The Earth Has Changed But Earth Day Remains the Same

Earth Day flag_PD
The Original Earth Day Flag as designed by John McConnell


Earth Day’s Popular Beginning

Earth Day was first proposed in a United Nations UNESCO meeting by John McConnell in the fall of 1969. By spring 1970, the American event had become a reality with Earth Day celebrations occurring across many US cities and campuses. The largest celebration occurred in NYC, where Mayor John Lindsey, closed several major thoroughfares and as a result over a million people flooded Central Park to partake in the festivities.

Earth Day was assigned to late April so as not to conflict with Easter, Passover or Spring Break
Earth Day was assigned to late April so as not to conflict with Easter, Passover or Spring Break

Why April 22? 

From the  U.N. meeting, the original concept was picked up by Gaylord Nelson of the U.S. Senate, who envisioned the holiday as an environmental teach-in on American campuses. The late April date was chosen, so as not to conflict with final exams, spring break or religious holidays. The first Earth Days were popular, well-attended public events that seemed like a carry-over from the sit-in demonstrations, which were so popular during the sixties. Although environmental awareness has increased dramatically, since the first Earth Day, environmental action has not kept pace. Much of the reason may be that environmental challenges are presenting themselves much faster, thus making immediate solutions difficult.



Polar bears investing the USS Honolulu near the North Pole, photo from Chief Yeoman Alphonso Braggs, US-Navy
Polar bears investing the USS Honolulu near the North Pole, photo from wikipedia……credit Chief Yeoman Alphonso Braggs, US-Navy


The Earth Is Changing

Even though most of the US is experiencing lower than normal temperatures for the 2013-2014 winter, it is generally believed by earth scientists that overall, the planet is slowly growing warmer. The reason for this paradox is complex, but it is generally believed among the scientific community that melting arctic ice has created a Pacific high, which is capable of redirecting weather systems through Canada before they drop into the United States. These unusual global events are prime material for an Earth Day teach-in, but co-ordinating community action to counter these problems is a much more difficult scenario.


Romney’s Delusions

NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars
NGC 6357: Cathedral to Massive Stars
Image Credit: NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (IAA, Spain)

Election Night

After a long and drawn out campaign Mitt Romney went into election night with an overwhelming  feeling of competence that they would win the election. Evidence for this can be seen in the website that was put up right after the polls by the Republican Presidential Campaign Staff and in the fact that Romney only wrote an acceptance speech, which of course he planned on delivering to the nation sometime later that night. I hate to gloat, but I would had loved to been a fly on the wall, when Mitt finally sat down and penned a short concession speech. In Mitt’s defense it should be noted that concession speeches are usually very brief, while a victory proclamation necessitates a bit more effort. And furthermore, writing a victory speech is good PR, especially if you are able to get a press release out before the polls close. Still, the overall effect, remains that despite the fact the race was close, Romney and staff missed some key warning signs as to how the election would turn out, especially in the electoral college, where President Obama outpaced the ex-Massachusetts Governor by more than a 100 points.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, from Wikipedia, photo by Alkarex Malin äger

Romney’s Miscalculations

Unseating a sitting president is not so easy, especially when the incumbent enjoys a 50 % approval rating. In this sense presidential politics is a lot like a heavyweight boxing match. And that means you have to soundly beat the champ to get the referee’s decision. I think this is one area, where the Romney camp underestimated the challenge of defeating the president.

And the other would be the swing states. Even though Obama’s lead was statistically slim it was still steady and did not change much during the last few weeks of campaigning. The fact that Obama carried places like Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada by a good five percentage points raises the question whether these places really were toss-ups.

What Romney Did Right

The best thing Romney did for the Republican party was revive the Nixon strategy….and that is…… where you run to the right to get the nomination, then circle back towards the left and the center to win in November. I think that if the Republicans what to revive their hopes in the next presidential contest, they will have to follow this strategy. Also of note is the fact that Romney was the only major Republican candidate to accept the likelihood that “climate change” is affecting us right now in 2012. How it affects us and what we can do about it, is another story, but acknowledging the existence of this recent phenomena does put anybody running for higher office on the right track.

