Aug 14

History Wednesday: Revolution, Eh?

Ever wonder how the American Revolution created Canada?

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No, seriously.

Well, as it turns out the Continental Army was at least as interested in Canada as it was in its own jurisdictions, at least at first. That had some far-reaching consequences. So let’s take a look, eh? Beauty!

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Jul 10

History Wednesday: French Fried

Ah, the French. Famous for food and wine. Much maligned for military prowess.

Not that it mattered to Orson Welles, apparently on either count.

In terms of the latter, one could argue the French get a bad rap. After all, this is the country directly descended from the Gaul of Vercingetorix and the Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne. No one would have accused the French of being wusses in 1812. Back then the guy in charge out in Paris was named Napoleon. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

Still, more recently the French have been the victims of some pretty bad military leadership. That’s probably where the reputation comes from. The following is a prime example.

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Jul 03

History Wednesday: Dissing the Chief

With the Fourth of July less than 24 hours away, I suppose I should devote this week’s History Wednesday to something American. However Canada Day was on Monday, and SB has a loyal following in the Great White North.

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Much appreciated, eh? Beauty.

So what’s a blogger to do? Can I write about both American and Canadian history at the same time?

Ha! Of course I can.

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May 28

Gaming for Luddites

I was born in the United States in 1973. If you were too, you either (1) heard of the Atari 2600 or, (2) grew up under a rock. Note I said “heard of” instead of “owned.”

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While most definitely familiar with the Atari, I owned one of these bad boys.
Image credit: Evan-Amos

I often get nostalgic for the 8-bit halcyon days of the 80s. Be it the romance of the video arcade before it descended into Chuck E. Cheese corporate banality, or the simple Zen of playing BurgerTime on Intellivision, if there’s one thing I miss about childhood, that’s it. The adept video game historians among you know Intellivision was technically superior to the Atari 2600, so you might assume I’ve ridden the crest of technology ever since.

Well, you’d be mistaken.

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May 20

Celebrating 100 Posts of Crap!

Well, look at that. Today marks SB’s 100th post. I suppose I should celebrate or something.

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Woo hoo!
Image credit: Skubasteve834

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May 08

History Wednesday: The Instant Presidency

It might not seem like it if one listens to American mainstream culture, but Mexico has come a long way in the last 25 years or so. While the country continues to face some very serious issues, it has also become a fairly stable multiparty democracy. Indeed, in my humble opinion one which has outpaced most of the former Soviet Bloc nations over the same time period.

This is in spite of being the scene of the shortest tenure of any head of state in recorded history. More on that in a moment.

After declaring independence from Spain in 1810, Mexico endured two absolute monarchies (one of which came courtesy of the Hapsburgs), several disastrous wars and enough outright corruption to make Silvio Berlusconi look like a paragon of honesty.

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This guy lost over half of the country yet still managed to become president … 11 TIMES.

By the turn of the 20th Century Mexico was well into a period known as the Porfiriato, an era of repression dominated by the virtual dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz, who had effectively been in power since 1876. Although the Porfiriato represented by far Mexico’s longest period of stability to date, it was anything but democratic.

Finally tired of decades of stagnation, the Mexicans overthrew Diaz in 1911 after a ham-handed attempt to hand the aging strongman yet another re-election “victory.” This event sparked what became known as the Mexican Revolution.

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“Wait, did somebody say, ‘stagnation?'”

Anyway, unfortunately for Mexico Diaz’s overthrow soon degenerated into an all-out civil war with multiple competing factions. This is the era which produced Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, who effectively became warlords in the north and south respectively. By the time the dust settled in late 1920 Mexico went through 11 presidents in the space of less than 10 years.

Francisco Madero was the main figure during the early stages of the Mexican Revolution. A liberal reformer strongly influenced by Benito Juarez, Madero became president in late 1911. In the hopes of establishing national unity Madero included pro-Diaz and other conservative figures in his government, who then proceeded to bring reform efforts to a standstill.

In February 1913 forces led by Generals Victoriano Huerta and Felix Diaz (the former president’s nephew) staged a coup d’etat against the Madero government with support from Henry Lane Wilson, the American ambassador. On 19 February Madero was forced to resign and was executed a few days later.

