Coming soon… Homeless in Paradise

I told you a ways back that I’d keep you updated on my Senior Project. Well, it’s getting down to crunch time for me. Just nine more days of filming and editing. Here’s a preview of what is in store…

See you soon!

The Origins of our Thanksgiving Dinner traditions

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! As we all sit down to enjoy our annual national feast, let’s think about something for a minute: where did we get the traditional dishes we associate with this time of year? Why, for example, do we eat turkey, or green bean casserole? Or cranberry sauce?

After all, the feast we call “The First Thanksgiving” back in 1621 would have looked very different from today’s Thanksgiving menus. Indeed, the so-called “First Thanksgiving” was not regarded as such by the Pilgrims or their native guests at all – it was more of an impromptu harvest festival than anything else, and it lasted several days. The food served would have been the stuff the colonists had grown all year: corn, squash, and beans. This was supplemented by fish and shellfish they caught, deer and wild fowl they hunted, and wild berries they picked. So where did today’s menu come from?

Well, there is some continuity from that first harvest festival. Turkey, for example, is recorded as being one of the foods they ate; specifically, wild turkeys that they brought in from hunting. However, turkey was so plentiful in colonial times it was considered an everyday food. Up until the mid-19th century, pork ribs were the meat of choice for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, largely because they were unavailable for most of the rest of the year. Pork was replaced by turkey around the time of the Civil War, in what appears to have been a gradual process that may have been influenced by the use of turkey replaced the goose as a traditional Christmas feast in England in the 17th century.

Gobble, gobble!

What about stuffing? The practice of stuffing the cavities of fowl for roasting dates at least to Roman times. The Roman author Apicius included stuffing recipes in his “De Re Coquinaria”. Thus, the idea of stuffing a turkey was probably just a natural extension of stuffing chickens and geese.

Other Thanksgiving dishes are far, far more recent. Green bean casserole is one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, and we can thank Dorcas Reilly and the Campbell’s Soup Company for it. In 1955, Reilly invented the recipe in order to find a holiday use for Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Its popularity came from its simplicity and flexibility; anyone could come up with their own custom version.

Cranberries are native to the United States and the early English colonists learned how to use them from their native neighbors. However, the modern incarnation of jellied cranberry sauce dates from the Civil War, when Ulysses S. Grant ordered his military cooks to prepare some for his troops. In 1912, Ocean Spray cranberry sauce was launched, and became a popular dressing for turkey.

The most surprising origin story regarding our Thanksgiving traditions, though, is the story of why we celebrate it at all. While popular culture associates Thanksgiving with the Mayflower Pilgrims, the actual Thanksgiving tradition is of European origin. Protestants in Germany, Scandinavia and England devoted a day out of the year to spend in church, giving thanks to God for the blessings he had given them. There were Thanksgiving celebrations in Virginia colony years before the Mayflower’s voyage. Days of Thanksgiving were used to commemorate important events during the colonial era, American Revolution and early days of our independence, and were often celebrated on a state or regional basis. During the run-up to the Civil War, a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale promoted the idea of making Thanksgiving a regular, annual holiday throughout the nation, with a fixed date used by everyone. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln decided to do just that, in order to create a national symbol of unity as he fought to keep the Union from falling apart. Thus began the modern incarnation of Thanksgiving as we know it.

Information from Wikipedia,, and The History Channel.

What now, Occupy Wall Street? The future of a movement in question.

Police in New York City prevented Occupy Wall Street protesters from entering the New York Stock exchange Thursday, arresting more than 200 people. This is the latest in a series of crackdowns against Occupy protesters in cities across the nation, driving them out of their camps, including the famous Zuccotti Park encampment. Protesters have been evicted by police in Atlanta, Oakland, Calif., and Portland, Ore. There were 80 arrests in Los Angeles in response to protesters attempting to pitch tents in front of a Bank of America building. The Oakland protesters had regrouped at UC Berkeley, only to be dispersed by police again. Protesters in San Francisco fear they, too, may be evicted soon.

The incident in New York led to seven police being injured, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Occupy protesters claim to have been victimized by police brutality. There is a report of an 84-year-old woman from Seattle being sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Yesterday’s protests and violence were a part of a nationwide “Call to Action” in honor of the movement’s two-month anniversary. Not all protests were violent: a march on Key Bridge in Washington, D.C. passed without incident. Protesters in Chicago attempted to block rush hour traffic, but complied with police when ordered to disperse. The Occupy Kansas City protest has been peaceful since the beginning. However, protesters in Portland shut down a Wells Fargo branch for an hour before police dispersed them, and there are reports of criminals using the Occupy protests as cover.

