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Archive for the ‘Twentieth century (1901-1960)’ Category

The PWA (Public Works Administration) was formed in 1933. Like all the other programs that comprised President Roosevelt’s New Deal, the PWA was designed to help kick-start an economy devastated by depression. The focus of the PWA was public works projects (bridges, dams, roads, schools, etc.), which would create thousands of jobs. The people hired would be paid, and would in turn spend their money on goods and services, thereby stimulating the economy. And though PWA was only around for six years, it was responsible for the start of thousands of projects all over the country.

Much ink has been used (and probably a little blood shed) arguing over the merits of Roosevelt’s New Deal…it helped spur the economy and bring the U.S. out of the Great Depression…it infused into American culture a massive influx of entitlement programs and government control.  So much ink, in fact, that I don’t need to spend any time on it.  My opinion doesn’t matter anyways.  What we need is a history lesson of some kind…it’s been four days, after all.

On December 22, 1937, a PWA-funded project was completed as the first two lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel were opened for business.  Construction on the Tunnel, which runs under the Hudson River and connects New York’s Manhattan with New Jersey’s Weehawken, began in 1934 and cost $75,000,000.

Its first year in service didn’t see much use, as just 1.8 million cars passed through the 8,200-foot tunnel (which averages out to about 3.5 cars per minute).  But there weren’t nearly as many cars around in the 1930s, and with the arrival of the Second World War, resource rationing cut into the overall traffic even more.

But that’s not the case today.  Two more lanes were opened in 1945, with another two built and pressed into service a dozen years later.  As part of I-495, the Lincoln Tunnel routinely sees more than 120,000 cars pass through each day (83.3 cars per minute).

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In my opinion, there are topics that make good conversation starters at parties.  Asking a person what his or her interests are is good.  Maybe asking someone to describe a favorite vacation spot is also good.  Subjects that are non-controversial and non-goofy are usually preferred.

Talking about “Area 51” and the government coverup of alien visitations to Earth is probably less preferred.  Attempting to discuss Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster with a stranger will probably have him or her doing that thing where the eyebrows are raised a bit and the eyes drift a little up and to the left.  And talking about how the Earth is hollow will have your listener glancing at a watch and saying, “Well, look at the time…”.

Fortunately we’re not at a party, so I’m safe to at least mention one of them.

The Bermuda Triangle is a bunch of hooey.  There…I said it…and I’d say it again if I had to.  It does exist in a geographical sense.  To kind of place it, put a pencil on a map where the southern tip of Florida meets the water.  Then drag it northeast to the island of Bermuda.  Then go south to Puerto Rico and back northwest to your starting point at Florida.  That’s the Triangle and, since you can put it on a map, it’s real.

What isn’t real is all the “paranormal” activity that has supposedly occurred over the years.  People believe that an unusual number of ships and planes have disappeared there, most of them vanishing without a trace.  One of the more famous incidents took place on December 5, 1945.  Flight 19, a group of five Grumman TBM Avengers, took off on a navigational training flight from Fort Lauderdale, flew into the Triangle, and was never seen again.  And then a search plane sent out toward the flight’s last known position also disappeared.

These stories, among many others, have fueled lots of theories about aliens snatching planes from mid-air, residents of Atlantis pulling hapless ships below the surface, Amelia Earhart blinding pilots with her signal mirror, and who knows what else (I don’t know all the stories because I clearly haven’t attended enough parties).

But while I’m not a scientist, others that know more about it say that the numbers of ships and planes lost there, on a percentage basis, isn’t any greater than any other aqueous place.  The reports of the horizon becoming one with the water inside the Bermuda Triangle probably have some merit, but again, that’s probably possible outside the Triangle as well.

Anyways, you read the little bit about Flight 19, so you got what you needed for tonight.  And I’m kind of tied up with football and work as it is, so there you are.  Not very good I suppose, but maybe tomorrow we’ll discuss crop circles and ancient alien runways in South America.

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In his book A Shattered Peace, David Andelman writes that President Woodrow Wilson went to Paris “with the intention of bringing a new era of moral responsibility to the management of international affairs and an end to global conflict…”  But unfortunately, many of the allied partners who met him there came with very different objectives, and it wasn’t long before the President “found himself mired in a swamp of intra-European intrigue and colonial profiteering.”  Wilson himself offered up his own frustrated summary of six months of Parisian negotiations: “The world will say that the Great Powers first parceled out the helpless parts of the world, and then formed the League of Nations.  The crude fact will be that each of these parts of the world had been assigned to one of the Great Powers.”

It’s no small thing to note that when Wilson arrived in Paris in January of 1919, he was in some sense entering enemy territory.  The President came with a very different agenda than the other victorious Allies.  What Wilson wanted was a lasting peace.  What the others wanted was retribution…retribution they believed they deserved.  France had been the main battle-front for much of the war.  Large sections were a moonscape of shattered trees, mud-filled slit trenches, one-walled homes, bomb craters, and shell casings.  An entire generation of Frenchmen, 1.5 million in total, had fallen on the dust of that landscape, never to rise again.  The French economy was in shambles.  The French wanted payback.

