who have absolutely no chance of completing a university-level education.  I have had "student-athletes" in my classroom who could not read.  I’m not talking about reading at grade level, I’m talking about students who could not read a Dr. Seuss book.  I have had "student-athletes" who could not even speak English and couldn’t read in their native languages.  I had a basketball student who flunked a beginning language course in his native language because he could not complete the written assignments.

I can almost hear the objections.  “Wait, but doesn’t that student benefit from being exposed to education?”

Ignoring the negative effect this student has on the rest of a class, education is not a disease that you catch after being exposed to it—it is something you can only achieve after hard work.  Nor are universities set up to be elementary schools.  The benefit of college for such an unprepared athlete is negligible.

Imagine finding the brightest possible young student from among the natives of New Guinea or the Amazon jungle.  Take a young man with a genius-level IQ but no formal education and then drop him in the middle of the most scientifically advanced place imaginable—the control room of a nuclear power plant or the research centers at NASA.  After four years, what do you think the student will have learned?  He may have learned that a nuclear trefoil means danger and he will certainly have learned where the cafeteria is located, but no matter how long he walks the halls, he will not become an engineer—he lacks the necessary educational foundation and is not in a place where he can acquire it.

College athletics is the antithesis of the message our education system tries desperately to give students.  From the first years in school, we tell students that if they study and work hard, their education will reward them in later life.  Then, we show them exactly the opposite is true.  Year after year, it is the student athlete, not the scholar, who is held up at school functions as the school hero.  Chances are better than even that either his middle school or high school will have a former coach as the principal. 

Years ago, I remember visiting my son’s high school.  In the entrance lobby were larger than life photos of students under a banner, “Our Honored Students.”  The photos were all of student athletes.  When I asked the principal—a former football coach—where the photo of the student with the highest SAT score was located, he told me the photos were there to build school spirit, which evidently had nothing to do with academic excellence.

University students get the same contradictory message.  Despite being NCAA violations, student athletes usually have special dorm rooms and eat in private cafeterias with special food (and special condiments).  They have special “tutors”, who do much of their assignments (especially if the athletes are enrolled in online courses).  Athletes who flunk out of course miraculously raise their grade point averages with intensive short duration online coursework.  I asked one student athlete about such a course he had taken over the Christmas break, and he could not remember the subject of the course he had supposedly completed two weeks earlier. 

The rest of the students see this and know exactly what is going on: the "student athletes" are more highly valued than regular students.  Obviously, the message this sends to students is nowhere near the supposed mission statement of the university.

Years ago, while doing research in Tegucigalpa, I was surprised to run across several former student athletes from Enema U.  In fact, there were over a dozen former basketball players living in a large communal dormitory. 

“What are you guys doing in Honduras?” I asked one of the students.

“Playing B-Ball” he answered.

It turned out that after they left the university—most of them without any degree despite four years of an all-expenses-paid education—they had not been picked up by any professional sports teams.  Instead, they were playing semi-pro ball in Central America for $400 a month, plus room and board.  (These particular ex-students were playing for the local Toyota dealership). 

Isn’t it about time we start telling student athletes the truth about their college majors?  Using data from the NCAA, less than 1% of high school basketball players go onto play college  basketball at the NCAA level.  Of those, only 1.1% go on to play pro ball for the NBA, where the average career is less than five years. 

Universities should give us the real data, too.  They should tell us where the student athletes of twenty years are today?  After they left the university, how many found work in their majors?  How many went on to have careers in sports?  How many of them developed health problems related to their years in sports?

As taxpayers, we paid for this, so we deserve the answers.  As human beings who have been promised a better future, the student-athletes surely deserve better, too.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bang on a Horse

This week, the blog practically wrote itself.  Two things happened today that have me fixated on thinking about books.  (One glimpse of the inside of my house would convince you of the timeliness of the topic.)

