Just make sure I'm around when you've finally got something to say.--Toad the Wet Sprocket

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Marvel Vs. D.C.: The Battle Continues, And The Tide Perhaps Turns


In previous posts, I've mentioned that my daughter has confounded me by turning her back on her Marvel roots and going to D.C.  She has refused to have nothing to do with Marvel except for maybe Thor, Captain America, and maybe a bit of Spiderman.  Otherwise, it's D.C. all over the place, with the exception of Wonder Woman, whom she just doesn't seem to like.  Well, some things have changed and some things have stayed the same.

She refused to go see the Wonder Woman movie in the theater, but when it came out on DVD I made her watch it and she tried to hide from me how much she loved the movie. But when she went to stay at her grandparents' house she took it with her.  She took it with her when she went to stay with her dad to show him the movie because he hadn't seen it.

But Wonder Woman isn't the only one she's changed her mind about. I told her before she could watch the Thor: Ragnarok movie she would need to watch Dr. Strange.  She really did not want to watch it.  She hated him before she even saw the movie and was determined to not change her mind.  Then in the mail, a friend of mine sent some goodies for her and one of them was a Dr. Strange figure. At first, she was going to give it to me, but then she changed her mind. At Thanksgiving dinner, she was playing with her younger cousin with the figure and told him that she "kinda liked him [Dr. Strange]" and then looked over at me and said, "I wish I hadn't said that in front of my mommy."  Then at the library, she asked me to check out a Dr. Strange book on tape.  This is step one in my winning her back over to Marvel.

Step two.  We watched Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two.  She fell in love and became obsessed.  We watched it over and over again. We listen to the soundtrack all the time. She listens to it as she goes to sleep.  We watch the first one, but she doesn't like it as much. Though she does love the first soundtrack as much as the second.  For Christmas, she asked Santa to send her Guardians of the Galaxy figures.  I've checked her out comics and books from the library for her to read and she can't wait to read them.

She refused to see Thor in the theaters because it might be scary and wanted to wait and watch it at home, but she did want to see the Justice League movie in the theaters.  So we went and we were a bit disappointed.  It was OK, we just expected something greater.  We did agree that Wonder Woman kicked ass and Aquaman was really hot and the Flash guy was pretty cool.

I got her to read part of an Avengers X-Men comic called Axis. It got scary and she stopped.  But she read the parts that weren't.  This summer I took her to see Spiderman: Homecoming and she loved it.  She can't wait to see Thor: Ragnarok.  We'll see how she feels about seeing Infinity War when it comes out in May and I know she'll love to see Ant-Man and Wasp because she just loved Ant-Man. We watched that one more than once.  And yes, we'll also see Aquaman too.  I grew up with the cartoon Aquaman of the Justice League who was as useless as teats on a bull.  But Jason Momoa is anything but useless. He is quite capable. So while she is still with D.C. I'm slowly bringing her over to Marvel a bit and showing her that there are things over here worth seeing. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Ouija Board


In the late 1880s and early 1890s, spiritualism is sweeping the United States.  There had been huge losses of life during the Civil War and people wanted to get in touch with loved ones who had passed. Also, children died at early ages and they wanted reassurances from beyond the grave.  Around the nation, there was known as a Talking Board among the people where you could draw letters on paper and use a pointer to have spirits move to the letters to spell out the message.

Baltimore Civil War vet, Elijah Bond, wants to take it from rustic to refined and the law school grad sees an opportunity to capitalize on the craze. He designs his own board on polished wood with letters, numbers, and yes and no and a planchette to move across the board.  HIs sister-in-law, an avid spiritualist, has a vision in which she sees the name of this new kind of spectral transmitter: the Ouija board.

But first, he must patent the device.  on February 10, 1890, along with a spiritualist medium named Helen Peters, presents it to the patent officer and explains what it does. The patent officer is skeptical. He is used to seeing inventions with gears, levers, and currents.  The only way to get the patent was if they could demonstrate how the device works. Since neither Bond nor Peters knew the name of the officer before they met him that day the officer asks that the board spell out his name and it spells out Charles Mitchell--the patent officer's name.  The Ouija board was given a patent and it became a huge success.  However, it started off as a parlor game and did not begin to really be taken seriously as a way to talk to the dead until after World War I when American Spiritualist Pearl Curran popularized its use as a diving tool.

