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Big Ideas: Historical Narrative

It’s time for Big Ideas! Welcome to a mini-series-within-a-series on history and how it is made. One way to think about history is as a story, a series of events that happened, and when. Get comfy, and settle in, because this post will explore the events of the Wars of the Roses, from the lead up through the aftermath – one of the most headache-inducingly complicated historical narratives I could think of. In the end, after the dust settles, and the Tudors take over, I’ll discuss the value of treating history this way, and what we can really learn from it.

Story Time (Skip to the Relationship Map if you Feel Your Eyes Glaze Over)

A long time ago in England (about 600 years ago), King Edward III had three sons (who survived to adulthood and are important to this story). His first son, Edward the Black Prince, had a son, who became King, Richard II. His second son, Lionel of Antwerp, went on to have kids, and that branch would be the House of York (White Rose). Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt, had a son, who would depose Richard II, and become King Henry IV. Descendants of John of Gaunt are the House of Lancaster (Red Rose). John of Gaunt also had another son, by a mistress, and his name was John Beaufort, and he was legitimized later, so he could inherit and hold titles. So, for those keeping score at home, the new King, Henry IV, and John Beaufort are half brothers through their father.

Henry IV has a son who becomes king, Henry V, who marries Catherine of Valois. They have a son, who becomes king too: Henry VI. After Henry V dies, Catherine of Valois goes on to marry a second time, this time a wealthy Welsh landlord, Owen Tudor. This marriage produces another son, Edmund Tudor. Remember the half-brother of King Henry IV, John Beaufort? He had a daughter, Margaret Beaufort, and she marries Edmund Tudor.

Meanwhile, the latest King, Henry VI, marries Margaret of Anjou. He has increasing trouble keeping up with all his kingly duties, though, so she’s actually the one in charge of things, and he has two advisers, also. One of these advisers is the wealthy and influential descendant of Edward III’s second son Lionel of Antwerp, Richard of York. The other is another wealthy power-broker, Richard Neville, AKA Warwick the Kingmaker. Richard Neville married his daughter Anne Neville to Henry VI’s son and heir, Edward of Westminster. You hanging in there? Breathe into a paper bag if it gets too complicated and you need a break.

So, Richard of York and Margaret of Anjou basically hate each other, because he figures that the House of York descends from the second son of Edward III, and not the third, like the House of Lancaster, so by rights, he should be King instead. He gets Richard Neville’s support and fights with Margaret of Anjou and the House of Lancaster to get Henry VI deposed. In one of these battles, Edward of Westminster, the King’s heir, is killed. THEN Richard Neville has his daughter, the newly widowed Anne Neville, marry Richard of York’s youngest surviving son, also confusingly named Richard. He also marries off his oldest daughter, Isabel Neville, to Richard of York’s third surviving son, George. Then, Richard of York dies in battle, too. His oldest surviving son eventually wins the fight, and deposes and replaces (and, let’s face it, probably has murdered) poor Henry VI, who has been held hostage, rescued, and then re-captured, and ends his life in the Tower of London. Richard Neville switches sides, and mounts a rebellion with George against Edward IV. Richard Neville is killed in battle, Edward IV puts down the rebellion, and has his brother George drowned in a butt of wine for his backstabbing ways. Somehow, the new King Edward IV actually dies of natural causes, and has a son, the new King Edward V.

BUT WAIT, there’s more! It turns out that Richard of York’s youngest son Richard thinks that HE should be king, and has Edward IV’s marriage declared illegal, so that King Edward V is now illegitimate, and has him thrown in the Tower of London with his younger brother (they’re both just kids at this point). He’s declared King Richard III, and then the two “Princes in the Tower” just… disappear. (Again, probably murdered on the order of Richard III.) So… remember Edmund Tudor, from waaaaay back there? He had a son, who figures that he’s as close as anybody to being King, and comes back from France and defeats Richard III, who dies in battle, and, in the distant future, is discovered buried under a parking lot (confirmed by DNA testing in 2013). The End.

That was complicated and horrible, so here’s a relationship map, to help you figure out what happened:

A disgustingly complicated chart of all the major relationships of all the major players in the Wars of the Roses
This is like the seventh draft of this chart. I should’ve stuck with my original plan for this series to follow up rocket science with quantum mechanics. Ugh.

Fun fact: my history knowledge strong points are really East Asian and African history, not European, so I didn’t really know most of this until I researched this article. In fact, I picked this particular topic purely because I didn’t know much about it. We’re learning together! Yay! It really doesn’t help things that nearly every dude is named either Edward or Richard. At least the various Henrys are numbered. So that’s the story of the Wars of the Roses. But, in the end, after all that, what has changed? England has a different king. The family in charge is now these guys, not those guys. The Tudors would continue the foreign policy aims of trying to get back France, so that didn’t change. The social structure is the same. The economic structure is still the same too. It’s a story dramatic enough for a whole batch of Shakespeare plays, but is the series of events actually important enough to how the world turned out to remember in detail?

On one hand, you can argue that without the Wars of the Roses, there isn’t a Henry VIII to have a succession crisis and kickstart the Catholic vs Protestant divide that would dominate the politics of later England (and then the United Kingdom, and everything including the potato famine in Ireland, and even a really scary undertow of Brexit negotiations much later).

For want of a nail a horseshoe was lost

For want of a shoe, a horse was lost

For want of a horse, a rider was lost

For want of a rider, a battle was lost

For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail

On the other hand, the horseshoe nail approach ads nothing to our understanding. Sure, it’s easy to say that future events come from events in the past, but that’s the very definition of what “past” even is: it’s the events that led here, so of course that’s what they do. There’s a lot of value in looking deeper, and asking more questions. If it wasn’t Henry VIII, would it have been someone else anyway, due to rules of succession and legitimacy being what they were? Could someone in a position of power have simply done the same thing, with their own pivotal decisions? Or, if you prefer, would the real reason be the way that English culture passed property on to children, and the critical role of religion in supporting this system? These questions are the core of historiography – the discipline of how history is written.

In a very literal sense, history is the practice of finding meaning in events of the past. History is writing about events of the past, but FOR the sake of the present and ultimately the future. Otherwise, why remember it? For everything you know about history, consider all that has been forgotten, or left unknown. History is what we choose to remember, and how we choose to remember it. As for historiography, narrative alone isn’t bad, and can be compelling. Remember, the narrative of the Wars of the Roses itself – with lots of spin, of course – was good enough for Shakespeare. Next time, we’ll dive into the duelling perspectives of historiography, and the question of whether it is pivotal decisions or socioeconomic forces that drive this narrative.