What Gore, Romney and George W. Bush Have In Common

Quite simply, they are all sons of prominent politicians. And they have all been selected by their respective parties to run for the office of the President of the United States. As a group they have not fared well, for only George W. has been able to break the 50% barrier…..and that only occurred once in 2004. Even then, Mr. Bush saw his popularity plummet after the election due to war and a deteriorating economy.

Colonial Capers

Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party as depicted by Nathaniel Currier in 1846

Colonial Slang

Instead of making our world richer (at least in the use of colorful language), the modern years of the 20th and 21st century seem to have ushered in a narrowing of linguistic diversity within the English language. Just look at how often modern speakers resort to the ever-so-popular F-word, when they could be using such descriptive terms as fart catcher, flaybottomist, kinching morts, jerrycummumble, sluice your gob, crinkum crankum and apple dumpling shop.  When translated to modern English, these 18th century vernacular witicisms respectively mean; a valet or footman that walks behind his mistress or master, a schoolmaster, a crew of women, to tumble about, to take a hearty drink, a woman’s commodity and last but not least a woman’s bosom. Many thanks to Cooper Fleischman and his fascinating online article, 38 Vulgar Terms from Colonial Times That Need to be Brought Back, for this partial list.

Rum Grog
A glass of rum grog, from Wikipedia

18th Century Alcohol Consumption

To paraphrase our newfound historical lingo, residents of the original thirteen colonies really liked to “sluice their gobs”. Nowhere is this more evident than in the colorful names applied to some of the cocktail mixtures, which more often than not were just as colorful as the names used to insult the Colonist’s fellow man and woman. So next time you head into a Philadelphia or Boston bar, you might ask for a Rattle-skull, a Mimbo, a Bombo, a Whistle Belly, a Syllabub, a Sling, a Bogus or a Stonewall. If you think that pre-Revolutionary America was thrilled by alcohol consumption, you’re right. With rum and whiskey leading the way, Colonial America was perfectly capable of enjoying their liquor. And for those of you who might like to sample one of these drinks from the past, try making a Rattle-skull. All you have to do is add 3/4 of an ounce of rum and 3/4 of an ounce of  brandy to 12 ounces of dark beer. Then add a half a lime and garnish with nutmeg. Sounds delicious…..and perhaps a bit potent. By the way many a 18th century drink consisted of mixing the hard liquor to beer.

End of Elizabethan English

When the first English Colonists arrived in the New World (approximately 1600), Shakespeare was still alive and uses of such words as thee, ye, thou, thine, hither, thither, morrow, naught, yonder and n’er were abundant. If one could be magically transported to the early settlements at Roanoke, Jamestown, Plymouth or Massachusetts Bay, use of these words would abound with everyday speech along with some interesting slang.  Curses were common and came in the form of such phrases as “a pox upon thee”, “Devil take thee”, “beshrew thee” or “fie upon thee”. Petty insults to another person might include such words as Cocklorel, Runagate, Cur, Jackanape or Coxcomb.  When uttering slang in everyday speech, one might use such gems as trull (whore), varmint (vermin), palliard (beggar), jordan (chamber pot), hooker (thief) and cuttle (knife).  Even though much of this language had fallen out of use by the mid 18th century, a few of these  colloquialisms are still understood today. Life may have been tougher back then, but the language seems to have been much more colorful.

Revisiting Columbus Day

Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus
Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, painting by Salvador Dali from Wikipedia

Christopher Columbus

The more we know about Christopher Columbus, the Genoan sailor who ventured across the Atlantic in 1492 and safely landed on the island of Hispanola, the more the great adventurer becomes a modern-day enigma. Though contemporary evidence from Iceland and Newfoundland places doubt on the idea that Columbus was the first European to cross the Atlantic, his knowledge of the sea and his New World exploits are still legendary and shall probably remain so for generations to come. This is especially true, when one realizes that Columbus had to cross thousands of miles of open seas, while the Vikings and Celtic monks essentially traveled  between islands with the largest distance of open sea being only 250 miles.

painting of the Norse settlement of Iceland, by P. Raadsig, 1850

Iceland – Stepping Stone To America

According to Icelandic history, the Norse arrived in 874 A.D. and made a small settlement at Reykjavik with  Ingólfr Arnarson as the founder. However, it is generally believed that the Norse were preceded by Irish monks, who may have made it as far as the mainland of North America. Just a quick look at a map of the North Atlantic will give the viewer the perception that anyone who was able to sail to Iceland, would not have a difficult time traveling the extra miles to Newfoundland or beyond. It is even believed that Christopher Columbus visited Iceland in 1477, 15 years before he made his fateful voyage to the Caribbean. One possible reason for the journey would have been a search for the Northwest Passage to the Orient.

