H is for Haiti

A couple weeks ago, during my church’s Black History Month celebration, we had a speaker talk about Haiti. He was a scholar on the topic and spoke for nearly 40 minutes, so I can’t bring you all that he shared. But I thought these points were particularly interesting.

Haitians fought in the American Revolutionary War on the side of the colonies. This became a source of great pride among the Haitian people. And the success of the the American example, and that of France c. 1789, was pivotal in the Haitians’ successful revolution (1791-1804).

Yet the United States was cool to the revolt on the island of Hispanola. “Could it be that…the specter of a revolution of slaves against white masters a revolution led by a former slave, Toussaint Louverture, who claimed for the former slaves a universal human right to freedom and citizenship made Americans cool to revolution?

“Thomas Jefferson, who readily accepted violence as the price of freedom in France, was not so relaxed about the black revolutionaries in Saint-Domingue as Haiti was called until its formal independence in 1804.

“Timothy Pickering, the irascible Federalist who served in the cabinets of both George Washington and John Adams…demanded of Jefferson, could he praise the French Revolution and refuse support for the rebels on Saint-Domingue because they were ‘guilty’ of having a ‘skin not colored like our own’?”

And fear of slave uprisings in the United States being inspired by the Haitian revolution was not entirely unfounded.

But it was the Haitian revolution which made Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana purchase in 1803 possible. The United States, who were only looking for access to the port of New Orleans got to nearly double its land. The French, who’d only reacquired the territory from the Spanish a few years earlier, got needed money and got to tweak Spain at the same time.

So why has Haiti been so poor for so long. Certainly a pair of reasons happened early on: boycott and reparations.

In 1806, fearful that the Haitian Revolution might inspire enslaved Africans in other parts of the Western hemisphere to rebel, the U.S. Congress banned trade with Haiti, joining French, Spanish and Portuguese boycotts. Global shipping originating in or by Haiti was banned from trading with or entering American and European ports of trade. This coordinated embargo effectively crippled Haiti’s export-driven economy and its development as a once prosperous Caribbean port… The embargo was accompanied by a threat of re-colonization and re-enslavement by the American-European alliance if Haiti failed to compensate France for losses incurred when French plantation owners, as a result of the Haitian Revolution, lost Haiti’s lucrative sugar, coffee and tobacco fortunes supported by slave labor…. Haiti spent the next 111 years, until 1922, paying 70% of its national revenues in reparations to France – a ransom enforced by the American-European trade alliance as the price for Haiti’s independence.

Many of these same points are discussed in this recent Daily Kos story.

I’m inclined to believe that rebuilding Haiti is not a moral imperative, it is economic justice that, if done correctly, could pay dividends for all concerned.

ABC Wednesday

G is for Green

The flag of Brazil
There was an answer on the game show JEOPARDY! recently (2010, Jan 27)- IT’S NO WHITE $1000: According to Webster’s, the serpentine shade of this color is “paler than citrine”.
The question was “What is green”? I had no idea. (I guessed yellow.)

I’m a Roy G. Biv kind of guy, that, of course, representing the main colors of rainbow. You know, yellow and blue equals green; the basic stuff.

But in fact, I do there are lots of gradations of green. I’m also aware in the color spectrum as used in HTML, that colors are “defined using a hexadecimal (hex) notation for the combination of Red, Green, and Blue color values (RGB)”.

Flag of Norfolk Island, “tax free haven of Australia”
I’ve always been fascinated by flags. For flags, green can symbolize the Earth, agriculture, fertility, and/or the Muslim religion.

Before our child was born – and we never knew the gender until she was born – we categorically eliminated some names from consideration:
Olive Green
Kelly Green
Forest Green

And since my last name IS Green, I get to list some of my favorite green things:

Vermont: the nearby Green Mountain state

M&Ms and, specifically, Tegan’s continuing green M&M challenge.

Monopoly: one of my favorite board games features little green houses

Green Goblin: favorite villain in my favorite comic book, Spider-Man

The Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics of the mid-1970s.

Going green: the 3 Rs of reduce, reuse & recycle

Greenwich Mean Time: longitude and time are reckoned by the prime meridian

Green Eggs and Ham: An editor bet that Dr. Seuss could not write a book using 50 words or less; he lost. It’s Dr. Seuss’ birthday today!

Naturally, the music:

Al Green-Take Me To The River
Creedence Clearwater Revival-Green River
The Lemon Pipers-Green Tambourine
And finally, the song that’s been sung by Frank Sinatra, Audra McDonald, Van Morrison and countless others, but never better than by the amphibian: Being Green-Kermit the Frog.

ABC Wednesday


F is for February

Amethyst, the February birthstone

Generally, when I do one of these ABC Wednesday things, I want to convey info that either I don’t think the reader knows, information *I* don’t know (or have forgotten), or possibly both. So what about February conveys that? certainly not Valentine’s Day. Black History Month is too broad. So after even more filtering, I came up with these questions.