A Brief (ha) History of Underwear

Go ahead, laugh: get all those giggles out of your system. Yes, this is the underwear post. As it turns out, though, underwear is anything but frivolous. There are actually a lot of important things underwear does, from the practical to the cultural, and – since we’re due another humanities post – this one will be a fairly thorough historical overview of how your very own modern underwear came to be, and how technology and cultural shifts shape what we wear. You may be surprised by just how much there is to learn! 

IMPORTANT CAUTION: This Big Fat Historical Survey will only cover European underoos, since those, in the main, are the ones that mutate into the majority of current fashion. Maybe someday, we’ll do a cross cultural analysis of underwear, which would be cool. 

What Underwear Does:

  • Protects outer clothes from the oils and sweat of your skin
  • Supports and shapes outer clothes
  • Extra layer for warmth or even cooling
  • Communicates

So, with all this in mind, let’s start (because this is where fashion of the time makes it easy) in the last years of the 1400s.

Meet the Chemise

Albrecht Dürer wearing about as many layers as possible, in fashionable disarray.
Self Portrait by Albrecht Dürer, 1498. Note the chemise, the white garment with the embroidered band right against his skin across his chest. Very nice. A fun detail is that, although everything appears to match, the lower arm portion of the sleeve seems to be detachable, in case you want to wear them with a different top.

By 1498, wearing your clothes like you rolled out of bed and just don’t care was in fashion, fortunately for us. This means that we can see plenty of the chemise, which was basically a really long undershirt. Dürer here is wearing his chemise practically on the outside, with his clothes wide open at the chest. You can also see a bit more chemise sleeve puffed through slits in the sleeve, too, especially at the elbow. While early chemises were very plain, by this point, people wanted you to see it, and they began to be embroidered at the neck, or gathered up and stitched, like the very tiny pleats you can see on the artist’s own chemise. The chemise was worn by everybody, since its main function, aside from looking fashionable, was to absorb sweat and oils and gunk from the skin before it could soil your actual clothes. The bottom hem of the chemise usually ended up tucked into the hose, or eventually breeches. Pants or slacks as we know it didn’t really exist.

The Reign of the Hose

Hose were the other universal underoos, and were basically separate leg sleeves, like whole-leg socks, and could therefore be mixed and matched. Hose were held up with ties to a belt under your clothes, or, for very short menswear, even sewn together into proto-pantyhose.

Dürer engraving showing a man in baggy giant stockings, and a woman with an elaborate hairdo.
The young farmer and his wife, Albrecht Dürer. Here’s how clothes worked for normal people, and not the ultra-wealthy.

Fashions at this point created an interesting problem: men could wear their tunics long or very short to nonexistent. Note that separate leg sleeves mean that there’s a need to invent coverings for sensitive bits if the hemline rises too far. That’s what a codpiece is for. Fairly rapidly, we end up with the classic poofy breeches, codpiece, and stockings combo of the menswear of the next two centuries. Fashion history aside, though, men and women just keep wearing stockings and the chemise for several more centuries, until the French Revolution.

Famous portrait of Juan de Pareja.
Portrait of Juan de Pareja, By Diego Velázquez. Oh, and the chemise develops a detachable collar, which eventually become the ruff, and then stock, and doesn’t really go away entirely until the advent of the washing machine and dryer, mid 20th Century. Ask your grandparents about laundry day and shirt collars.

18th Century Revolutions and a Side Note on Stays

So, eventually, women still wore separate stockings, attached at the belt or held up with garters, and men’s stockings were held on by the sheer pressure of the cuffs of their buttoned up breeches. The codpiece was long gone, and elaborately buttoned fall front flies ruled the day. Everybody still wore the chemise, though, and stockings were still in, until the French Revolution would switch men to pants, permanently. Seriously, that’s what happened. Stockings were expensive, so regular people tended to wear pants. During the French Revolution, it might well be risking your head (literally) to look too aristocratic, so French men started wearing pants. Everybody looked to France for fashion, and pants spread. Within a few decades, stockings for menswear would be completely dead, except for a few ceremonial vestiges.

Stays were support undergarments, generally worn by women, and they were one of the options to tie your hose to. Stays and eventually corsets and girdles weren’t always about pinching the waist, but also provided support for accessories like tie-on pockets, key rings, sewing kits, bustles, crinolines, panniers, and so on. Lest you assume that stays were strictly for the ladies, here’s a great cartoon that actually shows a bunch of men’s body-shaping underthings in 1819, for gentlemen who wanted to achieve a fashionably wasp-waisted silhouette with nice legs:

A fashionable gentleman fusses at his dressers to pull his stays harder.
Think that those Beau Brummell style fashion plates of the 1820s are unrealistic for any human figure to achieve? You’d be right. Mr. Darcy and company are almost certainly wearing a LOT of undergarments like calf pads and stays to cheat the system. Note the implication that being over-fashionable is somehow un-English: having an “D____n big John Bull Belly” being undesirable to the dandy in question.

Remember: no boxers, briefs, jockeys, whatever – he’s got his chemise stuffed into his breeches. Also, for centuries, there were only a few ways to fasten and shape clothes to stay on and fit the body: laces, ties, pins (yikes), or buttons. Velcro, snaps, zippers, elastic, and truly stretchy fabrics – all of which we use to do the same – were firmly 19th or 20th Century innovations. This is a major factor in why young children wore dresses, until the boys were old enough to handle the complications of breeches. To illustrate, here’s toddler Franklin Delano Roosevelt in an adorable sundress and hat, looking pensive on a donkey.

Donkey and toddler FDR in a cute sun dress and hat. The future president is wearing the sun dress, not the burro.
Pretty sweet setup. I think it’s a double-sided wicker chair pack saddle thing, and looks wildly unsafe. This kid will grow up to be president during the Great Depression and WWII.

