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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Zorba the Greek is a Novel and Movie

Zorba the Greek is a novel and film based on the life of a fictitious character whose high-energy lifestyle not only impacted those he encountered through the literary genius of Cretan Nikos Kazantzakis, but has brought pleasure to millions of readers and movie goers since the book was published in 1946 and the film released in 1964.

The novel, written in Greek, was changed into a translated screenplay by fellow Cretan Michael Cacoyannis, who also directed the black & white film that starred Anthony Quinn as Zorba and Alan Bates as an English bookworm.

The two met in Pireaus, the port city of Athens, then embarked on a journey to Crete where the stodgy bookworm was transformed by Zorba’s uninhibited zest for life.

Facts about the novel and film, Zorba the Greek, and Nikos Kazantzakis:

* The quiet Englishman, Basil, is writing a biography about Buddha at story’s outset, and plans to leave for quiet Crete where he recently inherited a small cottage and a defunct coal mine

* Zorba joins him on the voyage and, in Crete, is part of two financial disasters for Basil

* Basil learns so much about how to live life with vitality similar to Zorba‘s that his lost fortunes suddenly carry little importance for him

* 1919-1927 Kazantzakis was director general of the Greek Ministry of Public Welfare, a period when he was credited with feeding and eventually rescuing 150,000 people of Greek descent caught up in the civil war then raging in the Caucasian region of the Soviet Union

* Cacoyannis was an acquaintance of Kazantzakis near the end of the latter’s life

* In 1957, the year Kazantzakis died, he was one vote short of winning the Nobel Prize for literature, losing to French author Albert Camus

Whether you enjoy reading or attending movies, Zorba the Greek is a powerful story about attitude and change where two characters, originally diametrically opposed, grow close and share a profound relationship.

By Rocky Wilson
Author Of Sharene - Death: A Prerequisite For Life
Blog writer for Body By Chocolates

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A Fictitious Story About Zorba the Greek

What history tells us about Zorba the Greek is he was a fictional character out of the mind of prolific Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis; loved music, women, and dance; was boisterous and often unkempt; and exhibited an infectious affinity for life.

Kazantzakis’ 1946 novel, originally written in Greek, was made into a highly successful film in 1964 with the same title. The movie starred Anthony Quinn in the title role, and Alan Bates as the story’s narrator, a young Englishman named Basil.

Many philosophers contend Kazantzakis purposely embodied the personages of the Greek gods Dionysus and Apollo in the two main characters. Dionysus, impetuous and passionate, unreflective and irrational, is said to be embodied in the character of Zorba, played by Quinn. Basil, in contrast, portrayed the rational, reflective, passive, restrained personality emblematic of Apollo.

Facts and observations about the novel and movie Zorba the Greek:

* Kazantzakis (1885-1957) wrote essays, poems, tragedies, travel books, and translations of classics such as Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy,’ yet didn’t publish his first novel until age 51

* Although born on Crete and a resident of Greece during World War II, much of Kazantzakis’ life, other than the setting for many of his literary works, was spent abroad

* Zorba the Greek begins in Pireaus, where the bookworm Basil first meets Zorba and encourages Zorba to join him on a mining venture in Crete

* Zorba teaches Basil to regain the physical world, even having a role in Basil’s love relationship with a widow

* The mine venture fails, so Zorba talks Basil into investing the remaining bulk of his money in a timber sluice project that proves disastrous

* By now, Basil has caught the carefree spirit of Zorba and doesn’t care about the lost money

What one learns about Zorba the Greek is how much a strong, ebullient man can influence the life of an individual lacking in personal conviction and strength, yet who is willing to adjust and learn a new lifestyle.

By Rocky Wilson
Author Of Sharene - Death: A Prerequisite For Life
Blog writer for Body By Chocolates

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

The History of Palestine is Mired in Conflict

From the earliest days when Philistine ancestors from Asia Minor and Greece landed on the southern Mediterranean coast of what’s now Israel and had unwelcome confrontations with Biblical leaders Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael, from then until today the history of Palestine is filled with anger and distrust.

Why these people groups always have been in mortal strife goes to the core of human existence, with the ongoing battle of good and evil caught in the balance.

Many lives have been lost through the centuries because people from what’s now known as Israel and Palestine never have reached neutral ground about religious and cultural values.

Some pertinent data regarding the Israeli/Palestine conflict include:

* First Philistines settled south of Beersheba, in Gerar, and soon were in conflict with early Biblical leaders

* Second group of Philistines, from Crete, settled Gaza, Ashdod, and three other cities

* Through the centuries, Palestine generally became known as area stretching E-W from the Mediterranean to the Jordan Valley, and N-S from the Sea of Galilee to the southern Negev Desert

* In “Song of Moses,” Exodus 15:14, (Exodus being the book of redemption characterized as being from God, delivered by a person, delivered through blood, and delivered by power,) it’s stated, “The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.”

* Through thousands of years, Palestine primarily was ruled by Muslim Arabs, and later by non-Arab Muslims from Ottoman Empire

* 1917 British liberate Palestine and, in British Mandate, state Palestine will become a home for Jews without infringing on religious and cultural rights of people already living there, most of them Arab Muslims

* 1920 British have role in naming Muhammad Amin al Husseini president of newly formed Supreme Muslim Council, basically making him religions and political leader of Arabs in Palestine … Husseini, known as Grand Mufti, later becomes friend of Hitler and actively pursues annihilation of Jews

* 1939-1945 British, enforcing McDonald White Papers which removes many Jewish rights in British Mandate, block many ships filled with Jewish refugees heading to Palestine filled with Jews beyond established quota who are trying to escape Hitler … many of those ships are torpedoed, killing thousands

* 1940-1945 McDonald White Papers backfires as Arabs don’t think paper goes far enough … Iraq joins Axis and most other Arab nations refuse to help Allies

* November 29, 1947 United Nations proposes nation of Israel … Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen storm from meeting threatening war

* May 14, 1948 Israel declares independence as nation

* 1948-1949 War of Independence

* June 5-10, 1967 Six Day War allows Israel to seize control of Gaza Strip, West Bank, eastern section of Jerusalem, Golan Heights

Yes, the history of Palestine is filled with complexities, misunderstandings, and death. And, though many nations, including the United States, actively are engaged in efforts to supply relief and hope to the strife-torn region, it may be a conflict beyond human-applied healing.

By Rocky Wilson
Author Of Sharene - Death: A Prerequisite For Life
Blog writer for Body By Chocolates

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Both Israel and Palestine Are Intricately Entwined

The histories of both Israel and Palestine are fraught with tensions that began centuries and centuries ago, and are continuing today.

Unrest that began when early Philistines, related to Greeks from Asia Minor and Greece, first came to settle on the southern coast of what’s now Israel and immediately came in conflict with Biblical leaders Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael never has been resolved.

Although Palestinian beliefs and cultures have been altered through the centuries by conquests, outside rule, and political expediency, their aversion for the Jewish race, especially the Jewish nation of Israel created in 1948, has, as a whole, been a constant.

Some historical facts regarding the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict include:

* Pre-patriarchal Philistines came to Israeli coast in waves from places like Asia Minor, Greece, and Crete

* 135 AD Roman Emperor Hadrian, after quelling second major Jewish revolt named Ben Kochba, forms Provincia Syria Palaestini, later known as Palestine

* About 400-633 AD Split into First, Second, and Third Palestine

* Between 633 AD-652 AD Muslim Arabs conquer Palestine

* 1517-1917 Ottoman Turks, non-Arabs but religious Muslims, conquer, then rule Palestine from Istanbul

* World War I British liberate Palestine … preamble to British Mandate establishing Palestine says, “ … in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

* 1936-1939 Arab Revolt … violence erupts when Arabs demand end of Jewish immigration and land- ownership transfers to Jews

* McDonald White Paper of 1939 … British rescind much of British Mandate in concessions to Arabs, leaving many European Jews, trying to escape Hitler’s carnage, with nowhere to go

* 1940 Italy enters World War II and British leader Churchill, though sympathetic to Jews, keeps McDonald White Paper in force to placate Arabs

* May 15, 1948 State of Israel declares its independence … U.S., Soviet Union, most U.N. member nations recognize Israel

* June 5-10, 1967 Israel, in preemptive strike against Arab countries amassing on its borders, seizes Gaza Strip from Egypt; West Bank and eastern section of Jerusalem from Jordan; and Golan Heights from Syria

Both Israel and Palestine are entwined in a conflict where truces formed through the centuries have, at best, been temporary.

By Rocky Wilson
Author Of Sharene - Death: A Prerequisite For Life
Blog writer for Body By Chocolates

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Learn More About Bob Dylan

Learn More About Bob Dylan

Learning more about Bob Dylan, often described as the poet laureate of the rock ‘n roll era, only can enhance one’s appreciation of the 68-year-old singer, harmonica player, and guitarist who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and, in 2008, became the first popular musician ever to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Although ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ recorded by The Byrds in 1965, was the only #1 single ever written by Dylan, he holds the distinction of having the longest span of time elapse between two #1 albums recorded by a living artist--’Desire,’ in 1976; and ‘Modern Times,’ in 2006.

During Dylan’s lengthy career he’s performed with such legends as John Lee Hooker, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, and countless others.

A chronology of the life of Bob Dylan includes:

* May 24, 1941 Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota

* October 1959 Using stage name Bob Dylan, debuts as folksinger in Minneapolis coffeehouse

* 1961 Moves to Greenwich Village, New York City

* 1962 Releases first album, single ‘Song for Woody’ (Guthrie) included

* 1964 Meets The Beatles in New York hotel room … Paul McCartney is reported to have said Dylan introduced the Brits to marijuana at that time

* 1966 Dylan injured in motorcycle accident … in recovery for more than a year

* 1979 Releases first of three Christian-themed albums

* 1988 Presenter Bruce Springsteen, of Dylan at Hall of Fame induction, “Bob freed your mind like Elvis freed your body. To this day, wherever great rock music is being made, there is the shadow of Bob Dylan.”

