Archive for May, 2022

May 28 1905 Japan Sinks Russia’s Baltic Fleet

Admiral Rozhestvensky’s Baltic fleet was originally intended to relieve Port Arthur on the Liadong Peninsula (then Manchuria, nowadays China). But General Anatoly Stessel baffled everyone by surrendering to the Japanese. Instead, they were heading to the only other Russian port in the Far East – Vladivostok. Admiral Tōgō of the Imperial Japanese Navy knew this was where he was going and knew that he would take the dangerous route through the Tsushima Strait. This strip of water lie between the Japanese home islands and the Japanese Naval Base in Korea. He lie in wait. Admiral Rozhestensky had journeyed 33,000 kilometers, a feat which is astounding in the age of coal-driven ships. Japan then proceeded to open a can of naval whoop ass on the Baltic Fleet, two-thirds of which was soon decorating the floor of the ocean. Of the fifty-two ships of the Baltic Fleet, three made it to Vladivostok. Russia was reeling. They had suffered a brutal defeat in Mukden two months before and with Russia suffering internal pressure to end the war, they had no choice but to sue for peace.

Though the Russo-Japanese War was relatively short and is oft-forgotten, it had significant repercussions. As the first major war of the 20th century, it foretold much of the weaponry, equipment, and tactics of the upcoming Great War. Namely, equipment such as barbed wire, trenches, and machineguns and tactics such as getting out of those trenches and walking directly into the bullets coming from those machineguns. Moreover, by beating Russia in war, Japan became the first Asian army to defeat a Western power. By sinking Rozhestensky’s Baltic Fleet Japan had knocked out its only rival in the East Pacific. The war halted European expansion into East Asia as Japan became the unquestioned military and sea power in East Asia. And the world suddenly stopped being completely European centered as a pole of strength had been added in Asia. And boy will those chickens come home to roost.

When Russia entered into the war, they thought it would be a fast and easy victory. Indeed, on paper, the Japanese should have lost to the Russians. Japan was outmanned and less technologically savvy. Their army was younger. However, the Japanese continuously outmanoeuvred and surprised the Russian army. They also took advantage of various missteps, hesitancies, and mistakes made by Russian high command, Stessel’s handing over of Port Arthur among them. There had been a huge leap in maturity of the Imperial Japanese Army and the professional Japanese soldier between this war and the one that took place ten years before with China. Though there’s also a hint of the samurai culture in Japanese military, the fatalistic “human bullet” approach to frontal assaults that will exemplify the Japanese soldiers of the early campaigns in World War II.  

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The Birth of the Burpee

I find that a lot gets done around my house. Cleaning gets done, emails get written and sent, laundry gets folded, students get responded to, and shopping lists get conducted. The impetus to these things happening is very simple and the same in every case. I put on my workout clothes.   

As part of my never ending quest to not end up looking like a balloon with pants on, I work out five times a week. Not only does it help with that, but it also assuages any guilt I feel about eating bad food or drinking beer.

But before I work out, I stall, I hesitate, I walk around in shorts and a T shirt and find things to do. Though my workouts usually take about 30-35 minutes, I usually block off an hour because I know it takes me so long to get to it.  

One of the exercises I do most often is a little slice of hell called ‘the burpee’. If you’re in a self-loathing mood or your body does something to piss you off, then I suggest doing a few burpees to get back at it. How, you ask?

Stand on the floor with legs shoulder width. Squat down and put your hands palm-down on the floor in front of you. Now kick your legs back so that you’re in a plank position. While you’re in this position, torture yourself by doing a push up. Then bring your legs back so that you’re in the same squat position as before. Stand up and hop into the air. A burpee.

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Pink Floyd and Other Animal Outlaws

Sometime in April, a fisherman in West Texas happened to catch sight of a strange thing. There in the wetlands was a flamingo. He was standing on one leg just like that guy from Jethro Tull. The man was looking at Pink Floyd, an African flamingo who escaped from the Wichita Zoo in 2005.

Pink Floyd, whose zoo name was a downright unimaginative #492, has been on the run for 17 years and has evidently covered over 700 miles. He escaped with a friend, #347 who is still AWOL and unaccounted for. Along his travels he has made friends and been seen in the company of a Caribbean flamingo who might have been blown off course by a storm back in 2006. But they haven’t been seen together since 2013. Otherwise, Floyd seems to be a loner.

Stories of runaway animals always make me a little leery. For as long as I can remember, they have been part of our urban legend rollcall. As a kid I remember a story about a boy who had come across a baby alligator in Florida on holiday and which he smuggled back to the Bucks County area of the Philadelphia area. His mother found out and of course ordered him to get rid of it. Then, holding a great deal of respect in the boy’s judgment and evidently having never met another teenage boy, she left him to it. He flushed the alligator down the toilet.

