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Posts Tagged ‘History’

Tama the Station Master

In January 2007, the manager at the railway station in Kinokawa, Japan, gave the title of Station Master to his cat Tama, with the primary duty of greeting passengers.

At the time, ridership was down. The station was operating with reduced staff, and Wakayama Railway had considered closing the operation. But after Tama was appointed, ridership increased. The company joyfully stepped in, creating a gold name tag for Tama’s collar and designing a special station master’s hat for her.

Thereafter, Tama appeared in the news regularly, usually when she received a promotion or award. Tourists flocked to see her. A ticket booth in the station was converted into her office.

In 2010, Tama’s mother Miiko and sister Chibi were named Assistant Station Masters. In 2012, a deputy named Nitama (“Second Tama”), was appointed.

Tama died in 2015 and was succeeded by Nitama, who remains in office today.

According to a study, Tama generated about one billion yen for the local economy. A newspaper pointed out that she was the only female in a managerial position at Wakayama Railway.

The White Bridge

In 1926 in my adopted town of Jefferson, Georgia, a concrete arch bridge was built across Curry Creek, replacing an old wooden covered bridge. At the time, reinforced concrete was the latest thing in bridges — practical, cheap, and versatile.

Curry Creek Bridge is its official name, but, as I learned when I moved to Jefferson in 2006, the locals call it the White Bridge. I had to accept that description on faith, because the bridge needed a serious cleaning. Like most aging concrete bridges, it was an unsightly, moldy gray. It was, like, the Ugly Bridge.

Finally, late last year, the Highway Department gave the bridge some attention. Structural repairs were made, and the entire thing was sandblasted and stripped of accumulated grime.

When the project was completed and the tarps removed, I drove downtown to see the White Bridge restored to its former glory.

Alas, nine decades of exposure to the elements had taken a toll. Yes, the bridge looks much better, but it isn’t what you’d call white. It’s more the color of a banana (the fruit, not the peel). Or eggnog. Or mayonnaise.

I guess the Mayonnaise Bridge is better than the Ugly Bridge.

Seven Wonders

The ancient Greeks were big on the number seven. To them, seven somehow represented perfection and held the promise of personal enrichment (lucky seven). Hence, when some Greek deep thinkers decided to make a list of the wonders of the world, the list was bound to be seven wonders long.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are/were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

All seven are located in the Mediterranean region, the back yard of the Greeks. The rest of the world? Meh.

The list isn’t official or binding in any way, of course, and over the centuries, it has been modified regularly. Frequent additions were the Roman Colosseum, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, etc.

In 1997, in an interesting twist, CNN listed the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Named were the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, Victoria Falls, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Harbor, and the Paricutin volcano in Mexico.

Regarding the last two: the harbor at Rio de Janeiro is the world’s largest natural harbor. It has 130 islands and is ringed by mountains. Paricutin volcano erupted unexpectedly in 1943 in a farmer’s field, grew to 1,400 feet tall, and went dormant in 1952, leaving a cinder cone that is now a popular tourist attraction.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

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The Questions…

1. During WWII, how were the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence safeguarded?

2. What company owns, among other brands, Lamborghini, Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Bugatti, and Ducati?

3. By what name is the painting “La Gioconda” better known?

4. How long is an eon?

5. In parts of Europe, and in many countries that once were part of the British Empire, what is the day after Christmas called?

The Answers…

1. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the documents were moved to the US Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky. After the D-Day landings in 1944, they were returned to Washington, DC.

2. Volkswagen AG.

3. The Mona Lisa. The painting by Leonardo da Vinci is believed to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, an Italian noblewoman whose husband, rich businessman Francesco del Giocondo, was a big shot in the Silk Guild.

4. In common usage, an eon usually is an indefinite, very long period of time. In astronomy and geology, however, it is one billion years.

5. “Boxing Day,” which originated eons ago in the UK. It probably is connected to an old tradition of giving gifts to people working service jobs or to the poor. Boxing may refer to a Christmas box given to the needy or to church donation boxes.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The national parliament of Iceland is the oldest governing assembly in the world. It dates back to 930 AD, when Viking chieftains gathered in an open field to discuss mutual issues. The field was the site of Icelandic government meetings until 1798, when it was moved to Reykjavik and, finally, indoors.