The idea, of course, was to make Huerta the new president. There was just one problem. Huerta wanted everything to be “legal,” but he wasn’t in the presidential line of succession. Well, that’s where our friend Pedro Lascurain comes into the picture.

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“Pedro, we have a little job for you ….”

Under the constitution of the day, as foreign minister Lascurain was fourth in the presidential line of succession. Since Huerta had already forced out the first three – Madero, the vice president and the attorney general – Lascurain was legally entitled to become president, which he did with Huerta’s blessing.

President Lascurain had two items on his agenda: (1) appoint Huerta as interior minister (and therefore next in the line of succession) and, (2) resign. He dutifully accomplished both. Huerta then called a late-night session of the Mexican Congress to validate the move, which they did with Huerta’s soldiers training their guns on them so they didn’t miss the point.

Sources disagree exactly how long Lascurain served as President of the United Mexican States, but it was certainly less than an hour. Perhaps quite wisely, Lascurain left politics immediately afterward.

Huerta then took it upon himself to establish a military dictatorship which made the Diaz regime look like an anarcho-syndicalist commune. Meanwhile in Washington, President Woodrow Wilson – aghast that Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson (no relation) took such a leading role in this mess – recalled the rogue diplomat and demanded Huerta schedule elections. The diplomatic situation quickly deteriorated from there, leading directly to the occupation of Veracruz the following year.

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“Yeah. Thanks a lot.”

Although the Huerta regime lasted less than 18 months before it succumbed to rebel forces, the general – often called El Chacal (“The Jackal”) – remains one of the most vilified figures in Mexican history. As for Lascurain, he quietly spent the rest of his life as an attorney and law school director.

May 07

Idaho Has an Accent?

I spent my entire childhood in the 2T. I didn’t live outside of Idaho until I was well into my 20s, when I spent almost a year in the Chicago area. I suppose that means I grew up with an “Idaho accent.”

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It also probably explains why I have recurring dreams about wind.
Image credit: Wagner Christian

I personally don’t think the Idaho accent is much of an accent at all. For what it’s worth, corporate America seems to agree. Purportedly they base call centers in Boise and other cities in the region because of our friendly, “neutral” speech mannerisms.

That said, I’ve always been intrigued by the differing accents and dialects in the English-speaking world. Indeed, there are obvious differences in accent between the 2T and places like Chicago and Philadelphia, both of which I lived in at one point. I lived in Las Vegas too, but I didn’t notice much of a difference there.

During my time out of state I began to pick up on several different accents I wasn’t exposed to as a kid, notably the Boston and Long Island varieties. In my estimation the Philadelphia accent wasn’t as “strong” as those, but it was stronger than the accent heard in, say, Washington, D.C. As I noted when I lived in Philadelphia, it seemed like the further northeast one went up, the thicker and more unintelligible the accents became.

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Until one eventually hit Francophone Quebec.

Earlier today I came across a terribly interesting site created by linguist Rick Aschmann. Aschmann has exhaustively researched and mapped the various English accents and dialects spoken in the United States and Canada. It’s an impressive work. Unfortunately, like many other works of a national or continental scope, it’s a bit lacking when it comes to Idaho-specific material.

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A Mike Crapo speech sample? C’mon, people, we can do better than that!

Now I could sit here and complain about it, because that makes for good blogging material. However, I could also do something about it, which … makes for good blogging material. On his site Aschmann asks for voice samples from native American and Canadian English speakers like me who spent most or all of their childhoods in a particular place. I was happy to oblige, especially since the ever-so-slight Chicago and Philadelphia accents I used to have are long gone.

Naturally, I pointedly informed him there is no “Z” in “Boise.” I’d be horribly remiss if I produced something like this and failed to do so.

I also read him a bedtime story. You’ll probably fall asleep too.

This turned out to be a fun afternoon project. I encourage others to try it as well.

Apr 07

The SB Travel Guide

When I’m bored, which happens a lot, I like to peruse travel sites such as Lonely Planet and Wikitravel. You see, I’ve lived all over the United States, and I’m not content to park my ass in Idaho for the rest of my life. I want to get out and see stuff.

