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Alfred Dreyfus, Applied History, and National Aesthetician Day

Everybody knows the story of Alfred Dreyfus. On 15 October 1894, Captain Dreyfus was arrested for treason. He was later convicted, cashiered, condemned and sent to Devil’s Island. Later exonerated, Dreyfus was returned to France, reinstated, promoted, and served well in the French Army through WWI and retired a Lieutenant Colonel. The entire case was a put-up job from beginning to end that tore French society to shreds with its two contentious factions of Catholic anti-Dreyfusards, and anti-clerical Dreyfusards lined up on opposite sides lusting after each other’s chitlins. There were also deep streams of anti-Semitism running through the entire affair. A fellow officer named Esterhazy was suspected of the treason that Dreyfus was charged with, but he was quickly acquitted.

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Degradation of Dreyfus, Wiki Commons

Trouble is, there has never been any evidence that anyone committed any of the crimes that anyone was ever charged with, let alone convicted of. The torn-up note that was pivotal in the Dreyfus trials contained nothing in the way of secrets, and the Germans never saw it. More critical, searches of postwar German files yielded no traffic of the sort that French intelligence was convinced was passed to them. But by then the whole affair had been crushed under the tread of the millions of Frenchmen killed in WWI, and no one was interested in it anymore.

Yet…those same conclusions are still jumped to–there had to be something to it or all that would have been wasted effort…right? Well, not necessarily.

Remember Watergate? The scandal over the failed Democratic National Committee office break-in in 1972? Tell us…what information did who get off those bugs that were so important that they had no role whatsoever in bringing down a president? Yeah, crickets. Not that the third-rate burglary didn’t happen because it did, but, to what end? Sure, trials and scandals and all that. But Nixon wasn’t brought down by Woodward and Bernstein and Watergate, but by improper campaign donations from a completely different direction. In the case of Dreyfus, it was the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871, the retreat of Church influence on French affairs, and anti-Semitism. In the case of Nixon, it was the end of the Vietnam War without apparent success, the rise of a notorious California politician over the supposedly humble former Minnesota shopkeeper, and rampant inflation.

The importance of applied history in both contexts is that external factors often exaggerate and inflame situations way out of proportion to their actual causes and effects. Applied history, however, has two crucial problems. The first is that using history to any contemporary situation is to decide that the historical situation is similar, which most scholars simply cannot do. History now is so politicized that applying, say, the Dreyfus affair, to the current “Russian collusion” investigation would mean that the same result is inevitable, which would make anyone suggesting such a thing a Trumpist and reason for a cavity search for a MAGA hat. Just not going to happen.

Second, applying historical lessons would mean that someone would have to agree on just what the past teaches. OK, but if the applied lesson doesn’t contain elements of race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual proclivity, nationality…well, you get the idea. Academic history today is an echo chamber of rehashed tropes and slogans that stand alone, on their own, and is often so specialized that identifying one story with another is impractical.


National Aesthetician Day began in 2016, created by COSMEDIX, a high-end beauty supply company (which is, after all, redundant given that all such firms are pretty pricey). The lovely up top is posing for a health care provider, who also cares for skin, which is what aestheticians do, too. But all those who you will find doing these ads and performing these miracles of beauty transformation are capitalizing on the desire for people to look desirable, clean, pretty–like the pictures.

https://www.pinterest.com/vintageaesthie/the-vintage-aesthetician/?lp=true
Listen to the voice of experience…

There’s a reason why we see the same faces in the ads all the time–good skin. The models in the pictures have it, most people don’t. Most skin is in the 80% of the middle with blotches here and lumps there that can be improved but not perfected by spending a large lump of money on some costly products and treatments. The bottom 10% won’t get better without medical intervention, and maybe not then; the top 10% barely need the products and services the aestheticians peddle.

Most of us are subject to the Swimmer’s Body Delusion. Swimmers don’t look the way they do because they swim: they can swim as well as they do because their bodies are genetically built for the rigors of movement and cold, oxygen depletion and exhausting exercise. Aestheticians use this to convince potential customers that they, too, can look like the models in their brochures. Sorry, but most won’t. They may look like better versions of themselves, but going through all of that believing that you’re going to be transformed into the new Giselle Whoever is pretty much a waste.

Come by next week, folks.

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Alvin York, Confirmation Bias, and American Touch Tag Day

Alvin York was nearly thirty when he was drafted in 1917 and had recently joined a fundamentalist Christian sect that forbade fighting, among other things. But drafted he was. As a marksman of great skill, it was thought odd that he had no stomach for battle, but he did reluctantly agree.

As a member of Company G (3rd Battalion), 328th Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Division, Corporal York’s first taste of combat was in the Meuse-Argonne sector, where his seventeen-man patrol got into a confused firefight behind enemy lines on 8 October 1918 and captured an unclear number of Germans: this late in the war, even the elite Prussian Guards were giving up. But a German machine gun tried to compel their comrades to fight again, and York and three comrades eventually silenced the gun, killing 25 in the process. York never claimed to have accounted for more than nine.

Not what you got from the movie, is it?

But America needed a hero, and the beleaguered American Army in France needed one even more. While the survivors of his patrol did capture over a hundred Germans, it is important to remember that by then most of the German Army had been on less than a thousand calories a day for nearly two years. Much of Germany was starving; the fleet was in mutiny; the cities were crumbling from lack of labor. While York and his companions were indeed heroes, he never thought as much of the Medal of Honor that hung around his neck as everyone else did.

http://www.worldwar1.com/heritage/sgtayork.htm
Alvin York (right) and the then-Governor of Tennessee Prentiss Cooper

York spurned the role of hero and icon after the war, and by the 1930s was preaching from the isolationist pulpit with Charles Lindbergh, but Hollywood change his mind. While making and promoting the movie (that he wanted to make to raise money for a bible school) that made him even more famous, he became a preparedness spokesman. The film, Howard Hawk’s 1941 Sergeant York, was based on a 1928 novel Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary which contains excerpts of  York’s diary and greatly exaggerated other contents. It was good enough to win Gary Cooper, who played York, an Academy Award in 1942 for best actor.

Audiences today see the film as a feel-good flag-waver, entertaining enough for a little over an hour once or twice, but after that just old black-and-white hokum. While this purely personal assessment may be just that, the Hollywood folks–and York–in 1940 were after a lot more. They were looking at the ashes of the French Army that had been torn apart by the Germans in less than a month, and at the outnumbered and outclassed British, who barely escaped total annihilation by running back to England, which by then was under aerial siege. The US Army, then smaller than that of Uruguay, was woefully unprepared, and Hollywood was willing to work with the Army and York to make a hokey, black-and-white film with the bankable but down-home Gary Cooper in the lead to get a peacetime draft passed in Congress.

The tactic worked mostly because they used confirmation bias–the tendency for an observer to like something already believed in. The wartime myth of York’s single-handed exploit in the Argonne was played up not just to make the film more exciting and York’s role more central, but to make the down-home country boy who never handled a smokeless powder firearm before he was drafted more approachable by typical audiences and future bond-buyers, and thus more believable. That York never personally promoted the film is usually ignored; that he never saw it is possible.