Other memorable songs written by Bob Dylan include ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ and ‘Rainy Day Women.’

While learning more about Bob Dylan, it’s healthy to remember his quote, “A song is anything that can walk by itself.”

By Rocky Wilson
Assocate of Body By Chocolates healthy chocolate

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Bob Dylan is the Man, Past and Present

Bob Dylan is the Man, Past and Present

Bob Dylan is the man who launched his professional singing career in 1959 and continues to perform 50 years later. Vacillating between acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, and his trusty harmonica, Dylan has entertained millions worldwide with his “ … rare ability to reach and affect listeners with thoughtful, sophisticated lyrics.”

He’s lived the essence of a quote he once made: “A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”

Bob Dylan is the only popular musician yet to receive a Pulitzer Prize, for his “ … profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

Miscellaneous facts about Bob Dylan include:

* Dylan idolized Woody Guthrie, both the man and his music … Dylan’s first album included the single ’Song for Woody,’ and he concluded his first major solo concert, at New York City’s Town Hall, in 1963, with the poem, ’Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.’

* Early 1961, Dylan moves to Greenwich Village, New York City, and meets Guthrie in nearby New Jersey, when Guthrie is suffering in the latter stages of degenerative Huntington’s Chorea, of which he dies in 1967 at age 55

* Dylan once said, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

* Dylan is credited with bridging the worlds between rock ‘n roll and country in the late 1960s

* 1965 Dylan booed offstage at Newport Festival when he plays an electric guitar instead of the expected acoustic

* Only weeks after Newport debacle, Dylan releases first major hit, ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’

Bob Dylan is the man who put cohesiveness in the music worlds of rock ‘n roll, folk, and country. And he’s still doing so today.

By Rocky Wilson
Assocate of Body By Chocolates healthy chocolate

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Learn More About Kazakhstan; Its Only President

Learn More About Kazakhstan; Its Only President

While one learns more and more about Kazakhstan and its emerging role in the world, one thing never changes. And that’s its president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who’s been ensconced in that position since the nation was birthed in 1991 at the collapse of the Soviet Union, and two years prior to that as head of the Kazakh Communist Party.

Nazarbayev, 69, has been vigilant in extending his powers since gaining control of the nation’s highest office. Already commander in chief of the armed forces, in 1995 a referendum was passed giving Nazarbayev sole authority to initiate constitutional amendments, dissolve Parliament, and extended powers to appoint and dismiss government officials.

In 2007, the year Nazarbayev’s Nur Otan political party won every contested parliamentary seat, Parliament voted to eliminate term limits for the presidency, giving Nazarbayev lifelong status if he chooses.

Facts about the Republic of Kazakhstan:

* Population 15.6 million … 14.5 people per square mile compared to U.S. density of about 80 people per square mile

* 1.05 million square miles … ninth largest nation in world

* Religion … 47 percent Sunni Muslim, 44 percent Russian Orthodox

* Capital … Astana

* Largest city … Almaty, 1.3 million people

* Ethnic groups … Kazakhs 56 percent, Russian 28 percent, Ukranian 3 percent

* Bordered by Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Turkmenistan

* Terrain … vast flat steppes, plateaus, desert

* Natural resources … major deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, etc. … 2000 discovered one of world’s largest oil deposits bottom of Kazakhstan-controlled portion of Caspian Sea

* 2000 Became first of former Soviet republics to repay entire debt to International Monetary Fund

Not surprisingly, Kazakhstanis know more about Khazakhstan than anyone else, as their literacy rate is an astounding 99.5 percent.

By Rocky Wilson
Also Read: Historical Facts About The Nation Of Kazakhstan.
Also Visit: My Healthy Chocolate Blog.

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Historical Facts About the Nation of Kazakhstan

The nation of Kazakhstan is located in north-central Asia, includes nearly four times the land mass of the state of Texas, and achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although this large expanse of land directly south of Russia has been populated to some extent as far back as the Stone Age, there were a number of unassociated nomadic tribes who occupied the land for about 900 years before they were conquered and put under the rule of Mongols in the early 13th century.

From 1465 until 1731 a loosely governed state called the Kazakh Khanate ruled what’s now Kazakhstan. But that body, hit by political disunity and tribal competition, gradually eroded away and was annexed by Russia. Rich in natural resources, Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1936.

Bullets about Kazakhstan include:

* Early 1600s Kazakh Khanate separates into three major hordes, or confederations, based on extended family networks

* 1730s, 1740s Two hordes sign treaties of protection with Russia

* 1731-1840 Russia promotes colonization in what’s now Kazakhstan, gains control of two hordes it’s protecting

* 1860 Russia seizes land of third, largest horde

* 1916 Kazakhs, unhappy with Russia’s interference with their nomadic lifestyle, heavy taxes, and military conscription, stage unsuccessful revolt

* 1917 80,000 Kazakhs slaughtered by colonists when returning home following revolt

* 1921-1922 One million Kazakhs die from famine

* 1925 Named Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Kazakh ASSR)

* 1953 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev initiates “Virgin Land” program to change northern pasturelands in Kazakhstan into grain-producing area

* December 16, 1991 Independence Day for Kazakhstan

Because of those years when what’s become the nation of Kazakhstan was colonized by the Soviets, native Kazakhs, many with Turkish roots, have a scant majority among the nation’s populace.

By Rocky Wilson
Also Read: Learn More About Kazakhstan; It's Only President
Also Visit: My Healthy Chocolate Blog.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

1863 Battle of Gettysburg Could Have Ended War Sooner

1863 Battle of Gettysburg Could Have Ended War Sooner

A bitter letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Union commander General George G. Meade claiming the Civil War could have ended following the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg had Meade pursued Confederate General Robert E. Lee on his retreat to Virginia after Gettysburg was never delivered.

And the bloody Civil War, where as many as 700,000 Americans died (an estimated 10,000 at Gettysburg, plus 40,000 wounded,) lasted another two years.

It was near the tiny town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where General Lee’s only foray into the North was turned back following a brutal three-day battle under hot, July skies. Other battles on Northern soil, in Maryland and Kentucky in the fall of 1862, were engaged by Confederate forces, yet achieved similar results.

Facts, events, and people involved with the Battle of Gettysburg include:

* May 6, 1863 Lee wins Battle at Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania County, Virginia … gets Confederacy approval to invade North

* June 3 General Joseph Hooker leads 95,000 Union soldiers, General Lee 75,000 Confederate soldiers in area

* June 9 Largest cavalry battle of war, Brandy Station, Virginia … First lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart leading Confederate soldiers, General Alfred Pleasonton Union soldiers … total of 22,000 combatants, 1,100 casualties

* June 14-15 Confederate Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell captures 9,000-strong Union garrison, Winchester, Virginia

* June 26 With little resistance, Lee occupies Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania … sends soldiers to reconnoiter for supplies, including Gettysburg, population 2,400

* June 28 Hooker replaced by Meade … Lee decides to bring entire force to meet Union army at Gettysburg

* July 1 Confederacy wins day one of battle … Union loses 9,000, including 3,000 captured … Confederate loses 6,000

* July 2 Long day of musket and cannon fighting leaves each side with about 9,000 casualties …Confederates gain little ground

* July 3 Lee makes bold, secondary decision to engage Union soldiers in the center of their defense line, on Cemetery Ridge … “Pickett’s Charge” sends 18,000 Confederate soldiers across open field in midday and, though casualties high on both sides, tips the Battle of Gettysburg to Union

* November 19 President Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address

* April 8, 1865 Civil War ends when Lee surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia

The Battle of Gettysburg was peculiar in the number of tactical mistakes on both sides that could have altered the outcome of the battle many historians view as the turning point of the war; such as Confederate General James Longstreet‘s misunderstanding of Lee‘s July 3 plan that led Lee to change tactics and attack the Union in the middle of its defenses, and Union Major General Daniel Sickles’ ill-advised decision, without orders, to advance to indefensible ground in the “Peach Orchards.”

Another key side note was Longstreet’s ongoing pleas to General Lee not to risk all against the Union’s entrenched army.

Yes, the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg marked a turning point in the Civil War, and in U.S. history.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Walt Whitman Was the Poet We Know, the Man We Didn't

Walt Whitman Was the Poet We Know, the Man We Don’t

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is remembered as being one of, if not the finest all-time American poet. Still, Walt Whitman was the epitome of a struggling artist who found his personal niche, of all places, volunteering for thousands and thousands of Civil War casualties confined to hospitals.

Whitman’s masterpiece, Leaves Of Grass, initially published in 1855 with 12 untitled poems, grew during each of seven additional printings, only concluding when the final draft was released in 1891, one year before his death.

Unlike contemporaries Keats, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Bryant who began writing at earlier ages, Whitman’s career as a poet began at age 36. He quit school at age 11, then became a journeyman printer, schoolteacher, newspaper publisher, and writer of fiction before writing poetry.