First, I wrote a letter to the author of a book I had just finished reading, something that I rarely do.  Titan Tales, by Major John Womack, is an autobiography spanning the two years he spent as one of the commanders of a Titan II missile silo in Arkansas.  While I originally bought the book in preparation for an upcoming tour of the last surviving Titan missile silo, located outside of Tucson, I quickly discovered that the author and I have so much in common that I felt compelled to write him.

Womack wrote about living in a small southern town in the early sixties—something I could relate to.  He was a navigator on the B-58 Hustler, a plane I could remember flying so low over my schoolyard that we could catch a faint whiff of kerosene.  After he retired from the Air Force, Womack taught college, retired from that, and writes an interesting blog.  As I said, we have a lot in common.

Compared to the rest of the books mentioned here, Womack's book was a real pleasure to read.

The second event was one of those anonymous posts on Facebook that are so strangely compelling, labeled, "The 100 hardest to read books of all time".  Of course, the list is composed so that the reader will be pleased to discover that he has read quite a few, so that he can proudly share that information. 

A few of the books on the list were indeed difficult to slog through, such as 100 Years of Solitude.  Evidently, no one really likes that book.  I know this for a fact since I used to assign it to students to read, every one of whom complained bitterly.  I recently found my copy, leafed through it, and for the life of me cannot remember why I once liked the book.  Yes, it is a great example of magical realism.  No, I can’t really remember why that was important.  I apologize to my former students.

Both incidents, as I said, got me to thinking about books—Specifically, books I had not enjoyed reading.

Forty years ago, I worked for Bantam Books, where I was overpaid to do an easy job.  Mostly, I drove around Texas and talked to the owners of bookstores about books we were publishing.  A minor part of my job was to read books and guesstimate how they would appeal to the readers in my state.  By now, the statute of limitations has worn off and I can probably get away with using names and book titles. 

One of the bestselling authors the company represented was Barbara Cartland, who churned out a never ending series of Victorian bodice rippers, each one ending with a passionate—but chastely demure—kiss.  The company published a couple of her books a month, each so concretely formulaic that I suspect the company kept a database of locations and character names to keep from publishing the same book twice by accident.  Not that it would really matter, as I suspect the average reader of such drivel could have cycled endlessly through about a dozen volumes without ever noticing the repetition. 

Keeping track of her publications was quite a job, since Cartland had set two world records.  Not only had she published the most books in a single year, she held the record for the most published books in a lifetime.  As a matter of fact, even though she passed away in 2000, she left behind so many unused manuscripts that she is still publishing a dozen books a year.   She currently has sold over two billion copies of some 750 odd volumes.  The Forest Service should name her Public Enemy Number 1 for the sheer number of trees she has needlessly murdered.

Bantam wanted me to read a few of them, so I'd be familiar with her work, although I have no idea why.  Even though every bookstore sold them, not once did any store manager ask a single question about her.  I suspect that the average store owner was just about as embarrassed about selling her books as I was. 

I really tried to read one of her books and. I think I managed to read the first two or three pages and the very last page of about a dozen of them.  It was actually kind of difficult to tell the volumes apart, since not only were the contents nearly identical, but every volume featured an oil painting by the same artist, Frances Marshall, on its cover. 

Bantam encouraged us to write a single page book review for every book we read.  Since I was in marketing, they were more interested in how I thought the book would sell rather than my views on the literary efforts of the author.  For Barbara Cartland, I turned in a one-page undated letter of resignation.  In a separate note, I informed my boss that if he absolutely had to have me review the book, he could just fill in the date on my letter.  He never replied.

There was another book that I also really tried to read, but found it absolutely impossible to finish.  Watership Down by Richard Adams was (lucky for me) not published by Bantam, but one of the editors was curious as to whether I thought the book would sell in Texas.  I must have started reading that book a dozen times and never made it past about page fifty.  I literally could not read it on a salary.