Does that mean I’m going to sign up for the first package tour to come through my e-mail? Oh, hell no! My travel philosophy is very similar to Mojo Nixon‘s. One of the truly great American prophets, Nixon had this to say back in 1999:

I like the local place. I like Billy Bob Bubba Junior’s burger place on the edge of town with the B sanitary rating. Local promoters will ask me where I want to go eat, and I’ll say, “I wanna go eat at the place where your drunk uncle goes to, that your mother doesn’t like.”

So today I’m sharing a few travel destinations on my bucket list. As of this writing I haven’t been to any of them, but I hope to change that one of these days. Flight prices are based on what I found today at Kayak departing 7 May (a Tuesday) from Boise Airport (BOI) and returning the following week. If you were to actually do this, however, I recommend taking a longer vacation. Many of these destinations take up to two days to get to, if not longer.

Tirana, Albania

The Albanian capital is still a bit off the beaten path, but it’s nowhere near as hard to get to as it was 35 years ago. Back when the Enver Hoxha regime was in power, Tirana was right up there with Pyongyang in terms of mysterious, remote cities. Pyongyang would be interesting too, but the whole point is to get away from guided tours. In North Korea, you don’t have a choice.

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Even the 2T has better nightlife than Pyongyang.

Anyway, in sharp contrast to Kim Jong-un’s stomping grounds Tirana is said to have a very vibrant night life. According to Wikitravel, Albanians “are very hospitable towards foreigners,” and crime rates are quite low. Once I have my druthers, I’m definitely going.

From BOI to Tirana (TIA): Fairly straightforward. $1,458 with layovers at Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and Munich (MUC).

Other places to consider: Ljubljana, Slovenia; Sofia, Bulgaria; Skopje, Macedonia; Podgorica, Montenegro.

Bangui, Central African Republic

The more astute among you know I’ve already written about the Central African Republic here. From my standpoint sitting here in Idaho Africa seems very remote, and Bangui seems remote even by African standards. I wouldn’t be terribly interested in going on safari there or anything like that (although I understand the region is well-suited for such things). Like most other places, I’d want to hang out with the locals and see what they do to spend the time.

The problem with the CAR is that’s it’s constantly in turmoil. I mean, constantly. The government there was overthrown by rebels less than a month ago. I’d want to go when it’s a bit safer, but when that actually happens is anyone’s guess.

From BOI to Bangui (BGF): “No matching results were found.” Wusses. I know Air France has a flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Bangui. Looks like that would be 687,500 Central African francs, which is, um, around $1,360. Add another $1,204 from BOI to Paris – with a layover in San Francisco (SFO) – and that’s $2,564.

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Nothing like burning an entire flight going backwards.

Other places to consider: N’Djamena, Chad; Antananarivo, Madagascar; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; Timbuktu, Mali.

Rabbit Flat, Northern Territory, Australia

Speaking of remote, few places are as out of the way as the Australian outback. In the outback itself, there are places even the locals consider remote, particularly in the interiors of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Rabbit Flat is one such place. Hundreds of miles away from any significant settlement, Rabbit Flat is not much more than a roadhouse on a long, seldom-traveled road. I understand the roadhouse closed down, too.

Ah, who cares? There are times when I’m feeling my inner Ted Kaczynski and just want to get away from it all. I very much doubt I’d stay in Rabbit Flat for very long, but the trip there and back would certainly be an adventure.

From BOI to Rabbit Flat: No airport to speak of there, so I’d have to fly to the closest city of any size, which would be Alice Springs (ASP). $1,815, with stops in San Jose (SJC), Los Angeles (LAX), and Sydney (SYD). That, plus a 375-mile one-way trip on roads that make Nevada 318 look like Manhattan. I’m sure they aren’t giving those away.

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Regardless, that’s gonna be a long-ass trip.
Image credit: Nachoman-au

Other places to consider: Coober Pedy, South Australia; Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Longyearbyen, Svalbard

Svalbard is the mirror image of Rabbit Flat. While the Australian outback is excessively hot and remote, Svalbard is excessively cold and remote. How remote? How about 78° North latitude, well north of the Arctic Circle?

Although officially part of Norway, Svalbard has also been occupied by the Soviet Union and later Russia for decades, which makes for an interesting cultural mishmash. In Longyearbyen, the capital and largest city, the sun rises in April and sets in November, with only a few weeks a year experiencing a normal day and night cycle. Temperatures rarely go above 45° F.

Who’s up for volleyball?