But it is also irrelevant.

Many consumers of history are the victims of confirmation bias, as they usually enjoy and agree with the works that confirm what they already think they know. Yes, we’re building up to another plug for Why the Samurai Lost Japanbut that’s what this blog is for–selling JDBCOM.COM books. Japan attacked the US, British Commonwealth, and the Netherlands in 1941, and yes it was because the West had cut off their oil and other resources because of their war in China. But, why was Japan so interested in China? The West had warned Japan time and again about their military adventures in East Asia. Why, finally, did the showdown come just as the Germans were chewing up the Soviets in the summer of 1941?

It wasn’t as coincidental as it looks.

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Cover for “Why the Samurai Lost Japan”

Why the Samurai Lost Japan explores this and many other issues. While researching the book, my co-author and I found a great deal of confirmation bias in the sources, some of which nearly parrot themselves and each other with their insistence on Japan’s arrogance (but why), military prowess (but failed to defeat the Chinese in four years), and technological sophistication (but had to import most of its machine tools). While the terrific storm of American military might fought its way across the Pacific from the ashes of Pearl Harbor (where only three warships were permanently lost), the tenacious Japanese fought tooth-and-nail in defense of their far-flung empire (which was so porous US submarines were ranging off the Japanese coast by mid-1942).

But, what a war, anyway, huh?

Our subtitle gives a little better hint at what to expect: A Study of Miscalculation and Folly. Expect to see it in December.


Today is American National Touch Tag Day for reasons lost in posterity. In the Great Lakes it still might be warm enough for these girls to be playing Touch And Go (didn’t know it just might be an acronym, did you? Neither does Snopes, but what do they know?) in their summer dresses, but it likely isn’t. Still, when was the last time you did that, ran around in the sun, giggling with whoever you can catch? Yeah, me neither.

http://wkdq.com/did-you-know-what-the-game-of-tag-stands-for/
Remember? Yeah, me neither.

The game of Tag is, was and has been an innocent enough activity,  but the Fun Police have been criticizing it lately for encouraging bullying, harassment, reckless running, unwanted touches (which is the point), and predatory behavior.  It is banned in some schools in the US, but so are cellular phones and guns for all the good that’s done.

Defy authority and start up a game of tag. Have some outrageous fun while running and touching friends. Show the Fun Police what you’re made of.

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William Boeing, Popular History and National Hair Day

Gonna try something different this month. Bear with me.

William Boeing, the founder of the Boeing Aircraft Company and United Airlines, was born on this day in 1881 to well-to-do parents in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age, he went into the lumber business in the American Northwest, becoming fascinated with aviation after seeing an airplane demonstration in 1909. He took flying lessons from Glenn Martin and bought a Martin TA floatplane. When it was damaged, Boeing decided to build a better one himself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boeing_B%26W.jpg
Boeing B&W

The outcome of that was the Boeing B&W or Model 1, named for the co-designers Boeing himself and George Westervelt. There were two built–the aircraft above is a replica. The two units that were made were offered to the US Navy but eventually sold to New Zealand. Soon afterward, the US Navy ordered fifty Boeing Model C training seaplanes to prepare pilots for WWI, Boeing’s first real financial success.

After WWI, Boeing built airmail aircraft, fighters, seaplanes, and flying boats, producing the first aircraft intended for passengers, the Boeing 80 in 1928, followed by the 247 in 1933, recognizable as the first “modern” airliner.

As the firm grew, Boeing expanded his reach into commercial airline routes, eventually founding what would become United Airlines. That ended in 1934 when Congress compelled all aircraft manufacturers to divest themselves of their interest in airmail routes and airlines. Boeing himself backed away from the day-to-day business by 1937, exploiting a growing interest in horses.

Personally, popular history would excoriate Boeing for monopolistic practices (about which they would be right…sort of) and for racist attitudes for founding some communities north of Seattle that had segregationist covenants. These were fairly typical of the time, but contemporary historians also dismiss this explanation because, well, because.

Popular history also holds that Boeing’s business affiliation with the military made him a war-monger. That his firm built the B-29 Superfortress that would be used to firebomb Japan and deliver the atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki only proves the case. So there.

While Walter Boeing had nothing to do with either starting the war or personally with the development of the B-29 or the atomic bomb, he gets at least part of the blame for them in some circles. Boeing died 28 September 1956, long before anyone thought to blame him personally for the tools of war and industry his company provided.

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Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

The illustration over on the left is the cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan which is now in its final stages and is scheduled to be available by the end of the year. The subtitle, A Study of Miscalculation and Folly, is a not particularly glib attempt to summarize our conclusions.

Popular history and even academic history has been selling one of two versions of Japan in WWII. The first is what could be called a triumphalist version of the United States clawing their way back from the smoke and ruins of Pearl Harbor to dictating a just peace to a thoroughly prostrated Japan after whipping them like a poor relation.

The second is more nuanced but still ends the same way. Some popular historians and a few academics have questioned the “true” motives for the American response to the initial Japanese attacks. Some have even wondered out loud if there hadn’t been some very deep race-based motives for “pushing” Japan to war with the sanctions that started in 1933 and concluded in 1941. After all, at least one American naval officer after the Pearl Harbor attacks publicly stated that he wanted to exterminate all Japanese.

Did race play a part? Unlikely. Though John Dower in War Without Mercy tries to sell this message, frankly he does not connect the dots between attitudes and behavior on the part of either the West or the Japanese. The Japanese were as convinced of the superiority of their race as were the Germans, though they didn’t stoop to genocide the same way. The West, as suspicious of other races as other races were of them, was in no way particularly “racist” about how their war was fought against any of their enemies.

The goals of Japan for their conflict against the West in 1941 were both simple and complex. They earnestly expected an easy victory, piggybacking on Germany’s anticipated defeat of the Soviet Union. At the same time, they expected Asia to follow their “natural” leadership in resisting further encroachments into their territories.

Why the Samurai Lost Japan isn’t a popular history in the sense that it reads in the “USA triumphant” vein or in the “Japan was a victim of western capitalist/racist greed.” It is a study of why a supposedly defunct subgroup of Japanese society reached across the Pacific to engage in a trans-oceanic war with the leading industrial power of the time, expecting to succeed in their goals–but not “win” the war in the conventional sense. It is a study of miscalculation and folly on the part of not only Japan but of nearly everyone else that affected the samurai’s fateful decision to go to war. Look for it in December.


The lovely lass above is celebrating National Hair Day, proclaimed in 2017 by the National Day Calendar at the behest of NuMe, a purveyor of hair care products. I personally don’t get it (except to clean it out of the tub drain) but I don’t have to.

Hair, as we know it, is endemic to human society, as it is to all mammals–in fact, it helps define us, in part.

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Really?

Define us…how? Is this definition or is this just showing off? But then there…this…which is…what?

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Huh?