If you are not familiar with the book—and I sincerely hope not— it deals with a group of clairvoyant rabbits living in Southern England.  (Even Barbara Cartland kept to people.)  It was all hop, hop, fluffy, love, bunny, hop…and then I would fall asleep.  I was terribly tempted to shoot the book, then mail it back to the editor, but I was afraid he might use that Cartland letter.  Instead, I just told him the book would sell a lot better back east than in the Southwest...Which it did.

And then there were the Louis L’Amour books.  Don’t get me wrong—these were good stories.  The problem was that I told the publishers that I could read them in a couple of weeks—a promise that they promptly held me to.  When I foolishly opened my mouth, I had believed there were a couple of dozen such books, of which I had already read about half.  I was wrong.  I spent the next month reading FORTY-EIGHT Westerns.  In a row.  That is more than one a day, seven days a week.  I think reading that many westerns that fast can raise your cholesterol.

If you look up Louis L’Amour in the Wikipedia, it will tell you that the author wrote both Westerns and historical fiction.  I heard L'Amour talk about that once and, according to him, if a story took place east of the Mississippi, it was called historical fiction, but if the story was set west of the river, it was a Western. 

Whether they are Westerns or historical fiction, I can tell you that if you read enough of them—all at once—they blur together into Bang On a Horse! 

Which, as I think back on it, is still a much better story than a clairvoyant bunny.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Easter Bunny, Too.

A few months ago, the world lost one of the Good Ones—a great professor, often referred to as Professor Grumbles in my blog, passed away.  A professor of German, he was at various times a colleague, my department head, and a mentor—but always a friend.  According to Facebook, I have hundreds of friends, but in reality, in my life I have had maybe a dozen friends like Grumbles.  I know I've written about him earlier this summer, but I haven't gotten over missing him.

To say that Grumbles was not very fond of businessmen would be an understatement.  I used to tease him that he thought that the old Frank Capra movie—It's A Wonderful Life, with Jimmy Stuart—was a documentary.  At times, I think he actually believed that all bankers were exactly like Mr. Potter.

I am politically more conservative than Grumbles was, and as a businessman who went into education, I had a lot of real world experience that he never had.  This led us to frequent and protracted discussions about all things financial, especially while he was my department head.

A lot of our discussions were about the minimum wage.  Grumbles didn’t understand why businesses just didn’t go out and hire a whole bunch of unemployed people “to fix the economy”.  His wife ran a small art gallery and when I asked him why she didn’t hire an extra dozen people, he always replied, “Well, that’s different.  She can’t afford it.”

He never really understood that the same reasoning applied to Exxon as it did to his wife’s gallery.  He was a perfect example of what the anthropologists used to refer to as the “One, Two, Many Theory”.  Cultures develop words for one and two before they learn to count, and for anything more than two, they use a word that translates out to many.  The Australian Walpiri or the Amazon Piraha tribes would be examples. 

Grumbles could understand the economics of running a business with one or two employees, but when it came to a company with many employees, he switched to magical thinking.  Unfortunately, he eventually got an unavoidable reality lesson.

While Grumbles was the Department Head of Languages, the state raised the minimum wage.  The state—or at least the fat, bloated plutocrats who made up the Enema U administration—did not, however, increase the departmental budget.   During the next departmental staff meeting, I pointed this out to Grumbles and reminded him that this meant we would have to reduce the number of work-study students employed by the department. 

“Why?”  he asked.

“We can’t afford them all,” I answered.  “The budget is too tight already.”

“Who will do the work?” he asked.  He clearly did not believe what I was saying, expecting that I was teasing him.  (Which, I admit, was pretty much a hobby of mine.)

“We will have to make the remaining students more productive and also do some of the work ourselves—and I expect—some of the nonsense required by administration just won’t get done.  We can start by ignoring the annual room allocation report.”

“We can’t do that,” Grumbles said.  “They expect us to report progress.”

“We can report that.  But, the wages went up 25%, so we are going to have to reduce hours by that much.  We simply cannot afford all of the students.”

