Monday, October 31, 2011

Winter, What Do Woolly Worms Say?

Woolly Worm / Woolly Bear

According to legend, a woolly worm has the mysterious ability to predict the severity of the coming winter.  You can tell how bad or good the coming winter is going to be by checking out the  copper / brown band around the typical worm's middle, the wider the band, the milder the coming winter will be. But if the band is narrow, you might as well get ready for lots of cold and snow days which are bound to happen within the coming months.  At least that’s the theory behind the annual Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, North Carolina (USA) regarding the fabled caterpillar.
Here’s another way to put it: When you see the most familiar woolly worm (some folks call them “woolly Bears”) in North America, and it has more brown than black, then you can expect a mild winter, but, on the other hand, more black than brown means a severe winter.
If you think Banner Elk is the only place that promotes this concept, then think again; since 1987, during the third weekend of October, the Main Street of Beattyville, Kentucky, USA is closed to automobile traffic, as the annual Woolly Worm Festival kicks off, lasting a total of three days, Friday-"Opening Day", Saturday-"Parade Day", and Sunday-"Closing Day".  

The festival includes a large number of musicians that perform almost constantly on one of two stages; there are dozens of booths offering a wide variety of merchandise, and some interesting and delicious food; plus helicopter tours of the area.   Ods are, you’ll not soon forget the "Woolly Worm Race", which is won by coaxing one of these “Hairy Caterpillars” up a string, and yes, the first one to reach the top wins, but there is a strictly enforced one and only rule: “no touching”.

In Kentucky, as in North Carolina, “Woolly Worm” actually refers to the “Woolly Bear” caterpillar which has a “scientific” name as well: Pyrrharctia Isabella.

Speaking of the Woolly Bear caterpillar, there has been a single day festival with the same and theme held in Vermilion, Ohio, USA, which is located near Lake Erie since 1987.  Locals there say it is the biggest 1 day festival held within the state of Ohio. Similar events flourish in other areas as well.

Keep in mind that the skills of weather prediction possessed by the woolly worm operate on the same basis as the ground hog, which we all know predicts an early spring in the absence of its shadow.

The truth is, whether (as opposed to “weather”) or not the simple woolly worm can give us a reliable forecast or not is anyone’s guess.  So if you must know what the future will bring in regard to the coming winter months, I suggest the tried and tested Farmers Almanac.

As a matter of convenience, for you American readers, I have borrowed the Almanac’s winter forecast for the continental United States or as some may say, “The lower 48”:       
The upcoming winter looks to be cold to very cold for the Northern Plains, parts of the Northern Rockies, and the western Great Lakes. In contrast, above-normal temperatures are expected across most of the southern and eastern U.S. Near-normal temperatures are expected in the Midwest and Far West, and in southern Florida.”

Sources …                                                            ,_Kentucky  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Modern Numbers

As I’m sure you have always wanted to know, the modern numeral digits (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9) are known as Hindu numerals or “Hindu-Arabic numerals”. They are commonly called “Arabic numerals” in Europe and the Americas because they were introduced to Europe in the 10th century by Arabs from North Africa, who was using them for trade purposes. Europeans of the time did not know that the numerals originated in ancient India, so they called them “Arabic numerals”. Arabs, on the other hand, call the same number system “Hindu numerals”, referring to their true origin in India.

Bones as well as other artifacts have been found that reveal marks cut into them which scholars think are “tally marks”, which were most likely the first form of keeping track of numbers.  These tally marks were probably used for counting elapsed time, such as days and cycles of the moon or perhaps keeping records of quantities, such as the number of animals within the herd in the valley beyond intended for the next hunt. Such systems of numbering were used by the earliest form of man kind. On the other hand, the earliest known base 10 system similar to the Hindu-Arabic system used today dates to 3100 BC in Egypt.  So you can see, “numbers” are not considered to be a “new” concept.

The Hindu-Arabic system was intended to replace the “cumbersome” Roman Numerical System and did, sometime during the Middle Ages (5th to 15th century AD); most historians believe this event occurred during the 10th century by the way.  

You still see the Roman version used on occasion, especially when referencing Super bowl proceedings or perhaps movie sequels for example, this is probably done to draw attention to the events.  Regardless, The Roman system was first use from the 4th century BC (that’s 3000+ BC) forward, but the symbols we occasionally use today were modified sometime during the 1st century or 1000+ AD.

One quick look at the chart below will tell you why the Europeans were more than ready to give up the Roman system:

Beyond these symboles, the Roman system gets even more complicated.

Sources …                                                                                                                                                         

Saturday, October 29, 2011

“Thor”, the Imperfect Norse god?