Enough about menswear, though. Because of their lower hemlines, women’s stockings never had to change beyond tie-able thin socks until very recently. Similarly to the situation with gentlemen, actual panties as we know it didn’t exist because that’s what the chemise was for. By modern standards, absolutely everyone went commando because hemlines were low enough to conceal everything. (Under normal circumstances. Kind of puts Fragonard’s famous painting The Swing or can-can dancers in a very different light, huh?) As for keeping legs warm in the wide skirts of the 19th century, there were pantalettes. Imagine ankle or knee length frilly cotton or wool (itchy!) leg sleeves that tied on to the stays or to a belt. In this picture, the pantalettes are the frilly cuffs you see around the ankles, below the skirt:

Pantalettes seen under the hem on two small girls.
Words cannot express how hard it is to find quality images of actual pantalettes. Portraits were for important, rich people, and girls young enough to be wearing visible pantalettes weren’t important enough generally for their own portraits. Or, I could get pictures of women in pantalettes, but not normal ones, because they had some kind of job that required specialty underwear, like circus performer, dancer, or coal mine pit brow worker. Not kidding. I also don’t really trust fashion plates of the time, and so many of those images of perfect lacy pantalettes were for boys, anyway.

Bodily Functions Interlude!

On the subject of going commando, and pantalettes as separate leg sleeves, this means that the problem of “how did they go to the bathroom” basically is resolved by the fact that nobody’s underthings worked like the modern versions. Here’s a (perfectly safe for school and work) video. You’re welcome! As for the dudes, it’s just an awful lot of buttons, for breeches, or otherwise normal pants. When it comes to monthly bodily functions for the ladies, imagine basically cloth or rags buttoned, tied, or pinned to a belt. This is why safety pins (also a 19th Century invention) are a big deal, folks. You live in a world that has achieved comfortable, convenient, safe fasteners for your clothes.

Corsetry, Swimwear, and Materials Science

So, you may have noticed that even by the late 19th Century, we don’t really have the advent of actual underoos as we know them. Between holding up stockings, pantalettes, and crinolines, corsetry is actually the foundation of a very complicated suspension system. That’s why women wore girdles, even way past the time that wasp-waisted silhouettes were in fashion.

A very 1920s corsetry ad from Barcley custom corsets. It's all about holding up the stockings.
Roughly a dozen more buckles and adjustable clasps than I’d want to deal with at least twice a day. There’s stockings, but they don’t hold themselves up. This is probably the most 1920s thing you’ll see this week, too. Note that we’ve still basically got the chemise, under the girdle. The basic pattern – chemise, stockings, stays – still hasn’t changed, despite the differences in fashion in over 400 years.

It was over the 20th Century that things really started to change. Innovations in materials science, actually, gradually made new and exciting clothing possible. You could have stockings that held themselves up, for example. Or elastic bands rather than ties that made actual underwear like you’re used to feasible. Stretchy fabrics meant that you could buy off-the-rack clothes that fit like a glove. For a while, this was so new and exciting that the trope that “in the future we’ll all wear skintight body suits” took hold. Ultimately, though, in the far-off and futuristic year 2019, we only wear skintight and futuristic underwear. Oh, and undershirts on the outside, since that’s what the t-shirt eventually derives from: the chemise. It happened fast, mostly because there was another category of clothes that needed to be fairly form-fitting, reasonably warm, and easily washed and absorbent. Swimwear! (Technically also weird, specialty underwear like the union suit, as well, which eventually became two-piece long underwear as soon as we had elastic to hold it up. Union suits, being one piece, had that hilarious buttoned buttflap.)

If you look at swimwear from 100 years ago, it really does look suspiciously like modern underwear.

Tug of war in knit wool swimshorts and shirts.
Tug-of-war on the beach, Southport, Queensland, Australia. 1917! Forget all those stuffy ideas you have about Victorian swimsuits. People did have fun back then. The women are wearing their hair up in scarves.

By the 1930s, short shorts had never been shorter, barely visible under a shirt:

A team of Aussie lifeguards, from about 1930.
St. Kilda Surf Life Saving Team, 1930. Manly, New South Wales, Australia. (No, really. It’s the name of the beach.) The weird side-window on the shirts was in fashion, too. I don’t know what’s with that, but I’ve seen it several times in 1930s swim shirts. I’ve also never seen a lack of swim shirts on men, at this time either. Apparently men couldn’t go topless swimming, but swim trunks could be super tiny.

The reason swim trunks existed was because now public beaches were a thing. Before the 1800s bathing craze, it was easy to decide what to wear when you went for a swim: nothing (or you just didn’t swim). But, if the beach was mixed-sex and public, swimwear had to be invented.

The techniques, at least, already existed, and could be rapidly adapted for new underwear. As for the advent of modern clothes, if you’re really lucky, you can find people in really old photos, wearing something that wouldn’t make anyone look twice on the street today. Especially in informal situations, like students or street scenes, or factory workers, or farm hands. People’s “best clothes” tend to be fashionable, which is instantly dated. The trick is also to catch people so that they aren’t so aware there’s a photographer: body language changes over time, substantially. Here’s an article on a famous case of a “time-travelling hipster” from 1940, but I found several more, too:

Dancers at a juke joint, 1939.
The woman in the white sweater, scarf, and riding boots and breeches. If she was standing in line with you at the grocery, you wouldn’t even notice anything was off. 1939. Also, note the guy in a short sleeved shirt on over long sleeves. The cut of the trousers are a giveaway, though.
Woman in a yellow baseball cap, with short sleeves and overalls, 1944.
Lathe operator in an aircraft factory, 1944. When you work with heavy machinery, practical clothes are the only way to go. Also, this is a woman: men couldn’t wear hair that long in the 1940s.
Guy in wrap around glasses and a ribbed t-shirt at a drill press.
Fashionable hipster, or 1940s factory worker? Nice ribbed t-shirt, and those wrap-around glasses, as safety glasses, here. 1944.
Man in a tan rolled up shirt with a hat and normal sized pants.
This guy? He’s a 1941 sugarcane cutter, in Puerto Rico. It helps that he doesn’t have his belt halfway up to his armpits, or a hilariously tiny necktie, as was the style at the time.
Japanese-Americans used as farm labor, 1942. It looks really hot too.
Eeeeeevery last one of these perfectly normally-dressed people in jeans and various sensible hats are all Japanese-Americans working on a farm since being locked up at Tule Lake Relocation Center in California. Circa 1942.

Basically it’s easier in the 1930s and 1940s, because you’ve got most modern materials, making more recent clothing styles possible; there’s cameras and film allowing for faster shutter speeds, and less deliberate more candid photography; the Great Depression and WWII forced people to cut back on insta-dated fashion choices like lots of makeup, elaborate hair treatments, and new clothes. Go, explore archival photos of regular people doing hard work and find some time-travellers of your own, in old photos!