Facts, dates, and comments about Walt Whitman include:

* Born May 31, 1819, Long Island, New York

* 1830 Quits school, becomes voracious reader of Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, and enjoys Shakespearean plays

* 1833 Other eight members of family move away … Whitman stays in New York, works in print shop

* 1835-1840 Works as schoolteacher, at times teaching classes of 80 students ages five to 15 … hates the job

* 1838 Unsuccessful venture to launch newspaper

* 1840-1845 Freelance newspaper, magazine writer … novel ‘Franklin Evans; or The Inebriate’ sells 20,000 copies, more than any other of his works during Whitman’s lifetime

* 1846 Makes three-month trip to New Orleans, sees slave auctions

* 1855 Self publishes 795 copies of Leaves of Grass … poor sales … resounding endorsement by Emerson

* 1856 Adds 20 new poems, names all 32 in second release of Leaves of Grass … sales worse than first edition

* About 1859 A former proponent of temperance, Whitman begins frequenting a popular bar attended by artists and joins “Fred Gray Association,” a men’s homosexual group

* 1861 Friendly Boston publishers of latest Leaves of Grass go bankrupt, sell printing plates to another publisher who floods market with pirated copies … Civil War begins

* 1863-1865 Too old to enlist, now living in Washington D.C., Whitman, seen by some as Santa Claus and others as a father figure, is estimated to have nursed and visited tens of thousands of wounded and sick soldiers … many future poems, including his Drum Taps collection (1865) based on stories told by wounded soldiers

* 1865 Civil War ends, President Lincoln assassinated … Whitman writes “O Captain! My Captain!,” tribute to Lincoln

* 1873 Suffers stroke, partial paralysis, continues writing poetry

* Late 1870s Becomes traveling lecturer on Lincoln, Civil War

* 1882 Leaves of Grass banned from Boston because of sexual content

* March 26, 1892 Dies of tuberculosis

Walt Whitman was the great, innovative poet we remember, a chronicler of early Americana. Oscar Wilde, a friend, poet, and playwright, paid high tribute to Whitman when he said there was no one in America he more loved and honored.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Some History About the Country of Paraguay

Some History About the Country of Paraguay

The country of Paraguay, one of only two landlocked nations in South America along with neighboring Bolivia, has had much of its history shaped by a series of dictatorial leaders.

About the size of the state of California, Paraguay is bordered by Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina, and has most of its predominantly Mestizo (mixed Spanish and Indian descent,) population living within a 100-mile radius of Asuncion. Asuncion, the capital and largest city, is located east of the Paraguay River where temperate grassy plains, wooded hills, and tropical forests abound.

The western segment of Paraguay, the low, flat, marshy plain called the Chaco, accounts for about 60 percent of the Republic of Paraguay’s land mass, but is home to less than two percent of the nation’s people.

Facts, events, and people who’ve shaped the history of Paraguay include:

* Earliest settlers were fierce Indian tribes, including the Guarani

* 1516 Juan Diaz de Solis, of Spain, first European in Paraguay, dies same year with 69 of his 70 men at hands of Charrua Indians

* 1527 Sabastian Cabot, of Spain, explores Paraguay River

* 1537 Juan de Salazar, of Spain, founds Acuncion

* 1617 Largely through efforts of Rio de la Plata’s provincial governor, Hernandarias, administrations of Argentina and Paraguay split

* 1617 (est.)-1767 Period of strong, progressive Jesuit influence, ending when Spain becomes fearful of Jesuit power

* 1811 Paraguay declares independence from Spain

* 1862-1865 Paraguay loses War of the Triple Alliance against Bolivia, Argentina, and Uruguay … possibly bloodiest war in Latin American history where Paraguay, fighting with children as young as 12 years old, loses more than half its population, quarter of its territory

* 1932-1935 Paraguay fights Chaco War against Bolivia, wins pyrrhic victory

* 1935-1954 Civil war, dictatorships, extreme political instability

* 1954-1989 General Alfredo Stroesssner maintains power with iron fist, military backing, and persecution of opposition

* 1989 General Andres Rodrigues assumes power following successful military coup

* 1993 Juan Carlos Wasmosy first civilian-elected Paraguayan president in 40 years

* 1996-2008 General Lino Oviedo unsuccessfully tries to oust Wasmosy; allegedly behind assassination of new vice president Luis Maria Argana in 1999; exiled to Brazil; returns, imprisoned for 1996 coup attempt; imprisonment overturned by Supreme Court; loses 2008 election

* 2008 Former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo elected president

Although Paraguay’s economy is agriculture-driven with soybeans, cotton, grains, cattle, and sugar its most important crops, in 1991 the nation completed a joint project with Brazil on the Parana River to build one of the largest hydroelectric facilities in the world, Itaipu Dam, which makes electrical power a major source of exporting revenue.

The country of Paraguay, known for its extreme beauty, is a novelty in the Americas because it’s the only country that has an indigenous language, Guarani from the Guarani Indians, as an official language, along with Spanish. About 95 percent of the people are of Mestizo descent, and Roman Catholic is Paraguay’s dominant religion.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1945 Battle of Iwo Jima; Like No Other

1945 Battle of Iwo Jima; Like No Other

The 1945 battle of Iwo Jima, on a tiny eight- square-mile volcanic island about 650 miles south of Tokyo, was of vast significance; most importantly the contribution the capture of that island had in regards to the conclusion of World War II.

Not coincidentally or separately, Germany surrendered to the Allies on the Western Front less than two months after the 36-day U.S. Marine conquest of Iwo Jima, March 26, 1945. And the subsequent Japanese surrender August 14, just days after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was precipitated in part by the resolution of the same battle.

Iwo Jima was unique because 22,000 Japanese soldiers fought the entire battle from 1,500 underground rooms connected by 16 miles of tunnels; and U.S. soldiers fought above ground, rarely if ever seeing the enemy.

Historical facts, figures, and footnotes about the battle of Iwo Jima include:

* Until that conquest, no foreign army successfully had trod on Japanese soil throughout Japan’s 5,000-year history

* Japan’s military strategy, led by Canadian-educated General Kuribayashi, didn’t include provision for Japanese soldier survival, but instead to die nobly for country and kill at least 10 Americans each in the process

* The U.S. coveted control of Iwo Jima because of its three airstrips and location … halfway between bomber bases on the Mariana Islands and Japan; a site where the U.S. could launch smaller escort planes to protect long-range B-29 bombers

* Although the U.S. bombed Iwo Jima from planes and naval vessels heavily prior to the February 19 ground assault, those strikes had little impact on the underground Japanese soldiers

* Within a span of 40 days, the U.S. sent an armada of 880 ships to confront the Japanese there

* Iwo Jima was the only World War II Marine battle where U.S. casualties (about 26,000,) exceeded enemy casualties (most of their 22,000 total)

* 70,000 U.S. Marines fought on Iwo Jima and nearly 7,000 died
* More Medal of Honor medals were awarded to U.S. Marines who fought on Iwo Jima than for any other single battle in U.S. history

Once captured, Iwo Jima immediately became a key link to U.S. bomber success in the South Pacific. From the capture date of March 26 to war’s end, a little more than 100 days, some 2,400 B-29 bombers carrying about 27,000 crewmen landed there.

The famous photograph of the U.S. flag being raised on Iwo Jima after the bloody attack where Marines--always visible to Japanese soldiers--used liquid gas, napalm, and hand grenades to kill unseen enemy soldiers, provides Americans with a mental image of sacrifice and courage.

Those who survived the 1945 battle of Iwo Jima and return to the Pacific island on memorial or historical trips describe the carnage those days in different ways. While one returning officer says, “The Japanese were not on Iwo Jima, they were in it,” another remembers friends dying by his side while he, wounded, crawled to safety.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Complexity: The Essence of Lee Harvey Oswald's Life

Complexity: The Essence of Lee Harvey Oswald’s Life

A study of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life generates many more questions than answers, and the truth of his role in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy likely won’t be learned in this lifetime.

Did he kill JFK November 22, 1963? Did he work alone, or with others? Was the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald two days after the assassination of President Kennedy part of a complex cover-up? What impact did the two -and-a-half years Oswald lived in Russia, 1959-1962, have on the assassination?

Facts about Lee Harvey Oswald’s life include the following:

* Born October 18, 1939 in New Orleans

* 1940-1956 Father having died before his birth, Oswald lives with his mother and in children’s homes at total of 21 different addresses, attending 12 different schools in Texas, Louisiana, and New York

* 1955 Reads works of Karl Marx, proclaims himself a Marxist

* October 26, 1956 Joins Marine Corps underage, using false affidavit signed by his mother

* September 1957 Deployed as aviation electronics operator to Atsugi Air Base, Japan: home of U-2 spy plane, CIA operations site for espionage in China

* June 27, 1958 Jailed second time at Atsugi; first for possession of unregistered weapon, second time for fight with sergeant

* 1958 Becomes outspoken supporter of Fidel Castro, Cuba

* September 11, 1959 Released from Marine Corps

* Within days, goes to Helsinki, Finland, acquires six-day pass to Russia, then journeys to Moscow and applies for political asylum

* Request denied, he cuts his hand deeply in apparent suicide attempt, is hospitalized six days, then has Russian stay extended

* 1960-1962 Watched continuously by Russian KGB

* April 30, 1961 Marries Marina Pruskova, niece of an intelligence officer for Russia’s Minister of Interior, after knowing her only six weeks

* May 1962 Oswalds, who eventually have total of two children, return to U.S. and live in Fort Worth, then Dallas where they live with organized crime leader Charles Murret

* April 10, 1963 Allegedly attempts to assassinate General Edwin Walker, prominent member of John Birch Society; attempt fails because bullet is deflected by window; police don’t find assailant

* August 9, 1963 Jailed for fight over pro-Castro leaflets he’s distributing, Oswald asks for, receives visit from FBI operative; quickly released with $10 fine, and within five days participates in Castro debate on Dallas radio station

* November 22, 1963 JFK assassinated in Dallas

* November 24, 1963 Jack Ruby murders Oswald

The KGB, which daily monitored Oswald’s activities during his stay in Russia, claims in a report released to the public in 1992 that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t possess the skills to kill President Kennedy on his own.

Yet, even the mysteries of his life in Russia are mind-boggling. Receiving housing, work, and even gaining a marriage license as quickly as Oswald did during his brief stay in that country were extraordinary events.