That was merely the backstory. The main story was that this alligator was now grown and very sad and pissed off at having been not only discarded but discarded in a toilet. He was now swimming up toilets biting off the pendulous parts of boys’ anatomy in an effort to exact revenge. Forgetting that the alligator was now too big to swim up a toilet, I still spent a few weeks peering into my toilet before using it and then tapping a nervous foot while using it. No alligators ever appeared.

There are similar, though possibly true, stories of people buying tigers and pumas and then tiring of the big cats when they realize the cat A. can destroy their furniture and B. instinctually goes after one’s jugular. Thus the woods and glens of that area get an apex predator that wasn’t meant to be there.

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May 8 1886 – Coca Cola Sold for the First Time

In 1886, the United States was a confusing place. The New World was running away from the Old World. While Industrialization and urbanization created completely different lives for Americans, what had forgotten to keep pace was medicine. So, people suffered from ailments brought on by war, living in cities, and working in factories, but treatments were decidedly 18th century. This left the field wide open for hucksters and charlatans.

Enter the patent medicine boom. No western movie is complete without a snake oil salesman pitching the cure all benefits of their liniment. These were often pitched as medical panaceas, fixing everything from hemorrhoids to massive depression. The ingredients were often exotic and had names that vexed the mouth. 

Dr Bateman’s Pectoral Drops would cure your chest or lungs, Magician John Hamlin’s Wizard Oil promised ‘There is no Sore it will Not Heal, No Pain it will not Subdue.’ And Daffy’s Elixir would cure you of all your stomach ails. Though many of the patent medicines were made from harmless ingredients that would also do no good, many used a variety of liquors and elicit drugs. Dr. Bateman’s Pectoral Drops wouldn’t fix your chest but it was made of opium, so you didn’t care. No wonder John Hamlin’s Wizard Oil subdued your pains because it was made up of 60-70% alcohol including ammonia and chloroform. The marketing genius here is that you can’t feel any pain if you are blacked out on your bathroom floor. And Daffy’s Elixir would cure your stomach pain until you sobered up from the brandy in it.

The mother of them all was Vin Mariani (French: Mariani wine). This was a coca wine created in the 1860s by Angelo Mariani, a French chemist. Mariani saw the economic potential from adding coca to booze and selling it as medicine. The ethanol in the wine acts as a solvent and extracts the cocaine from the coca leaves. It originally contained 6 mg of cocaine per fluid ounce of wine but Vin Mariani that was to be exported contained 7.2 mg per ounce in order to compete with the higher cocaine content of similar drinks in the United States. Advertisements for Vin Mariani claimed (almost certainly accurately) that it would restore health, strength, energy and vitality. Which might be the exact nouns one might use to explain the effects of taking cocaine while drinking before they ran off to do some jumping jacks and hit the bathroom again. Not surprisingly, It was ridiculously popular. Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, the Pope, and the Rabbi all adored it, teaming up some very random people. 

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I walked into the kitchen last week in search of candy. It was a Sunday and I had convinced myself that since Sunday was the day reserved by many to praise deities, I could have candy. In the kitchen, Burke was aiming her phone at a package of ham.

“Are you taking a picture of the ham?”


“Is the ham doing something interesting?”

“No…I’m scanning the calories.”

Against all my instincts, I asked for an explanation. And then I got one.

It seems that the not-getting-fat or the getting-less-fat people are the target market of lots of apps. There are apps to motivate you to eat better, to motivate you to eat less, to motivate you to eat nothing. Many of these apps are meant to deter your appetite. For an app to be successful in doing this with me, it would have to turn into a cheeseburger and stuff itself into my throat. The app Burke had found works on the premise of counting calories. This is a sadist’s app. So, let’s say one buys a packet of Oreos at the store. He is joyous, for he has bought Oreos and they are a solid part of his immediate future plans. And then, somewhere in between buying the Oreos and devouring the Oreos, he decides that what would really make the Oreos enjoyable would be knowing exactly how many calories eating them would transmute to him. He can then open this app on his phone, aim the phone at the Oreo barcode, scan it, and then instantly learn that by eating the Oreos, he will be fulfilling his caloric intake for the next 27 days.

Over the following week, Burke used it for everything. Everything. She became a font of information, all of it bad. The very number of calories in anything will make you recoil in terror, an action whose only benefit is that it burns about 4 calories. Everything became tainted with numerical information. I stopped seeing food and started seeing calories. A whole wheat wrap no longer was a tasty way to bring chicken to my mouth, it was now 320 calories. Hummus was no longer a salty part of my lunch, it was 180 calories. A beer was no longer a tasty way to forget my week, it was now 280 calories that I might as well tape to my ass.

There are some of you out there who will argue that before I ever knew about this secret world of ‘calories’ they still existed. You might say with annoyance that I just didn’t realize exactly how much everything I put in my mouth was uploading fat into my system. You might then put your hand on my padded knee and say words of encouragement to the effect of ‘knowledge is power’ and ‘being armed with information is a huge help.’ To you people, I say go eat a few spoonfuls of Nutella and then look at the calorie count. If you don’t shriek in horror, I’ll be impressed.

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