Suffice it to say I’m glad I don’t have to clean your drains. My hair…as you may appreciate, I don’t have that much more than I did here…

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Your author, about age 2 or so.

Keep your cards and letters coming in, folks.

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Antietam and National Monte Cristo Day

Mid-September and the fall cleanup should be well underway in the Great Lakes. The air conditioner shouldn’t run most nights by now, and the leaves here should be turning. Great time of year.

On 17 September 1787, the US Constitution was adopted by the Congress that, at that time, existed only by habit and the Articles of Confederation. The new document would replace the body that created it. Interesting juxtaposition. And on this day in 1944, Operation Market-Garden would commence with a mass drop of nearly 20,000 paratroopers on three large areas in Holland to be joined together by an armored column. Nice in theory, but the disaster came when the Germans rallied faster than anyone expected and put up a stiff defense against the ground attack with a front ten yards wide by five miles long. And on 17 September 1996, Spiro Agnew, once Vice-President under Richard Nixon and once Governor of Maryland, died in Berlin, Maryland. Agnew resigned as vice president when he pled guilty to tax evasion in October 1973, less than a year before his boss would. Today is also Apple Dumpling Day because someone said so and they haven’t changed their minds. But today we’re going to talk about bloodletting and sandwiches.

While the Confederates under Robert E. Lee couldn’t afford too many stand-up fights, the Union under McClellan could, but just didn’t like to.

By the summer of 1862, the American Civil War in the east–the 90 miles between the two opposing capitals–was in a sort of stasis mostly imposed by two stale realities: the timidity of George McClellan and the relative poverty of the Confederate armies. While the Confederates could win battles, they couldn’t win and hold territory. While the Union armies could hold turf–and was doing just that in the west–the Army of the Potomac was commanded by a brilliant administrator who hated the idea that his troops had to fight. While the Confederates under Robert E. Lee couldn’t afford too many stand-up fights, the Union under McClellan could, but just didn’t like to.

Civil War Trust
Maryland Campaign

To break this stalemate before another winter in camp, Lee conceived a plan to bring McClellan’s army to battle on northern soil. There Lee would defeat the Union. This would demoralize the Union in time to influence the mid-term Congressional elections, destabilize Lincoln and the radical Republicans and bring the conflict to a negotiated conclusion, leaving The South (TM) to go on its merry way. All this depended on Lee’s ability to get the Army of the Potomac to fight somewhere outside Virginia and defeat it. Thus was born the Maryland Campaign of 1862.

Only distance and logistics stopped the Federals from overrunning the Confederacy altogether.

Conceptually it was something of a hail-Mary. Everything depended on everything else going in the Confederacy’s favor, something that had not really happened yet in the war. While the Manassas campaign of 1862 was something of a Federal rout, the Confederates lacked the wherewithal to capitalize on Federal disorganization.  Even if the Confederacy were victorious in the east, elsewhere the Union armies were moving more or less unencumbered by Confederate forces. Only distance and logistics stopped the Federals from overrunning the Confederacy altogether.

There they waited for the morning when McClellan’s force–over twice Lee’s strength–would surely crush the Army of Northern Virginia.

But Lee launched his campaign on 3 September 1862 with the best of intentions, fighting a minor battle in the mountain passes where McClellan had stolen a march on Lee and cut him off. After two weeks of marching and fighting, Lee’s depleted army came to rest near Sharpsburg, Maryland on the evening of 16 September, knowing that the Army of the Potomac was just across the small tributary of the Potomac called Antietam Creek. There they waited for the morning when McClellan’s force–over twice Lee’s strength–would surely crush the Army of Northern Virginia.

While Lee knew that the big enemy army was badly handled, he also knew that even a badly handled but huge force could simply run over his weakened force in an afternoon.

That’s one version. Another is that Lee knew full well how timid McClellan was, and also knew that concerted action by corps commanders was not a Union strength. Lee almost certainly had taken the measure of McClellan many times and found him wanting as a field commander. While the Army of the Potomac was large, it was not as destructive as all that. While Lee knew that the big enemy army was poorly handled, he also knew that even a badly-handled but colossal force could run over his weakened host in an afternoon.

The 22,000 plus casualties incurred had mostly been in the morning, and the fighting slowed to a smoke-choked crawl by noon: McClellan might have destroyed Lee then and there.

The battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg has been described by better scribes than I so I won’t duplicate those efforts or paraphrase from them. The critical thing to remember about the bloodletting of 17 September at the bridge or the wheat field or the cornfield or anywhere else is that it was an uncoordinated mess that actually used less than 40% of the available Union forces. By the time McClellan stopped fighting not only was Lee pretty well beaten but it was just late afternoon, with as much as another three hours of daylight left. The 22,000 plus casualties incurred had mostly been in the morning, and the fighting slowed to a smoke-choked crawl by noon: McClellan might have destroyed Lee then and there.

…rid of McClellan, the Army of the Potomac could fight on its own terms.  

But he didn’t. He liked having his army, not fighting it. The result was a tactical draw, but a partial Federal victory for having turned Lee back to Virginia again. But it disgusted the Federal commanders enough to prompt McClellan’s replacement, and the battle itself affected the mid-term elections, not at all: rid of McClellan, the Army of the Potomac could fight on its own terms.


And there’s National Monte Cristo Day, originated in 2015 by Bennigan’s, one of many Irish-pub-themed restaurant chains struggling just like the rest of them in the face of me-too competition. A Monte Cristo is a pan- or deep-fried ham and cheese sandwich, a variation of the French croque-monsieur, sometimes called a French Sandwich, a Toasted Ham Sandwich, or a French Toasted Cheese Sandwich. A Monte Cristo is typically savory rather than sweet. It is usually dipped in egg batter. Variations may include sliced turkey and different types of cheese. It can be served grilled or open-faced and heated under a grill or broiler. It can also be sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with jam or preserves.

Eh, whatever. Typically I won’t get that elaborate about sandwiches: slice it up raw, save the time and energy and put it on a plate or a napkin, all the same to me. Or just hand it to me. Powdered sugar? Jam or Preserves? What for? It’s a ham sandwich, for all love.

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Edmond O’Brian and National TV Dinner Day

The second week in September, and the weather should be cooling off in the Great Lakes by now. Could even spend a few days with the windows open just to get some air in the building, as long as the neighbors keep it down.

10 September, a momentous day in China (before they knew it was even September) in 210 BC, when Qin Shi Huang died; this was the founder of the Qin dynasty and first emperor of a unified state that could be called China. It was he who brought the warring states under central control and secured most of modern China.  On this day in 1897 in London was the first drunk driving arrest–gotta wonder what that field sobriety test looked like. George Smith, a 25-year-old London cab driver, was arrested after ramming a building; he pled guilty and paid a 25 shilling fine.  Finally, on 10 September 1977, the guillotine was last used in public. Hamida Djandoubi was a Tunisian-born farm laborer who kidnapped and murdered his former girlfriend in 1972. He was convicted and sentenced to death, the last time the guillotine was used in public, and the last capital sentence to be carried out in the European Union. Today is also National Swap Ideas Day, dreamed up by Robert L. Birch (no, really). But today we talk about the hardest working man in Hollywood, and convenience under tin foil.