But in addition, the Great Powers came to the negotiating table with land holdings scattered all over the world – holdings they steadfastly refused to give up.  And what’s more, with Germany’s defeat, here was a chance to acquire more territory without the shedding of additional blood.

So the Treaty that was signed differed vastly from Wilson’s vision.  And then he had to return home to sell ratification and entrance into the League of Nations.  Again, he stepped onto hostile ground.  Opposition was led by Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.  An extremely intelligent man with a Harvard PhD on his wall, he viewed the President’s Fourteen Points as somewhat whimsical, mostly idealistic, and all-together out of touch with reality.  And the League of Nations was one of those entangling alliances that would simply eat away at American sovereignty.

In reality, Lodge may have been someone that could have really helped Wilson in Paris.  His strong personality, coupled with his keen knowledge, may have given Wilson more power at the table.  But the long-standing rivalry between the two men meant Lodge didn’t get an invitation.  And with elections but a year away and these two men in opposing parties, here was grist for the upcoming campaigns.

President Wilson did his best to push for ratification, embarking on a wide-ranging speaking tour.  But even that worked against him.  In late September, he collapsed while speaking in Colorado and a week later suffered a massive stroke which left him largely incapacitated and confined to bed.  So there was little he could do or say as the Senate, controlled by Lodge’s Republican party, rejected the Treaty of Versailles on November 19, 1919.

Henry Cabot Lodge may have saved the U.S. from ratifying a bad treaty (maybe the only peace treaty the U.S. has rejected).  He may have also kept the country he loved so dearly from joining a weak League (he would say, “I have loved but one flag and I can not share that devotion and give affection to the mongrel banner invented for a league.”).  But without the power of the United States behind it, the League of Nations was totally doomed to failure.

Recommended Reading: A Shattered Peace – Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today

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Those of you that don’t live in the midwest United States can’t really relate to the phrase, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change.”  Many people from other parts of the country hear us say that and figure we’re just full of beans.  “The weather couldn’t possibly change in just a minute’s time”, they respond.  “When you say ‘a minute’, you mean it changes quickly, but not in a 60-second timeframe…right?”

No, we mean the weather sometimes changes in a matter of a 60-second minute.

Here in Iowa, we’re particularly vulnerable to this going into, and coming out of, the winter season.  We’ll occasionally see a day or two of moderate weather while off to the north, a strong ridge of high-pressure is setting up, its clockwise rotation pulling super-chilled air out of northern Canada.  Then it comes sweeping down out of the Rockies and overnight, and the temperatures plummet.  But still, that’s not really the whole “60-second” thing.

In recent memory, March 2, 2008 was one a day of drastic temperature change.  At noon, it was 60°F.  Shortly after nightfall, it was below 0.  That’s pretty sharp.  In the middle of December of that year, it did the same thing again.  And when that front came through, the wind direction changed, and the temperatures immediately began falling.  It was noticeably colder in just a minute or two.  Back in early 1888, the Children’s Blizzard struck much of the Midwest in true “60-second” fashion, catching thousands of people off guard and killing more than 500.

On November 11, 1911 (11/11/11 if that matters to you), the Great Blue Norther came ripping through.  Unseasonably warm temperatures were the order of the day as southerly air flows pulled warm, moist air far north.  Many cities set record highs that day, with the mercury above 70°F in numerous places.

And then that ridge of Arctic air came ripping through, bringing winds that blew a gale and dropping temperatures like a stone.  More than one town or city that recorded a record high had, within 8 hours, recorded a record low as temperatures fell more than 60 degrees.  The warm weather that produced severe weather and tornadoes one day was replaced by bitter winter conditions and blizzards the next.  That’s a pretty awful experience.

It’s dramatic to be sure, and it’s never pleasant, but that’s just the way weather on the plains sometimes is.

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Some people are thrill-seekers.  Adrenaline junkies.  Daredevils.  Evel Knievels.  For them, the quality of life is measured by the number of times “daily” is replaced with “danger”…”ordinary” with “extraordinary”…”routine” with “wild”.  We now have TV shows are dedicated to these men and women who seemingly risk their lives on a regular basis.  I have watched them on occasion with my jaw dropped and eyes bugged out.

And that’s because I’m not a thrill-seeker…not in the slightest.

Don’t get me wrong…I’d love to strap on a rally car and go flying through the woods of Finland.  I’ve joked with a few people that I’d pay $1000 just to ride with rally legend Juha Kankkunen for an hour.  But that’s just driving (or riding) quickly.  I’m not going to jump off a bridge or a mountain or a building with a parachute as my only means of survival.