● In 2007, actor Nicolas Cage won an auction for a dinosaur skull, bidding against, among others, Leonardo DiCaprio. Cage paid $276,000 for the skull. A few years later, evidence surfaced that the skull had been stolen from Mongolia, and Cage had to return it. He didn’t get his $276,000 back.

● The letter e is used three times and pronounced three different ways in the word Mercedes.

● In 2005, remains were found in South Dakota of an extra-large cousin of the Velociraptor popularized by the Jurassic Park films. The new cousin, Dakotaraptor, was about 18 feet long and weighed 500 or so pounds. The largest known cousin so far is Utahraptor at about 23 feet long and 600 pounds.

FYI, Velociraptors actually were about the size of a turkey. Spielberg knew that, but he really liked the name Velociraptor.

● Martin Luther King, Jr. was born Michael King, Jr. When he was five, his father changed both of their names to honor Martin Luther, the German theologian who started the Protestant Church in the days of Columbus.

● In 1920, the “American Professional Football Association” was established in Canton, Ohio. Five of the 16 original teams were based in Cleveland. In 1922, the group changed its name to the “National Football League.”

● Pistachio nuts are especially dry and high in fat content — so much so that when the nuts are transported, the temperature, humidity, and air pressure must be carefully controlled to prevent them from over-heating and exploding.

● The Clowns’ Gallery-Museum, a display of clown costumes, memorabilia, and reference material, was founded in 1959 in the basement of Holy Trinity Church in London. Due to the growth of the collection, the museum opened a second location in Somerset in 2007.

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Eugene Bullard

I didn’t learn about Eugene Bullard in school. You probably didn’t, either.

Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard (1895-1961) was the first African-American combat pilot and the only black pilot who fought in World War I. He flew for the French, not the US, and his story is remarkable.

Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, the son of a Haitian father and a Creek mother. He had an especially troubled childhood. He ran away from home regularly, only to endure beatings by his father when he was caught. In 1906, at age 11, he ran away for good and made his way to Atlanta.

There, he fell in with a band of gypsies and tended their horses as they traveled the South. In 1912, at age 17, he stowed away on a German freighter bound for Aberdeen, Scotland. He went to London, where he worked as a boxer and a slapstick performer in a black entertainment troupe.

Bullard first visited Paris in 1913 for a boxing match. He was captivated by the city and resolved to make Paris his home. He wrote years later, “It seemed to me that French democracy influenced the minds of both black and white Americans there and helped us all act like brothers.”

Bullard was 19 when World War I began. He joined the French Foreign Legion and served as a machinegunner in a regiment that fought in the Battle of Verdun, the longest battle of the war. He was seriously wounded twice and was awarded two medals for bravery, including the Croix de Guerre.

His wounds prevented him from further infantry duty, so he applied for, he was accepted into, the French flying service, the Aéronautique Militaire. He attended flight school, got his wings in 1917, and quickly earned a reputation for his courage and skill. He flew 25-plus combat missions, usually with his pet rhesus monkey Jimmy on his shoulder.

The Germans called Bullard “The Black Swallow of Death.” He had two confirmed kills and earned 15 medals.

When the US entered the war, he and other Americans in the Aéronautique Militaire, applied to transfer to the US military. Most were accepted, but Bullard was not because the US did not allow blacks to serve as pilots or aircraft mechanics.

Specifically, US policy was that black soldiers were not intelligent enough to understand aircraft mechanics or to pilot an aircraft. Seriously.

Moreover, under US pressure, the French removed Bullard from aviation duty.

When the war ended and Bullard was discharged from military service, he became part owner of a Paris nightclub, Le Grand Duc. The club became a popular hangout for the rich and famous, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Pablo Picasso, the Prince of Wales, and Ernest Hemingway.