1910 version of Thor & Chariot

A good-natured, careless god, always ready for adventure, who seldom tired of displaying his great strength, Thor could shoulder giant tasks with little effort and slay the mightiest of bulls with his bare hands. For sport he sometimes rode among the cloud-veiled mountains, hurling his hammer at their peaks, thus splitting them in half creating twin peaks no less.

Thor was the god of war, thunder and strength. He destroyed enemies of the gods with his magic hammer called Mjollnir (pronounced myol-n-ee-r), which caused lightning flashes when put to use. It was he who chased away cold frosts and called upon gentle winds and warm spring rains to release the earth from the bondage of ice and snow.

He was the god of the household and of the common people. Rolling thunder resulted by the rumble of his fiery chariot which was pulled by two goats.  Since the 5th day of the week was sacred to Thor, it was named for him, Thor’s day or as we know it, Thursday.

Thor is usually portrayed as being a large, powerful man with a red beard, un-kept hair, and eyes that flashed lightning. Despite his ferocious appearance, he “out shined” his father Odin in popularity because, unlike to Odin, he did not require human sacrifices. In his temple in Uppsala, Sweden he was shown standing with Odin (his father) by his right side; the opposite stance applies for typical father and son representations (the son is usually on the right of the father). Unfortunately, this temple was replaced by a Christian church in 1080.

With all that Thor had available to him, times were still difficult at best on occasion, but luckily he could do almost anything, for example as reported in a Norse Mythology Poem, “Prose Edda”, which derived from an earlier account, Thor found it necessary to slay and cook both his faithful flying goats as a meat source for himself and a peasant family on one such evening.

No worries, the next morning Thor proceeded to use his magic hammer to resurrect the animals but with limited success; you see, one of the peasant sons had broken one of the animal’s bones the night before so as to recover the tasty bone marrow, the result was that one of the revived goats was forever after lame.

In all fairness, Thor had placed emphases upon the necessary act of treating the bones with care before the meal, which obviously included the simple task of not breaking the bones.  In hind-site, I guess he should have been more specific in describing his plans to bring the animals back to life the next morning.

What, you may ask, has this to do with anything?  In my view, this clearly demonstrates that even Thor, with all his skills, was fallible!

Sources …                                                                                                           

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Samurai and the Early Japanese Shogun

Samurai Swords

The Japanese have had several, bloody and complicated, historical warring factions that fought for control of the country, which often involved thousands of warriors that came to be called Samurai; you might say the “generals” or leaders of these samurai were called Shoguns or the Shogunate.   

The Samurai are a class of very accomplished warriors that over a long period of years evolved in Japan, following reforms that began as early as 646 A.D. The reforms included land redistribution plus heavy new taxes, which were meant to support an elaborate “Chinese-style” empire.

During this time, a few of the large landholders amassed power and wealth, which in turn created a feudal system similar to that seen in medieval Europe.  As in Europe, the new feudal lords needed defenders or warriors to protect their riches. In this way, the samurai warrior was born. They employed a wide range of weapons such as bows and arrows, spears and much later even guns, but their main weapon and symbol was the sword.
While some samurai were relatives of the lords / landowners, others you might say were little more than hired swords.
The “code” of the samurai emphasized loyalty to one's master, even beyond family loyalty; history shows that those most loyal were typically family members or those individual samurai that were financial dependent on their lords.
The Emperor of the nation lost control of rural Japan during the 900’s, resulting in widespread revolt; the emperor soon wielded power only within the capital. Meanwhile all across the country, the warrior class of the samurai stepped in to fill the resulting power vacuum.  By 1100, the samurai, in point of fact, held both military and political power over much of Japan.
The already weak imperial line received a fatal blow to its power in 1156, when Emperor Toba died without a clear successor. His 2 sons, fought for control in a short civil war called the Hogen Rebellion. At the end of the war, both would-be emperors you might say lostlost; in fact, the imperial office soon found it had very little real power. Although Go-Shirakawa who was one of the surviving sons won the battle, his rule as an all powerful emperor lasted 4 short years.
During the first civil war / rebellion (in 1156) both, the “Taira” and the “Minamoto” samurai clans rose to prominence. Four years later, they fought one another a second time (they had fought each other in the 1156 rebellion) in the brief Heiji Rebellion of 1160.  The Taira clan was victorious and they established the first samurai-led government, or Shogunate, with the emperor as a mere figurehead.  However, the two clans fought yet again 20 years later in the Genpei War (1180-1185), which ended in victory for the Minamoto clan. They in turn established the Kamakura Shogunate, which ruled most of Japan until 1333.
Aside from an occasional “in-country” conflict the Shogunate of Kamakura remained in power, even with standing two major attacks by Kublai Khan, the Mongol ruler of Yuan China, in 1274 and 1281.  Both attacks had been repelled by the Japanese primarily due to natural occurring typhoon strikes during both Chinese attempts at landing upon Japan’s shores with hundreds of ships and men. Regardless, the Shogun was overthrown by Japanese Emperor Go-Daigo in 1333.
But this emperor’s rule was short lived.  By 1336, the Ashikaga Shogunate under Ashikaga Takauji reasserted samurai rule again, but it was weaker than the Kamakura had been because regional constables called “daimyo” had developed considerable power, and they habitually interfered with the succession of the shogunate.
Over 500 years later in 1868, a form of government that became known as the Meiji Restoration signaled the beginning of the end for the samurai.
The Meiji system was a constitutional monarchy which included such democratic reforms as term limits for public office and popular vote casting. With public support, the Meiji Emperor outlawed the samurai, reduced the power of the daimyo, and moved the governments capital from Kyoto to Tokyo.
This new government created or drafted, you could say, an army in 1873; as you might expect, many of the officers were drawn from the ranks of former samurai.
In 1877, angry ex-samurai revolted against the Meiji in the battle known as the Satsuma Rebellion; they lost, and the era of the samurai was over.