His first film contract with RKO brought him in contact with Eve Arden and Deanna Durbin at Universal, but his first really big part was with James Cagney in White Heat (1949).

Eamon Joseph O’Brien was born on 10 September 1915 in Brooklyn, New York, the last of seven children. He did street magic as a child and learned the acting trade early in his life, at the feet of Harry Houdini and Sanford Meisner. His fellow students included Lillian Gish and Burgess Meridith in summer stock and Shakespeare road shows.  His first film contract with RKO brought him in contact with Eve Arden and Deanna Durbin at Universal, but his first really big part was with James Cagney in White Heat (1949).

220px-EdmondOBrien. Wiki Commons
Edmund O’Brien as Frank Bigelow in “DOA” (1950)

But his best-known role was in DOA (1950), where O’Brien played a notary public who spent the last hours of his life investigating his own murder. That got him enough notoriety to land a role in The Barefoot Contessa (1954) as Oscar Muldoon, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe. He would be nominated for the same awards for his role as a boozing senator in Seven Days in May (1964), winning the Golden Globe and another Oscar nomination. He also won the Western Heritage Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture for his role as yet-another lush in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962). As many awards as O’Brien won, however, did not compensate for his health challenges: his weight swung drastically, and he suffered from arthritis in his hips.

As an independent actor, O’Brien showed a business acumen and creative talent all his own, earning him the moniker “the hardest working man in Hollywood.”

O’Brien also landed leading roles, notably in Sheild for Murder (1954), 1984 and A Cry in the Night (1956).  But he’s undoubtedly best known for his characters, which he always thought were more natural to play than lead because an actor “could always fill in white space with a wisecrack.” His cinematic work was matched by his television roles, making him one of the few actors who could and did play both mediums with relative ease. O’Brien was best known on TV for Johnny Midnight (syndication, 1960) and Sam Benedict (NBC, 1962-63), and for literally hundreds of character roles on scores of programs. As an independent actor without permanent contracts in an age when contracts were the only route to steady work, O’Brien showed a business acumen and creative talent all his own, earning him the moniker “the hardest working man in Hollywood.”

Legend has it that O’Brien was to have been awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 1986, but he passed before a vote was held.

O’Brien’s last roles on the big screen or small were in 1974 when he was 59. But his weight and his hips were getting the better of him, his memory seemed to be failing and so was his heart. So was his bank account. For all the work he did, his finances were never sterling, he was divorced twice, and the father of three children, all of whom ended up in television. Edmund O’Brien died in Inglewood, California of Alzheimer’s Disease on 9 May 1985. Legend has it that O’Brien was to have been awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 1986, but he passed before a vote was held.


Now, today is National TV Dinner day because on 10 September 1953 the first TV dinners (turkey with all the trimmings) were made commercially available in the US by Swanson. The food was pre-cooked and came in aluminum trays, and the meals were meant to be heated in the oven at home. They were intended for convenience like so many things in the ’50s were, and just having a TV was a status symbol: the scene above was promotional for the televisions, not the non-packaged meals.

TV dinners have gone through many transitions since their origins. Swanson wasn’t the first and was hardly the last, but Swanson was the first to make it a commercial success. In my youth, TV dinners were common about once a week when Dad was out-of-town on business. They were generally OK but tended towards the bland, and in the ’60s there wasn’t a great deal of variety: chicken, roast beef, turkey, repeat. When the brownies started in the mid-60s, this was something, and there were hot dogs with buns and beans and franks. Then, as ever, life changed, and I didn’t see another TV dinner until I saw the Army’s version–the T-Rations–only once, sometime around 1975. They were about the same except on a cardboard tray and slightly larger.

In my bachelor days I tried some TV dinners again, but either I had outgrown them, or the industry had just stopped trying, as I found them bordering on the disgusting–even my cooking was better. I don’t think I’ve had a TV dinner since the early ’80s.

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Danzig and the Polish Corridor and Just-Because Day

Last week in August. School starts in this part of the world, and folks are looking towards either ending their summers in a flurry of activity or starting their fall cleanup because…soon the snow will fall. True fact: the only month on record where snow has not fallen in Wisconsin is August. A little weird, but that’s the Great Lakes for ya.

On 27 August 479 BC, the Greeks turned back yet another Persian invasion at sea near Mount Mycale on the Ionian coast and on land at Platea in Boeotia, two of the most decisive battles in the ancient world. Though not as well known as Thermopylae, Marathon or Salamis fought before, these two battles turned back the Persians for another generation and shifted the balance of power in the Aegean to the Greeks. On this day in 1809, Hannibal Hamlin was born in Paris in what is now Maine (then Massachusetts). Hamlin is best known for being Abraham Lincoln’s first vice-president (replaced by Andrew Johnson in the 1864 election), and if he had been in office today just imagine what the late-night comics would make of his name. And on 27 August 1929, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which was officially called the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, was signed in Paris. In a decade all the signatories (that included Germany, Japan, and Italy) would be regarding this piece of paper as being the most worthless document ever promulgated, and in twenty years all of them would be recovering from a global war. Today is also National Pots de Creme Day that only exists because of habit. But today we’re talking about bullies, and about doing what you want when you want to because you want to.

The Polish Corridor was the brainchild of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and its creation was the direct result of not occupying Germany but trying to isolate what Europe saw as the cause of Germany’s militaristic problem.

The Polish Corridor existed, in part, because Britain and France didn’t want to be following an American victory parade in 1919 or 1920. There, I said it. Sue me. The Polish Corridor was the brainchild of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and its creation was the direct result of not occupying Germany but trying to isolate what Europe saw as the cause of Germany’s militaristic problem.

Merely disarming the Germans as the Versailles treaty did wasn’t going to change the Prussian attitudes towards their neighbors and their pathological need for a strong military to make up for their lack of geographic boundaries.

The fact is that Germany wasn’t really and genuinely defeated as a nation in 1918, but settled for a “European peace” that stopped the fighting, moved a few borders, paid out a few coins, but otherwise maintained the status quo ante of 1914. The German monarchy had collapsed, Austria-Hungary folded, the Ottomans were displaced, but the root of the issue in central Europe–German revanchist militarism–was still more or less in place. Merely disarming the Germans as the Versailles treaty did wasn’t going to change the Prussian attitudes towards their neighbors and their pathological need for a robust military to make up for their lack of geographic boundaries.

http://www.yourdictionary.com/polish-corridor
Seventy-five miles wide, the cause of the Second World War.

So the Polish Corridor carved a seventy-five-mile wide chunk out of Pomerania on the Baltic Sea and created a geographic freak called East Prussia that, administratively, was still a part of Germany. (Yes, this part of the world had been Poland once, but it had also been Sweden and Lithuania from time to time.) While it gave the new Polish republic access to the Baltic, it also created a “free city” called Danzig, and a raison d’être for any resurgent Germans to hate a perpetually weak Poland, and the powers that created such an “insult” to German pride. All that was needed was a German strong enough and with a large enough following to rearm the country and demand the geographic reunification of East Prussia with Germany, even if it meant the destruction–again–of Poland.