Big Ideas – Rocket Science

I hope you view my contributions to the Teen Blog as an invitation to challenge yourself, think hard, and learn new things. This entry marks the start of a new series on the teen blog, Big Ideas. So far, I’ve only introduced major themes and academic concepts obliquely, and as they happen to come up in the course of talking about something else in depth. In these Very Special Episodes, we’re going to tackle them head on, so you can prove to yourself that you can think Big Thoughts fearlessly. Very few things indeed are truly Too Hard or Too Complicated to comprehend the outline of. If you do, though, you’ll understand everything around you in a deeper way. Tragically, you won’t unlock most of these Big Ideas until sometime in college, maybe. I think this is deeply stupid and unfair, so that’s why I’m writing these, to introduce you to as many really Big Ideas as possible, in an approachable way.

To prove to you that you do have the ability to understand Big Ideas, let’s start with the most proverbially Big Idea of all.

This IS Rocket Science

Actually, it’s physics, mostly, and a little bit of chemistry.

Since I’m never one to do anything half-way, let’s make an example, where we can explore some of the math and concepts needed to put a living thing in orbit. That’s right: we’re going to model a solo orbital mission. For this, you’ll need Newton’s laws of motion. (Spoiler Alert: FOR NOW, you need Newton’s laws. I’m planning to cover special and general relativity later.) I’m going to write a summary in modern English, because here’s how Newton put it.

Yeah. So, basically everything academic that was published back then was in Latin, so everyone across Europe with a high level of education could read it. This is also the book in which Newton details calculus (Don’t forget about Liebniz too!), and also there’s universal gravitation in there, and also some extensions of Kepler’s laws… the Principia is kind of a big deal.

Are you ready? Here’s your cheat sheet!

newton's laws, the gravity equation, and the gravitational constant in a cheat sheet.

Tricky. How about we pick a model, where someone’s done something similar before?

Mercury-Atlas 8 summary, comparing the mass of the capsule to the launch vehicle.

Now, let’s chart a path to orbit by thinking through what we have to do to get something to orbit the Earth and come back. The objective is less to do the math than it is to get an intuitive idea of what the math means, and therefore a feel for the physics. It’s all about how much the mass of the rocket escalates as you add more mass it needs to carry.

why a Syrian Hamster is perfect for a space mission.
escalating rocket size.
escalating rockets 2
escalating rockets 3

P. S. A note on just how dang fast these rockets have to get the capsule to. Sigma 7’s orbital period was a little under 89 minutes. Imagine circling the entire Earth in just under an hour and a half. That’s how fast something has to go to stay in orbit. Given that F = ma, you don’t have to do the exact math to figure that even a tiny chunk of space junk slamming into a satellite or something at these velocities would be a Very Bad Thing, especially since this sort of collision would result in even more space junk orbiting at stupidly high speeds.

P. P. S. For a nice illustration of how the need to accelerate to a high enough speed fast enough impacts rocket design, compare the Atlas D series to the Saturn V rockets. “But Katherine,” I hear you whine, “what about the outer solar system probes, like New Horizons, or Voyager? Those rockets were way smaller.” Indeed. Probes can’t suffocate, die of thirst, or starve. Spacefaring humans definitely can. With a probe, you just need to get it out of Earth’s gravity well, and coast to a bigger planet or several to get a boost from their gravity wells to gain more speed. If it takes decades to do it, who cares, because it’s powered by Plutonium pellets. It’ll be fine, probably. With people, they need to breathe air, drink water, and eat. You gotta get ’em to the Moon and back, FAST. The Saturn V is a balancing act between how much fuel you need to accelerate to speeds that will save you on mass in terms of air, water, and food vs more fuel. It weighs 2,970,000 Kg. That’s a gobsmacking 5,940 Thoroughbred race horses. Glorious.

P. P. P. S. (Post-Post-Post Script) It should be self-evidently clear by now that Newton was right about that First Law. There’s precious little to exert a force to slow you down in space. The Earth doesn’t need rocket engines to keep going around the Sun. The Moon doesn’t need rocket engines to keep going around the Earth. I’m sorry if I just ruined several space odyssey movies for you. No stern chases in space. If your ship is already going faster than your pursuers’ top speed, you already got away, past tense. Just NO. Also, no sneaking up on things in space. Don’t even get me started on the consequences of relativistic speeds and Faster-Than-Light-Travel. We’ll get to ruining space movies in devastating detail later, when we do relativity, I’m sure.

Random Fandom is this Saturday, October 6th!

Join us from 1 to 3 pm this Saturday, October 6th at Southwest Regional Library for the Teen Session of Random Fandom! The first hour, we’ll test our knowledge of Riverdale with a Trivia Contest (individuals or teams), and for the second hour, come dressed in your best for our Teen Cosplay Costume Contest! Costumed characters will be available for photo ops and you can see some local vendors. It will be an afternoon of fun. 1-2 pm Riverdale Trivia; 2-3pm Teen Cosplay Costume Contest. Ages 12+

Cosplay Contest Rules

  • Random Fandom is a family-friendly event. All costumes must be suitable for public display. If costumes are deemed inappropriate or indecent, Southwest library staff have the right to disqualify contestants or insist on costume modifications.
  • Contestants must be fully-dressed in their costumes before coming to the library. No dressing rooms will be provided.
  • All kinds of costume props must be handled with care and must not have the potential for harm to fellow cosplayers, library staff, event attendees, or library property. Working firearms or any kind of sharp and/or bladed objects are strictly prohibited. Props must be made of plastic or flexible material.

Last Call for Film Festival Entries!

High school students, grades 9–12, are invited to submit their original films on any topic in one of the following categories:

  • Short Film (3-5 minutes in length)
  • Public Service Announcement or Commercial (60 seconds in length)
  • Documentary (5-8 minutes in length)
  • Cell Phone Film (1-2 minutes in length, filmed entirely with a cell phone)

Original films on any topic or genre are accepted. Films should be G- or PG- rated and suitable for a teen audience. Filmmakers must be Kentucky residents in grades 9–12.

To enter, fill out the forms linked below and email them to KYFF@lfpl.org,then upload your original film by clicking on the button below and following the directions. All entries must be received by September 15, 2018.

Click Here to Submit!

