Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

I caught this on NPR:

Home of sliced bread

Chillicothe Baking Company’s building in Chillicothe, Missouri, where bread was first machine-sliced for sale

You’ve heard people call some innovation the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, that was a real event. The first commercially sliced bread was sold in Chillicothe, Mo., on July 7, 1928. People had to slice it themselves in the old days. The innovation is now the occasion for an annual bluegrass festival, and lawmakers are debating a bill to declare sliced bread day

I remember my grandmother telling me how happy she was to buy bread instead of baking two or three times a week (related to family income I think), but I don’t remember her mentioning sliced bread. So I wanted to learn more.

Wikipedia says bread cut with a slicing machine was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” I guess those images of a Frenchman peddling along with a long loaf, bare naked (the loaf that is), under one arm are more romantic than preferred.

Thank you, Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, USA, for inventing the first loaf-at-a-time bread-slicing machine. One of his early customers, Gustav Papendick, figured out how to easily slide the sliced loaf into a bag. Sliced bread was a hit, and In 1930 Wonder Bread began marketing sliced bread nationwide. The convenience was credited with increasing consumption of bread and everything you might slather on it.

Theatlantic adds “with such products rapidly penetrating the American home, automated bread-making was not only an invention benchmark, but also a key indicator of the mechanization of daily life from the 1930s onward.” I guess that’s where my grandmother comes into the story.

It’s the Best Time Ever to Be Alive – Make It Even Better in 2018

Adam & Eve Driven From Eden

Driven out of paradise for our sins

Humanity is not going to hell in a hand basket. We have problems, crises, and dire threats that we must tackle, but once in a while, lift your head up from your phone/tablet/TV and be encouraged.

Steven Pinker tells us the long arc of human history bends away from war, towards commerce and expanding sympathy for others. In a more immediate timeframe, a New York Times columnist writes that 2017 was the best year ever.

We, naturally, focus on our own current problems. But consider the whole world:

I’m actually upbeat, because I’ve witnessed transformational change [in 2017]…. A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell. Nicholas Kristof

He cites statistics regarding illiteracy, extreme poverty, and childhood death rates (once, two-thirds of parents had a child die before age 5) all vastly improved in our lifetimes.

If that’s too far away for you, consider America in the 1950s:

the U.S. had segregation, polio and bans on interracial marriage, gay sex and birth control… it was a time of nuclear standoffs, of pea soup smog, of frequent wars, of stifling limits on women.

Nostalgia has always been attractive. Ancient Greeks wrote of a past Golden Age when a Golden Race of people enjoyed a perfect life. Hindu and Norse cultures have similar stories, and the Bible describes a succession of kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2) as degenerating from gold, to silver, bronze, iron, and finally to clay. Clay – that’s us.

It’s very human to yearn for a past that never was, or maybe for a time in our own lives when we were young, optimistic, and unburdened. But, as a famous wizard observed, “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Take Kristof’s advice to heart: let our triumphs empower you to tackle the mortal threats we face. Let’s make 2018 the best year ever.

Once in a Blue Moon

From a musical in 1906

From a musical in 1906

If something happens once in a blue moon, it’s rare. Even rarer, in the expression, than an actual “blue moon,” which refers to a month with two full moons, the second one being “blue.”

Thought to be called “blue” after an old english term meaning “betrayer,” a Blue Moon is an extra full moon that occurs due to a quirk of the calendar…

… about once every 2.7 years, because the number of days in a lunation (new moon to new moon) is a bit less than the usual calendar month — 29.53 days as opposed to 31 or 30 days (except for February, which has 28 days, so a blue moon cannot occur). space.com

“Blue Moon” is widely used this way in the media, but only in the last 30 years. Phil Hiscock wrote the fascinating tale for skyandtelescope:

The term “blue Moon” has been around a long time, well over 400 years [as in]
“He would argue the Moon was blue” was taken by the average person of the 16th century as we take “He’d argue that black is white.”

So where did our current usage come from? In May 1988, when a second full Moon occurred, radio stations and newspapers everywhere carried an item on this bit of “old folklore,” as they called it…

In 1986, in the Trivial Pursuit Genus II edition, “blue moon” is a question, and their source was a children’s book, The Kids’ World Almanac of Records and Facts (New York, 1985: World Almanac Publications). Then, in the December 1990 edition of Astronomy, Deborah Byrd mentioned the term came from a March 1946 article in Sky & Telescope (page 3)

So while the phrase may not be old folklore, it’s folklore today.

America’s Civil War – When Will We See the Last Battle?

I was all set to write about climate change and the bond market, Traitors' flagwhen I found myself dragged back into the Civil War. We’ve posted before about the lead-up and execution of America’s Civil War and it’s distressing modern remnants, but only recently have I come to appreciate how deeply the evil remains embedded in America.

I saw the incredibly bizarre statement of an American general, John Kelly.

During an interview Monday night on Fox News, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said that “the lack of the ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”

His comment was swiftly countered by confounded observers, who pointed out that the Civil War was fought over slavery and that compromising on slavery would be morally unconscionable — and that the country did strike such compromises for decades and they did not, in fact, prevent war. NPR

If anything demonstrates we should offer the military respect, but not deference, this is it.

Starting with the Constitutional compromise that preserved slavery in the South, many writers have listed the nation’s shameful willingness to leave black Americans enslaved – to compromise on slavery. If today’s Americans are ignorant of our original sin, our education system has truly failed.

If the South hadn’t demanded slavery be extended into America’s western territories, how long would we have lived with the horrible compromise of our Founders? Would there still be slaves in America today?