What, or who, is February named for? I know that September-December are designated by the 7th through 10th prefixes. July and August are named for the Caesars Julius and Augustus. January, March, May and June come from various Roman and Greek gods, Janus, Mars, Maia, and Juno, respectively. April has something to do with the word open, possibly the same root as Oster/Easter, and/or for a variation on the goddess Aphrodite.

But what of February? The Wikipedia notes: February was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification, via the purification ritual Februa held on February 15 in the old Roman calendar.

OK. So why is it poor February that gets to be 28 days some years and 29 on others? This is something I used to know: February used to be the last month, and so would be the month that would be lengthened or shortened to make the calendar work out. “January and February were the last two months to be added to the Roman calendar, since the Romans originally considered winter a monthless period.”

Did you know that the year 1900 was not a leap year and that 2100, 2200 and 2300 will NOT be leap years?
“In the Gregorian calendar, the calendar used by most modern countries, the following three criteria determine which years will be leap years:
1. Every year that is evenly divisible by four is a leap year;
2. of those years, if it can be evenly divided by 100, it is NOT a leap year, unless
3. the year is evenly divisible by 400. Then it is a leap year.”
So, all of you who will be around in the year 2100, remember that. Expect many misprinted calendars and confused computers.

Why the heck is February so often mispronounced Febuary? The answer: “Although the variant pronunciation (fĕb’yū-ĕr’ē) is often censured because it doesn’t reflect the spelling of the word, it is quite common in educated speech and is generally considered acceptable. [It IS?] The loss of the first r in this pronunciation can be accounted for by the phonological process known as dissimilation, by which similar sounds in a word tend to become less similar. In the case of February, the loss of the first r is also owing to the influence of January, which has only one r.” Other examples given: “beserk” for berserk, “supprise” for surprise, “paticular” for particular, and “govenor” for governor. But they left out the most important examples: “libary” for library, and “libarian” for librarian.

A pop song about when “the music died”, of course, is American Pie, which has this lovely couplet:
“But February made me shiver With every paper I’d deliver.”

Here’s the poem February by Margaret Atwood, which ends: “Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.” Amen to THAT!


E is for Erie Canal

It was a crazy idea: dig a ditch virtually across New York State, deep and wide enough to carry produce to the market west of the Appalachian Mountains by boat safer and more cheaply than by land. When such a plan was first proposed by Jesse Hawley, a miller in the town of Geneva, New York, President Thomas Jefferson thought it was “little short of madness”. Some proposals as early as 1768 suggested a shorter canal, connecting the Hudson River with Lake Ontario near Oswego.

“It was not until 1808 that the state legislature funded a survey for a canal that would connect to Lake Erie. Finally, on July 4, 1817, Governor Dewitt Clinton” – formerly mayor of New York City and long-time advocate for the canal – “broke ground for the construction of the canal. In those early days, it was often sarcastically referred to as Clinton’s Big Ditch. When finally completed on October 26, 1825, it was the engineering marvel of its day.” Remarkable since 1) there were no engineering schools to speak of in the country, and thus no one with a true engineering background to facilitate the work, and 2) most of the work was done by men and horses.

From New York State’s history of the canal: “The effect of the Canal was immediate and dramatic and settlers poured west. The explosion of trade prophesied by Governor Clinton began, spurred by freight rates from Buffalo to New York of $10 per ton by Canal, compared with $100 per ton by road. In 1829, there were 3,640 bushels of wheat transported down the Canal from Buffalo. By 1837 this figure had increased to 500,000 bushels; four years later it reached one million. In nine years, Canal tolls more than recouped the entire cost of construction.”

The canal was enlarged several times, with lateral canals also being built.

The expansion in the early 20th Century was opposed by some, particularly in those Southern Tier cities that weren’t directly benefiting. “With the exception of Binghamton and Elmira, every major city in New York falls along the trade route established by the Erie Canal, from New York City (ranked fourth in population in 1800, but rose to first place) to Albany (doubled its population within a few years of the canal’s completion), through Schenectady, Utica (population increased from 3,000 to 13,000 in twenty years) and Syracuse (described as a ‘desolate’ hamlet of a few scattered wooden houses in 1820, became a city of 11,000 in 1840), to Rochester (changed from ‘one wide and deep forest’ to a prosperous community of 20,000) and Buffalo (a “wilderness outpost of 200 in 1812, became a gateway to the west and its population reached 18,000 by 1840″). Nearly 80% of upstate New York’s population lives within a 25 miles of the Erie Canal.” So it’s not surprising that the poster above was published in the county where Binghamton is located.