The Surgeon General of Bacotania

I find that news releases on health research often do a lousy job of communicating what the findings actually are, and how they might inform people’s decisions. Often, in order to make sense of them at all, you have to know some statistics, read between the lines, and cut through the hype. The problem seems to be especially severe in the case of a study on the scale of something impacting populations, but hyped for the public because the authors don’t trust the reader to care unless they’re scared. There’s a difference between public health and personal health, and although the two are connected, statistically, the conclusions can be wildly different depending on your point of view – managing populations, or managing your own choices. Also, when people make decisions about their own health and safety, they fall prey to some particularly nasty logical fallacies (all natural means harmless, or it’s not cancer, so it’s fine – or, “not likely to be me” means that “it won’t happen to me”). Even nastier, research on sensational subjects – like all scientific research – often turns up complicated or ambiguous results that get distilled into inaccurate clickbait. Never fear, though, let’s play pretend, and sort through, now and forever, how to think about statistics and clickbait-y health headlines. (I sourced the images in this article from Wikimedia Commons, as usual, and the attributions are at the bottom of this page, to help maintain the suspension of disbelief.)

 

About Bacotania

Vintage photo of a woman wearing bacon slabs on her feet, standing in a giant skillet.

1. Skillet Skating is a Bacotanian folk dance, recently nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists in which the dancer wears slabs of bacon on their feet and skates around a giant skillet with a giant spatula. A good performance is said to prevent the sticking of eggs in the coming year.

Bacotania is an imaginary country with a rich cultural history deeply intertwined with the consumption of cured pork. The total population is about 12 million, and national holidays include February 4th, Remembrance Sausage Day, and October 16th, Bacotanian Liberation Day. The festivities of Liberation Day culminate in a Liberation Day Bonfire Feast in which chunks of pork belly are roasted on sticks over Liberation Day Bonfires in honor of the heroic air drop of canned bacon into the besieged capital city of Schlachteplatte.

A giant can of bacon, 70 years old, WWII rations from the UK.

2. One of the historic bacon cans in the National Museum of Bacotania.

A fire pit with two long forks full of fresh raw bacon held over the flames.

3. Bacontanian Liberation Day Bonfire with skewers of bacon sizzling over the open flames.

Needless to say, bacon is very important to the people of Bacotania, and the loss of cured pork products would cause immense damage to the economy and culture of the country. The 2015 decision by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to classify processed meat consumption as a Group 1 Carcinogen was met with increasing public unrest, including mass demonstrations outside the Surgeon General’s office in Schlachteplatte, which led to the Surgeon General stepping down from their post.

Congratulations! YOU have just been appointed Surgeon General of Bacotania.

What is your advice, concerning the consumption of cured pork products?

You’ll need some further information:

What is a Class 1 Carcinogen? In a masterpiece of shoddy journalism, a lot of press outlets didn’t discuss what the classes even meant. The IARC classifies substances based on how conclusive the evidence is that they cause cancer at all, NOT even remotely based on how dangerous they are. There’s only one item in Group 4, the Probably Does NOT Cause Cancer group, and that’s Caprolactam. I’d never heard of caprolactam before doing the research for this post. It’s used in nylon manufacture, and it’s definitely not harmless, but we’re pretty sure it doesn’t cause cancer. Nobody seems to have studied whether, say, pure water causes cancer.

What is an individual’s chances of getting cancer from bacon? The average lifetime chance of getting colon cancer is about 4%. According to the World Health Organization, the chance of getting colon cancer rises by 18% for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed per day. Now, we need one more bit of information, and that is the average consumption of processed meats. According to this study, average daily consumption of meat (all types) was 128 grams per day, and 22% of that was processed meat. So (22% of 128 grams gives you how many grams are processed meat) that means that the average person eats 28.16 grams of processed meat per day. So, if you start at 4% with 28.16 grams, and add 18% of 4% for every 50 grams eaten over the 28.16 gram starting point, you end up with an average Bacotanian’s cancer risk.

How much bacon does the average Bacotanian citizen eat? Bacotanians are very fond of processed meat, and a traditional Bacotanian Breakfast involves lots of sausage, so they eat twice the processed meat that Americans do, at 56.32 grams per day.

What is the average Bacotanian’s cancer risk then? Well, we need to figure out how much more processed meat than the American average an average Bacotanian eats, and then figure out what proportion of 50 grams it is, and then add that proportion of the 18% of 4% to the average 4%. Got it? Let’s go!

56.32 – 28.16 = 28.16, because it’s twice, remember? Easy!

28.16 extra grams eaten divided by 50 (grams to raise risk by 18% of 4%) = 0.5632 (amount of the 18% excess risk we should add)

0.5632 of 18% = 10.1376% Cool. Now we’re getting somewhere.

10.1376% of 4% = about 0.004, which is 0.4%

So, the average Bacotanian faces an elevated lifetime colorectal cancer risk of 4.4% on account of their huge processed meat habit. This means that for the average bacotanian, their MORTALITY ROULETTE WHEEL lands on DEATH BY BACON not much more often at all compared to the American population. (Bacotanian healthcare and mortality from colorectal cancer are comparable to ours.)

How many excess colorectal cancer cases are likely to occur in Bacotania if people continue to eat processed meat at this pace? Well, 0.4% of the total population are going to lose that roulette round, so…

0.04% of 12 million is… 48,000. YIKES! That means that Forty-eight THOUSAND Bacotanians are going to get cancer from bacon, above and beyond even the background colorectal cancer rates. If you factor that in, it’s a staggering 528,000 cancer cases. The cost to society, and the personal emotional toll on all those families is absolutely astronomical. And, clearly, partially preventable.

So, that’s how the same decision – eat the bacon, tell people not to eat bacon – ends up looking very different from the perspectives of an individual Bacotanian and the Surgeon General of Bacotania. The Bacotanian might well accept the risk, shrug, and tuck into a full Bacotanian breakfast of smoked sausages anyway. Note that although it’s a Class 1 Carcinogen, processed meat has a much smaller chance to cause cancer, compared to other Class 1 Carcinogens, like Asbestos, which (depending on your own exposure) can have lifetime risk rates as high as a 25% if you were a construction carpenter in the United Kingdom for a couple decades before 1980. Also, note that this only concerns cancer risk, not whether the cancer has a high mortality rate, and not concerning other health risks associated with the substance. (Remember that although Caprolactam is the sole occupant of Probably Does Not Cause Cancer Group 4, it’ll still cause your skin to slough off. Nice.)

So, maybe suggest that Bacotanians cut back on processed meats, but that the Bacotanian Liberation Day Bonfires likely won’t do you any harm.