Soon, he opened a second club, and in 1923, he married Marcelle Straumann, the daughter of a French countess. They had a son, who died in childhood, and two daughters. The Bullards were divorced in 1931.

When the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Bullard quietly joined the French resistance as a spy. By then, he was fluent in German and was able to eavesdrop on unsuspecting German officers, with whom his nightclubs were popular, and who had no idea Bullard spoke German.

Later in 1940, possibly because his ties to the resistance became known, Bullard fled Paris with his two daughters. On the way to Spain, he joined a group of French soldiers defending Orléans and suffered a severe spinal wound. He and his daughters returned to the US, where he recuperated in a New York hospital.

In France, Bullard had been a national hero; in America, he was just another black man. Using a financial grant from the French government, he bought a small apartment in Harlem. Both of his daughters married, and Bullard lived alone.

He never fully recovered from his back injury, and his mobility was restricted. He supported himself by serving as an occasional French interpreter for Louis Armstrong, working as a security guard, and selling perfume. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center.

In 1960, while in New York, French President Charles de Gaulle visited Bullard, named him a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, and called him a “true French hero.” Bullard’s achievements were never recognized by the US.

He died in Harlem of stomach cancer in 1961. He was buried in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens and was given full military honors by the Federation of French War Officers.

In 1994, the US Air Force finally gave Bullard official recognition of sorts by giving him a posthumous commission as a second lieutenant.

Why did the US pressure the French government to ground Eugene Bullard, and why did the US government fail to recognize and honor his achievements?

Racism. What else?


Bullard’s French military decorations from WWI and WWII, as displayed in his Harlem apartment.

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The Questions…

1. According to power companies, what is the most frequent cause of power outages on the electrical grid?

2. Who was the first actor to portray James Bond? (Hint: it was not Sean Connery in “Dr. No” in 1962.)

3. What is a moonbow?

4. What’s the difference between apes and monkeys?

5. What neat trick does the State of Ohio use to identify motorists who have been cited more than once for DUI?

The Answers…

1. Squirrels — soon to be deceased squirrels — chewing through insulation.

2. American actor Barry Nelson played Bond in a live TV drama in 1954. The program was an adaptation of “Casino Real” in which Bond was an American spy, not British.

3. A rainbow that occurs at night, often around a waterfall and in the presence of mist. They are difficult to see unless the moon is bright.

4. Apes and monkeys are primates, like you, but apes (gorillas, chimps, orangutans, and gibbons) are higher on the evolutionary scale and thus more intelligent. Whereas monkeys prefer the safety of the treetops, apes spend as much time on the ground as in trees. Apes are larger than monkeys. Monkeys have tails, and apes do not.

5. Repeat DUI offenders are issued a yellow license plate with red characters instead of the standard Ohio plate, which is red, white, and blue. The special plates are a way for police to identify the offenders and, of course, are a form of public shaming.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● James Madison, the fourth U.S. President, was 5’ 4” tall and weighed just shy of 100 pounds.

● In American English, the letter sequence “ough” can be pronounced eight different ways — namely, as in the words rough, cough, drought, dough, thought, through, thorough, and (even though this is not a common spelling) hiccough.

● The salivary glands in your mouth produce about three pints of saliva per day. The fluid serves as a lubricant and also contains enzymes that aid the process of digestion.

● Tigers have white spots on the backs of their ears that may have evolved to mimic eyes. One theory is that the spots protect the animal from being attacked from behind; tigers are said to be vulnerable when they lower their heads to get a drink of water. That seems like a stretch to me, but what do I know?

● As a teenager, actor Christopher Walken (real name Ronald Walken) worked in a circus as an assistant lion tamer. He also trained at a Washington, DC dance studio and earned money dancing in local night clubs.

● All the letters of the alphabet have one-syllable names except W.

● In the early 1950s, before he began his music career, Johnny Cash wrote several short stories that were not published in his lifetime. One was “The Holografik Danser,” a science fiction story about life after a nuclear attack in which holographic entertainment is beamed into homes. His daughter Rosanne included the story in an anthology in 2001.

● Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a physical education teacher at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Naismith wanted to create a vigorous indoor sport to keep his students fit during the winter months. Initially, the game was played with a soccer ball, and the hoops were peach baskets.

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The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.

Alexandre Dumas fils*

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A wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence.

David Hume

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No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of members are poor and miserable.

Adam Smith

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I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.

Oscar Wilde

Dumas fils

Wilde

* ‘Fils’ is French for ‘son’ and is the equivalent of ‘Jr.’ in English. ‘Père’ is French for ‘father,’ so Alexandre Dumas, Sr. was known as ‘Alexander Dumas père.’

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Checking the Mail

When I ask my dog Jake, “Wanna go check the mail?” he is delirious with joy. Jake has access to the back yard via the dog door, but being in the front yard is special: while I proceed to the mailbox, Jake can look for cats.

The neighborhood cats — we seem to have eight or 10 — are aware that Jake is constrained by the back yard fence. But when he is loose in the front yard, it’s every cat for itself. Jake has surprised many a cat in the open or flushed it from hiding, and the ensuing chases are epic.

Inevitably, after a few moments of pandemonium, the cat is treed. Jake parks himself at the base of the tree, looking pleased with himself, and remains on guard until we go back inside.

Because of all this, a new ritual has evolved. While I check the mail, Jake makes a circuit of the front yard, systematically checking every spot where he has seen or smelled a cat in the past.

Following the same route every time, he stops to look behind certain hedges and shrubs. He peers inside the drainpipe that runs under the driveway. He peeks under vehicles and behind the trash cans. He scans the treetops.

Jake takes the matter of cats very seriously.

Saint Isidore

Isidore of Seville (560-636), the Archbishop of Seville, Spain, dedicated most of his adult life to preserving the knowledge handed down by the Greeks, Romans, and other early civilizations. Had he not done this, most of what we know from antiquity likely would have been lost.

Born into a rich and influential family, Isidore undertook the project of compiling a massive “encyclopedia of knowledge” that compiled virtually everything of consequence known at the time. It was called the Etymologiae, and it was decades in the making. The work consisted of 20 volumes and 448 chapters. For centuries thereafter, it was a staple of medieval libraries.

Isidore had underlings to do the tedious work, of course, but he is known to have been deeply involved is the project. Along the way, he also is credited with inventing the period, the comma, and the colon, which is pretty cool.

In 1997, as the internet was becoming an important thing in the world, Pope John Paul II recognized Isidore’s devotion to knowledge by naming him the patron saint of the internet.

Wedding Day

For years before I retired, I spent nearly every Saturday or Sunday, sometimes both, hiking and kayaking in the mountains of North Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. That was my thing.

From where I lived, the most direct route north was US 441, which, for much of the way, is a divided four-lane highway. I would start out on 441 and peel off on other routes depending on the destination.

US 441 passes through Demorest, Georgia, which is notable for the picturesque campus of Piedmont College in the center of town. Driving through Demorest is always pleasant.

I recall one weekend that was especially memorable. Driving home from a hike somewhere, I passed through Demorest and saw that a wedding was in progress in a city park adjacent to the campus.

This, I said to myself, is worth a stop. I parked and walked back to a spot overlooking the site of the wedding, a small gazebo in the park. I sat down on a bench and watched the remainder of the ceremony.

The afternoon was sunny and warm. Fifty or so guests were in attendance. The bride was radiant, the groom was handsome.

The scene was moving, and I became rather emotional. Never mind that I had no idea who those people were.

The gazebo in Demorest.

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Armchair Psychology

Various observations related to brain function and dysfunction…

Emotional Intelligence

In 1995, author and journalist Daniel Goleman wrote Emotional Intelligence, an international best-seller that was printed in, like, 40 languages.

The term “emotional intelligence” means learning to understand your own emotions and those of others so you can act effectively and positively. Currently, Goleman works at Rutgers University and specializes in how the concept applies to organizations.

Empathy

In his 1995 book, Goleman said that empathy is not a single trait, but three — namely, cognitive empathy, social empathy, and empathic concern.