“With growing competition from railroads and highways, and the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, commercial traffic on the Canal System declined dramatically in the latter part of the 20th century.” In fact, the New York State Thruway parallels the waterway. Interstate 87 runs from New York City to Albany, much the same way Henry Hudson traveled 400 years ago. then Interstate 90 runs from Albany to Buffalo, just like the Erie Canal.

“Today, the waterway network…as the New York State Canal System…is enjoying a rebirth as a recreational and historic resource. The Erie Canal played an integral role in the transformation of New York City into the nation’s leading port, a national identity that continues to be reflected in many songs, legends and artwork today.”

The song The Erie Canal wasn’t written until 1905. I think that, for a time, every child in school in upstate New York was required to know the tune. Erie Canal was repopularized by Bruce Springsteen on the (Pete) Seeger Sessions album earlier this century. When I saw Bruce last year, I hoped he might do this song; cities always go crazy when the artist namechecks the city he/she/they are performing in; alas, it was not the case.

ABC Wednesday.


D is for Decade

It’s five weeks into the new decade. There was no consensus on what to call the OLD decade: the zeroes, the aughts, the naughts?

This got me to thinking. How did some of the decades of the past get such colorful appellations? Specifically, why the Gay Nineties? Was there an excessive amount of nitrous oxide available? And what of the Roaring Twenties? What was so leonine about it, and did it have something to do with the MGM lion?

According to the Wikipedia, “The (‘Gay Nineties’) term…began to be used in the 1920s and is believed to have been created by the artist Richard V. Culter, who first released a series of drawings in Life magazine entitled ‘the Gay Nineties’ and later published a book of drawings with the same name. The high life of the ‘old money’ families was well documented in the novels of, for example, Edith Wharton, and Booth Tarkington.” It was “sometimes referred to as the ‘Mauve Decade,’ because William Henry Perkin’s aniline dye allowed the widespread use of that colour in fashion.” That latter designation was totally unfamiliar to me. It’s an interesting idea, given the fact that there was a depression in 1893 in the United States, following economic distress in Europe and elsewhere in the years before the collapse.

“The Roaring Twenties is a phrase used to describe the 1920s, principally in North America but also in London, Paris and Berlin. The phrase was meant to emphasize the period’s social, artistic, and cultural dynamism.” Likewise, “the Jazz Age describes the period after the end of World War I, through the Roaring Twenties, ending with the onset of
the Great Depression. Traditional values of the previous period declined while the American stock market soared. The age takes its name from popular music, which saw a tremendous surge in popularity. Among the prominent concerns and trends of the
period are the public embrace of technological developments typically seen as progress — cars, air travel and the telephone – as well as new modernist trends in social behavior, the arts, and culture. Central developments included Art Deco design and architecture.”

While I had heard of the Dust Bowl, I was totally unfamiliar with this paired designation: The Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion.”

Some have called the Fifties “Fabulous” but it was not a standardized definition, as far as I can tell. I can’t help but think that some think of it as “fabulous” because of a post-WWII “normalcy”, while others might find it likewise fabulous because of the growth of rock & roll.

The sixties were tumultuous, but again no one made that a designation that stuck. Whereas, “Novelist Tom Wolfe coined the term Me decade in New York magazine in August 1976 referring to the 1970s. The term describes a general new attitude of Americans towards self-awareness and away from history, community, and human reciprocity awareness, in clear contrast with the 1960s.

Will there be clear naming of these last three decades that we can agree on?

Here’s something that had created some disagreement: some people seem to think that the new decade does not start until after 2010, and that it runs 2001-2010. This seems to come from a desire to create consistency, but it lacks logic. We know that the 19th Century ran from 1801 to 1900, and that the century is essentially named for the last year of the century, 1900. It’s likewise true with the 20th Century and 2000 or the 21st Century and 2100. There are those who seem to think that the borders of the decades should fit into the borders of the century. But why?

Clearly the 1960s is named for 1960, the first year in the range 1960-1969. To suggest that it started in 1961 would be illogical; the year that names a decade should be IN the decade. Likewise, the Seventies started in 1970. The Aughts (or whatever), started in 2000, which, as noted, is the last year of the prior century. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

If consistency were in play, we might have 13 months, each four weeks long, with one or two off-calendar days, or perhaps a catch-up week every few years, as described here. Instead we have 30 days in “September, April, June and November”, etc. Of course, if logic were in play, our ninth through twelfth months wouldn’t have prefixes representing the numbers seven through ten, respectively.

Oh, one last thing: when you write 1960s, or 1990s or 1870s, please do not use an apostrophe; it’s not 1960’s or 1990’s or 1870’s. This source confirms my point. Which means that that lovely graphic above, which I purloined from the Chicago Sun Times newspaper, is, unfortunately, wrong!

Decade pictures courtesy of Life magazine, allowed for non-commercial use.