Its head was an Austrian-born former Bavarian Army corporal named Adolf Hitler whose messianic image presented Germany with a firm direction and some scapegoats for Germany’s troubles: Poland was one of those scapegoats.

Enter the National Socialists. Starting before all the smoke had cleared from the War to End All Wars in 1918, strong-willed and influential Germans began making speeches, promises, and threats. After a decade of economic chaos, political mayhem and a dozen different governments, the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, NSDAP in German or merely the Nazis came out on top in Germany. Its head was an Austrian-born former Bavarian Army corporal named Adolf Hitler whose messianic image presented Germany with a firm direction and some scapegoats for Germany’s troubles: Poland was one of those scapegoats.

While the Poles had not been very nice to the Germans living in the Corridor, “oppressed” was not a good term to use to describe their plight, but it worked for propaganda purposes to whip up public sentiment in Germany.

By 1938, after the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, Germany started to negotiate more direct access to East Prussia. Lacking a land route was a distinct technical problem for customs and tariffs, so there was some validity to German desires to address the issue. But the Germans overreached, demanding both a superhighway and a double-track railway across the Polish Corridor, effectively nullifying Polish sovereignty there. The Poles said no, so the Nazis manufactured a crisis and a whole new class of “oppressed” Germans: the Danzigers. While the Poles had not been very kind to the Germans living in the Corridor, “oppressed” was not a proper term to use to describe their plight, but it worked for propaganda purposes to whip up public sentiment in Germany.

By 1939, Germany had lost patience with Poland. Many Germans didn’t even like the idea of Poland, let alone the reality. On 27 August 1939, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop handed British ambassador to Germany Neville Henderson a note demanding:

  • The return of the city of Danzig to German control;
  • A plebiscite in the Corridor on whether it should remain a part of Poland or revert to Germany–remarkable because former German residents were to be given a vote and Poles who had lived there all their lives were not.

Henderson and the Chamberlain government were under no illusions as to what was behind this demand, one that neither Poland nor Great Britain nor France would agree to. Since, unknown to all but the Germans, this ultimatum came a week and a half after Hitler had issued the invasion orders, this was cynical at best and a diplomatic fig leaf at worst. But Hitler expected his gambler’s luck to hold a little while longer–that miscalculation led to WWII.


https://www.pinterest.com/LakeAffect/dock-jumps/?lp=true
Just Because!

National Just Because Day was started in the 1950s by  Joseph J. Goodwin of Los Gatos, CA, as a family holiday, but it just spread, like so many good ideas. Feel free to celebrate this day in any way you choose.  Just because!

Every day most of us do things we are expected or required to do. On National Just Because Day, this common sense doesn’t have to apply. Today give you license to do things without rhyme or reason.

  • Buy that outfit at the mall that you’ve been drooling over…just because!
  • Use a vacation day to go fishing…just because!
  • Pick up the tab for the table next to you …just because!
  • Sing really loud in your car with your windows rolled down…just because!
  • Surprise someone you care about with flowers like the gent on top…just because!
  • Jump in the water with your friends like the three above…just because!
  • Kiss a friend like the two below…just because!
https://meseriadeparinte.ro/nu-va-mai-pupati-copiii-pe-gura/
Just Because!

Just do it today…just because you can and it feels good and it makes you and someone else happy.

But, moderation, please. Don’t set yourself on fire just because you have a can of gas and a match.

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Benjamin Harrison and National Radio Day

August is nearly done, and so is summer in the Great Lakes. Still hot, still sticky, air conditioner still grinding away–thankfully. But I replaced the furnace this year, so at least I know that blower will run all summer–and is on warranty.

On 20 August in the year 2 (we think), there was a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter visible in the morning sky on Earth. This happens every three years and change, but this one was so close that it may have been visible in daylight and is one scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem. On 20 August 1794, near what is now known as Maumee, Ohio, the Battle of Fallen Timbers ended the Northwest War between the United States and the loosely-joined Native American tribes in the Western Confederacy and helped to open up the Ohio River country for American settlement.  The battle was fought by a purpose-built 2,000-man American force led by “Mad” Anthony Wayne, a famous Revolutionary War commander, and a similarly-sized Native American force that included a company of British regulars. Also on this day in 1914, Britain, France and Germany started the bloodletting in France in what would come to be called the Battle of the Frontiers. Simultaneously, the Russians and Germans had at each other at Gumbinnen, over in Prussia. The supreme irony here is that, on 20 August 1940, France would surrender to Germany. Today, for reasons surpassing understanding, is also National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day. But today we’re going to talk about an obscure but essential president, and about radios.

These assessments of blandness may be correct, but they obscure Benjamin Harrison’s many achievements.

Benjamin Harrison, born 20 August 1833 in North Bend, Ohio, is frequently said to have been something of a cipher. He was the grandson of the president with the shortest tenure, William Henry Harrison (31 days); a Civil War general of not great repute but enormous competence; and the president best known as the one between Grover Cleveland’s two administrations. These assessments of blandness may be correct, but they obscure Benjamin Harrison’s many achievements.

Harrison’s tenure as senator was lackluster, but as president, he was, for a 19th-century chief executive, remarkable.

Ben Harrison only held two elected offices in his life: a one-term senator from Indiana (1881-1887) and a one-term president (1889-1893). A more-than-competent attorney, Harrison always managed to be in the right place at the right time, and even though his friends in high office were few, US Grant was among them. He was a gifted orator, a better-than-average legal writer, a savvy investor who didn’t lose money in any of the various postwar panics, and a reliable campaign friend to have in Indiana. Harrison’s tenure as senator was lackluster, but as president, he was, for a 19th-century chief executive, remarkable.

The prevailing spoils system, where federal jobs changed with every new administration, was becoming not only awkward but obsolete because many jobs like postmaster and customs collector were becoming more technically involved.

Harrison wasn’t the first to be elected without winning the popular vote, but his election in 1888 may have been regarded as the most suspicious until 2016. The Electoral College vote wasn’t even close–233 to 168 in his favor. Then, as now, the losing Democrats wrote editorial after editorial arguing that the Electoral College should be disposed of. But Harrison ignored his party when selecting his cabinet, frustrating Republican bosses across the country by avoiding patronage. And patronage was at the heart of the civil service reform that was popular among politicians at that time, with a merit system being described and argued. The prevailing spoils system, where federal jobs changed with every new administration, was becoming not only awkward but obsolete because many positions like postmaster and customs collector were becoming more technically involved.

Harrison was the first president to have electric lights in the White House, was the first to have his voice recorded, and was the last for whom we have no moving pictures.