Cognitive empathy is understanding someone else’s perspective so you can communicate with the person more constructively.

Social empathy is sensing what the other person feels so you can establish rapport.

Empathic concern is going beyond understanding the other person’s situation and having a genuine desire to help them. Goleman says we do this by tapping into the “ancient mammalian system for parenting.”

Master all three, he says, and you can build healthy relationships, personally and professionally.

Empathy, it’s fair to say, is a complicated and important commodity. Because humans are such social animals, empathy helps the group function cooperatively and peacefully.

Empathy among all parties greases the skids; a deficiency of empathy, on the part of anyone in the group, introduces problems.

An Abnormal Deficiency

Years ago, I concluded that a root cause of the typical behavior of political conservatives — one of the fundamental reasons Republicans think the way they think, behave the way they behave, and are the way they are — is an abnormal deficiency of empathy.

(This deficiency is one of three common characteristics of present-day right-wingers. The others are an affinity for authoritarianism and being a white person.)

Empathy varies with the individual, of course, regardless of politics, but the conservative brain seems to be wired in such a way that it lacks a normal ability to feel a sense of charity, compassion, mercy, or sympathy for others.

This is why Republicans can justify separating children from their parents at the border as a scare tactic. And why they fear, distrust, and often demonize outsiders.

This is why the most evil boogieman they can imagine is socialism. And why they want to reduce the amount of your COVID relief check.

This is why they fall so easily for conspiracy theories. And why they turn so readily to racism and misogyny.

The Fiction Factor

The degree of empathy in you has an alleged connection to reading fiction.

In 2006, a study found that the more authors of fiction you know (which presumes that you read a lot), the higher you score on empathy tests.

One possible explanation is that empathetic people simply read more. But research indicates that the information you absorb from reading fiction acts to strengthen your empathy.

That’s because reading fiction exposes you to lives, thoughts, and motivations outside of your own. Even though it is fictional, the more you read, the more you are exposed to the experiences of others, which improves your ability to empathize.

Read more fiction, become a better person.

The Shopping Cart Theory

The Shopping Cart Theory is the concept that your willingness to return a shopping cart to the corral reveals whether you are the kind of person who will do the right thing without being forced to.

This theory asserts that returning the cart is universally seen as a proper act. You gain nothing by returning it. You return it because it’s the right thing to do, and you’re a nice guy.

If you don’t return the cart, you face no consequences. You are not punished, and very rarely berated, for failing to return a cart. Thus, abandoning the cart instead of returning it to the corral is evidence that you are inclined to do what is right only when it’s convenient or you face negative consequences.

I’ve read that the Shopping Cart Theory is too judgmental, and legitimate reasons may exist for not returning a cart. The weather is bad. You can’t leave children unattended. You have a disability. The corral is too far away. You think a store employee will collect the carts.

I say the theory is a legitimate test of whether or not you’re a jerk.

The Matter of Face Masks

Speaking of a test to identify jerks, the willingness to wear a face mask when and where you should, as medical experts plead with you to do, zooms to the top of the list.

Here we sit, deep into a deadly pandemic. The infection rate in the US is the world’s worst, and under Trump, the governmental response was feeble, scattershot, and ineffective to a criminal degree.

Until recently, the only protections we had were wearing a mask, physical distancing, avoiding crowded places, and washing your hands.

Yet, vast numbers of people refuse to wear a mask, decline to remain six feet apart, and defiantly gather in crowded places. Whether they wash their hands is anyone’s guess.

The fact that mask-wearing became a left vs. right political issue isn’t surprising. Of course conservatives staked out the anti-mask position. Their nature compelled it when they saw that most liberals believe in wearing a mask.

Refusing to wear a mask is foolish and illogical, but they don’t care. Nor do they care, apparently, about the health consequences to themselves and their families. The behavior of these people is stupid, ignorant tribalism.

Why do so many people boldly go maskless in public places, dine shoulder to shoulder in restaurants, attend large gatherings, and pack the bars?