No, Lee Harvey Oswald’s life story is, and likely will remain a mystery.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Discover the Island of Corfu, Myth Through History

Discover the Island of Corfu, Myth Through History

Legend has it that the first to discover the island of Corfu weren’t humans, but mythological beings depicted in Homer’s Odyssey. It’s said that the god of the sea, Poseidon, fell in love with the nymph Korkira, made love with her on the island, and gave birth to the Phaeacean race.

Artifacts on what’s now a Greek island go back as far as the Paleolithic period (30,000 BC to 7,000 BC), and the picturesque 229 square-mile island in the Ionian Sea, as near in places as two miles to the Albanian shoreline, has a history of being ruled by many outside forces. They include the Corinthians, Romans, Byzantine Empire, Venice, and Napoleon’s France.

Facts about Corfu, called Kerkyra in Greece, include:

* In Greek mythology, Odysseus, helped by the Goddess Athena, arrives on Corfu, and is aided by King Alcinous only to have Poseidon turn Odysseus’s desired boat to escape the island into stone

* In Greek mythology, Jason and the Argonauts visit Corfu with the Golden Fleece

* Paleolithic period artifacts, 30,000 BC to 7,000 BC

* Evidence of habitation; Mesolithic, then Neolithic (6,000 BC to 2,500 BC) periods

* Prior to 800 BC, occupied by Illyrians of Albanian descent

* 734 BC Under Corinthian rule

* 664 BC Corfu and Corinth conduct first Greek sea battle

* 500 BC Corfu has second strongest naval fleet in that part of world, next to Athens

* 431 BC Corfu sides with Athens, Corinth with Sparta in Peloponnesian War, won by Sparta

* 40 AD Disciples of Paul, Jason and Sossipatros, introduce Christianity, build first church there

* 229 BC-336 AD Under lax rule of Romans, relatively autonomous Corfu gives Rome access to harbors and becomes vacation home for Roman aristocrats

* 336 AD-1267 Part of Byzantine Empire, yet was raided many times by Goth, Vandal, and Saracen pirates

* 1204 AD-1214 Venice gains ownership as part of Fourth Crusade, but Byzantine Empire soon regains control

* 1402 Venice buys Corfu from Naples, which received ownership as partial bridal dowry; becomes haven for scholars and artists escaping Turkish-controlled Greek mainland

* 1797 Napoleon’s France occupies island, imposes heavy taxes

* 1815 Becomes capital of United States of the Ionian Islands

* 1864 Corfu becomes part of Greece

* World Wars I & II, heavily damaged while fighting on allied side

Now renowned as being one of the most beautiful places on earth, Corfu is the second largest Ionian island, next to Kefallinia, and a tourist destination for many. Its tallest peak, at nearly 3,000 feet, is Mt. Pantokrator, and its fertile soil produces olive oil, currants, figs, wine, and citrus fruit.

Known as Scheria in Homer’s The Odyssey, the island of Corfu is shaped somewhat like a seahorse, is about 40 miles long, and ranges between 2.5 and 17 miles in width.

Those fortunate enough to discover the island of Corfu will find that tourism and agriculture are its biggest sources of revenue.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

President William Taft, A Man of Extremes

President William Taft, A Man of Extremes

Never in U.S. history has there been a man so reluctant to assume the nation’s highest position as President William Taft. Hand picked for the role by his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, and consistently urged forward by his ambitious wife, Helen “Nellie” Taft, Taft served one term as president, 1909-1913.

An 1878 graduate of Yale and 1880 grade of Cincinnati Law School, Taft is the only man in U.S. history to serve both as president and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The heaviest man yet to live in the White House at more than 300 pounds, Taft made more appointments to the Supreme Court (six) than any other one-term president, and is better remembered as a Chief Justice skilled in administrative matters than as the nation’s 27th president.

Additional dates, facts, and events involving the life of William Howard Taft include:

* Alphonso Taft, William’s father, a distinguished judge who served as Secretary of War and Attorney General for President Ulysses S. Grant

* Born September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati

* Eventual wife, Helen Herron, born June 2, 1861, in Cincinnati of “politically connected” parents

* 1878 Intelligent, educated, and ambitious, Helen Herron is a White House guest of then President Rutherford B. Hayes

* 1886 William Taft and Helen Herron marry

* 1892 Taft appointed U.S. Circuit Judge

* 1900 President William McKinley appoints Taft chair of commission to establish civil government in the Philippines; serves three years as Governor-General of the Philippines

* 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt appoints Taft Secretary of War

* 1908 Picked by Roosevelt to succeed him, Taft wins U.S. presidential race against William Jennings Bryan

* 1912 Unhappy with Taft’s administration, Roosevelt again runs for presidency as Progressive candidate, essentially splitting Republican vote with Taft, allowing Woodrow Wilson to win election

* 1913-1921 Presides in Kent Chair of Constitutional Law, at Yale Law School

* 1914 Helen Taft initial First Lady to publish an autobiography, Recollections of Full Years

* 1921 President Warren Harding appoints Taft Chief Justice of Supreme Court; confirmed on same day without matter being referred to committee

* March 8, 1930 Dies one month after stepping down as Chief Justice

* May 22, 1943 Helen Taft passes away

Although amiable and conscientious, Taft lacked the political drive of predecessor Theodore Roosevelt and, during his presidency, experienced a major shift away from liberalism to conservatism that alienated many liberal Republicans and led to the formation of the Progressive, or Bull Moose Party.

As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Taft discouraged dissents from his associates and only wrote four dissents from the 249 opinions he wrote on behalf of the Court during his nine-year tenure.

One of the gems of the career of President William Taft came, as Chief Justice, when he successfully lobbied Congress to enact the Judiciary Act of 1925 that still today gives justices nearly complete discretion to decide which cases need to be resolved, and in what context.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Blessings on Jamie Moyer, Pitcher and Philanthropist

Blessings on Jamie Moyer, Pitcher and Philanthropist

The common thinking on Jamie Moyer is that he’s a venerable major league pitcher who, at age 46, still is outwitting major league hitters with soft pitches and guile.

Less known is the fact that he and wife Karen, the daughter of former, long-time Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, are co-founders of The Moyer Foundation which has raised more than $16 million for children’s causes since its inception in 2000.

Facts about Jamie Moyer’s ongoing baseball career, Karen Moyer, and The Moyer Foundation include:

* Jamie was born Nov. 18, 1962, in Sellersville, Pennsylvania

* He attended St. Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia, and is the first-ever baseball player there to have his number retired

* Left-handed, he was claimed by the Chicago Cubs in the 6th round of the 1984 amateur draft

* His major league debut was June 16, 1986

* He’s played for seven major league teams: Chicago Cubs, Texas, St. Louis, Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, and Philadelphia

* As of May 15, 2009, Jamie had won 249 career games, lost 188 games, and had an accumulated 4.22 ERA

* Jamie’s best seasons were for Seattle in 2001, when he won 20 and lost 6 with an ERA of 3.42; and in 2003, when he won 21 and lost 7, with an ERA of 3.27

* His weakness always has been giving up home runs … in addition to having surrendered more home runs than any other active pitcher, he gave up the most home runs in the American League in 2004, and currently leads the 2009 National League in that category

* In 2008 Jamie won 16, lost 7, and posted a 3.71 ERA for the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies

* Jamie’s philanthropic work has earned him the National Sports Philanthropy Award, Roberto Clemente Award, Lou Gehrig Award, and the Branch Rickey Humanitarian Award

Karen Moyer is a graduate of Notre Dame University and, with Jamie, the mother of seven children. She runs a cycling studio in Seattle and runs Magnolia Baseball, a youth baseball organization.

The mission of The Moyer Foundation is to support children enduring times of emotional, physical, or financial distress by improving their quality of life.

Since 2000, The Moyer Foundation has raised more than $16 million to support more than 170 non-profit organizations that help suffering children.

Examples of organizations supported by The Moyer Foundation include:

* Non-profit organizations that help children in severe distress, with life-threatening illness, or physical limitations

* Camp Erin, a network of 28 bereavement camps in 18 states nationwide that helps grieving children ages six through 17 deal with losses of loved ones

* Camp Mariposa, a two-year-old program partnered with Youth Eastside Services that serves children suffering from addiction in their families

While Jamie Moyer may be making his mark on major league baseball, The Moyer Foundation may be touching even more lives. Future books could be written on Jamie Moyer where baseball merely is a sideline.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Bill of Rights is the Name by Which Freedom is Preserved

The Bill of Rights is the Name by Which Freedom is Preserved

Although the U.S. Constitution was adopted September 19, 1787, the Bill of Rights is the name by which specific individual freedoms are guaranteed in the first 10 constitutional amendments. They were formally adopted December 15, 1791, when three-fourths of all 13 states ratified them.

Between the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, proclaimed in 1783 at the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitutional Convention, 1787, where the U.S. Constitution was drafted, powers of states overrode the authority of a weaker central government.

A young delegate from Virginia, James Madison, promoted the establishment of a stronger central government as realized in the constitution, and liberally borrowed from George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, written in 1776, to help draft the Bill of Rights.