In spite of these setbacks, the protests continue to attract support from unlikely places. Amalgamated Bank, a financial institution owned by a labor union, has supported the protesters and given them shelter in their offices during police crackdowns. The Occupy Wall Street movement’s $326,000 collected in donations so far are kept in an Amalgamated account. Furthermore, actress Anne Hathaway was spotted among Occupy protesters in Manhattan.

Here in San Luis Obispo, California, “Occupy SLO” protesters have been camped out in front of the county courthouse for weeks. I spoke to some of the protesters to get a sense of what they believe, what they face, and where the movement is headed in the face of crackdowns:

The Occupy Wall Street movement traces its origins to Canadian anti-capitalist activist group Adbusters, who posted an article on July 13, 2011 calling on people to occupy, well, Wall Street, beginning on September 17. Their goal was to replicate the Tahrir Square protests that contributed to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt earlier this year. They sought to reduce or eliminate the influence of large corporations on American politics. The idea of the protest attracted some buzz online, and somewhere along the way the slogan “We Are the 99%” was adopted. The movement was endorsed by online “hacktivist” group Anonymous, famous (or, rather, infamous) for hacking attacks against major corporations’ websites.

The first protests were small and largely forgettable affairs, until a major police crackdown on September 24 (day eight) at Union Square. Videos taken of the incident showed police officers beating and pepper spraying random people for what appeared to be no reason. (Warning: This video may be disturbing to some viewers) These videos went viral, and thousands across America began to protest in New York and across the nation out of sympathy.

The movement has not been without criticism. Conservative critics have launched their own campaign calling themselves “The 53%”, a reference to the number of Americans who pay federal income taxes. They reject the notion that government and finance are completely to blame, and claim decisions of individuals play their part, too. Frank Decker, a 53-percenter, talked about his own struggles with poverty and said, “I didn’t go through all that struggle while raising three children so that I could support lazy-[expletive] people who want nothing but government handouts.”

A poll conducted by United Technologies and the National Journal states that 59% of Americans support the protests and 31% oppose it. What do you think?

Information from Reuters, Know Your Meme, and the other sources listed above.

Riot at Penn State over child sex abuse scandal

A lamp-post overturned. People throwing rocks and chanting “We want Joe back.” Pepper spray applied liberally to quell the chaos. And by morning, silence and quiet. Life moving on as if nothing happened.

This was the reaction of students at Penn State to the dismissal of Joe Paterno, the university’s college football coach for the past 46 years and one of the biggest names in the sport, as well as university president Graham Spanier for failing to act when assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of child molestation. Sandusky was arrested last weekend on charges of molesting eight young boys during his 15-year career.

Paterno has been replaced by assistant coach Tom Bradley for the time being. The university’s athletic director, Tim Curley, and senior vice-president, Gary Schultz, resigned their posts in order to face charges of failing to report the alleged abuse to police. Sandusky himself faces 40 criminal charges and a maximum penalty of 460 years in prison.

Sandusky worked with the Second Mile Foundation, an organization that helps at-risk children. In a statement on their website, Second Mile said they felt “shock, sadness and concern” over the accusations and that “We encourage program participants to report any allegations of abuse and/or inappropriate sexual activity wherever it has occurred, and we take any such reports directly to Child Protective Services.”

The US department of Education is investigating the university over the accusations. The story was first brought to the university’s attention by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant for the football team who claims to have seen an act of child molestation by Sandusky on a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers back in 2002. At the time, McQueary brought his accusation to Curley and Schultz. Schultz took the complaint to President Spanier, but no action was taken.

In addition to McQueary’s testimony, a 20-year-old man who claims to have been one of the victims has come forward.

Police estimate the crowd that showed up to protest Paterno’s sacking was about 5,000 strong. Police also claim they have a number of suspects for the rioting and attempted arson.

Public reactions to the scandal have not been confined to Penn State students. Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL star for the Dretriot Red Wings and a victim of sexual abuse himself, criticized the university’s response. “Does [Paterno] have grandkids? How would he feel if it were one of his grandkids in that shower with the coach? What would he have done? Somehow, the perpetrator felt welcome at that school. We need systems in place that make perpetrators feel unwelcome.”

Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney who represented child abuse victims in the scandal that once rocked the Roman Catholic Church, sees a number of similarities between Penn State’s scandal and the ones in the Church. He says, “In both cases, very trusted and revered male offenders used their positions and their care, cunning and trust they enjoy not only to access the victim but to keep those around him from speaking out.”

David Clohessy, national director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also drew a parallel: “Both institutions are big and powerful and hierarchical and have very carefully crafted public reputations that they value. There’s an obsession with an institution’s image over children’s safety.”

Penn State graduate Rick Santorum told ABC News, “To see people turn a blind eye to this monster is just devastating. How does a guy walk by, a 28-year-old man walk by, and see somebody doing this to a child in a shower and not take a baseball bat and beat the guy’s head in?”

For the time being, interim coach Bradley’s focus is on the Penn State Nittany Lions’ last three games to their regular season, starting with a home game against Nebraska. If Penn State wins two of their next three games, they will still earn the Big Ten Championship and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series in January.

Information from ESPN, BBC News, Grantland, and Fox News.



Awesome People in History: The Trung Sisters’ Army and the Unsinkable Molly Brown

So, I went back through my old articles recently and realized that all of my “Awesome People in History” so far have been men! Ack! So here’s a few Awesome WOMEN in History to make up for this inequity.

First, let me tell you about the Vietnamese rebel generals Trung Trac and Trun Nhi.

Yes, they are riding elephants into battle. I'll get to that in a moment.

They were sisters living in Vietnam around the time Jesus was preaching in far-off Judea. Their father was a general, and they grew up in a military family where everyone, male and female, learned martial arts. How good at martial arts were the Trung sisters? One legend says they killed a tiger.

At this time, Vietnam was a part of the Han Chinese empire. Trung Trac was married to a guy who wasn’t exactly happy with this situation. Her husband, a local lord, conspired with others to rebel against the Chinese and establish Vietnam as an independent nation. The local military governor found out about the plot, and had the would-be rebel leader killed. The assassin then raped Trung Trac.

It turns out this was not the brightest move. Trung Trac partnered with her sister to raise an army of 30,000 soldiers and march on the provincial capital with elephants.

Told you!

Through cunning, bravery, strength, and the fact THEY HAD FREAKING ELEPHANTS they quickly overwhelmed the local Chinese forces and captured 65 forts. Did I mention all 36 of their generals were women, too? And that one gave birth mid-battle and then kept fighting?

You don't mess with Vietnamese women.

Eventually, the Chinese got their act together and defeated the rebels. The Trung sisters decided to commit suicide by drowning themselves in the river instead of be captured. To this day, they are revered in Vietnam as national heroes.

But my other Awesome Woman in History was best-known for NOT drowning. Her name was Margaret Brown, but after she died she became known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”.

"Drowning yourself after Labor Day? Totally bad taste."

The Missouri-born daughter of Irish immigrants, she became wealthy when her husband’s investment in the mining industry paid off. She became a socialite, and got involved in political issues and causes like women’s suffrage, education for the poor, and feeding the homeless. She ran for Senate twice, before women could vote, and campaigned for the establishment of juvenile courts.

Her claim to fame, though, came on a cold winter night in 1912. That’s right, she was on board the Titanic.

Margaret Brown was a hero that night. She volunteered to help people onto the lifeboats, and only got on the last lifeboat herself after much goading. As they rowed away from the sinking ship, Brown got into an argument with the ship’s Quartermaster, who had been put in charge. Brown wanted to go back and pick up more survivors; the Quartermaster feared that doing so would endanger the people already on board and only find corpses. Brown eventually threatened to throw the Quartermaster overboard. At that, he acquiesced and went to look for more survivors.

After the rescue, she collected the names of survivors, and contacted her rich friends to help raise funds for the families of those who died. By the time her rescue ship reached New York Harbor, she had already raised $10,000 (in 1912 dollars!). in the media buzz about her heroism that followed, she quipped that she survived because of the luck of her family… “We’re unsinkable!” she said. Hence, her posthumous nickname.

The heroism she showed that night cemented her status as a celebrity, which she used during World War I to promote charities trying to help wounded veterans and rebuild France, an act that earned her the Legion of Honor. She even tried her hand as an actress before dying of a brain tumor in 1932.

There! That should be enough Awesome Women for now! Sorry about that, ladies!

Information from Brittanica Online, InfoBarrel, New World Encyclopedia and Wikipedia. Thanks, mom, for the New World Encyclopedia link!