Ouija Trivia Thanks to Wiki:
1.G. K. Chesterton used a Ouija board in his teenage years. Around 1893, he had gone through a crisis of scepticism and depression, and during this period Chesterton experimented with the Ouija board and grew fascinated with the occult.
 2.Early press releases stated that Vincent Furnier's stage and band name "Alice Cooper" was agreed upon after a session with a Ouija board, during which it was revealed that Furnier was the reincarnation of a 17th-century witch with that name. Alice Cooper later revealed that he just thought of the first name that came to his head while discussing a new band name with his band
3.In the murder trial of Joshua Tucker, his mother insisted that he had carried out the murders while possessed by the Devil, who found him when he was using a Ouija board
 4.Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, used a Ouija board and conducted seances in attempts to contact the dead
 5.Much of William Butler Yeats's later poetry was inspired, among other facets of occultism, by the Ouija board. Yeats himself did not use it, but his wife did.
 6.In London in 1994, convicted murderer Stephen Young was granted a retrial after it was learned that four of the jurors had conducted a Ouija board séance and had "contacted" the murdered man, who had named Young as his killer.[50] Young was convicted for a second time at his retrial and jailed for life.
 7.Aleister Crowley had great admiration for the use of the ouija board and it played a passing role in his magical workings.[54][55] Jane Wolfe, who lived with Crowley at Abbey of Thelema, also used the Ouija board. She credits some of her greatest spiritual communications to use of this implement. Crowley also discussed the Ouija board with another of his students, and the most ardent of them, Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones): it is frequently mentioned in their unpublished letters. In 1917 Achad experimented with the board as a means of summoning Angels, as opposed to Elementals. In one letter Crowley told Jones: "Your Ouija board experiment is rather fun. You see how very satisfactory it is, but I believe things improve greatly with practice. I think you should keep to one angel, and make the magical preparations more elaborate." Over the years, both became so fascinated by the board that they discussed marketing their own design. Their discourse culminated in a letter, dated February 21, 1919, in which Crowley tells Jones, "Re: Ouija Board. I offer you the basis of ten percent of my net profit. You are, if you accept this, responsible for the legal protection of the ideas, and the marketing of the copyright designs. I trust that this may be satisfactory to you. I hope to let you have the material in the course of a week." In March, Crowley wrote to Achad to inform him,"I'll think up another name for Ouija." But their business venture never came to fruition and Crowley's new design, along with his name for the board, has not survived. Crowley has stated, of the Ouija Board that,
There is, however, a good way of using this instrument to get what you want, and that is to perform the whole operation in a consecrated circle, so that undesirable aliens cannot interfere with it. You should then employ the proper magical invocation in order to get into your circle just the one spirit you want. It is comparatively easy to do this. A few simple instructions are all that is necessary, and I shall be pleased to give these, free of charge, to any one who cares to apply.
8.E. H. Jones and C. W. Hill, whilst prisoners of the Turks during the First World War, used a Ouija board to convince their captors that they were mediums as part of an escape plan.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Black Cyclone


In the 1890s, America is in love with bicycle racing. It has become more popular than baseball.  As many as 20,000 people would go out to watch a cycling event. Indoor cycling is a death-defying spectacle with packs of cyclists whirling around narrow wooden tracks at breakneck speeds.  Crashes were very common and fights often broke out. It was a very dangerous and deadly. Some riders used cocaine, strychnine, or nitroglycerine to enhance their performance.  It wasn't as safe as it is today.  But those who made it became champions and were rewarded with fame and fortune.  In the days before motor cars, it was the most exciting thing to happen since the horse and buggy.

In Indianapolis, Indiana there is one teen who dreams of being a champion bicycle racer.  His name is Marshall Taylor and he spends all his time on his bike.  He earns money delivering papers and in his free time, he tests his speed on back roads.  Taylor excels at short one minute sprints.  He knew he was fast enough to go up against the best, he just needed the opportunity.  There was just tone problem.  Taylor was African-American and the races were only open to whites.  He had to find a way to the races to show them that he could race faster than then they could.