Some, I suppose, think the risks of COVID are non-existent or exaggerated. Others are weary of all the precautions and restrictions after a year of living with the pandemic. In some cases, malice, stupidity, or arrogance explain the behavior.

Beyond those motivations, I couldn’t identify a single valid, sensible reason for so much risky behavior.

It appears that consequences are needed in order to change the behavior of people who risk public health when the posted rules require a face mask.

My suggestion: for the first offense, one night in jail and a fine of $250. The punishment would double for each subsequent offense.

I’ll bet that would flatten the curve.

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Fit for a King

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, built in the late 1800s by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, is a real-life fairytale/fairyland castle. No surprise, it was the inspiration for the royal castle in the Disney film Sleeping Beauty, as well as for the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland.

Ludwig built several spiffy castles during his reign and, to his credit, paid for them with his personal fortune, not public funds. But he overreached with Neuschwanstein, and the costs soon had him in serious debt.

After borrowing heavily from relatives and every financial institution that would listen, Ludwig finally asked the Bavarian government to bail him out. His cabinet said no.

Serious rancor ensued. The situation escalated. Eventually, Ludwig was declared mentally ill and unfit to serve. He tried to flee the country, but was caught and detained at a remote estate near Munich.

A few days later, he and one of the doctors who declared him a mental case went for a walk along the shore of a mountain lake. The next morning, both men were found dead in waist-deep water. The doctor’s body showed unexplained signs of head and neck injuries.

The coroner declared Ludwig’s death a suicide by drowning. He said the doctor’s cause of death could not be determined due to lack of evidence. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Neuschwanstein Castle was completed a short time later and was opened to the public. It remains a popular tourist attraction today.

The Holiday Tree

Years ago, when my dad retired, Mom announced her retirement, too — from cooking. At the time, Mom was reassessing her life and making changes she felt were in order. Ergo, for Mom and Dad, a new era of pizza deliveries and eating out began.

Another of her changes concerned the Christmas tree. Mom said she was tired of the annual hassle of spending time decorating it, then, a few weeks later, reversing the process and hauling everything back to the attic. So she decided to leave the tree up permanently.

Thereafter, the Christmas tree became the Holiday Tree. Mom changed the decorations to reflect the seasons and holidays as appropriate.

After Christmas, it became the New Year Tree. Then the Winter Tree. Then the Easter Tree. Then the Springtime Tree. You get the idea.

The tree — artificial, of course — stood in one corner of a large rec room (formerly the carport, which the previous owner had enclosed), so having a six-foot tree in the house was never a problem.

In truth, Mom invested more time and energy in the Holiday Tree than she ever had in ordinary Christmas trees, but she and Dad thoroughly enjoyed it. They especially had fun collecting decorations.

I thought about doing the same thing myself, but decided against it. The hassle factor, you know.

Me at Mom and Dad’s house, Christmas 1998.

Unconventional

In the late 1920s, William M. Marston (1893-1947), a Harvard-educated psychologist, invented a device that measured blood pressure. His wife Elizabeth observed that when she got mad or excited, her blood pressure inevitably increased.

A light bulb came on over William’s head, and he contacted the inventor of the polygraph (lie detector). Result: The blood pressure device became an integral part of the polygraph.

The Marstons were, shall we say, an unconventional couple. Both were dedicated feminists, and, quietly, fans of BDSM. Eventually, the couple invited a like-minded friend, Olive Byrne, to live with them.

William had two children by each woman. Elizabeth pursued her career as an attorney and psychologist while Olive cared for the trio’s four children.

William had dabbled in writing since his college days and had published a series of self-help books. The itch to write later led him to a job at DC Comics as an educational consultant and occasional writer.

In 1941, his affinity for feminism, writing, and the bondage thing led him to create the character Wonder Woman, the first female superhero.

You may be aware that ropes (e.g., the Lasso of Truth) and being tied up are suspiciously regular Wonder Woman themes.

William wrote Wonder Woman stories until his death in 1947. Elizabeth and Olive continued living together until Olive died in 1990 at age 86. Elizabeth died in 1993, age 100.

Stranger than fiction.

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