If you read the conversation above about five times, that was pretty much like the conversation that Grumbles and I had.  For years, he had been told that there was no connection between wages and the number of people employed and he really believed this.  He just took it for granted that, somewhere, there was a greedy businessman who would be forced to steal a little less “excess profit” and pay the little guy his “fair share”.  When I pointed out to him that as department head, he was the greedy businessman—or as close in this scenario as we could get to one—it was like watching a child discovering the unreality of Santa Claus.

Nevertheless, Grumbles still didn’t believe me.  For several minutes, he tried working the math himself.  The number of students times the wage multiplied by the hours….Eventually, he had to admit to the reality:  We just couldn’t employ as many students as we wanted.  (And the financial need of some of our truly indigent students did not matter:  we were going to have to keep the students who were the most productive in order to get the work done.)

One of the endearing things that I liked about Grumbles was this innocence.  A lot of his views on the economy were not very practical, certainly weren’t based on experience, but without those views, he wouldn’t have been the person he was—the friend I loved.  (I wouldn't have wanted him to change and I suspect he wouldn't have wanted me to change, either!)

“Isn’t there anything else we could do?” he asked.

“We could start charging students a lab fee to take the courses, but this would raise the price of tuition.”

“No, we can’t do that.  Tuition is already pretty high.”

“You could ask the faculty to donate money.  Of course, they won’t do it, but you can ask.”  We both knew this wasn’t going to happen.  Less than half the department donated to the department scholarships and they sure weren’t going to donate money for student salaries. 

“Why not cut the number of hours each student works by the same amount, so everyone could keep a job?” Dick asked.

“That way, no one would get the amount of money he needs and the students would no longer qualify as full-time work-study students, so they would lose benefits, and our better students would probably look for a job somewhere else, leaving us with the least productive employees,” I answered. 

Note:  Among other assorted benefits in New Mexico, students employed in the  work-study program for 20 hours a week automatically qualify for food stamps, regardless of financial need.  This is true even if they live in the dorm (including a dorm lacking cooking facilities!) and they use a meal plan to eat in the cafeteria.

The department eventually reduced the number of students employed.  I suspect that, somehow, Grumbles always thought I was secretly responsible.  It certainly didn’t change his political views in the long term. 

While Grumbles finally accepted why the department had to lose a few student employees, he never transferred this situation to the rest of the business world.  He never accepted that there was a correlation between the cost of labor and the number of people employed.

Which is understandable—I strongly suspect that, deep in their hearts, most adults still do believe in Santa Claus, at least a little.  (Even me.)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Good Hurricane

In all the news lately, hurricanes have played a prominent part.  Whether it was Harvey flooding the Texas coast or Irma preparing to fornicate skyward most of Southern Florida, you can easily get the impression that hurricanes are bad, really bad.

I’m not particularly fond of them, either.  After living on Galveston Island for seven years, I have more than a little experience with them.  (And I have the scars and a slight limp to prove it).  Personally, I think they are caused by secret NASA weather satellites.  (Don’t you think it is suspicious that they always come in alphabetical order?)

Despite the impressions left by recent events, or my damaged knee’s uncanny ability to predict rain, there was at least one good hurricane.

In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas.  The British had been stopping American ships at sea, seizing sailors to serve on their ships, and frequently confiscating cargo and ships they suspected of trading with the French.  We were in the right and for two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country.

Luckily for the United States, Great Britain was in a life and death struggle with Napoleon.  In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon was marching off to invade Russia. If Napoleon had won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war.

At first, our seamen proved better than the British.  After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, sent the message "We have met the enemy and they are ours."  However, the weight of the larger British navy beat down our ships eventually.  New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, even threatened secession from the union.

Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now could turn her full attention to the United States.  She launched a three-pronged attack on our small nation.  While the northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England, the southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the West.

The central prong was to head for the Mid-Atlantic States and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York.  If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two.  The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.

The British force, under the command of Admiral Cockburn and General Robert Ross, reached the American coast, and on August 24, 1814, moved towards the nation's small capital.  At the Battle of Bladensburg, a numerically larger force of American militia attempted to stop the Redcoats.  Whether it was the scary new Congreve’s rockets or simply the superb discipline of the British Army, the American forces scattered like quail.