From BOI to Longyearbyen (LYR): Kayak wusses out again. $922 from Boise to Oslo (OSL) with stops in Denver (DEN) and Newark (EWR). Then on Scandinavian Airlines to LYR, $467. Total: $1,389.

Other places to consider: Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada; Nuuk, Greenland; Belushya Guba, Novaya Zemlya, Russia.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales

Many people (myself included), find even simple words in the Welsh language difficult to pronounce. How about this one? Apparently it sounds like this.

Located on the island of Isle of Anglesey just northwest of the Welsh mainland, the town has the distinction of being the longest place name in Europe. I suspect no one on the local train misses the station.

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“Yeah, that place.”

From BOI to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-whatever: Northern Wales is apparently lacking in sizable airports, so I looked eastward into England, specifically Liverpool (LPL). Evidently LPL isn’t big enough either, as Kayak directed me further east to Manchester (MAN). That’s $848 with stops in different locations each way (but not through London, go figure). A rental car or train ticket would probably put me a bit north of $1,000, which would make this my least expensive international trip.

Other places to consider: Venkatanarasimharajuvaripeta, Andhra Pradesh, India; Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, South Africa; Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, New Zealand.

Thermopolis, Wyoming

The seat of Hot Springs County, Wyoming, may not strike you as all that special. Indeed, I suspect it’s like any other town of its size in the western United States (around 3,000 if you’re interested). It’s still somewhere I want to go, perhaps because it was once mentioned by Daffy Duck.

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Another great American prophet.

Unlike the other places I mentioned today, I have concrete plans to visit Thermopolis in the near future. It’ll probably be May or June. I want to make sure winter is truly done and over with around here before I make the trip.

Besides, it’s much closer than Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

From BOI to Thermopolis: I suppose the closest commercial airport is in Cody (COD), but I’ll be driving this one.

Mar 20

History Wednesday: Changing the Alphabet

I’m generally against capital punishment except in cases of dumbasses willfully using “alot” as a word. That said, I fully recognize English spelling rules do no one any favors. For example, the words “sail” and “sale” are pronounced exactly the same but have entirely different meanings. So are “scent,” “sent” and “cent.” And don’t even get me started on that “i before e” crap.

Over time many have noted the problem lies in the fact that we use an alphabet which essentially hasn’t changed in 1,000 years. The English of Chaucer’s time only bears a passing resemblance to the English of today. So why are we still using the same damn letters? My guess is a combination of force of habit and general laziness.

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The Georgian alphabet never caught on here, not even in Atlanta.
Image credit: GeorgianJorjadze

Today History Wednesday focuses less on a leader’s personal shortcomings and more on ideas which just never took off. Despite a shaky start, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints succeeded in attracting many converts, building many temples and strongly influencing the histories of several areas in the Western United States, particularly Utah. However, not all of their grand plans came to fruition. Take their original 1849 proposal for a “State of Deseret” as an example:

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It’s said during quiet nights on the Metro, you can still hear Congress laughing.
Image source: Mangoman88

Still, you have to hand it to the early Mormons. They were bound and determined to do things differently than their 19th Century contemporaries. Different religious texts, different marriage rules, different ecclesiastical organizations …

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… Eh, same facial hair.

Yup, ending up in Utah after being unceremoniously thrown out of every place else they’d been, the Saints wanted to do everything their way. They even created a new alphabet to communicate amongst themselves. Attempts to change the alphabet were nothing new, not even in the 19th Century. No less than Benjamin Franklin himself made such a proposal in the 1760s. However unlike Franklin, who apparently lost interest in his proposal soon after he made it, the Mormon Church made a serious effort to implement their alphabet for daily use. Thus, the Deseret alphabet was formulated.

LDS Church President Brigham Young, noting many of the same problems with English spelling rules that Franklin observed decades earlier, formed a committee at the recently-established University of Deseret (now the University of Utah) and charged them with creating a more phonetically friendly alphabet. In January 1854, the university announced it had succeeded.

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“Qapla’!”

Having between 38 and 40 letters in its various incarnations each corresponding to a different English phoneme, the Deseret alphabet was touted by Young as a solution to those silly spelling rules and that “the years that are now required to learn to read and spell can be devoted to other studies.” Young didn’t elaborate on what those other studies should be, but I’m willing to bet they didn’t involve 8 Ball.