 In August 1896 he learned that the Indianapolis will hold a major racing event for the world's top racers sponsored by the League of American Wheelmen.  He decides to sneak into the venue and compete anyway.  The seventeen-year-old makes plans to wait until the track is empty between races and then dash out on his bike. Then he'll attempt to break the one-minute speed record for the fastest minute. He'll recruit an accomplice to start the timing clock.  He believes that once the crowd sees what he can do he'll be able to race anywhere.

This is a dangerous undertaking as racism is still rampant in America and there could be deadly repercussions.  When he started out, though the crowd was confused because there was no one on the schedule to race.  But when they see that he has broken the world record by eight seconds they are astonished and break out in applause at the amazing feat they had just witnessed.  Taylor's record was not recorded officially, but he the door was opened for him to race.  Over the next decade, he took the racing world by storm. He'd won 29 of the 49 races he'd competed in and held seven world records. In 1899 he won the Track Cycling World Championship one-mile sprint.  He was given the name during his career as the Black Cyclone due to his speed.

Still, it wasn't easy.  He was barred from racing in the South and the races he could race some whites refused to race against him and others would box him in.  The spectators would throw ice and nails at him.  One racer, W.E. Beck put him in a chokehold and strangled him senseless until he was pulled off. Beck was fined $50, but it took a while for Taylor to recover that day.

Taylor refused to go to Europe to race because they raced on Sunday and he was religious. So in 1902, Europe changed the day just so he could come and race and he dominated the European and Australian circuits.  He really did become the greatest cyclist of the world.  He was making $30,000 a year and got married and had a daughter. He retired in 1910 just when his body was giving out and the sport was waning in interest with the advent of the motor car.  Sadly, he made bad investments and lost it all in the crash of '29.  His marriage also fell apart as did his body.  He wrote a book about his life and went door-to-door selling it in Chicago but died at the young age of 53 in 1932. His body lay unclaimed in the morgue so he was buried in a pauper's grave. When the Olde Tymer's Athletic Club of the South Wabash YMCA in Chicago found out they persuaded Frank Swchinn of the bicycle fame to have his remains transferred to the Memorial Garden of the Good Shepherd with a plaque that reads: World championship bicycle racer who came up the hard way--Without hatred in his heart--An honest, Courageous, and God-fearing, clean-living gentlemanly athlete. A credit to his race who always gave out his best--Gone but not forgotten.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

How the French Fry Saved France


In 1785 France there were a series of unusually cold winters that destroyed the crops and caused a terrible famine that left the nation on the brink of starvation.  One man thinks he can solve it.  Forty-eight-year-old pharmacist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was dedicated and passionate about using his knowledge to help France in its time of need.

He learned of a plant hardy enough to survive France's cold winters that grow underground and requires very little water. It also contains most of the nutrients that people require to live.  This miracle plant? The humble potato.  He believed the French needed a basic vegetable to rebuild their diet and the potato was it.

The potato was introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers returning from South America in the 1500s. Since then lots of other countries have added it to their diets--but not everyone.  Parmentier tries to convince the people to eat the potato but they refuse. They believe it to be cursed and evil.  The leaves of the potato resemble those of the deadly nightshade plant which was thought to be used in witchcraft and sorcery.  The potato scared people who thought if you ate one you might fall under the influence of a witch or a devil.

Parmentier published a paper in a medical journal arguing for the potato and posted it everywhere but to no avail.  Then inspiration strikes.  He asks King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France to hold a banquette where he would serve them many fine potato dishes.  He offers up potato soup, boiled potatoes, potato casserole. But the most popular was thinly cut slices of potato that had been fried, called pomme fries, or what we today call french fries.  The dinner party was a huge success.  Everybody loved the food served. This would be one of many dinner parties he would have. Some would include such exalted guests as Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier.   Cookbooks were published and fields were set aside to grow them and soon the peasants were following the example of their royal counterparts and began eating the potato and France managed to stave off a famine all due to the brilliance of Parmentier and the wonder of the potato and the magic of french fries.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Infamous Pig War Between the United States and Britain


The late 1850s were a period of unprecedented western expansion.  Under U.S. president James Buchanan pioneers traveled from coast to coast by the thousands settling in newly acquired lands. In the 1818 treaty, it extended the border westward along the forty-ninth parallel from Lake of the Woods at what is now the tip of Ontario to the Rocky Mountains. Everything past that was a little explored and disputed land located above the Spanish California and the Russian Alaska known as the Oregon and Washington Territories.  This was good for the economy but overseeing it was no easy feat.