One soldier, Hezekiah Niles, later wrote that the rout was “the most lamentable and disgraceful thing, the militia generally fled without firing a gun, and threw off every incumbrance of their speed.” 

Actually, that’s not quite accurate: a few shots were fired.  The British Admiral Cockburn, who was mounted on a white charger and dressed in a white uniform trimmed with gold lace, was highly visible.  Just as General Ross told him he made too prominent a target, a bullet passed between the admiral’s leg and his horse, hitting neither but severing the stirrup leather.  When a second bullet caused General Ross to involuntarily duck, Cockburn said, “Don’t move your head, Bob.  It looks bad.”

Watching the battle from the other side were President James Madison, Secretary of State James Monroe, several generals, and most of the President’s cabinet.  All of them fled as fast as they could.   After the war was ended, the whole affair was ridiculed in a poem, The Bladensburg Races:

So like an arrow swift he flew,
Shot from an archer’s bow;
So did he fly—so after him
As swift did fly MONROE.
Six gentlemen upon the road
Beheld our GENERAL ride—
MONROE behind—the chapeau gone;
The broadsword by his side.

This battle would change President Madison’s opinion about the wisdom of America's maintaining a standing army.  He would later write that up until that point he did not fully realize the difference between a militia and a professional disciplined army.

The British proceeded to march into Washington D.C., unopposed, and—under the orders of Admiral Cockburn—began burning the government buildings.  Cockburn and his men found the White House abandoned, but with the dining table set for a party of 40.  After drinking several toasts to the Prince Regent and dining, the men gathered a few souvenirs. Cockburn took the pillow from Dolley Madison’s chair, while an officer took the president’s dress sword.

The rest of the furniture and paper records were gathered and set ablaze.  The White House was engulfed in flames and eventually the fire left only the outer stone walls.

Burning the Capitol was a little more difficult since at first the marble building refused to ignite.  Window sills and doorways were then ripped out and combined with the flammable contents of some of the Congreve’s rockets so that, finally, the large building caught fire.  Then the British forces moved out across the city, burning government buildings while sparing private property. 

That night, the burning Capitol, located on a center hill, lit up the night sky for the entire city.  The French minister wrote, “I never saw a scene at once more terrible and more magnificent.”

The soldiers, exhausted from their long march and battle, spent the night in the city and continued their orderly destruction of the city the next day. .

The offices of the War and Navy Departments went up like torches, fueled by the naval stores of hemp, cordage, and tar—as did the Library of Congress and adjoining workshops.  The only government building spared was the home of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which Royal Marines deliberately spared out of the respect for the fighting ability of the American Marines.  Today, it is the oldest government building in the capital.

Only one private building was destroyed.  The National Intelligencer and its editor, Joseph Gales, had been denouncing Admiral Cockburn as a "monster" for months.  Cockburn took delight in having the building torn down, the presses smashed, and the contents of the building burned in the street.  He gave specific instructions the lead type, especially the c’s, be melted in the fire so the editor could no longer libel his name.  (To be fair, he had the building torn down and not burned to avoid harming the private homes on either side of the press office.)

At approximately two in the afternoon, the destruction suddenly had to be halted as a storm hit the city.  The ferocity and swiftness of the storm was something never before experienced by the British troops.  The clouds were so thick that no trace of the sun could be seen, the rain came down in torrents, and the fierce wind made missiles out of shingles and fence boards.

Soldiers ran into buildings for cover just as the winds began to tear the roofs off of the wooden buildings, flattening some homes.  The force of the winds sucked feather beds out of windows, knocked cavalry horses down, destroyed brick chimneys and—to the astonishment of the soldiers—picked up cannons and flung them aside.  Most of the men abandoned the idea of finding cover and lay facedown in the muddy streets for protection.

As one British officer recorded, “The conflict of winds setting at naught the industry and power of men.”  Or as Lieutenant Gleig wrote, “Of the prodigious force of the wind it is impossible for you to form any conception.”