Sources …                                                                                                        

Strange or Coincidental Events

Lightening Never Strikes a 3rd Time
In the Same Place

OK so we all know that “strange” is a term often used when folks describe me but if the sun should rise in the west tomorrow, well that would not only be “strange” but an also would qualify as a “strange event”.

A coincidence is not necessarily strange but for those of us who are a bit dull; not so sharp; or a little slow in contemplation, here’s the typical definition of “coincidental”, borrowed from a free on-line dictionary.

co·in·ci·den·tal  … Adjective
1. Occurring as or resulting from coincidence.
2. Happening or existing at the same time.

Occasionally, both terms (coincidence & strange) are justifiably used in the same sentence.  Think strange coincidences never really happen? The following events support this line of thought, so think again!

Back in 1899 a lightning strike or bolt killed a man as he was standing in his backyard in Taranto, Italy.  Thirty years had passed when his son was killed in the same way and in the same place. As fate would have it, on October 8, 1949, Rolla Primarda, the grandson of the first victim and the son of the second, became the third casualty of a lightning strike.

Mark Twain was born on the day of the emergence of Halley's Comet in 1835 (Nov. 30).   Twain vowed in 1909, a year before his death that he would not depart the living until the famous comet appeared again. On the day before he died, Halley's Comet passed over. He died on April 10th, 1910 at 6:30 p.m.  

In 1979, a German magazine publication, the Das Besteran, sponsored a writing competition for the public. Readers were asked to submit unusual stories, but they had to be based on factual events. The winner, Walter Kellner of Munich, Germany was named winner and had his story published. He wrote about the time when he was flying a Cessna 421 between Sardinia (an Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea) and Sicily (the largest Mediterranean island). He described encountering engine trouble at sea, landing in the water, and spending some time in a small emergency boat before he was then rescued.

Among many others I’m sure, the story was read by an Austrian, also named Walter Kellner, who said that the German Kellner had plagiarized the story. The Austrian Kellner said that he had flown a Cessna 421 over the same sea, experienced engine trouble and was forced to land on the island of Sardinia. It was basically the same story, with a slightly different ending. The magazine resolved the issue by checking each story; both turned out to be true.

A British officer, Major Summerford, while fighting in the fields of WW-I Flanders, Belgium in February 1918 was knocked off his horse by a flash of lightning; he was paralyzed from the waist down. Summerford retired and there after moved to Vancouver, British Columbia or Canada.   In 1924, as he was fishing alongside a river, lightning hit the tree he was sitting beneath and paralyzed the balance of his right side.

Two years later Summerford had maliciously recovered enough so that he was able to take short trips via his wheel chair in a local park. While wheeling along there one summer day in 1930 a lightning bolt smashed into him, permanently paralyzing his entire body; mercifully he died two years later. But a lightning strike sought him out one last time. Four years after his burial, during a raging storm, lightning struck a cemetery and destroyed a grave yard headstone. As you might have already guessed, the deceased buried here was none other than Major Summerford.

Sources …                                                                            

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

King Cotton

“Tree Cotton”

A few cotton fabrics discovered in a cave in south eastern, Mexico, have been dated to around 5800 BC, although it is difficult to know for sure that this date is correct due to fiber decay. Other sources have been discovered dating the domestication of cotton in Mexico to approximately 5000 to 3000 BC.