On Septemeber 3, 1859, Buchanan receives word that the British Navy is about to invade San Juan Island in Puget Sound which is between Washington Territory and Britsh Columbia.  Only twenty-five or thirty Americans citizens live on this island which is contained the Hudson Bay Fishing Company and Bellevue Farm, a 4,500 head sheep ranch.  Two groups, Americans, and Britsh citizens have lived in harmony for years until 1854 when tensions began to heighten when a  U.S. customs agent arrived to collect duties on the farm and the Brish deputy swore out a warrant for his arrest. Nothing came of the incident, however.  Then in 1855, American Sherrif Ellis Barnes of Whatcom County with ten armed men rounded up thirty-five sheep belonging to the Hudson Bay Company intending to use them as payment for back taxes.  Governor Douglas protested to his counterpart Governor Issac I. Stephens of Washington and to the British Colonial Office and the Hudson Bay Company demanded $15,000 in damages.  Washington D.C. was worried enough to have Secretary of State William L. Marcy to write to do their best to not provoke the British and He also stated that neither Americans nor Britians should attempt to claim exclusive sovereign rights until ownership of the island could be determined. He asked that the British Colonial Office send the message to Governor Douglas, which they did.  An attempt to settle this was made in 1857, but nothing came of it.

Five warships have surrounded the island and claimed it along with hundreds of soldiers and sailors and three armed British vessels with dozens of cannons. The American had only sixty-six soldiers and a single six powder gun and two mountain howitzers. Captain George Edward Pickett (yes that one of Civil War fame) was the commanding officer.

 It turns out that on June 15, 1859, Lyman Cutler, an American, was tending to his potato farm when he noticed a pig eating his crop. This wasn't the first time and he was sick and tired of this pig eating his crops so he took his shotgun and killed the pig.  The pig belonged to a member of the Britsh trading company and he demanded to be compensated for the pig.  Cutler agreed until he was told that the amount was $100, a ridiculous sum for a pig.  It escalated and the British wanted to arrest Cutler for trespassing on British soil if he did not pay the amount.  The situation really began to escalate with the arrival of Brigadier General William Selby Harney the recently appointed Military Department of Oregan.  Harney was known for his bravery in battle, his foul temper, his insubordination, his wanton disregard for the military chain of command and the prerogatives of other government departments in order to get what he wanted.  He urged the Americans to draft a petition requesting a military force on the island.  Without consulting the Territorial Authorities or the War Department Harney ordered Captain Pickett and Company D of the Ninth Division to come to San Juan Island and establish a post and stop the British from interfering.  He issued the order on July 11 but did not send it off until July 19. It did not arrive in Washinton D.C. until September.

When James Douglas heard of Harvey's actions he had the man of war ship the Tribune, commanded by Captain Geoffrey Phipps Hornby sent from Hong Kong and had to be talked out of sending marines onto land.  Instead, Hornby called upon Pickett to parlay with him on August 3. They met at Pickett's camp.  Hornby produced the letter that Secretary of State Marcy had written four years earlier and Pickett countered back the age of the letter. When Hornby asked on what terms Pickett occupied the island he told him he was under orders from General Harney to protect the American citizens and that these orders came from Washington D.C. This, however, was not true as Harney's letter informing Washington D.C. of what he had done had not reached them yet.  Hornby then showed him a letter of protest from Governor Douglas, but Pickett, of course, said that as a U.S. officer he would follow the dictates of his general over those of a foreign governor.  Exacerbated, Hornby stated that since the U.S. military occupied a disputed island that they should too, Pickett reminded them that he was under orders from his government to be there and that he could do nothing until he heard again from General Harney.  He also told Hornby that if he did otherwise that he would be the one to bring about a disastrous result.

Governor Douglas was livid. He wanted Hornby to send soldiers onto the island and get something done.  But Hornby refused to act unless instructed to by his superiors back in London.  He was not eager to go to war with the United States.  Harney trying to piss everyone off decided to send for more reinforcements and now there were 461 soldiers on the island. On September 3 President Buchanan was shocked to learn through the newspapers and Harney's report what was going on in San Juan.  He immediately directed the acting Secretary of War W.R. Drinkard to send a message to General Harney informing him that he was not happy steps had been taken to take over San Juan without his express permission.  Secretary of State Lewis Cass assured the British Ambassador that General Harney had acted alone and without their backing and President Buchananon sent Chief of the Army Winfield Scott to get Harney to cut it out.