After two hours, the storm began to pass as quickly as it had arrived.  Most of the fires either were extinguished or were left smoldering.  The storm had killed or wounded more British troops than the previous day's battle had.  The chain bridge over the Potomac connecting the city with Virginia was wrecked.  The the rigging of British ships anchored in the Chesapeake Bay was damaged and two ships were washed ashore. 

Since it was useless to try to burn any more of the soggy and muddy city, Admiral Cockburn withdrew his exhausted forces.  In his opinion, what the fires had not destroyed had been ruined by the storm.

A storm had saved Washington D.C. from being completely destroyed, and perhaps had done enough damage to the British Force that it contributed to the victory of the American forces at Fort McHenry.  (The failure to take the fort that guarded the Baltimore harbor did put an end to the British plan to split the young country).

But, was the storm really a hurricane?  Many of the contemporary accounts record that it was a tornado, but at the time, the words tornado and hurricane were used interchangeably.  The definition of a hurricane was simply a ‘tropical storm’.  In expanse, this storm was huge.  So, while there is no way of proving it, I think any storm that can move cannons and twist chain bridges into scrap metal is a hurricane.

At any rate, I have to admit:  you've got to admire any storm that can suck feather beds out of windows!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Yes, You’re as Smart as a Third Grader

Have you noticed all the history quizzes on Facebook lately? 

Only someone with an IQ of 190 can pass this quiz!  Only a genius can get ten of these questions correct!  No one will pass this quiz!

Intrigued, you take the quiz and get all the questions correct...And everyone else does, too!  Usually the questions ask you to pick the best president out of a list of the Three Stooges plus Abraham Lincoln. 

While I am certain that someone as smart and as peculiar as Penn Jillette can make an argument why Moe Howard was the best president, for the rest of us the test is childishly easy.  (Penn Jillette, peculiar.  But, brilliant.  But, peculiar…)

This is very similar to all those little surveys that promise to reveal which Disney character you are or who you were in a past life.  You’ll notice that the Disney character is never Goofy and no one in a past life was ever a dollymop (prostitute) or nightsoil man (cesspit cleaner).  Everyone was royalty….

I’m not even sure if you have to answer all of the questions correctly to get 100% on the quiz.  On at least a few of them, I think you pass no matter what your answers.  The point of the quiz is to get you to look—and possibly click on—the ads the quiz exposes you to (subjects you to is more appropriate, but you did volunteer, after all).

I have nothing against that, since the ads are the point of this blog, too.  See them to the right?   Click on them!

The difference between those quizzes and the one below is that I really don’t care about your self-esteem.  I’m not going to throw you softballs and ask you to name General Lee’s horse.  I’m going to ask you the kind of crap you won’t find even if you google it. Hah!

But, you should still click on the ads.  I’m too old for honest work, and as a retired state employee, I’m not trained for it.

So take the test.  Are you as smart as a third grader from Hell?

1.   Which of the following is true of Thomas Paine?
a.    He served as a privateer on a ship named Death, commanded by Captain Blood.
b.    He was a member of the French National Convention despite not speaking French.
c.    When Paine died in the US, only six people came to his funeral.
d.   All of the above.

2.  During World War II, what were the 88 Sams?
a.    Incredibly accurate surface-to-air missiles developed by the Nazis too late in the war to be useful.
b.    Liberty ships given to England, each with “Sam” as part of the ship’s name.
c.    Hundreds of pianos given by America to the British Army, each bearing a picture of Uncle Sam.
d.   A US infantry company in the 4th Army where almost every soldier was named ‘Sam’ or ‘Samuel’.

3.  Each of the following Presidents worked in an oval shaped office except:
a.    Abraham Lincoln
b.    William Howard Taft
c.    Thomas Jefferson
d.   William Henry Harrison

4.   What were the “Seven Buildings”?
a.    The original Capitol Building
b.    The original home of the War Department while the Pentagon was constructed.
c.    The temporary home of two presidents after the White House burned.
d.   The entire US government during the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson.