The Four Journeys of Christopher Columbus

After Columbus made his first voyage to the New World, he returned three more times with each trip becoming more and more harrowing, as he ventured further from his original landing point. For a fascinating account of Columbus’ fourth voyage, readers should check out The Last Voyage of Columbus: Being the Epic Tale of the Great Captain’s Fourth Expedition, Including Accounts of Swordfight, Shipwreck, Gold, War, Hurricane and Discovery by Martin Dugard. This non-fiction tale reads like a sci-fi adventure story and should be taken in by any serious student of the Great Admiral.

What Columbus Did

Columbus is an easy person to hate. Before he sailed across the Atlantic he was a slave trader, an adventurer, a courtier to the royal court. He brought Native peoples back to Europe as hostages to prove his exploits and his travels lead to the trans-Atlantic slave trade to America. Still, he was the most able of sailors and sea captains, for Columbus was the first European sailor to understand and detect hurricanes. Also Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors forever changed the balance of power in the New World. This was not always a bad thing, especially when one considers the defeat of the Caribs, a powerful and horrendously terrifying alliance of Indians that enslaved local tribes all across Central and South America. Also in Columbus’ wake there emerged a great exchange of food and raw materials. Without these things our world would be very much poorer today, for nowadays people can make tomato salsa in Italy, while cafe guests can sip coffee in South America with all due respect to the early explorers.

All Tangled Up In Bob

Bob Dylan and the Band

Bob Dylan playing with the Band in Chicago 1974, photo by Jim Summaria from Wikipedia

My Musical Tastes

I have a confession to make. I never really liked Bob Dylan all that much until he went electric and started recording songs like Desolation Row, My Back Pages and Like a Rolling Stone. And then it was artists like the Byrds and Jimi Hendrix that caused me to notice the lyrical master. In my opinion My Back Pages is one of the great lyrical numbers to come out of the turbulent sixties. Even today the words still stand out for their capacity to paint a colorful picture.

Tangled Up In Bob

A New Mexico writer, Natalie Goldberg,  along with a relatively unknown filmmaker by the name of Mary Feidt, have combined forces to produce a film that explores the northern Minnesota world, where Bob Dylan grew up and how the place influenced the famed songwriter’s work. Entitled Tangled Up In Bob, the documentary searches the backroads and small town community of Hibbing, Minnesota. This small midwestern town is located northwest of Duluth in a slightly mountainous area called the Iron Range. Here the duo travel to investigate the small town landscape and persons, who fostered one of the 20th century’s most noted poets-songwriters. The film is available in DVD form from the website,

Who Is Natalie Goldberg? 

Natalie Goldberg is a writer, painter and literary coach, who resides in northern New Mexico. She is best known for her books about writing especially ‘Writing Down the Bones’, which is one of the standards of writing workshops and literary instruction throughout the English-speaking world. She has also published other books about writing, as well as a novel and a manuscript that features many of her very colorful paintings. Originally from Minnesota, Natalie was naturally drawn to Dylan’s small town background and how it influenced his music.

Hibbing, Minnesota’s Other Claim To Fame

Ironically, Bob Dylan is not the only contribution that Hibbing has made to the 20th century, for this remote locale is also home of the Greyhound bus company. While still serviced serviced by the popular transportation carrier, the town supports the Greyhound Museum, where motorists can see where the successful company began and how it began the modern era of bus transportation.