During negotiations with Governor Douglas, Scott agreed to joint occupation of the island to reduce the American soldiers to one company under the command of Lewis C. Hunt.  Hurney was told to relinquish his position as head of the Military Department of Oregan and take a position in Missouri.  He blatantly refused.   When Hurney heard about the joint agreement and his man Pickett being sent away he became furious and in the last bit of insubordination, he ordered Pickett to return to San Juan.  This time Hurney was sent back to Washington D.C. and barely escaped a court Marshall.  He was then sent to St. Louis but encountered difficulties there and was kicked out of there too in 1861. He was never given another command and retired in 1863.  Hurney's departure mollified the British enough that Pickett was able to return to San Juan until he left to join the Confederacy in 1861.  The United States and Great Britain sent the border matter to Germany's Kaiser Wilem I to figure out and on October 21, 1872, he determined that San Juan belonged to the United States.          

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

One of the Most Daring Coups of All Time


In 1812 in Paris, Colonel Jean Doucet, the senior officer in the French army who controls an elite group of soldiers charged with protecting the city and stationed at strongholds throughout the city, holds Paris while Napoleon is off trying to bring down Russia.  For months Doucet fulfills his duties without incident until October 23 when a strange man bursts into his office wearing a uniform and introduces himself as General Lamotte and presents a letter saying that Napolean is dead and that he has been named commandant of Paris by a provisional government.  He claims to already have the support of several army garrisons and now demands that Doucet turns over command of his troops and surrender the capital.

During the summer, retired General Claude-Francoise de Malet (a former Musketeer and now a strict republican) believes that Napoleon is no better than a king and a first rate dictator.  He hopes to restore democracy back to France.  So he comes up with a plan to trick the government into thinking that Napoleon is dead. He forges a letter, puts on an old uniform and with his fake documents convinces senior military commanders to give him control of thousands of soldiers.  But to take control of the government he needs the supports of the capitol's elite soldiers. When he arrives in Paris He has Colonel Gabriel Soulier arrest officers and releases some generals who were being held in prison who were cohorts of Malet.  They then went on a spree of arresting others and putting their own men in office.  He also shot the governor of Paris. 

So he appears before Doucet with his letter saying that Napoleon had died on October 7. But Doucet had received a letter from Napoleon after that date and knew they were forged.  Malet goes for his pistol, but Doucet is faster and Malet is arrested and put in jail. Malet is put before a firing squad. The coup very nearly worked and Napoleon rushes back from the front to secure his Empire only to be defeated ultimately by the English. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

America's Secret Weapon in World War II


It's 1942 and the U.S. has just entered the World War II. Their subs patrol the Pacific and protect a vast fleet and listen for Japanese ships and subs.  The U.S. relies on the newest technology at the time, SONAR which can pick up propeller sounds of vessels miles away and display them on a screen. It means the difference between being blindfolded and having Nightvision goggles.

One day the crew of a sub off of the East Dutch Indies detects something peculiar. It's a constant crackling hum that drowns out all other SONAR sounds making it impossible to detect enemy vessels.  Soon others report the same noise of crackling which sounds like bacon frying in a pan. It's not a technological glitch. So what could it be?

Dr. Martin W. Johnson a marine biologist and top oceanographer is called in to help.  At first, he is as baffled as the rest of them.  He examines the survey reports of where the incidences occur.  The spots match locations of massive colonies of pistol shrimp which are only two inches in size. Thousands can live together in colonies.  Each shrimp as an oversized claw it uses to catch food. When it clacks together it creates a popping sound.

But if SONAR can't silence the shrimp and they couldn't kill them could they possibly use them to their advantage?  Japanese SONAR was a weaker SONAR. If U.S. ships hide near shrimp colonies the Japanese wouldn't be able to detect them. The noise would be used as camouflage.  The military distributed maps of pistol shrimp colonies to ships. It became America's secret weapon and one more tool used to help win the war.