Harrison was in the White House when the last battle of the Long War between the Europeans and their African and Asian allies and the Native Americans broke the revivalist Ghost Dance movement among the Sioux at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on 29 December 1890. He didn’t have anything directly to do with it, but, like George HW Bush was in the scene when the Cold War ended, Harrison saw the end of the most protracted American war. But Harrison saw more states enter the Union than any other president–six–and his face appears on more stamps than any other Chief Executive–five. Harrison was the first president to have electric lights in the White House (though he was too frightened of electrocution to turn them off), was the first to have his voice recorded, and was the last for whom we have no moving pictures.

Harrison attended the first peace conference at The Hague in 1899, argued a boundary dispute case in Paris that won him international renown, and died of pneumonia on 13 March 1901 at age 67–not bad for a footnote in history.

The election of 1892 was a low-key affair in no little measure because Harrison’s wife Caroline was dying of tuberculosis (she passed two weeks before the election). Grover Cleveland won both the popular and the electoral vote handily, reentering the White House in March 1893. Ben Harrison went home to Indiana, remarried in 1896 (at 62, to a 37-year-old widow), and fathered another child in 1897. Harrison attended the first peace conference at The Hague in 1899, argued a boundary dispute case in Paris that won him international renown, and died of pneumonia on 13 March 1901 at age 67–not bad for a footnote in history.


NRD_Hashtag-2x1
Something we can all identify with

Now, National Radio Day is today, 20 August. Once again, who first decided this is a mystery for the ages, though one theory is that 8MK, now WWJ in Detroit, first broadcast in the clear on 20 August 1920, and someone, some time decided to commemorate that day. The day has been observed regularly since the early 1990s, mostly as a promotional gimmick I would imagine.

The pretty young ladies on the beach in the lead picture, struggling to hold that (probably empty) boom box over their head, are posing for the camera. I do not know of anyone who gets that excited over commercial radio in the 21st century except maybe the broadcasters. Perhaps that’s the reason why there’s a website supporting National Radio Day that lists stations across the US that support National Radio Day in some way or another.

It’s been a long time since I listened to broadcast radio in any form, though I do get satellite radio in my car from time to time. Like most music-only consumers, I prefer commercial-free satellite radio or streaming these days. The babbling DJs, the shouting pundits I can do without.

Still, commercial broadcast radio has had an outstanding, salutary role in American society and the world. Most Americans first heard of the Pearl Harbor attacks and the death of Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. Many adults–especially those over 40–courted their current significant others to the sound of the radio in the car or the park or the basement. So you don’t have to listen to appreciate radio anymore, just know and recognize what a role it has played in our lives for nearly a century.

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Meiji Emperor and National Father-In-Law Day

Dog days of July…hot and getting hotter in the Great Lakes. “Dog days” are:

  • Mid-July through mid-August or,
  • 3 July to 11 August

Because:

  • Dogs are said to go mad/contract rabies;
  • Sirius the Dog Star is visible in the northern hemisphere within that window;
  • Someone called them that long ago and it stuck.

Take your pick. The ancient Egyptians paid attention to Sirius because it coincided with the periodic flooding of the Nile, which enriched the otherwise desert soil with nutrients. The Greeks, not relying on a periodic flood for survival, thought that same star just made the world hotter. But 19th-century American farmers thought that rain during the dog days made for a bad harvest. And they had a rhyme (From the Old Farmer’s Almanac):

Dog Days bright and clear
Indicate a happy year;
But when accompanied by rain,
For better times, our hopes are vain.

But 30 July was an eventful day in history. On this day in 1419 was the First Defenestration of Prague, when Bohemian Hussites (a Catholic sect) threw a burgomeister and several town council members out a town hall window (that’s what defenestration means, by the way: to throw something or someone out a window). This action triggered the Hussite Wars (1419-1434) and a number of crusades that I just don’t have space to go into here and now. Yes, there was a Second (and better known) Defenestration of Prague in 1618 that triggered the Thirty Year’s War. And, on 30 July 1898, the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck died in Friedrichsruh in Schleswig-Holstein. Bismarck had been responsible for the machinations that created the Concert of Europe in the late 19th century, the one that created the German Empire out of a customs union and put Wilhelm II on the throne of it; Willie didn’t like being restrained, so he had fired Bismarck in 1890. Finally, on 30 July 1997, Emperor Bao Dai–the last emperor of Vietnam–died in Paris. Born Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, was the last of the Nguyen emperors who ruled that part of the world from 2879 BC (traditional) to the abolition of the monarchy in 1945. Bao Dai was briefly Head of State of South Vietnam, but after 1949 he spent most of the rest of his life in France. Today is also National Cheesecake Day (for reasons beyond understanding) and National Whistleblower’s Day (commemorating a Congressional resolution passed in 1778). But today we’re talking about the death of another emperor, and about fathers-in-law.

Less than a year after Mutsuhito’s birth, Perry’s squadron muscled its way into Tokyo, and Japan was never quite the same.

The Meiji Emperor Mutsuhito was born Sachinomiya in Kyoto on 3 November 1852 to the Komei Emperor and a favored concubine, Nakayama Yoshiko. That the boy survived to adulthood was both a good omen that suggested he was destined to lead Japan to great things, and a medical miracle, as five of his brothers and sisters (and ten of his fifteen children) died in childhood. Less than a year after Mutsuhito’s birth, Perry’s squadron muscled its way into Tokyo, and Japan was never quite the same.

By the time the Komei Emperor died in January 1867 and the fourteen-year-old Meiji Emperor was enthroned, Japan was ripe for civil war.

There are conflicting accounts of Mutsuhito’s childhood, but he was given his adult name in 1860 not long after he was named the heir to the Komei Emperor. By that time the great daimyos were making restive noises about the Tokugawa shogunate and their bakufu–all the more restive because those nasty treaties with the West were bringing foreign influence into Japan. By the time the Komei Emperor died in January 1867, and the fourteen-year-old Meiji Emperor was enthroned, Japan was ripe for civil war.

The seventeen-year-old Meiji Emperor had better advisors and had the allegiance of the great daimyos that his father did not. 

Emperors in Japan had always been more-or-less powerless figureheads, but the daimyos were using his happiness or unhappiness as an excuse for what they did. The Meiji Emperor, very early, wasn’t immune, but by the end of the Boshin War in June 1869, he was ready and willing to take some command of his country. The official change had been made a year before, but the seventeen-year-old Meiji Emperor had better advisors than his father and had the allegiance of the great daimyos that his father did not.

The Meiji Constitution made the War and Navy ministers co-equal with the civil government, enabling the samurai in the Army and Navy to control the destiny of the country.

As Japan modernized and industrialized externally, its social structure and core values could not move ahead at the same pace. The samurai–the class of swaggering swordsmen who had dominated the archipelago for centuries– was a dominant physical, social and economic influence whether their traditions had been abolished or not. When the Meiji Constitution (issued in his name but he didn’t write it) took effect in 1890, it enabled political parties and an elected lower house (Diet), but real power was reserved for those who wielded it in the non-elected cabinet: traditional lords and strongmen. Worse, the Meiji Constitution made the War and Navy ministers co-equal with the civil government, enabling the samurai in the Army and Navy to control the destiny of the country.