5.  The Public Reception Room, more commonly called the East Room of the original White House, was used by Abigail Adams as a
a.    Kitchen
b.    Laundry
c.    Store Room
d.   Dining Room.

6.  If you were a US soldier hitting Omaha Beach in World War II, what color would your boots be?
a.    Brown
b.    Black
c.    Green
d.   Khaki

7. Stanley Switlick and George Palmer Putnam, Amelia Earhart’s husband, formed a joint venture to do what?
a.    Market androgynous clothing designed by Amelia Earhart.
b.    Publicize the around the world flight by Amelia Earhart.
c.    Start a professional women’s baseball team.
d.   Sell parachutes.

8.  Living in the White House is supposed to be detrimental to a President’s health.  Yet, only two presidents, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, have died on the White House premises.  How many First Ladies have died in the White House?
a.    None
b.    One
c.    Two
d.   Three

9.  Counting disease, starvation, accident, and combat, about 620,000 soldiers perished in the American Civil War.  How many horses and mules died in combat?
a.    250,000
b.    600,000
c.    1,000,000
d.   2,500,000

10.  In Colonial America, pregnant women were frequently denied pain killers during labor because
a.    None were available
b.    For fear of harming the infants.
c.    The pain was considered God’s punishment for Eve eating the apple.
d.   Pain killers cost so much that they were reserved for the use of men only.

11.  The City of Detroit once presented the ceremonial keys to the city to:
a.    Manuel Noriega
b.    Saddam Hussein
c.    Pol Pot
d.   Kiichiro Toyoda, the founder of Toyota

12.  Boston Corbettt, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth
a.    Retired from the Army with the rank of Colonel.
b.    Received a cash reward from the state of Illinois.
c.    Vanished from history, hounded practically to death by furious historians.
d.   Was insane from handling mercury, as demonstrated by his castrating himself with scissors.

13. One of Edison’s earliest and most commercially successful movies was
a.    The electrocution of an elephant
b.    A slow motion sequence showing the gait of a galloping horse
c.    A riverboat sinking on the Mississippi River.
d.   A fatal crash of a helium balloon.

14.  American history books show a bias.  Which of the following killed more people?
a.    The German holocaust against the European Jews.
b.    The Japanese assault against the Chinese people.
c.    The German assault against the Polish people.
d.   The Japanese assault against the Vietnamese.

15.  Al Capone died of syphilis, although by the time he was arrested, effective treatment was available for federal prisoners.  Why didn’t he receive the life-saving treatment?
a.    The government refused to treat him in hopes the disease would kill him.
b.    The prison never knew Capone had the disease.
c.    Terrified of needles, the gangster refused treatment.
d.   The doctor at Alcatraz treated him with water in retaliation for Capone's having killed his uncle.

16.  Sybil Luddington is unknown to most Americans because
a.    Her name doesn’t rhyme.  So Longfellow wrote about Paul Revere instead.
b.    When her mother remarried, her new father renamed her Betsy Ross.
c.    As the most successful spy of the Revolutionary War, her exploits were not discovered until 1973.
d.   She never existed.

17.   Shortly after the Revolutionary War, four western counties of North Carolina seceded from the state.  Which of the following is true?
a.    They petitioned Congress to be admitted as the state of Frankland.
b.    They formed the independent Republic of Franklin, which lasted four years.
c.    They petitioned the Spanish government for aid.
d.   All of the above.