I have fallen into political correctness myself, have silently tolerated monuments to Confederate leaders who sacrificed thousands of lives to perpetuate slavery. Perhaps I can understand how a war-weary nation abandoned black citizens to Jim Crow, but what excuse do I have?

Today I have a president who condemns NFL players for kneeling during the National Anthem but celebrates the statues of traitors against America. The Confederate Battle Flag was carried into war against the Stars and Stripes. Its display outside of museums and history books shows more disrespect against the America Flag than a stadium full of protesters.

Of course, not many people would be upset by Confederate monuments if real-life bias had disappeared. Symbols can lead us to action. It’s time to face our past and future with courage, to reject trolls aiming to inflame our divisions, and create a more perfect union.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Legacy of Uranium Mining in the Southwest Falls on Navajo Nation

I recently drove through the Navajo Nation reservation in northeastern Arizona. I was on my way to view the eclipse from Idaho, hurrying along the interminable Route 191, idly watching the dry landscape go by. I’d never been there before but words on signs began to tug at my memory – Diné, Shiprock. This is the reservation featured in Tony Hillerman’s novels, by officers Leaphorn and Chee.

I only found images of large and lovely healthcare centers

I only found images of large and lovely healthcare centers

In several little towns I noticed simple store fronts with simple signs – Uranium Care or Uranium Treatment. I’m not sure which it was. They came up and passed by faster than I could grab a picture. I’m not sure now about the words on the signs. What was that about?

A google search at home immediately made it clear.

Uranium mining on the Navajo Nation helped America win World War II, but at an ongoing cost “throughout the once worthless desert landscape of the reservation.” earthisland

Mining companies blasted 4 million tons of uranium out of Navajo land between 1944 and 1986. The federal government purchased the ore to make atomic weapons. As the Cold War threat petered out the companies left, abandoning more than 500 mines. NPR

Maybe early ignorance and the press of war could excuse sloppy and dangerous practices in the 1940s. Perhaps it was fair to ask citizens to bear this burden to defeat the evil of Nazism and the Axis Powers. After all, some paid with their lives in battle. And who, besides the people living locally, were likely to take most of the mining jobs in a remote section of the Great American Desert?

We soon knew better. I myself started work in America’s Nuclear Weapons Complex in 1981. Safety was a priority, and worker health carefully monitored and studied. Today, because of my job, I have certain benefits – part of my compensation for the job I did. By my time, the hazards of exposure to radioactivity were managed and a lot of the complaints about Rocky Flats are hyperbolic. But there’s another American story.

“When they did the mining, there would be these pools that would fill up,” she says. “And all of the kids swam in them. And my dad did, too.”

Many Navajo unwittingly let their livestock drink from those pools, and their children play in mine debris piles… Cancer rates doubled in the Navajo Nation from the 1970s to the 1990s. NPR

I know the people who conscientiously worked at Rocky Flats to ensure worker and public safety. And clean-ups are underway in Arizona:

“We’re spending a lot of time making sure that the polluters pay, so it isn’t the federal taxpayer” … But one-third of the mining companies have shut down or have run out of money. The federal government knew about some of the dangers decades ago, but only started the cleanup in recent years. NPR

I also know, from my recent service as a volunteer fire fighter, that it’s easy to say the words “thank you” and easy to slap a sticker on your car’s bumper.

But who wants to pay? Not my war, not my decision, I’ve got my own problems – entirely understandable. If it weren’t that way, maybe we’d be mired down in the past instead of building a brighter future. Luck plays a huge part in anyone’s life – some draw a good hand and others don’t.

I didn’t find any pictures on the internet of the modest clinics I passed – I’m sorry I didn’t take my own. These people from a different place and – some – a different time are brothers and sisters I never knew.

Sometimes history leaves me sad.

Bury the Hatchet

Where bury-the-hatchet comes from

Meeting of Hiawatha and Deganawidah by Sanford Plummer

I grew up in New York State and local history was the theme for 7th Grade Social Studies. This included the Iroquois Nations, as I was recently reminded by today’s phrase – to bury the hatchet is to cease and forgive previous hostilities. The phrase gives me a chance to return to a favorite site, The Straight Dope.

According to tradition–no doubt based largely on fact–the Iroquois leaders Deganawidah and Hiawatha convinced the Five Nations (the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca) to stop fighting amongst themselves and form a confederacy. This probably happened before Columbus sailed, but how much before is a matter of dispute. To celebrate the new peace, the Iroquois buried their weapons under the roots of a white pine. An underground river then miraculously washed the weapons away so the tribes could never use them against each other again.

French records from 1644 mentioned the tradition, but the first English citation of a literal hatchet-burying came from 1680 and Samuel Sewall (later of Salem Witch Trials fame.)

Major Pynchon’s goeing to Albany, where meeting with the Sachem the[y] came to an agreemt and buried two Axes in the Ground; one for English another for themselves…

In 1705 Beverly wrote of “very ceremonious ways to concluding of Peace, such as burying a Tomahawk.” Tomahawk variations remained popular for over a century, but eventually “hatchet” buried “tomahawk.”

The exact phrase comes from September 18, 1753.

Lord Commissioners of Trade and the Plantations in London wrote a letter to the Governor of Maryland that reads, “His Majesty having been pleased to order a Sum of Money to be Issued for Presents to the Six Nations of Indians [the Iroquois] and to direct his Governour of New York to hold an Interview with them for Delivering those presents [and] for Burying the Hatchet …”

I love Cecil Adams and his Science Advisory Board – such a nicely assembled article.