Because we’ve been to Estes Park on a few occasions, Dad and I generally try to challenge ourselves with a hike, as it’s something we both enjoy immensely.  And we’ve talked about hiking Long’s Peak.  But there’s a point in that particular hike where things get a bit treacherous.  The path narrows to just a few feet with a 1,000′ drop to oblivion.  It’s then, the moment when “enjoyment” is replaced with “yikes, that’s a long way down!”, that the hike ceases to be enjoyable.  I don’t need, or want, the risk.

What I’m saying is that, while I might enjoy looking at Niagara Falls, I’m no Annie Edson Taylor.

I guess I don’t know for sure if Ms. Taylor was a daredevil.  Maybe she was.  Or maybe she was just nuts.  What we know for sure was that she was a 63-year-old widowed schoolteacher who didn’t have much money and was looking to cash in on a bit of notoriety.  But Annie dispensed with the idea of a cooking show on TV.  She decided against starting a quilting business.  Cell phone applications for a Droid (there’s money in that, you know)?…leave that to the fraidy-cats.

On October 24, 1901 (which happened to be her birthday), Ms. Taylor strapped herself into a padded barrel and became the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel.  Now Niagara Falls is pretty big.  In total, something like 750,000 gallons of water per second go over the edge and drop more than 170′ to the rocks below.  But water isn’t people, and it doesn’t care if gets smashed up.  Apparently Ms. Taylor didn’t care, either.  But over she went, and when they fished the barrel out of the water, a somewhat battered and bruised (but very much alive) Annie Taylor emerged.

These days, stunts like that land one in jail.  They might also get you some kind of reality TV show (they have ’em for everything else now).  I know Ms. Taylor didn’t get the latter, and I don’t know if they arrested people for daring the Falls in 1901.  But hopefully, she served herself an extra big piece of cake that night…I think she earned it.

Happy Birthday to you, Annie Edson Taylor…Happy Birthday to you.

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Theodore Roosevelt was many things besides the 26th President of the United States.  Of course, he gained great notoriety as a soldier.  We’ve touched on his passion for nature and the preservation of America’s wilderness.  Along with that was his love of hunting and exploring, which took him to Africa (on safari), Europe, and eventually South America.

Roosevelt was clearly something of an adventurer, which probably explains his willingness to subject himself to one of the newer inventions of the day…the airplane.  The first image that might be conjured up in your mind might be of the former President strapping himself into one of our modern aircraft.  As the photo above verifies, that is not the case.  In fact, the only resemblance between today’s aircraft and the one that carried Roosevelt was its ability to defy gravity.

It was low-flying, slow-flying, built by the Wright brothers, made of wood, and powered by just a few horsepower.  It was probably an airplane I wouldn’t be the least bit nervous riding in…or would I?  It had been just a couple of years before that a very similar craft had crashed during a demonstration to the Army, killing the Army’s observer/passenger and leaving Orville Wright seriously injured.

So there was some consternation when Roosevelt, foregoing a flight suit, helmet, and oxygen, climbed aboard to ride with pilot Arch Hoxsey in his plane on October 11, 1910.  Fortunately, the 4-minute flight was completed without incident, and Theodore Roosevelt had the distinct pleasure of not only escaping the bonds of gravity, but being the first President to do so.

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As a Braves fan, it was more than a little discouraging to see Roy Halladay’s performance this afternoon.  Honesty compels me to tell you that he pitched a masterpiece, no-hitting a pretty solid Cincinnati Reds lineup.  If the Braves are to make it to a World Series this year, they’ve got a tough row to hoe.  First they have to deal with San Francisco’s tough pitching.  Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Bumgarner are all very talented.  If somehow we manage to win that series, it appears the Braves will have to figure out a way to do what most teams haven’t been able to do this year:  beat Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt.  It’s a fearsome starting three…a three-headed ace.  It reminds me a little of the days of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz.

Roy Halladay’s result was, if I recall, just the second no-hitter in post-season history.  The other was Don Larsen’s perfect game in the ’56 Series against the Dodgers.  So Phillies fans should feel pretty awesome this evening.  And fans of the other seven playoff clubs have been put on notice.

Well, now I’m in a baseball state of mind, so let’s continue in that vein with something brief.  The 1977 World Series featured one of the more memorable hitting performances ever.  It was during game 6 that Reggie Jackson hit 3 consecutive homeruns (on three pitches from three different pitchers), stirring the Yankees faithful into a frenzy and forcing Jackon to run for cover as the game’s (and the Series) final out was recorded.

But Reggie’s night wasn’t the first of it’s kind.  Babe Ruth, another of the numerous Yankee legends, matched Jackson’s feat more than 50 years before.  It was October 6, 1926, and it was the fourth game of the World Series between the Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Sultan of Swat was in top form as he launched his 3 bombs in a Yankees victory.  However, while the Yankees won this battle, their potent lineup wasn’t enough to win a war that the Cardinals took in seven games.

Still, the Babe’s game 4 performance was one to remember.  But most people wouldn’t require a ton of brainpower to do so, because baseball’s greatest player give the fans a refresher just 2 years later, again against the Cardinals, when he repeated his three-homer-game, again in the fourth game of the 1928 Series.

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