Probably want to suggest the closure of Ye Wooly Salamander Particle Board Mill, though…

 

  1. Vintage Photo, United States of America. No, I have no idea what’s going on here. By UW Digital Collections [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
  2. British Ration Can of Bacon from WW II. Seriously, my heaviest of two cats weighs 12 lbs. That’s a LOT of 70 year old bacon. By KingaNBM [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
  3. Hungarian Szalonnasütés By Christo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

I Don’t Know

Is the most exciting phrase I know of. Any time I don’t know something, it means that I could find out, or maybe (even more exciting!) nobody knows the answer. For everything we do know, a huge mountain of other questions exists, and there’s no end of cool stuff to explore.

Do you know anything about beaked whales? Did you know beaked whales exist? You don’t? Good. Beaked whales are toothed whales, and generally they have just two big teeth on their lower jaw. They usually live in deep water in the middle of the ocean, and mostly they eat squid. Because of their lifestyle so far away from human activity, several beaked whales aren’t very well known at all. 

Andrews’ Beaked Whale Mesoplodon bodoini

A skeleton of an Andrews' Beaked Whale, mounted in a museum.

By Notafly [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

One of the most obscure of the already pretty obscure beaked whales is this, the Andrews’ Beaked Whale. This skeleton represents about 1/35th of our total knowledge of this animal, because everything we know is based on about thirty-five specimens. Click through to this species profile, and you’ll pick up a few more pictures of specimens. We’ve got some information about what they look like, and how their bodies are put together. But that’s just about it. The only way we know anything at all about them is that sometimes (very rarely), they’ve washed up dead on beaches.

How big are they? 15 feet or so long, 4.5 meters, we think. Thirty-five specimens isn’t much to work with.

Where do they live? In the circumpolar seas around Antarctica, probably.

What do they look like? Gray, with a bit of white. Males seem to have white on their rostrum, females a little less white, and juveniles more gray all over. Probably.

How long do they live? No idea.

What do they eat? Squid or something? Probably?

What do they do with their time? We don’t know.

How big are the babies? We don’t know.

How many of them are there? We have no idea.

How do they communicate? *shrug*

Do they live in groups? No clue.

Do they migrate? We don’t know.

Are they active during the day or night? No idea at all.

Here’s something we do know (again, anatomy) – those weird teeth are generally all below the gumline and never erupt in females it seems. In males, the very points might peek out of the gums, but that’s it. (Again, small sample size means that this is pretty shaky knowledge.) Weird.

Nobody has ever seen this animal alive.

 

Here’s an Andrews’ Beaked Whale Bibliography (APA format, because this is science):

Andrews, R. C. (1908). Description of a new species of Mesoplodon from Canterbury Province, New Zealand (Vol. 24). order of the Trustees, American Museum of Natural History.

Baker, A. N. (2001). Status, relationships, and distribution of Mesoplodon bowdoini Andrews, 1908 (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Marine mammal science17(3), 473-493.

Dalebout, M. L., Van Helden, A., Van Waerebeek, K., & Baker, C. S. (1998). Molecular genetic identification of southern hemisphere beaked whales (Cetacea: Ziphiidae). Molecular Ecology7(6), 687-694.

Dixon, J. M. (1970). Two new whale records from Victoria, Mesoplodon bowdoini Andrews (Ziphiidae) and Balaenoptera edeni Anderson (Balaenopteridae). The Victorian Naturalist87(4), 88-93.

Hubbs, C. L. (1946). First records of two beaked whales, Mesoplodon bowdoini and Ziphius cavirostris, from the Pacific Coast of the United States. Journal of mammalogy27(3), 242-255.

Laporta, P., Praderi, R., Little, V., & Le Bas, A. (2005). An Andrew’s beaked whale Mesoplodon bowdoini (Cetacea, Ziphiidae) stranded on the Atlantic Coast of Uruguay. Latin American Journal of aquatic mammals4(2), 101-111.

Nishiwaki, M. (1962). Mesoplodon bowdoini stranded at Akita beach. Sea of Japan11.

 

I’ve scoured through several scholarly journal databases, and these seven publications compose pretty much literally all we know about the Andrews’ Beaked Whale (note that the Andrews, 1908 citation above is actually the species description). If you hunt down and read all those articles (maybe with the help of a library – hint hint), then congratulations, you’re now a world expert in the Andrews’ Beaked Whale. It’s not often you have the chance to learn everything humanity knows about a subject in a single weekend, yet here it is. Maybe you’ll be the one to finally see one in the wild, or, better yet, take video of one.

As for the Andrews’ Beaked Whale itself, just think:

They’re out there, right now, doing whatever it is that they do. 

You Fight Like a Cow

Monkey Island notwithstanding, your life might just be better if you take “you fight like a cow” as a compliment. The truth of the matter is that – whatever Tennyson and the Victorians’ moralistic viewpoints – “nature red in tooth and claw” really mostly holds true only for predatory attacks on food animals in actual nature. Even then, few predators will attack prey with a mind to getting in a fight. After all, if your food stands a good chance of thrashing you in a fight, the predators won’t be around for long. An actual fight is just too risky. It’s not like there’s emergency veterinary hospitals in nature. Even a small cut could get infected and eventually kill you. A broken bone or chipped tooth could prove fatal if it means you can’t catch meals. As an aside, this is one of the major forces shaping the evolution of venom. The geographic cone snail has some of the most outrageously potent and fast-acting venom of any creature, purely because it’s a snail that eats fish. If a fish, once bitten, had any chance to run away or fight back, cone snails would have a very rough time just catching breakfast, let alone surviving it.

Given how much animals in the wild stand to lose from fighting, most will go to a lot of effort to avoid a fight in the first place. Lots of animals have specialized equipment – horns, antlers, ossicones, tusks, gill frills, song – specifically for settling disputes with other members of their own species in a way that keeps it from getting too violent too often. There’s a whole suite of behaviors that virtually all animals have to prevent fights in the first place and settle those that do occur as fast as possible.

Let’s talk about cattle. They actually have one of my favorite conflict sequences, and you can plainly see how cow disputes progress through several stages at each of which the parties have a chance to de-escalate the conflict, or decide to proceed to the next step.