Cotton was first cultivated in parts of the Old World (Asia, Africa, and Europe) 7,000 years ago during the 5th millennium BC (4,000 BC – 5,000 BC), by the inhabitants of western Pakistan. Cotton cultivation became more widespread during the Indus Valley Civilization (3300 to 1300 BC), which covered a huge section of the northwestern part of South Asia, comprised of parts of today’s eastern Pakistan and northwestern India.

Between 2000 and 1000 BC cotton became widespread in east India; long before the era we moderns call “AD” or the “Common Era”, the use of cotton textiles had spread from India to Asia Minor (now modern Turkey) or western Asia and beyond, the Greeks and the Arabs were not familiar with cotton until after the Wars of Alexander the Great, which was a few years beyond 315 BC; in fact one Greek geographer and author of the era described cotton as a type of wool that grew on trees located within the Indus valley.

During the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), cotton was grown by non Chinese peoples in the Chinese province of Yunnan (side note: this region did not become a Chinese province until the Han dynasty began) located in south western China.

The good folks of northern Europe were for many years unfamiliar with even the way cotton was created, they only new for sure it was an imported product from India; John Mandeville (there is dispute as to his nationality, English or French), when writing in his very popular novel of the day (1350 AD,) stated what he apparently believed to be fact, this preposterous belief: “There grew there [in India] a wonderful tree which bore tiny lambs on the ends of its branches. These branches were so pliable (flexible) that they bent down to allow the lambs to feed when they are hungry.”

By the end of the 1500’s, cotton was cultivated throughout the warmer regions in Asia as well as the Americas and almost everyone knew by then that there was not a “Lamb Tree” responsible for the product.

So I guess when the Spanish arrived in Mexico and Peru in the early 16th century and found the native inhabitants growing cotton and wearing clothing made from it; it was probably not such a terrible surprise. In actual fact it has been determined that cotton has been home to South America since at least 2500 BC, and some historians say more than twice that long.

In large part as a result of the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, by the 1840s, India was unable to supply the vast quantities of cotton fibers needed by the mechanized British factories; shipping bulky, low-price cotton from India to Britain was time-consuming and expensive. Add to the equation the emergence of American cotton as a superior type due to the longer, stronger fibers of the two domesticated Native American species / types; the result of  combining these facts: British traders began to purchase cotton from plantations in the United States and the Caribbean. So, by the mid-19th century, “King Cotton” had become the backbone of the southern American economy.

Cotton remained a key crop in the Southern economy even after the Civil War’s end in 1865. All across the South, “sharecropping” became commonplace, in which free black farmers and landless white farmers worked on cotton plantations of the wealthy land owners in return for a share of the profits. Such cotton plantations required huge labor forces or  “pickers” to hand-pick cotton, and it was not until the 1950s (nearly 100 years later) that effective and reliable harvesting machinery was introduced to replace these cotton pickers; while this resulted in a tremendous increase in production capabilities, it more or less eliminated the role of the share cropper.

Here’s something I didn’t know, small quantities of cotton can and are cultivated to have colors other than the standard yellowish off-white that is typical of modern commercial cotton fibers. Naturally colored cotton can be grown in red, green, and several shades of brown.

In addition to the textile industry, cotton is or has been used in fishing nets, coffee filters, tents, cotton paper, and for bookbinding among other things. You may recall that the first Chinese paper was made of cotton fiber and it was once common for fire hoses to be made of cotton.

In addition to all this the lowly cotton seed that for hundreds of years hampered the use of cotton is now used to produce cottonseed oil, which, after refining, can be consumed by humans just like any other vegetable oil such as corn oil or olive oil. The cottonseed meal that is left generally is fed to livestock such as cattle.

The largest producers of cotton, as of 2009, were China and India; while the largest exporters of raw cotton as of the same time period was the United States, with sales of $4.9 billion, and Africa, with sales of $2.1 billion.

The three leading exporters of cotton in 2011 are (1) the United States, (2) India, (3) Brazil, however in 2011 China remains the worlds largest producer at 33 Million bales; India stays in the number two production with 27 Million bales and the United States is in the 3rd place with a distant 18 Million bales.  Brazil has dropped from 3rd to 5th in this category with 9.3 million bales produced.

All this information about cotton and I’ll bet you are still wondering about the cotton tree described by John Mandeville back in 1350.  Well the fact is there is a cotton bulb producing shrub tree and in India no less; it grows to be 3 to 6 feet or so tall (1 or 2 meters tall); its scientific name is  Gossypium arboreum (a name I can’t pronounce), and is commonly called “tree cotton”. Yes it can be used to produce textiles or clothing and after a good deal of research, I have yet to find reference to a tree that produces anything even close to a lamb.