18. Donald Trump is the wealthiest president in history.  Adjusted for inflation, who was the second richest?
a.    George Washington
b.    Theodore Roosevelt
c.    Franklin D. Roosevelt
d.   John F. Kennedy

19.  Trump is the wealthiest, Lincoln, the tallest, and Taft, the heaviest president.  Who was the smallest president?
a.    James Polk
b.    Harry Truman
c.    Martin Van Buren
d.   James Madison

20.  Which president fervently believed in his “lucky” carnation?
a.    Grover Cleveland.
b.    William McKinley
c.    Warren G. Harding
d.   Franklin D. Roosevelt

21. According to George Caitlan, when the Omaha Sioux Chief, Blackbird, was buried, at his request he was
a.    Buried with his weapons: a bow, a rifle, and his tomahawk.
b.    Buried mounted on his horse.
c.    Buried lying on his stomach, so the US Army could kiss his ass.
d.   Hidden in the mountains so no White man would know his burial site.

22. The final draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on parchment.  Less well known was that the earlier rough drafts were written on
a.    Paper made from cotton fibers grown by Jefferson’s slaves.
b.    British paper with legal tax stamps
c.    Paper made from hemp.
d.   The back of British proclamations.

23.  As of 2016, the oldest pension still being paid by the Federal government was for which war?
a.    The Civil War
b.    The Spanish American War
c.    The Punitive Expedition
d.   World War I

24. Which of the following was once a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune?
a.    Sir Richard Burton
b.    Karl Marx
c.    Charles Darwin
d.   Geronimo

25.  When the American Civil War started, Robert E. Lee owned no slaves.  His father-in-law would soon die, leaving several to his wife.  At the start of the war, who did own slaves?
a.    Mary Todd Lincoln
b.    Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)
c.    Harriet Beecher Stowe
d.   Ulysses Grant

Answers: 1-d.  He had recently denounced Christianity.  2-b.  3-a.  Though the current Oval Office was created by Taft, many presidents used the oval Blue Room as an office.  4-c.  They no longer exist.  5-b.  6-a.  7-d.  Amelia Earhart did design and sell a line of androgynous clothing, but the Switlick Company still sells aviation related safety equipment.    8-d.  Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison, and Ellen Wilson.  9-c.  In the early days of the war, more horses than men were killed.  10-c.  11-b.  12-d.  13-a.  The elephant had already killed three people and the circus who owned her was anxious to be rid of her.  14-b.  The Japanese killed roughly three million more Chinese than the German holocaust against Jews.  15-c.  The syphilis made Capone so insane that before he died, he was frequently seen fishing in his swimming pool.  16-a.  She rode over 40 miles on a dark rainy night to warn Americans the British Army was attacking.  17-d.  Today, most of the former Frankland is part of Tennessee.  18-a.  He was worth, in today’s money, an estimated $500 million.  19-d.  At 5’4”, he weighed less than 100 pounds.  20-b.  In 1901, he took off his carnation and gave it to a little girl.  Minutes later, he was shot, then died eight days later.   21-b.  22-c.  23-a.  At 85, Irene Triplett receives $73.13 monthly for her father’s service in the Civil War.  There are 88 people still receiving benefits from the Spanish American War.  24-b.  25-d.

So, how did you do?  If you got them all right, you cheated.  If you got fewer than five right, please don’t vacation in Las Vegas.  If you got half right, then you probably waste as much time reading weird books as I do.  If you got none right, you are spending way too much time reading comic books and watching Disney movies.  And if you really don’t care how you did, congratulations, you are normal.

The purpose of studying history is not to know what the Duke of Wellington ate for breakfast the morning of the Battle of Waterloo, but to know why the armies were there.  Lately, there seem to be a lot of people writing about history—especially the Civil War—who have no idea why the war was fought.  The study of history is a lot more about understanding why than memorizing what.  Have you every noticed that monuments are nearly always about the what and rarely about the why.

By the way, on the morning of June 18, 1815, James Thornton, the Duke of Wellington’s cook, gave the general hard-boiled eggs, which Wellington stuffed into his coat pocket.  The Iron Duke nibbled on the eggs that morning while watching the battle. 

Oh, yes—everyone knows that Traveler was Robert E. Lee’s horse.  Less well known, however, is that a general had to have several horses because no single horse could work that hard every day during a protracted war.  Lee’s other horses were Richmond, Lucy Long, Ajax, and Brown-Roan.