Important dates, personages, and topics of the Bill of Rights include:

* May 20-26, 1776 George Mason writes Virginia Declaration of Rights

* July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence adopted

* September 3, 1783 Treaty of Paris ends Revolutionary War

* May 25, 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia; George Washington unanimously elected convention president

* 1787 Washington first elected U.S. president

* 1788 Madison shepherds 17 Bill of Rights’ amendments through Congress

* 1789 Senate trims down to 12 amendments

* October 2, 1789 President Washington sends 12 amendments to each state; two involving number of constituents per Representative and compensation for Congressmen not ratified

* December 15, 1791 New Hampshire ninth of 13 states to ratify Bill of Rights, providing required three-quarters majority

The Bill of Rights, in brief:

* #1 Protection concerning choice of religion; freedom of speech and press; right to assemble peaceably; petition government to redress grievances

* #2 Maintain regulated militia; right of people to keep and bear arms

* #3 Soldier, without consent of owner, shall not be quartered in any house

* #4 Right to be secure in persons, houses, papers, and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures

* #5 No person held for capital crime without grand jury indictment, except military matters; private property cannot be taken for public use without just compensation

* #6 Right to speedy and public trial by an impartial jury; right to assistance of counsel for defense

* #7 Right to jury trial in common law suits exceeding $20

* #8 No excessive bail, fines, or cruel and unusual punishments meted out

* #9 Constitutional rights cannot be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people

* #10 Powers neither stated in constitution or prohibited there to states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people

Patrick Henry, the renowned orator of “Give me liberty, or give me death” fame, was one who boycotted the Constitutional Convention, fearing the push toward a stronger central government would usurp powers of the of the newly formed states. Yet, even he learned that the Bill of Rights is the name by which state and individual rights are protected.

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Monday, May 4, 2009

The History of Baghdad Linked to Islamic Faith

The History of Baghdad Linked To Islamic Faith

Although Bagdad, Iraq currently is ravaged by strife and warfare, the history of Bagdad includes an interlude of golden years beginning in 762 AD when the Abbasid dynasty assumed control of the vast Muslim world and made Baghdad its capital.

For the following 500 years, Baghdad was the centerpiece of the Muslim world. Because of flooding, fires, and internal strife between rival Shia and Sunni factions, political stability faltered, and in 1258 AD Mongols under the leadership of chief Hulegu sacked the city and slaughtered 100,000 people or more.

Since then, the ancient city with the Tigris River running through it has been subjected to many political overthrows.

Important dates, events, and persons involved with the history of the city of Baghdad include:

* 632 AD Death of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina

* 632-661 Three of four “Righteous Caliphs” who followed Muhammad assassinated

* 661-750 Umayyads, the first Muslim dynasty

* 750 Abbasid caliphs murder all but one Umayyad male, who flees to Spain

* 762 Abbasids move Muslim capital to Baghdad

* 836 Muslim caliphs leave Baghdad for Samarra, one of four Iraqui Holy Cities 75 miles north of Baghdad

* 892 Muslim caliphs return to Baghdad

* 945, then 1055 Buyids followed by Suljuqs invade Baghdad, ravage much of city

* 1258 Mongols, led by Hulegu, invade and sack Baghdad, slaughter more than 100,000 people

* 1401 Baghdad sacked by Timur Lenk, another merciless Mongol warlord

* 1534 Sultan Suleyman I conquers city, adds to Ottoman (Turkish) Empire

* 1623 Baghdad conquered by Persians

* 1638 Ottomans regain control of city

* 1917 British take control over Ottomans

* 1920 Baghdad capital of new entity called Iraq, a League of Nations mandate administered by Great Britain

* 1980-1988 Inconclusive war with Iran

* 1991 Gulf War sees much of Baghdad ravaged by bombs

* 2003 U.S. forces bomb Baghdad

During its 500 years of glory, Baghdad was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the heart of that region’s culture and education. Muslim scholars made major contributions in the fields of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, and literature. Museums, hospitals, libraries, and mosques flourished. Greek was studied and, in that region, Baghdad was second only in size to Constantinople.

Since Iraq received its independence from Great Britain in 1932, the population of Baghdad has soared from about 360,000 to about 7.5 million people. Long known as the nation’s richest and economically most important city, Baghdad’s industries include oil refineries, food processing, tanneries, and textile mills.

An estimated 97 percent of all people living in Baghdad, like the nation as a whole, are of the Muslim faith.

Baghdad is only about 30 miles east of the Euphrates River, which parallels the Tigris until they join shortly before entering the Persian Gulf about 560 miles southeast of Baghdad.

The history of Baghdad, much of it torn with strife, always has been linked to Muhammed and the Islamic faith.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The African Country of Zimbabwe is Suffering, and Getting Worse

The African Country of Zimbabwe is Suffering, and Getting Worse

Although the size and beauty of Victoria Falls makes it one of the seven natural wonders of the world, there’s little else of beauty in the African country of Zimbabwe.

With an average lifespan of about 45 years, Zimbabwe has the lowest life expectancy rate of any country in the world, currently experiences 80 percent unemployment, and in 2008 had an inflation rate calculated at 11.2 million percent. Men, women, and children are being exploited commercially for sexual purposes, and neighboring South Africa and Botswana are going to great lengths to prevent Zimbabwean refugees from entering their countries.

Dates, facts, and points of interest about the Republic of Zimbabwe include:

* 500,000 years ago, human remains from that date

* 200 BC Khoisan tribe earliest settlers

* Shona, Nguni, Zulu tribes rule

* Early 1500s Portuguese explorers make contact with Shona-dominated states, begin trading for gold

* 1850s First British explorers, colonists, and missionaries arrive

* 1889 British South Africa Company, under Cecil Rhodes, drafts charter to promote commerce, colonize region

* 1896-97 Shona, Ndebele tribes stage unsuccessful revolt against British

* 1923 Becomes self-governing British colony named Rhodesia

* 1965 White-ruled Rhodesia declares independence from Britain

* 1980 Multiracial elections held; Blacks in power under leadership of Robert Mugabe; country renamed Zimbabwe

* 2002 Mugabe orders all White commercial farmers to relinquish land without compensation

* 2005 In what many believe to be retribution against dissenters, Mugabe razes urban slums and shantytowns, leaving 700,000 homeless

* 2008 Presidential challenger Morgan Tsvantirai, citing violence against his supporters and inability to hold a fair election, withdraws from race; Mugabe wins another term

* 2009 Deal arranged where Mugabe remains as president, Tsvantirai as prime minister: Mugabe’s political party retains majority in parliament; he appoints all Cabinet members; and Mugabe maintains control over military

A landlocked nation just north of South Africa, Zimbabwe is slightly larger than the state of Montana, and the home for about 11.4 million people, nearly all of them of African descent.

Even with inflation spiraling out of control and millions of Zimbabweans living off of foreign humanitarian assistance, about 90 percent of the nation’s adult population is literate, having an average nine years of schooling.

South Africa is Zimbabwe’s chief import and export partner, but sales of platinum and cotton out of the country and the importation of machinery and transport equipment into Zimbabwe have been stalled by Zimbabwe’s impossible inflation rate and inability to pay debts.

Although Mugabe defends his 2002 decision to place the land back into the hands of the African majority, many outside nations say that action was pivotal in pointing Zimbabwe’s economy, where two-thirds of its labor force is agriculture based, on a downward trend.

With South Africa protecting its borders with armed patrols and Botswana having erected electric fences, people living in the African country of Zimbabwe have little hope of escaping what looks to be the hellish conditions they live in.

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

American President: Theodore Roosevelt, and Much More

American President: Theodore Roosevelt, and Much More

The words, American President: Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919,) conjure up images of the 26th president of the U.S. who, during the Spanish-American War, earned lasting fame as the colonel who led the Rough Rider Regiment’s foot charge at San Juan Heights, Cuba.

But limiting this versatile leader’s legacy to those two events is like painting the Grand Canyon in black & white.

What other American leader wrote more than 35 books; served as police commissioner of New York City, governor of New York state, and assistant secretary of the Navy; gave a 90-minute speech with a fresh bullet in his chest before seeking medical assistance; won the Nobel Peace Prize; and negotiated a treaty that led to the construction of the Panama Canal?

Facts, dates, and events concerning the life of Theodore Roosevelt include:

* Born October 27, 1858 in New York City

* 1880 Graduates from Harvard magna cum laude

* 1881 Youngest man ever elected to New York State Assembly

* 1882 Publishes first book, The Naval War of 1812, which becomes required reading at Naval Academy

* February 14, 1884 Both mother and wife die same day, separate illnesses

* 1895 Becomes police commissioner of New York City

* 1897 Appointed assistant secretary of the Navy

* July 1, 1898 Battle of San Juan Heights; leads the charge on foot

* November 8, 1898 Elected governor of New York

* 1900 Elected U.S. vice president

* 1901 Age 42, Roosevelt becomes youngest U.S. president when McKinley dies of gunshot wound

* 1903 Signs treaty with Panama to build Panama Canal five days after Panama secedes from Colombia

* 1905 Establishes National Forest Service

* 1905 Gives away deceased brother’s daughter, Eleanor Roosevelt, in marriage to her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt

* November 8-26, 1906 Becomes first U.S. president to leave country while in office; visits Panama Canal project

* December 10, 1906 Wins Nobel Peace Prize for role in ending Russo-Japanese War

* 1909 Leads Smithsonian hunting expedition to Africa

* 1912 Delivers 90-minute speech in Milwaukee before seeking aid following assassination attempt that permanently left bullet in his chest

* 1919 At age 60, dies in sleep from blood clot

Roosevelt’s credits go on and on like those flashed on the big screen after Gandhi or Gone With the Wind.

He founded the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Boone and Crocket Club, wrote in excess of 150,000 letters, and expanded the powers and responsibilities of the presidency. In addition, Theodore Roosevelt, who reportedly hated being called “Teddy,” help transition the U.S. from a stance of political isolationism to one geared toward bringing order and social justice to American industry and commerce.

Theodore Roosevelt also is heralded by historians as a man who successfully mediated international disputes involving Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Morocco.

Toss this man’s resume in one place, and it’s evident that the phraseology, American President: Theodore Roosevelt, fails to capture the true essence of this multi-talented man.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Siege and Battle of the Alamo

The Siege and Battle of the Alamo

Were it not for the bloodthirsty bent of Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the siege and battle of the Alamo wouldn’t be immortalized today with the defiant cries “Remember the Alamo” and “Victory or Death.”