Being a religion, the LDS Church set out to publish its scriptures in the alphabet, including the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. For a time the Deseret News published a section in the alphabet as well. A couple of textbooks were thrown in for good measure. There’s even an extant headstone and coin utilizing the alphabet.

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“And you should see how it looks on gold plates, man!”

Unlike fry sauce and Jell-O molds, the Deseret alphabet never caught on in despite Young’s enthusiasm. Public indifference and the prohibitive costs of transcription and printing combined to doom the alphabet. After Young died in 1877, the project was quietly abandoned.

Still, the Deseret alphabet isn’t quite dead. It’s been part of the Unicode standard since 2001. It’s also the official alphabet of the Republic of Molossia.

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Such as it is.
Image credit: Kevin Baugh

Mar 17

More Embarrassing 80s Videos

A little over a month ago I wrote about a couple video relics from the 80s which stuck with me over the years. As a writer I find this is a pretty good well to go back to. If my site stats are any indication, you agree. So here we are again.

If you know what the image below is, this will all be review. As for the rest of you, prepare for an education.

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No fair Googling or using Tineye.

You Can’t Beat Our Meat

I had the “honor” of working at the Wendy’s in the 2T in 1991. Before I say anything else, let me assure from personal experience that this is 100 percent REAL.

As those of you who have worked fast food know – which I assume is damn near all of you – the job sucks. It’s sweaty. It’s greasy. You don’t get enough hours to qualify for benefits, and you have to wear the same goddamn shirt every day. You’re also controlled by corporate shills who just don’t understand the “younger scene.”

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“But, but, everybody loves Justin Bieber!”

And no, I didn’t live in the “good old days.” Consider this 1989 training video on “grill skills,” which I was instructed with in those dark days. It’s a bit slow at times. I’m posting only the second half, but stick with it and bathe in its innate cheesiness. The first half features a lot of the late Dave Thomas blathering about your “important job” in a curious accent. If you really want to watch that, it’s here.

Who’s up for chili?

Check out the rap and country rock excellence here. It’s somewhere between Biz Markie and, um, Billy Ray Cyrus or something. Incidentally, they had me wearing the exact same teal shirt featured, unfortunately without the glitter.

I was so glad when I got to leave and go to Idaho State later that year. You have no idea.

Canoe, Canoe?

Oh man, every time this spot appeared on MTV I cringed. Just cringed. Even though at the time I had no chance whatsoever of dating a hot chick – and if I somehow managed to succeed I would have blown a gasket – I knew this was just … wrong. If you kids think the marketing for Axe is over the top (and you’d be correct), you should have seen what it was like a generation ago.

So from the same pheromone experts who brought you such venerable female magnets as English Leather and British Sterling, Canoe allows you to talk to hotties familiar with international maritime signal flags, and smell like you raided a 10-year-old’s Christmas stocking in the process.

“We now return to Julius Caesar on an Aldis Lamp.”

I don’t know about you, but to this day I’m pretty sure if the first words out of my mouth in any singles setting were, “Oh! Canoe canoe?” a restraining order wouldn’t be too far behind. Afterwards, every once in a great while MTV would redeem itself by giving me a glimpse of the mystery girl in the Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” video, but usually this crap was followed by more crap like Night Ranger.

The Proto-King of Cars

OK, this never aired nationally per se, but the basic concept plagued several media markets throughout the country in the 80s. The 2T was one of them. As a matter of fact, this guy like the 2T so much he actually moved there from somewhere back east later in his career. I want to say he was originally based in upstate New York, but I’m not 100 percent certain about that.

Anyway, meet Dave Campo, the undisputed master of local used car ads. In the 2T he worked for an outfit called Latham Motors, which was at the time the local Chrysler dealership. Sadly I was unable to find any Campo-era Latham Motors ads, but in his heyday his modus operandi was the same for all his clients. Take a look:

“With all the candy!”

Campo made what the industry calls a “shitload” of ads during his career, easily over 1,000. To this day anyone who lived in the 2T while he was active can recite the basic ad structure word for word, myself included. Campo died a few years ago. His favorite client Latham Motors went under at around the same time. Yet his legacy lives on in loudmouth used car TV spots to this day.

Is the US a lucky nation or what?