Sources …                                      

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gun Fight at the O K Corral

Cowboys and Earp’s

Dead, after the gun fight

As you were reminded in yesterday’s Post titled “The Cowboys”, Cochise County, Arizona was founded in 1881; the county seat or center for local government was a very successful silver mining town with good promise of things to come called Tombstone.   

That good promise ran dry, you might say, when in the mid 1880s, the silver mines inadvertently taped into the water table and despite considerable investments in pumps, the mining operations were unable to continue. So the you could say that the silver didn’t “dry up” as is usually the case when such operations fail, but was “washed out”. In short, when the mines played out, so did Tombstone.

The Earp brothers—Virgil, Wyatt, Morgan and Warren Earp arrived in Tombstone during December or 1879 and the summer of 1880.  Doc Holiday, a friend of Wyatt’s arrived shortly there after.  All of the Earp’s assumed roles as lawmen at one time or another which led to ongoing conflicts with Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and other “Cowboys”. After repeated threats against the Earp’s and Doc Holiday by Ike Clanton over many months, the conflict escalated into an altercation that turned into a shoot out; the now-famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

The Gunfight lasted roughly 30 second and took place at about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday October 26, 1881 in the Tombstone, Arizona Territory of Cochise County, in the United States. Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, and Billy Clanton were killed; Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded but survived. Wyatt Earp was the only individual who came through the fight untouched, unless you count Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne who were unarmed and wisely ran just after the shooting began.

Doc Holiday’s wound was no more than a graze on his hip and it is of significance to note that one of the dead men, Tom McLaury, appeared  in death at least to be unarmed, although Wyatt, Virgil, and Doc each later testified that they at least believed him to be armed.

Despite its legendary name, the gunfight really occurred in a narrow lot six doors west of the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral on Fremont Street. The two rival parties were initially only about 6 feet (1.8 m) apart before the shooting started which involved thirty shots being fired in as many seconds.

Yet another little known fact: The gunfight was relatively unknown to the American public until 1931 (40 years later) after author / writer Stuart Lake published what has since been determined to be a largely fictionalized biography, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal; two years after Wyatt Earp’s death.

Both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were deputized as temporary assistant marshals on the day of the gun fight by City Marshal (who was also a Deputy U S Marshal) Virgil Earp (Wyatt’s brother).  Morgan Earp was already a Deputy City Marshal.  Wyatt Earp later became a Deputy U S Marshal himself but nearly 3 months later.

The Earp’s and Holliday were charged twice, within the next 30 days, by Billy Clanton's brother, Ike Clanton, with murder but were exonerated by a local judge following a preliminary hearing as well as by a local grand jury the second time.

From that point to date, debate regarding what really occurred that October afternoon or who was at fault has been debated by historians and laymen alike. 

Sources …                                                            ,_Arizona                

Monday, October 24, 2011

“The Cowboys” of Tombstone, AZ

The Cowboys were a loosely connected faction of outlaw “cowboys” in Pima (of Tucson fame) and Cochise (of Tombstone fame) County, Arizona Territory in the late 1800’s. They were cattle rustlers and robbers who rode across the border into Mexico and stole cattle that they drove back to the US to sell for cash.

Cochise County was created on February 1, 1881 from the Eastern part of Pima County Arizona. It took its name from the legendary Apache war chief Cochise.  The county seat was Tombstone, and remained so until 1929.

By the middle of 1881 Tombstone had within the town limits one bowling alley, four churches, an ice house, a school, two banks, three newspapers, and an ice cream parlor, alongside 110 saloons, 14 gambling halls, and numerous dancing halls and brothels.

You probably recall that Tombstone was the site of a large number of silver mines, which naturally attracted a lot of rough and ready miners as well as several members of the loosely knit out-law group called “the Cowboys”. Most historian’s think there were around 200 to 300 members of this group; friends or acquaintances that routinely teamed up for various crimes and often came to each others aid.

You might say that as a general rule the Cowboys were former Confederate sympathizers and Democrats while the townspeople of Tombstone and her capitalists were largely Republicans from the Northern states and thus generally former union supporters.  With this alignment, coupled with the above described environment, tensions soon grew into deadly conflict which most old west followers think of as the now famous gun fight at the O K Corral, which is really another story which I will describe in detail in my very next post tomorrow.

Should this create a great hardship for you, or you were simply anticipating more, may I suggest you click-on the following posts / critiques I have completed in their entirety regarding similar topics:
                                                                        The Lone Ranger
                                                                        The Texas Rangers
                                                                        The Jessie Evans Gang
                                                                        Billy the Kid

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