The Official Cow Fight Procedure:

  1. Rival Cow Spotted!
    • If you know this cow, and you each know where you stand with each other, you’re cool, and both can back down now. If either has any doubts, proceed to step 2.
  2. Angry mooing.
    • Let the rival know you’re not happy about this incursion. If the rival responds with more angry mooing, and you don’t want to back down either, keep up the noise and proceed to step 3. Otherwise, if you get no response, the rival agrees to back down.
  3. Pawing of dirt to signal aggressive intent. 
    • If each cow is still prepared to get in a shoving contest, they’ll proceed to step 4.
  4. Standing sideways to each other to show off size.
    • If either individual decides that the other is too big to take on, they’ll just quiet down and walk away to eat grass. Otherwise, if both are convinced that they can take the other, proceed to step 5.
  5. Prepare to lock horns.
    • Both cattle lower their heads. This is the last chance to back down, and can be very brief.
  6. Shoving contest.
    • The rivals lock horns, or rest their heads against each other (if polled or hornless), and try to shove the other until one disengages and walks away.
  7. Resolution.
    • When one of the rivals backs down, it is possible to continue angry mooing, and allow the rival to angrily moo a bit to save face. If the issue isn’t settled, the cycle might repeat (but usually doesn’t) until the cattle can predict who will win the shoving contest and accept the results. Generally, just once is enough to settle the issue. Most of the time, cow fights don’t even get to step 6 at all before one of the rivals backs down.

You can watch the whole complicated sequence below, with these two Hereford bulls.

Switzerland has a whole sport based on introducing cows to each other in the Spring. The cows spend the Winter on their individual farms, but in the Spring, they get together again for the drive to alpine pastures. Of course the cows need to settle who’s top cow, and it was only a matter of time before people started painting numbers on their sides and setting up concession stands. Yes, these are actual cows, too, not bulls. Note udders. When a cow backs down, she’s removed from the ring until only one cow remains, and is crowned Queen of the Cow Thunderdome. Sorry: “Queen of Queens” technically, as the cow fighting is called the “combat de reines” or literally the “fight of queens.” Cows are Very Serious Business in Switzerland, in case you couldn’t tell.

These cows are all members of the Herens breed of cattle, and are selectively bred for cow fighting. Meet Penelope, a Queen of Queens.

Notice that nearly all of the Official Cow Fight steps are about communicating a problem and providing plenty of chances to back down. And if the other cow does, but they make a lot of noise about it, let them. It’s all just angry mooing.

Once everything’s settled, even Herens Queens are perfectly chill with each other, and pass their Summers in idyllic alpine meadows.

Plenty of other animals have an official fight procedure, like cows do, it’s just that in cows, it’s so clear and well-defined. There are plenty of videos of Complicated Cat Space Negotiations, for example. Just remember: if there’s video of it, someone found it interesting and exciting enough to record, so for all of these videos of cow fights, there’s lots and lots of cow fights that never happened. This is an example of selection bias – if you were to study how often cows fight, cow fight videos on YouTube would be junk data to draw on, because people are way more likely to record and post interesting video of cows fighting than the many, many allegedly boring instances of cows not fighting.

A Very Metal Study Break

We’re closing in on the end of the school year, and there’s plenty of pressure and stress in the air. Maybe just take a few minutes to watch some music videos, acquire a new taste, and relax – and possibly passively learn a bit more history for that scary final. Naturally, we’re going to do all this with the most logical music genre for the purpose: heavy metal.

If you want a thorough overview of the history and taxonomy of metal, there’s the excellent Map of Metal site that visualizes the genre as geography so you can see how everything’s related, complete with examples if you click on the regions and cities that stand for the different sub-genres within metal. Since other sites have done such a good job with this, and this isn’t a metal history lesson, I’ll just leave that link there, so you can explore it if you like. But the aim here is that any learning you do is going to be very incidental to having a good time during your study break. So, on to the videos!

Metal stylistically lends itself to routinely dealing with heavier, grander, more dramatic topics and treatments than you can get away with in other genres of popular-ish music. That said, it’s definitely a very short tiptoe over the line into utterly ludicrous melodrama. Some bands end up in this territory by accident, others choreograph an elaborate dance routine all over the line. We’re definitely going to start with one of those.

Yeah. There’s nothing I can add to this. The universe is a better place because this song exists: power metal about a zombie unicorn invasion.

Another quirk of the genre is that heavy metal never actually went out of style in some parts of the world. In Scandinavia, for example, not only did it never go out of style, it’s practically mainstream. Check out this music video for the Swedish National Women’s Curling Team:

So it is in Sweden. However, it’s also the case in Japan, too. There’s quite a bit of truth in the movie This is Spinal Tap, where the band finds out that though they’re floundering on the domestic circuit, they’ve inexplicably become famous and end up performing for sold out arenas in Japan. There’s more than a few acts – several of them metal – that barely eked onto the charts here exactly once, but are celebrities in Japan. Sure, Babymetal gets some attention here, but that’s largely because they’re a gothic-loli-style girl band that does pop black metal, and our culture seems to think that this is surprising for some reason. Neither metal nor girl bands nor gothic loli stylings are unusual in Japan, and if you’re going to compete in a crowded market for girl bands, you better have your act together. Babymetal definitely does.

What about the serious stuff, though? What about heavier metal? If only there was a Taiwanese symphonic black metal band that specialized in the Pacific War. Oh, wait, there is.

The band also has versions in English, but I like this one better for this song. It’s also actually in Taiwanese Hokkien, which is why there’s Chinese subtitles. Completely different languages, actually. There’s metal for every taste out there, and all sorts of historical stuff too. You want an 18 minute long epic about an airship disaster? Iron Maiden’s 2015 album The Book of Souls has you covered. The library has a few copies too. Seriously, our music collection is pretty robust, so whatever genre you want to explore, check it out.

 

That Actually Happened: Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani

What is a princess? You’re probably thinking something along the lines of this:

A pretty woman in a fancy gown lying to a frog about kissing him.

Anne Anderson’s illustration from The Frog Prince.

Fancy gowns and circlets notwithstanding, princesses usually get married off for political purposes to princes, and every major event in their lives is generally determined by other people’s decisions. Queens regnant – those who rule in their own right – are not what you’re thinking about, and not what people mean by princesses. That’s not how it generally works in Europe. We could go on yet another deep introspective pop cultural analysis of what it means that princesses are role models for young children, OR we could unpack that massive string of qualifiers I just dropped, and you probably didn’t notice, because we’re so used to thinking of European history as just plain history. Nevermind that one cannibalistic intrigue riot/coup that the Netherlands had that we already treated, or the fact that rage-throwing people out windows as a political statement was common enough in Prague (then Bohemia, now Czech Republic) that there’s a word for it: defenestration. Or the practice of castrating boys so their voices don’t change during puberty so they can sing soprano for the opera, or church choirs, or … I could go on forever about how weird European history is. No, really. I could. It does a disservice to the richness of history to just let your mind gloss over it like it’s normal. All history is weird and wonderful, and all you have to do is take a closer look. Everything deserves to be weird; everything deserves attention.