Had Santa Anna not overruled his advisors by storming the well-fortified, besieged Alamo on March 6, 1836, and massacred about 200 fighters for Texas independence--when those holed up in the converted mission were near starvation--history would have looked at the event differently.

Some pertinent dates, events, and personalities associated with the Battle of the Alamo include:

* 1830 U.S. settlers far outnumber Mexicans in Texas

* October 2, 1835 Texans win first battle of Texas Revolution, at Gonzales

* December 5-9 300 Texans conquer 1,200 Mexicans at Siege of Bexar, in San Antonio; majority of Texan volunteers head home

* January 19, 1836 Famous frontiersman James Bowie and company of volunteers arrive at well-fortified Alamo

* February 2 Bowie and beloved fort commander James Clinton Neill inform governor by mail, “We’ll die in these ditches” before surrendering

* February 8 Tennessee’s Davie Crockett and U.S. volunteers arrive at Alamo

* February 14 Neill leaves Alamo due to family emergency; replaced by 26-year-old Lt. Col. William B. Travis

* Immediate dissention about who’s in charge: resolution leaves Bowie in charge of volunteers, Travis in charge of regular army

* February 23 13-day siege begins when Santa Anna’s troops reach Alamo

* Santa Anna sends courier to demand surrender; Travis responds with cannon blast

* Mexican artillery batters walls of Alamo, but cannons remain intact

* February 24 Travis assumes full command when Bowie is bedridden by pneumonia, pleas for reinforcements in famous “Victory or Death” letter

* Mexican troops continue to arrive; 32 U.S. troops sneak into Alamo, upping Texan contingent to about 200

* March 2 Declaration of Independence from Mexico signed in city of Washington, about 100 miles NE of Alamo

* March 6 Santa Anna, now 2000 strong, storms Alamo … less than two hours later, all 200 Texas fighters, including seven initial survivors (possibly including Crockett,) are killed … estimates of Mexican deaths vary greatly, though about 600 seems likely

* April 21 Texas wins independence at Battle of San Jacinto

* 1845 Republic of Texas becomes 28th state

Many serious historians refute the claim that the victims at the Alamo were living without hope on a suicide mission. Those fighters knew their only realistic hope was the arrival of reinforcements, and Travis sent out letters daily pleading for help. Exasperated by the lack of support, Travis wrote in one letter, “If my countrymen do not rally to my relief, I am determined to perish in the defense of this place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her neglect.”

Traditionally considered a symbol of patriotic sacrifice, the siege and Battle of the Alamo helped deter Mexican General Santa Anna long enough for Texans to regroup, then win their independence 46 days later.

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Facts About Chile, an Atypically Shaped Nation

Facts About Chile, an Atypically Shaped Nation

Of all the facts about Chile that jump into one’s mind, the most striking has to be its unusual shape. Chile stretches about 2,880 miles north-to-south along the southwestern shores of South America and protrudes, at its widest point, a mere 150 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.

Much of Chile’s slender land mass, which totals nearly twice the size of the state of Montana, is in view of the towering Andes Mountains and includes extreme environmental changes ranging from possibly the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert in the north; to the thickly populated central valley marked with vineyards and forests; then to the cold southern region that includes the southernmost city in the world, Punta Arenas.

Interesting facts about the Republic of Chile include:

* Originally, Chile was under control of Inca Indians in the north and the nomadic Araucanos Indians in the south

* 1540-41 Spanish begin conquest of Chile; found Santiago, now the nation’s capital and largest city

* 1879-1883 Fights Peru and Bolivia in War of the Pacific; victory earns title to Antofagasta, until then Bolivia’s only outlet to ocean

* 1891-1925 Parliamentary dictatorship

* 1944 President Juan Antonio Rios, originally pro-Nazi, sides with Allies

* 1970 Salvador Allende becomes first president in a non-Communist country freely elected on a Marxist platform

* 1973 Allegedly with CIA assistance, Allende is killed in military coup

* 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet becomes brutal dictator; government report in 2004 says nearly 28,000 people were tortured and 3,200 killed or discovered missing during his reign

* 2006-present Socialist Michelle Bachelet, subjected to torture, prison, then exile during Pinochet’s dictatorship, is Chile’s first female chief of state

* More than 50 active volcano peaks in Chilean Andes, with earthquakes and tsunamis other natural hazards

* With population of 16.6 million, about 70 percent of them Roman Catholic, Chile has a 96 percent literacy rate

* Copper, much of it from North Chile, accounts for one-third of government revenue

The Republic of Chile claims to have more bilateral or regional trade agreements (57) than any other nation; and its primary export partners are China, the U.S., and Japan, while its primary import partners are the U.S., China, Brazil, and neighboring Argentina.

It’s not surprising that a country 19 times longer than it’s width at its widest point has multiple climate zones. Those range from the nearly rainless Atacama Desert in the north to the southern coast which receives more than 100 inches of rain annually. Terrain ranges from sea level to the 22,540-foot peak of Ojos del Salado, South America’s second highest mountain.

In addition to its long, narrow mainland, Chile claims ownership over several islands, including the Juan Fernandez Islands and Easter Island, located 415 miles and 2,300 miles into the Pacific Ocean respectively.

Anyone researching facts about Chile likely will come to the conclusion that, in large part because of its unusual shape, diversity is a cornerstone of its personality.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky, Possibly Russia's Finest

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky, Possibly Russia’s Finest

The life of Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), though he achieved incredible fame during his lifetime, was replete with tenuous personal relationships, periods of low self-esteem, and times of nervous collapse.

Still, the author of such musical masterpieces as Swan Lake, The Overture of 1812, and The Nutcracker learned how to balance his overly sensitive, self-critical soul and his incredible talent to produce some of the greatest ballets, symphonies, and concertos ever written.

Some key dates, events, and facts regarding the life of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky include:

* Born May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk, Russia

* Age 7 through 19 Tchaikovsky takes piano lessons from respected teacher, Rudolf Kundinger, who tries to dissuade him from a musical career

* 1859 Becomes clerk at Ministry of Justice, St. Petersburg

* 1863 Leaves Ministry of Justice to study music full-time at St. Petersburg Conservatory

* 1866-1878 Teaches at Moscow Conservatory; writes symphonies and operas, including Romeo & Juliet and Swan Lake

* 1877 Student Antonina Milyokova hints at suicide if Tchaikovsky won’t marry her; short, disastrous marriage follows; he attempts suicide by drowning, fails, and suffers nervous breakdown

* 1878-1890 Nadejda von Meck, widow of wealthy railroad engineer, provides Tchaikovsky with yearly allowance that allows him to quit teaching and compose full-time; though the benefactress and composer agree to never meet in person, their correspondence is ongoing

* 1881 Writes Joan of Arc, opera

* 1882 Writes The Overture of 1812

* 1888 Writes The Sleeping Beauty, ballet; conquers inner fears and goes on European conducting tour

* 1891 Highly successful U.S. conducting tour of his own works, including opening ceremonies at what’s now Carnegie Hall

* 1892 Writes The Nutcracker, ballet

* 1893 Writes Symphony #6, Pathetique, which Tchaikovsky considers to be his finest work

* November 6, 1893 Death caused by cholera

Described at times as morbidly shy, Peter Tchaikovsky often is considered to be a man who compensated for his inability to communicate socially through his musical genius of creating melodies and mastering the world of musical drama.

Tchaikovsky lived an unusual life where nervous depression was intertwined with his uncanny talent as a composer. He suffered from insomnia, headaches, and hallucinations; and many of his works were extremely avant-guard for his time. Even Swan Lake, considered today to be a masterpiece, was panned both by critics and audience at its premier.

The gifted Russian composer sometimes was obsessive in his reactions to rejection. Responding to what Tchaikovsky considered to be an unwarranted refusal to consider his works in St. Petersburg, the composer moved permanently to Moscow in 1866 and never again asked that any of his work be performed in St. Petersburg.

Composer Peter Tchaikovsky didn’t limit his grudges to the city of St. Petersburg. Of his teacher, Anton Rubinstein, whom Tchaikovsky felt disrespected his work, Tchaikovsky once said, “I have always regarded him as the greatest of artists and the noblest of men, but I shall never become his friend.”

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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Origins of the Olympics Merge With Myth

The Origins of the Olympics Merge With Myth

There’s a big discrepancy between the origins of the Olympics in ancient Greece and the modern Olympics which began anew in 1896, accented by a time lapse of more than 1,500 years.

Prior to Greek Emperor Theodosius halting the ancient games in AD 391, the Greeks had held the Olympics at four-year intervals for nearly 1,200 years, and Greek mythology says the athletic and early-on music event began long before that.

Myth, history, and miscellaneous comments concerning the ancient and modern Olympics include:

* One myth says the first Olympics occurred before recorded history when Cronos and Zeus wrestled at Olympia

* Another myth says Pelops founded the Olympic games either to purify himself or thank the gods after, with the help of Poseidon, he killed King Oenamaus of Pisa in a rigged chariot race, then married the king’s daughter

* A third Greek myth says Hercules held the first Olympic Games to honor his father, Zeus

* 776 BC Traditional date of first Olympics

* 750-550 BC Colonization period in Greece emphasized athletic and musical competitions; early games attended by athletes from Greece, Italy, Sicily, Asia, Africa, and Spain

* Olympic winners, representing polis (city-states) crowned with olive wreaths; sometimes fed for remainder of their lives, but never paid

* Only female allowed to watch Games, Priestess of Demeter

* Ancient Olympic sports included running, boxing, equestrian, jumping, wrestling, discus, javelin, pankration (old martial art where only biting and eye gouging were illegal)

* 708 BC Introduction of pentathlon (discus, javelin, jumping, running, and wrestling combined)

* 391 AD Greek Emperor Theodosius ends Ancient Olympic Games

* 1896 First modern Olympics in Athens includes athletes from 14 nations

* April 6, 1896 James Connolly, U.S., wins triple jump; first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years

* 1924 First Winter Olympics, in Chamonix, France

* 1968 Politicized Olympics in Mexico City … hundreds of Mexican protesting students killed by government troops 10 days before Olympics; U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos stage Black Power protest on awards stand

* 2008 205 countries participate in Summer Olympics, Beijing, China

The name Olympics is derived from the name of a district in southern Greece where the original Olympics were held, Olympia.