The Meiji Emperor had a son and five daughters who lived to adulthood. Yoshihito would become the Taisho Emperor on the Meiji Emperor’s death on 30 July 1912. The Meiji Emperor, after all of that, was primarily a pacifist who penned this poem:

The seas of the four directions—
all are born of one womb:
why, then, do the wind and waves rise in discord?

His grandson, the Showa Emperor Hirohito, read this poem in an Imperial Conference in September 1941 to show his displeasure at the samurai’s growing threat of war with the West.


Today is also National Father-in-Law day for reasons unknown. Generally speaking, fathers-in-law are older gentlemen who are the parents of one’s spouse who are privileged with some title associated with “father.” My quasi-step-son-in-law has never, to my knowledge, acknowledged any such relationship with me, and my step-father-in-law Howard, an estimable gentleman that I didn’t meet until my wife and I had been married for 22 years, has never asked anything of me at all. There’s a great deal to be said for having your in-laws always living in another time zone, though in-laws generally get a bad rap that they may or may not deserve.

The trouble is, some fathers-in-law come with nothing but trouble: the guy at the top of this blog was the father-in-law from hell for Galeazzo Ciano. Ciano served Italy from 1934 onward, and when his government dismissed him, he fled to Germany to escape his country’s wrath after his ouster in September 1943. Nope, guess again: the Germans turned him over to Papa Benny, who had his fellow fascists declare him guilty of treason, then try him, sit him in a chair and shoot him. Gee, thanks, Papa.

So, for all those of you who have fathers-in-law who weren’t (or aren’t) like Mussolini, think pleasant thoughts about the old boy today. For those who are, hope your day it at least quiet.


And in News of the Future-Past, on this day in 2018 Beezelum (pronounced “Smith”),  Professor of Studies-Studies at The Miskatonic University Extension-Wherever, announced, “Beezelum has determined that reality as you know it does not truly exist in time and space because it lacks definition.” Beezelum, who eschews titles of all kinds and whose personal pronoun is “Deity of Deities,” insisted that “reality, as it is now known, can only exist in non-sis-gendered racially defined time and ethnically-challenged and redefined non-space, and therefore does not deserve the distinction of being real.” To further study this post-Derridasist pseudonarrative, Deity of Deities announced a new studies program intended to redefine definition and is seeking a grant of $1,000,000,000,000 from the US Department of Education for the effort. Contacted for further information, a Department of Education spokes-entity replied “what?”

Now you don’t know that either, future archivists.

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US Grant and National Vanilla Ice Cream Day

Re-post for the benefit of Linkedin, which disconnected again.

Summer, hot and sweltering and muggy. Just the kind of day in the Great Lakes you need to get something cold and wet as long as it’s not a fish.

On 23 July 1827, the first swimming pool in the United States started operation in Boston; it was almost certainly private or members-only, and no trace of it now exists. The oldest existing pool is probably Deep Eddy in Texas. And on this day in 1904, the ice cream cone was first sold commercially at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis; cones of various descriptions had been privately made from recipes as early as 1823, and patents for cone-making machines date from the 1890s. And, on 23 July 1967, a failed police raid in Detroit led to a riot that, over the course of nine days, would kill 43 people and require the use of federal troops to quell; as a young man living in suburban Detroit at the time, I can attest to the kind of confusion that the riot engendered, but “race” wasn’t the only issue. But today, we’re talking about Captain Sam and plain vanilla.

Young Ulys got sick when he was nine with a fever–probably malaria–that would cause him headaches and “ague” for the rest of his life, and would often be mistaken for other things.

US Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant on 27 April 1822 in the little shack by the Ohio River. His father Jessie was a prosperous businessman; his mother Hanna indulgent of her only son. Young Ulys got sick when he was nine with a fever–probably malaria–that would cause him headaches and “ague” for the rest of his life, and would often be mistaken for other things.

He took a volunteer job as a mustering officer and drillmaster, then asked for and got a commission as colonel, and he never looked back.

Young Grant was a smart lad but Jessie was cheap. When it came time for the boy to go to school beyond the reaches of Ohio he was sent to West Point because it was free. When he got there, he discovered that his name was entered as Ulysses Simpson (his mother’s maiden name) Grant, and he stuck with it for the rest of his life. In 1843 US Grant was commissioned in the infantry upon his graduation, 21st out of a class of 39. He went to his first post in Missouri, and from there to Mexico. He served largely as a supply officer in Mexico and later in Detroit, New York, and California while many of those who would be leading lights in the Civil War served with him. In 1854, for unstated reasons that have always been ascribed to drink (there are no surviving official written records of a drinking problem) he resigned from the Army. Grant struggled to support his wife and three children for the next seven years. At one point he was selling kindling door-to-door and felt compelled to sell his Army coat. The outbreak of war in 1861 found him working in his father’s dry goods and harness shop in Galena, Illinois. He took a volunteer job as a mustering officer and drillmaster, then asked for and got a commission as colonel, and he never looked back.

Grant was practically broke when he left office in 1877.

His story after that should be familiar. Grant was breveted a brigadier, then promoted to major general, then the first officer to equal Washington’s rank as lieutenant general, then the first to exceed him as a full general. He was the first American officer to wear four stars on his shoulder. And as often was the case then, he rode that success right into the White House in 1869. But Grant wasn’t a politician, and he was probably the worst personal money-manager who ever took the oath as president. Grant was practically broke when he left office in 1877.

The royalties for his posthumously-published memoirs provided just under half a million dollars for his family in their lifetime.

Always scrambling to make a living, he sold articles to Century Magazine about his experience in the war. In time he attracted the attention of Samuel Clemens–Mark Twain–who persuaded him to write a memoir. He finished those memoirs in a borrowed cottage on Mount McGregor, New York just days before he died on 23 July 1885. The royalties for his posthumously-published memoirs provided just under half a million dollars for his family in their lifetime. Captain John J. Pershing, commanding the Corps of Cadets at West Point, commanded the honor guard for Grant’s funeral.

If you’re driving along the Ohio River on US 52, you’ll probably miss the little state-run US Grant birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio: we nearly did. It’s not something that you can get to on the way somewhere else because it’s not near anything else. That about sums up Grant’s life: always on the way somewhere else.


https://www.thirddrawerdown.com/products/giant-vanilla-ice-cream-scoop-bank
Called a Giant White, worth nearly $42–not to me, but maybe you.

And today is National Vanilla Ice Cream Day because, again, someone said it was. Ice cream, as everyone knows, predates mechanical refrigeration by at least a century. The easiest way to make it cold is to use an ice cream churn that uses a steel drum and rock salt to reduce the temperature of the mixture. Even before this, the ancient Egyptians and nearly everyone else was flavoring natural and manufactured ice and snow.

Thomas Jefferson is said to have brought a recipe for vanilla ice cream back from France in 1790, but there are records of extant vanillas before then, those introduced by the Quakers as early as the 1750s. There are at this writing more than 30 different flavors of vanilla ice cream retailed in the US…who knew?