Princesses who actually do something: that’s not generally how it works in Europe.

 

Hawai‘i: Structure of Power

Let’s put the ‘ back in Hawai’i, first. What is a ‘ anyway? It’s a glottal stop. The little pause added to make space between d’s in “good dog” – “good’dog.” Watch this video, and listen to some Hawai’ian language, to get a feel for how it all goes together. Back with me? Good. We’re going to be using that glottal stop something fierce. The first time I use a term, it will be in bold, but I’m not going to put all non-English terms in italics, because this would be almost impossible to read.

Welcome to Hawai’i before the takeover by the United States. The Hawai’ian ruling class are the ali’i (not to be confused with the ‘a’ali’i which is a plant – that’s why spelling is important). This class derives its power from their ancestors, reaching back to the gods. High ali’i, or ali’i nui, ruled entire islands in the archipelago, and bestowed land use rights on ali’i below them, who in turn had the right to give land use rights to the people who would work the land. This authority and power ultimately passed on from the gods themselves is called mana. Depending on family ties, ritual correctness (observing kapu – ritual restrictions), political power, and social prestige, different people had more or less mana.

(I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I like history because it’s like looking under the hood of a car, and seeing how it works. Sure, it’s all functioning automobiles, but what’s going on inside could be wildly different. Some civilizations are like four-stroke engines, some the rotary engine, and some are like electric induction motors – common in household appliaces, but also in electric cars. Completely different mechanics might be happening, and that’s exciting and cool!)

Anyway, Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani lived in a time when the Kingdom of Hawai’i was in crisis. Just years from being overthrown by (mostly) fruit magnates and a pro-US navy cabal and handed over to the United States, the court and ruling Kamehameha family were under tremendous pressure to conform to European norms as to what a monarchy looked like, and how royals acted. The Hawai’ian royal house pursued a policy of assimilation – to try to win respect of the great world powers by looking and acting as much like European royalty as possible, in the hope that despite being not as strong militarily, they would still be respected as kings and queens that they were.

World History Spoiler Alert: ultimately, this effort was doomed because of racism, pineapples, and Pearl Harbor. Racism, pineapples, and Pearl Harbor are all connected, because of imperialism as an economic and social structure. What do the great powers want? Sw33t pineapple fr00t. How will they secure it? Navy depot at Pearl Harbor. Justification for overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawai’i to get it and cash in? Racism.

Pineapple field, with pineapples, in O'ahu.

By Nandaro [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Behold! Pineapple, toppler of nations. The Kingdom of Hawai’i wasn’t the first, or the last, government to be taken out on account of the fruit cartel lobby, and their insatiable bloodlust for sw33t l33t fr00t l00t. There’s a reason vicious dictatorships that have the window dressing of democracy with none of the actual government mechanics of it are known as repúblicas bananeras. Why, on this glorious blue Earth, there’s a clothing brand named after this phenomenon, I have no idea.

Anyway anyway, concerning political authority and mana, being a princess as an ali’i isn’t just a matter of being a daughter of a king or something. (Being a princess if you’re a member of European royalty generally is a matter of being a daughter of a king. Unless you’re legitimized or something later, which is another thing I want to treat on this blog, because it’s delightfully complicated. And, after all that, you won’t be a princess, technically. Looking at you, Marie Anne de Bourbon.) Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani’s mother was High Chieftess Keoua-wahine, and two other powerful ali’i claimed her as their daughter, which means that she had two well-connected fathers, as well. As such a po’olua ali’i, she was set up for a position of great status and power in the Kingdom. Then, as part of the Kamehameha family’s attempts to remake the government along a European model, the Constitution of 1840 effectively barred her path from the pinnacle of power by making her birth a liability rather than an asset. This in no way stopped her from being Governor of Hawai’i, though. While the rest of the royals tried their hardest to erase their culture and become as European as possible, Princess Ruth Ke’elikolai Wasn’t Having It. At All.

Princess Ke'elikolani Not Having It at a photography session.

Magnificently Not Having It. About role models: make having just 1/10th of this self-assurance and dignity a life goal. Of course, she comes by it naturally, but still.

She built several huge palaces on her lands (which were most of the Big Island, after all) in the latest architectural fashions. Check out her last, and fanciest palace, Keoua Hale, finished right before her death, in 1883.

An incredibly fancy, Late Victorian style tropical palace.

This palace is actually bigger than the official royal palace of the Kamehameha family, too… just sayin’.

BUT, she also had a traditional grass palace built, too, as a statement of her support and patronage of Hawai’ian culture.

A high-roofed grass house, with glazed windows.

The Palace of Not Having It. You can even see one of her other palaces, in the background.

She also supported traditional culture and arts, like the Hawai’ian language, poetry and verse, chanting, lei making, religion, and hula dancing. The art of hula – under pressure from missionaries and having lost wealthy noble patrons to their tactic of assimilation – nearly died out. Let me say that again: 150 years ago, the world almost lost hula dancing. Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani commissioned performances, and supported traditional dance, and effectively saved hula for a revival under King David Kalakaua. No Princess Ke’elikolani, ultimately no Merrie Monarch Festival.

 

Not Generally How it Works in Europe…

While the United States of America was coveting the heck out of Pearl Harbor, and fruit merchants were plotting to overthrow the Hawai’ian government, women (especially married ones) in the United States, and much of the European-derived cultures worldwide were under coverture. This legal status for women meant that they couldn’t bring suit, they couldn’t own property independently of a man, except in some very specific corner cases, and they didn’t even have rights to their own children. In short, women were not legal entities on their own at all, much less Governors of Hawai’i. Oh, and don’t dare think of just not marrying, because women couldn’t inherit property either, and were barred from most jobs – at least most jobs that made actual money. That’s why the stakes are so high for the Bennett girls in Pride and Prejudice – if they don’t marry, they lose everything.

One way to think of it is this: Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani was a (massive) property owner in her own right, and a political force to be reckoned with. She was also married. When did married women in Kentucky gain the right to own and control their property – you know, actually have property? Go on. Guess.

 

 

 

 

 

Yowch. No, really. Kentucky finally passed a Married Women’s Property Act in 1894. Eleven years after Princess Ruth Ke’elikolani – Governor of Hawai’i, wealthy landowner, patron of traditional culture – died. That’s just one way that this long, twisted tale of social power structures, greedy fr00t magnates, hula, and the power of force of personality casts its shadow on your life, right now. Everything is interesting, everything is connected.