What began thousands of years ago as a religious athletic and musical event for Greeks, then lay dormant for more than 1,500 years, came back to life in 1896 thanks to a wealthy Greek architect, Georgios Averoff.

The Olympics were cancelled in 1916, 1940, and 1944 because of wars, and has been hindered by political unrest in other years. In addition to the troubles of 1968, U.S. President Jimmy Carter refused to allow U.S. athletes to attend the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The origins of the Olympics have evolved from one country to more than 200, and from religion and musical flavors to ones tasting more and more of politics.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt

The Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt

Few landmarks of history are steeped in as much legend, mystery, and undefined grandeur than the Great Sphinx of Giza, in Egypt.

Archaeologists have far-differing opinions regarding the origins, timeline, and purpose for the 241-foot long replica of a lion with the head of an Egyptian pharaoh that literally was carved from stone; and is considered to be the largest stone structure in-the-round ever made by man.

Facts, theories, and other information about the Great Sphinx of Giza include:

* The word ‘sphinx’ was coined by Greeks to denote a creature with a woman‘s head, lion’s body, and wings of a bird

* It’s commonly believed the Great Sphinx was constructed about 2,500 BC

* However, recent studies have determined erosion marks on the Great Sphinx are vertical, not horizontal as would be expected from sand and wind erosion in the Sahara

* Hence, scholars such as Graham Hancock, originally of Scotland, and Robert Buvaul, of the United Kingdom, suggest the Great Sphinx could have been carved as early as 10,500 BC

* It’s 241-feet long, and 65-feet high in places

* Throughout history, it’s believed much of the monument often was buried in sand, helping preserve its softer lower layers

* The Great Sphinx is located by Khafre’s pyramid at Giza, near Cairo

* Many archaeologists contend rock removed to shape the Great Sphinx was used to help build the nearby pyramids

* The limestone bedrock from which the Great Sphinx was carved originated fifty million years earlier during the Middle Eocene period when sea waters covered northeast Africa

* The Great Sphinx faces the rising sun

* It’s thought the monument once was bearded, but likely the beard was added long after original construction, and since has eroded away

* The lion’s body includes paws, claws, and a tail

* There are more Egyptian sphinxes, at least one attributed to Pharaoh Djedefre thought to be older, but the Great Sphinx is the largest

* There are three passages into or under the Great Sphinx

Much of the monument’s nose has worn away, and legend says Napoleon’s soldiers used it for target practice when he was at the site in 1798. Yet, archeologists generally agree that much of the nose’s damage was evident hundreds of years earlier.

The pharaoh’s head of the Great Sphinx is built on a scale of 30 to 1 compared to a human head, and the lion’s body on a scale of 22 to 1 compared to a lion. Possible explanations for such disparities in proportional size, like much about the large monument, open new questions. Was the lion made bigger proportionally to accent the monument’s power? Was it designed thusly to give onlookers a more aesthetically pleasing view from up close? Or did they simply run out of high-quality, hard rock while constructing the head?

Anyway one looks at it, the Great Sphinx of Egypt is both a wonder and a mystery.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

An Essay on Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay

An Essay on Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay

Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay not only was one of, if not the greatest boxer of all time, but still is one of the most influential men of his day.

Though slowed by Parkinson’s syndrome now, Ali long has been a political activist and champion for the cause of Black Americans. He not only won the World Heavyweight Boxing title three different times over a 15-year span, but challenged the world of traditionalism when he joined the Islam faith, changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, then refused to enter the U.S. Army and fight in the Vietnam War.

Some key dates and events in regards to the life of Muhammad Ali include:

* January 17, 1942 Born in Louisville, Kentucky

* 1954 At age 12 begins boxing

* 1959 Wins national Golden Gloves championship as middleweight

* 1960 Wins Gold Medal in Rome Olympics as light heavyweight

* 1964 Defeats “Sonny” Liston for his first World Heavyweight Championship

* 1964 Announces conversion to Islam; changes name to Muhammad Ali

* August 1966 Petitions to become conscientious objector

* April 1967 After petition denied, refuses induction in U.S. Army

* June 1967 Sentenced to five years in prison; appeals decision, released on bail

* 1967 Stripped of heavyweight title; only boxes in exhibitions for more than three years

* 1971 Loses in 15 rounds to undefeated heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier, in “Battle in Manila:” Supreme Court reverses draft evasion conviction

* 1974 Defeats George Foreman to win World Heavyweight title second time; wins Frazier rematch

* 1975 Named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year; wins another rematch with Frazier

* 1975-76 Successfully defends title seven times in fourteen months

* June 29, 1977 Participates in six exhibition boxing matches in one day

* 1978 Loses World Heavyweight Title to Leon Spinks, then wins title back for third time later in year

* 1980 Campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter

* 1981 Final boxing match: ends career with 56 wins (37 knockouts) and five losses

* 1982 Initial diagnosis of Parkinson’s syndrome

* 1996 Lights opening torch for Summer Olympics in Atlanta

Renowned for his quick hands, speed in the ring, punching power, and ability to take a punch, Cassius Clay became an American favorite until, inspired by human rights activist Malcolm X, in 1964 he embraced the Black Muslim faith and changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

Always outspoken and controversial, Ali became more popular again when he defied the U.S. government by refusing to be inducted in the U.S. Army when such service likely would have sent him into the unpopular Vietnam War.

Nicknamed “The Greatest,” Ali became known as a poet who regularly wrote poems predicting outcomes of upcoming boxing matches. After retiring from the ring, he became a diplomat and a philanthropist.

So when one researches Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay, what you find is a gifted, multi-dimensional Black man who revolutionalized the sport of boxing.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Facts About the Country of Ecuador

Facts About the Country of Ecuador

On the equatorial west coast of South America, the country of Ecuador once was populated by the Inca civilization: is noteworthy because its topography ranges from sea level to 20,555-foot high Mount Chimborazo; and became independent from Spain in 1822.

Slightly smaller than the state of Nevada, Ecuador is home for about fourteen million people--about 38 percent of them impoverished--and gains much of its revenue from the petroleum industry.

Major dates, events, and facts about Ecuador include:

* 3,500 B.C. Earliest signs of Valdivia culture

* 100 A.D. Esmeralda, Manta, Huancavilca, and Puna people groups fish, farm, trade along coast

* 980 A.D. Prosperous Cara tribe founds Quito

* by 1500 A.D. Inca Empire based in southern Peru had conquered all of Ecuador

* 1534 Incas, beset by civil war, easy prey for Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro; Ecuador comes under Spanish rule

* 1822 Modern-day countries of Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama withdraw from Spanish rule and form the Republic of Greater Colombia

* 1830 Republic of Ecuador is born

* 1941 Disastrous war with Peru; support allies in World War II

* 1967 Substantial oil reserves discovered in interior

* 1979-2004 Civilian governance and political instability

* January 2007-present under leadership of President Rafael Correa Delgado

Stretching from the Pacific Coast to the highlands of the Andes Mountains, and on to the Amazonian jungle lowlands to the east, Ecuador boasts the highest active volcano in the world, 19,393-foot high Mount Cotopaxi, located about 50 miles south of Quito.

Beset by natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, floods, and droughts, Ecuador’s major natural resources include petroleum, fish, and timber.

The nation’s people are 65 percent Mestizo (mixed American Indian and White), claim Roman Catholic as their primary religion (95 percent), and are relatively healthy with a life expectancy after birth of nearly 77 years.

In 1999-2000, Ecuador’s economy entered a time of severe crisis. The nation’s banking system collapsed, poverty increased, Ecuador defaulted on its external debt, and within a short period of time the nation’s gross domestic product dropped by more than 6 percent. In an effort to meet that crisis, the Ecuadorian Congress adopted the U.S. dollar as legal tender, and positive results practically were immediate. During the five-year span 2002 through 2006, Ecuador’s economy grew 5.5 percent, the highest five-year average in the past 25 years.

Although Ecuador officially is listed as a Republic, its 100-member unicameral National Congress has been on indefinite recess since late 2007 while waiting for a new Constituent Assembly to convene; and its entire Supreme Court was replaced in late 2004 by a majority resolution from Congress.

Because of its geographical location between cocaine -producing countries Colombia and Peru, Ecuador, and especially its Pacific waters, provides a common illicit trafficking route for cocaine bound to the U.S.

The country of Ecuador sends 42 percent of its exports to the U.S., mostly petroleum, bananas, and cut flowers. The U.S. also is Ecuador’s largest import partner.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Boston Tea Party, 1773

The Boston Tea Party, 1773

Disgruntled American colonialists, in response to Great Britain’s tax on tea, dumped about forty-five tons of tea into Boston Harbor during what’s called the Boston Tea Party, 1773; a pivotal event leading into the Revolutionary War that triggered birth of the United States of America.

Tensions had been brewing for ten years prior to the Tea Party, based on the theme of taxation without representation. Because colonialists refused to pay high taxes imposed by the Townshend Acts of 1767, the British rescinded all taxes except a tax on tea, then made certain the taxed tea sold for a lower price than imported tea colonists could buy on the black market from growers in Holland. The ploy was that colonialists would purchase that tea, and in so doing endorse Britain’s right to tax the colonies. But the colonialists didn’t bite.