So, to celebrate National Vanilla Ice Cream Day, have a bowl or two or, like the young lady above, a cone. Or, like me, just smile and let others enjoy it. I, myself, never quite got the point of ice cream. But maybe you did.


And today in News of the Future-Past, on 23 July 2018, Dr. Huckleberry Dogbreath of the University of Doodle-Patch in Oregon announced the invention of the pedal-popper, a development of a bicycle that, used correctly, either goes back in time or simply disappears…no one’s sure just which because Dogbreath is the only person who’s ever seen it. At the same time, Professor Dogbreath announced that his government research grant to develop the pedal-popper has so far totaled in the vicinity of $2,000,000,000,000, and he plans to apply for more. Senator Makeme Grabitall (R/D-Everywhere) stated unequivocally that this was the kind of innovation that the US Congress should back.

Take that to the bank, or the poor house.


Like this post if you’d buy a T-shirt with this printed on it:

History: The Only Test for the Consequences of Ideas

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Trinity and National Personal Chef Day

OK, mid-July at last. Now if you haven’t fired up that grill yet, you’d better, because the siege of the mosquitos is about to begin, and you have to have a way to roast the little buggers. And, as we all know, People for the Ethical Treatment of (some) Animals is requiring that all of us homo saps provide food for all living creatures…except the annoying ones.

On 16 July 1790, the District of Columbia was established, carving out parts of Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River; while Congress was aware that most of the land was still a swampy wilderness, they apparently felt at home there–and still do. And in 1863, the New York “draft” riots ended with the Union Army’s VI Corps patrolling the streets; while the draft offices were the easiest targets, the riot is also attributed to unrest over jobs, the payment of substitutes for the draft, and a general feeling that “outsiders” who included Negroes, Irish, and Germans were taking advantage of war-driven shortages. On 16 July 1940, Philippe Petain, French hero of WWI, became the Premier of the new French government at Vichy; while Petain felt he was only doing duty to his country, postwar Frenchmen would condemn him to life in prison and exile. And on 16 July 1969, Apollo XI launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida; in three days they would orbit the moon, and in four, land on the Sea of Tranquility.  Today is also National Corn Fritters Day because, somewhere in the long-ago past, someone said it was. But today, we talk about mushroom clouds in the desert and personal chefs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(nuclear_test)#/media/File:Trinity_Site_Obelisk_National_Historic_Landmark.jpg
Trinity National Historic Landmark, NPS

In 1933, the legend goes, Leo Szilard conceived the idea of the nuclear chain reaction, and everything after that was just a matter of engineering. Szilard was also credited with drafting the letter that Albert Einstein signed to President Roosevelt that has been ascribed to have been the trigger for the Manhattan Engineer District and the development of the atom bomb.

Nonetheless, the Americans began official, government-funded research on a nuclear weapon when the Manhattan Engineer District was formed on 6 December 1941. 

The letter wasn’t a suggestion to build a bomb, but a warning that the Germans might be on the way to building one. What no one outside of Germany knew at the time was that, yes there were eminent scientists in Germany working on a nuclear weapon, but their leader, Walther Heisenberg, had the theory wrong and couldn’t have built one based on his work. Nonetheless, the Americans began official, government-funded research on a nuclear weapon when the Manhattan Engineer District was formed on 6 December 1941.

They  made weird-looking explosive bricks and wedges, they turned metals into shapes with tolerances of zero, they watched columns of water change color, they built a tower in a sandy desert miles away from everything.

In the course of the next four years, an entire industry was formed in six states, employing nearly 120,000 people in total. Only a handful of these people knew exactly what they were working on. They extracted enriched uranium and plutonium, they made weird-looking explosive bricks and wedges, they turned metals into shapes with tolerances of zero, they watched columns of water change color, they built a tower in a sandy desert scores of miles away from everything.

The observers were told that when the light beams came together and stopped, they would have ten seconds to turn away–or it would be the last thing they ever saw.

In the summer of 1945, all the pieces were together in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Over the course of a week, the eggheads assembled the big round ball with its exotic triggers, thick wires and that ball of shiny material in the middle. Near midnight on 15 July 1945, the thousands of watchers started to fill the bleachers. At about 2 in the morning of 16 August, two searchlights started to sweep the air over the tower in the desert. The observers were given goggles, and were told that when the light beams came together and stopped, they would have ten seconds to turn away–or it would be the last thing they ever saw.

One member of the Special Engineering Division said that, among his coterie, the only subject of conversation afterwards was “so that’s what we’ve been doing.”

At 5:29 on 16 July 1945, the Trinity site–what the entire effort to assemble and detonate the “gadget” in that lonely patch of desert was called–became like a sun as the implosion-type plutonium-core nuclear device was detonated under those light beams. The explosive power of the weapon was rated at about 20 kilotons–20,000 tons of TNT. Blind persons fifty miles away were said to have seen the flash of light brighter than a star for a millionth of a second. One witness miles away from the official viewing stand–a member of the Special Engineering Division of technicians hired to do scut work–said that, among his coterie, the only subject of conversation afterward was “so that’s what we’ve been doing.”

On the same day, USS Indianapolis left the Mare Island naval station for San Francisco, where they would load parts of the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.

By the standards of 2018 it would be a large tactical nuclear device, but by the standards of 1945, it was an enormous device. On the same day, USS Indianapolis left the Mare Island naval station for San Francisco, where they would load parts of the bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima three weeks later.

For those of you who might plan to actually go there, you have to want to find it–the Park Service didn’t make it easy to find in 1976 when I was there (in fact, our bus driver got lost). Take your own water, because there’s nothing out there other than the obelisk shown above–not even a gift shop. Fittingly, it’s a lonely, desolate place in the middle of what is now the White Sands Missile Range.


Today is also National Personal Chefs Day by decree of the folks at the National Day Calendar and the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA).  Now, why it’s on 16 July is still a mystery, but there really has been an (apparently) professional organization for this kind of thing since 1991. Their description:

A Personal Chef is a culinary professional that comes directly to your home to provide you a wide variety of personalized cooking services. Each Personal Chef is an independent business owner who will work closely with you to provide personalized and customized services that fit your specific tastes and needs.

And here I always called them “cooks.”

But if you’ve got a personal chef, do something nice for them today, for it’s their day, like take them out for lunch. Or something.


And, in News of the Future-Past, on this day in 2018 King Fred of Wahoozistan (also known as Joyce the Broad-Shouldered) launched his campaign against their sworn enemies in neighboring Jeosophat in a lightning campaign that was stopped dead in its tracks by a lone goatherd just inside the border. Surviving accounts attribute the forever-nameless nomad with turning his shepherd’s crook into a dozen Krispy Kream glazed doughnuts with a mere wave of his cell phone. The aroma of these delectable fat pills so attracted the starving army that they started to fight among themselves, causing the ill-starred invasion to collapse.

And now you don’t know that, either. Take that, future researchers.