Wall Street Rag

Replica of Henry Hudson's Half Moon as it approaches Manhattan
Replica of Henry Hudson's Half Moon as it approaches Manhattan

Wall St. In The News

Wall Street is in the news again, though this time the famous NYC avenue is headline material because of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ activities that are taking place in Manhattan and other sites around the nation. Members of the loose-knit movement are adamant about the reform of Wall street and the banking industry, especially since the crash of the banking industry that occurred in 2007 and 2008. In fact, splinter and support groups can be found in various places around the country. There is a even a small group here in Des Moines that has set up an encampment right outside the state capitol building.

Wall Street Skyline from the Staten Island Ferry
Wall Street Skyline from the Staten Island Ferry


Wall Street has a long history as a place of business that dates back to the early 18th century. And before that the Manhattan Island real estate was part of a defensive barrier created by the Dutch to prevent an English takeover of the strategic piece of land. For it was the Dutch, not the English who first explored the rich delta that lay at the mouth of the Manhattes River. Nowadays, the river is called the Hudson, but beginning in 1607 and 1608, Dutch explores such as Adrien Block, Henry Hudson and Henry Christiaensen visited the mouth of the river, while searching for the famed ‘Northwest Passage’.

Fur Traders

Though the Northwest Passage was never found, Block and Christiaensen made repeated trips to rich estuary that includes present-day Staten Island, Manhattan and Brooklyn, along with Nassau. Here, they developed a lively fur trade with the surprisingly friendly Indians and in 1626 New Amsterdam was created as a colony of Holland. However, peace with the Indians did not last long, leading to conflict between the coloninsts and the Native Americans.

The Wall

In 1653 a wooden wall constructed from upright pointed logs was constructed to give the Dutch settlers some defense against English attacks. This long line of defense would become the Wall Street of today. Though it should be noted that in 1664, New Amsterdam was taken over by the British by a surprise attack. In the end New Amsterdam was lost to the English Crown without one shot being fired.

The Slave Auction

In 1711 Wall Street began its entry into the business world, when a busy, slave auction was established at this location. Placement of the commercial exchange has inspired such musical numbers as “Wall Street Rag” by Scott Joplin (1909), a “Wall Street Wail” by Duke Ellington (1930) and W.C. Handy’s “Wall Street Blues” in (1929).

NYC Harbor

Today, the buildings of Wall Street make for a commanding view, especially when viewed from the Staten Island Ferry as it crosses the NYC harbor. In fact the whole bay is part of a beautiful watery world that leaves one wondering what life was like here at the early years of the 17th century, when the early explorers were first encountering the Native Lenapi and Munsee population.

The Movement

The current protest situation only underscores how much life has changed in the last several centuries and how different the challenges are today. For an interesting insight into what is going on with the demands of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protestors and the activities of the finance industry, check out this interesting post at ‘Litkicks’, called “Honest Capitalism.

Henry Hudson Arrives In New York Harbor by Edward Moran (1898)
Henry Hudson Arrives In New York Harbor by Edward Moran (1898)

Update On The Rum Diary

Poster for the Rum Diary
Poster for the Rum Diary


Rum is nothing more than sugar cane juice that is distilled into an alcohol product. Since the introduction of the sugar cane plant to the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the alcoholic by-product has become a popular item all across the western hemisphere. In fact, the Rum Sling, which consists of rum, sugar, water and lemon juice, dates back to the Colonial era, thus making it the first popular cocktail of the new American republic. Today, the enjoyable liquor comes in different shades (light, gold and dark) and is sometimes mixed with spices during the fermentation process. It is also the title of a new movie starring Johnny Depp.

Movie Data

Though The Rum Diary is the name of a Hunter Thompson novel first published in 1998,the actual story takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1960. The liquor soaked tale features a young Thompson, who travels to the island to work for a newspaper. The movie, which besides Johnny Depp, stars Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi and Anthony Jenkins. The screenplay was penned by Bruce Robinson, who is also the director. Though the release date is not until October 28 (2011), the official trailer is out and can be viewed online. Parts of the movie were filmed in Puerto Rico, as well as Mexico and Hollywood. Though I can’t say I’m very fond of the poster, the trailer looks interesting and I eagerly await this latest release from  Hunter Thompson, who, unfortunately died five years ago in a successful suicide attempt.