Key dates and events relating to the Boston Tea Party, 1773, include:

* 1763 French and Indian War with Britain concludes; Britain’s King George III looks to recoup war costs by placing heavy taxes on colonies

* 1767 British Townshend Acts levied to raise revenue, tighten customs enforcement, and assert imperial authority

* March 5, 1770 Boston Massacre: British soldiers guarding Boston Customs House kill three, injure eight more colonialists who are throwing snowballs at them

* May 1773 British rescind Townshend Act, with exception of tax on tea

* December 16, 1773 200 colonialists dressed as Mohawk Indians board three British ships and dump tea into Boston Harbor, aka the Boston Tea Party

* March 1774 With Massachusetts being the focal point of colonial unrest, Great Britain closes Boston Harbor

* April 19, 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, both near Boston, mark beginning of Revolutionary War

* July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence signed

* 1783 End of Revolutionary War

Although taxation without representation was the battle cry of colonialists leading up to the decisive Revolutionary War, it was a lingering tax on tea that, in essence, put fuel on a simmering fire and led to lawlessness and, eventually, to war.

Being inept at collecting taxes on paint, paper, glass, lead, and tea imported into the colonies as legally required according to the Townshend Acts of 1767, in May 1773 the British Parliament rescinded all such taxes except on tea, then granted a virtual monopoly on tea imports into the colonies to the British East India Company. The Parliament did this by granting the British East India Company authority to sell tea directly to colonialists; in doing so bypassing colonial wholesale tea merchants.

But colonialists reacted by refusing to allow British East India Company ships laden with tea to dock in Philadelphia and New York. Although tea-laden ships did dock at Charleston, South Carolina, that tea was stored in warehouses for three years, then sold by patriots to help finance the revolution.

In essence, The Boston Tea Party 1773 wasn’t about tea, but instead about the taxes Great Britain was imposing on that tea.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Man of Mystery, the Pirate Jean Lafitte

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

A Man of Mystery, the Pirate Jean Lafitte

Questions about the birth and death of the pirate Jean Lafitte may never know answers this side of heaven. Whether he was born in France, Spain, St. Dominique, or Haiti in about 1779--the best of guesses suggested by many historians--are just that: guesses.

Even the date and location of the pirate’s death are unknown; one theory saying he moved to the Yucatan Peninsula in 1821 and died of diseases there in 1826, and another saying he traveled extensively in Europe, lived in the Midwest states, and died in Akron, Ohio, in 1851.

What is known is that he had about forty New Orleans warehouses in the early 1800s, had from 3,000 to 5,000 followers who helped him plunder seafaring ships, and distributed smuggled goods and slaves to willing buyers.

Lafitte was known as a dashing, handsome ladies man who fluently spoke English, French, Italian, and Spanish, yet consciously told differing stories about his past to keep anyone from knowing where he and his two brothers came from, and what they planned to do next.

Louisiana Governor William Claiborne declared war on the privateer, even though Lafitte reportedly never attacked an American ship and was a strong U.S. ally during the War of 1812. Claiborne was mocked by Lafitte who walked the streets of New Orleans without fear, and even replaced reward signs for his capture with signs of his own offering three times the reward, or $1,500, to anyone bringing Governor Claiborne to his stronghold, the island of Barataria.

Interesting facts about Jean Lafitte include:
* Is thought to have migrated to Louisiana in about 1803, possibly from Santo Domingo

* 1807 owned 40 warehouses for distribution of hijacked supplies; slave pens; a hospital; residences; a fort with a cannon; and commanded up to 5,000 men

* 1812 after long search, Governor Claiborne captures Lafitte who’s working as ally on war effort, but soon Lafitte is out on bond

* 1814 British offer Lafitte money, land, pardon, captaincy in British army if he’ll fight against Americans; turns down offer, though Claiborne burns down his home

* After New Orleans warehouses are closed, opens new ones in Galveston, Texas

* No accurate count of how many ships were robbed by Lafitte and his men, though many were slave ships headed to Cuba

* At one point, Lafitte hires New Orleans district attorney Randolph Grymes to quit his public position and protect Lafitte from Governor Claiborne

* Those who knew Lafitte relay vastly different stories about the pirate’s stated past, indicating an intentional desire to maintain an aura of personal mystique that still baffles historians

Even today, from 150 to 180 years after his death, depending on who’s keeping score, there are major gaps in the life story of the pirate Jean Lafitte, whose playground was New Orleans, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Yet, historically speaking, the man who resented being labeled a “pirate” created a legacy that continues to grow.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The History of Congo Took Two Directions

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

The History of Congo Took Two Directions

The history of Congo, in equatorial Africa, has taken two directions: the Republic of the Congo, once a French colony; and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to its south, formerly under the control of Belgium.

The biggest difference between these two countries which separately became independent in 1960--although both are beset by poverty, high incidences of A.I.D.S. (well over four percent of total populations), and extremely youthful median age figures at about 16 years--is in the area of political stability.

Although the Republic has had its share of problems since 1960, including more than 25 years under Marxist rule, few places on planet earth have been the site of more political unrest, civil war, strife, and abuse of human rights since that time than the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire and, before that, the Belgium Congo. And the main reason for that recent strife was a despot ruler named Joseph Desire Mobutu who ruled 32 years prior to 1997.

The Republic of the Congo is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, while the strife-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo is about one-fourth the size of the U.S.

Indigent populations in both countries were Pygmies. Still, hundreds of ethnic groups, many derivatives of various Bantu tribes, followed them into those areas of west and central Africa; still speak many languages; and in large degree have displaced Pygmies.

It was during the Conference of Berlin in 1885 when Congo and what’s now Angola were divided between France, Portugal, and Belgium.

France assumed sovereignty over territory that included what became the Republic of the Congo, formerly Middle Congo. In 1908, France organized French Equatorial Africa from Middle Congo, Gabon, Chad, and modern Central African Republic. In 1960, French Equatorial Africa split into separate countries, including what’s now the Republic of the Congo.

And from 1885 until 1908, what’s now the Democratic Republic of the Congo became a killing grounds far worse than Mobutu would impose. During those years, King Leopold II of Belgium, ruling from Belgium, imposed such inhumane tactics on the Congolese people to gain ivory and rubber that the nation’s population dipped from about twenty-five million to about nine million.

Key dates and events in the history of the Congo include:

* Pygmies earliest known inhabitants

* 1482 Portuguese discover Congo River, launch slave trade

* 1885 Conference of Berlin divides territory between France, Portugal, Belgium

* 1885-1908 Tyrannical rule of King Leopold II of Belgium; Democratic Republic of the Congo’s population dips from 25 million to nine million

* 1908 France organizes French Equatorial Africa which includes what’s now the Republic of the Congo

* 1960 Democratic Republic independent of Belgium; Republic independent of France

* 1997 Coup in Republic empowers socialist Sassou-Nguesso, in power in 2009

The history of Congo is replete with centuries of violence, avarice, and greed, as witnessed today where countless African children are trafficked in forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The History of Kent State University, 1970

By Rocky Wilson
Author of Sharene:
Death: A Prerequisite For Life

The History of Kent State University, 1970

Although the university will become 100 years old in 2010, the history of Kent State University always will remain linked to one day, May 4, 1970.

For it was on that sunny day in Kent, Ohio, when four students were killed and nine students wounded when Ohio National Guardsmen fired on a group of unarmed students protesting President Richard Nixon’s decision to expand the controversial, undeclared Vietnam War into Cambodia.

Although repeatedly researched, written about, discussed, and theorized, consensus never has been reached about precisely why, or even if National Guardsmen needed to fire up to 67 M-1 rifle shots into a crowd of demonstrating students over a thirteen second span.

Even the residual outcome of those deaths doesn’t fit into a comfortable, historical niche. Some historians claim the shootings at Kent were pivotal in bringing about an earlier conclusion to the Vietnam War. Others disagree, however, and say following initial student outrage, that demonstrations to end the war soon became quieter, giving President Nixon more time to dictate closure on his own terms.

It wasn’t as if Kent State was the only U.S. campus with angry students protesting the Vietnam War, as hundreds of colleges and universities were experiencing the same unrest. Too, Kent wasn’t the only campus where demonstrating students were killed. Yet, Kent State University 1970 became a rallying cry for a generation.

More than a year before the shootings, in 1969, militant groups staged a nine-day strike on the KSU campus, and on May 3, 1970 Ohio Governor James Rhodes called them, “ … the strongest, well-trained militant revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.”

But history, especially about Kent State University 1970, can be murky. Not only was Governor Rhodes the man who called the Ohio National Guard to the Kent campus in May 1970, but the primary election he was stumping for as a U.S. Senator (and lost), was held May 5, 1970.

Major events concerning Kent State University 1970 include:

* 1968 Richard Nixon elected president on platform to end Vietnam War

* April 1969 Students for a Democratic Society and Black Student Union stage nine-day KSU student demonstration

* April 30, 1970 Nixon announced invasion of Cambodia

* May 1 Rioting of unknown origins in Kent; bonfires on downtown streets, store windows smashed

* May 3 Ohio National Guard (1,000) arrives on campus, ROTC building burned to ground

* May 4 About 3,000 assemble for outlawed rally; Manned Jeep advances to crowd, seeking dispersal; rocks thrown at Guard, tear gas canisters fired at crowd

* May 4 Guard unleashes 13-second bullet barrage; four students dead, nine wounded

* 1979 State of Ohio, not National Guard, pays $675,000 settlement to wounded students, parents of dead students; official letter of regret, no apology or admission of wrongdoing

The divisiveness of the Vietnam War, a painful memory for many, has a better opportunity of not being repeated if we learn from the history of Kent State University.

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