Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 2012

I'm writing this note from my living room in the moments before the kids wake up and come downstairs.  The last couple days we were up in the mountains taking the kids to the snow and what a time we had.  We came right at the end of a good storm, making it to the cabin just in time before the roads became impassable and awoke to a spectacular scene of white!  We came home late last night and although it is Christmas, the kids are too tired to be up yet.

Since I am usually the first to awake, I turned on the computer this morning to get a few things done.  My Internet browser has a homepage set to a news site.  I need to change this.  In my stupidity, I browsed the recent headlines.  The news is just awful.  For example, in a town in New York where a friend of mine was a pastor, a man set fire to his house and then ambushed and killed two firemen coming to put out the blaze.  I was going to give a few more examples, but they're mostly depressing and terrible too and it seems as though the reaction by pundits and governments is to call for the removal of liberty in the name of "safety" and create some kind of Orwellian police state.  So I checked my e-mail box and it was stuffed with e-mails (sent today) from merchants telling me how I can spend my money.  They wanted to make sure that they sent it Christmas Day because the stores open tomorrow.  How very nice of them (sarcasm, of course).

So the the world is messed up!  Filled with selfish and wicked people.  But not entirely.  I recently read about a couple of English scientists that designed a gravity powered light in hopes of trying to reduce the reliance on dangerous kerosene in African villages.  There is both good and bad in humanity and there resides in the heart a longing for a better world that should be.

This is why I love Christmas.  It is a time of pause when people remember that there was a moment when God became man and physically entered our world.  The Powerful One who created everything beautiful and ideal (who wept over our sinful choices that have ruined everything) who left the splendor of Heaven, came down and chose to be born in a poor forgotten corner of our planet, revealing himself first to lowly shepherds, carpenters, and fishermen.

And it astounds me that His purpose in coming was to ultimately sacrifice Himself for us that he might provide a way of salvation to those who repent of their sins and follow Him.  Yes, the good news is our Redeemer has come, making a way to escape the righteous judgement to come on this world.

Thanks be to God for sending His Son!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Francis Galton and Nature vs Nurture

Yesterday's Person-of-Mystery was Sir Francis Galton, the man who first coined the term "nature versus nurture."

Francis Galton might best be described as a Renaissance Man.  He had a penchant for observing, counting and measuring and over his life, made significant contributions to a number of disparate fields.  Although while in college, Galton had prepared for a career in the medical profession, after leaving Cambridge, he traveled extensively first through Eastern Europe and then up the Nile to the Sudan.  He then journeyed through the Middle East and in 1850 he embarked on a groundbreaking expedition through what is now Namibia in southwestern Africa.

Through his travels, he developed an interest in geography, anthropology and meteorology (Galton would be the first to discover anticyclones and publish the first popular weather map based on charted data of air pressure).  His penchant for data collection would lead him to introduce the concepts of regression, correlation, and standard deviation to statistical study.

Unknown to me before reading more on Galton, Charles Darwin was a first cousin of his.  After the publication of Origin of Species, Galton became increasingly interested variations of human populations and their behaviors.  He studied the possibility of inherited ability or behaviors among humans and created the study of differential psychology.  His studies dabbled in eugenics and inheritance of behaviors including criminal behavior – Galton also invented a system for classifying fingerprints.  He was the first to pose the question of "nature versus nurture," and was one of the first to gather information on twin studies.

Francis Galton "mug shot" taken when visiting Alphonse Bertillon in 1893

It seems as though the "nature versus nurture" debate always seems to raise its head whenever some evil individual commits some horrid act.  Anyone care to share their thoughts in this matter?

Friday, December 21, 2012


You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided here for you to identify.

I'm finally on break from school, so hopefully there will be more frequent posts over the vacation.  Thanks for your patience!

The theme for today is:  The Great Debate

So, who could he be?  That's the mystery!  Go ahead and take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post to be right on the money will be declared the winner.

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is correct, enter his name into Google Images and this photo will be found on the first pages of the image results.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Please Pray

Dear Reader,

In light of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, there will be no contest today.  Instead, please take a few minutes and pray for the families of those who lost loved ones.

It breaks my heart to think of their loss and what they must be going through.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Women's Suffrage - More Recent Than You Think

Being a history teacher, my head is filled with all kinds of useless knowledge.  A couple days ago, my fellow teachers and I were having a talk after school, when the subject of suffrage came up.  I mentioned that Switzerland was one of the last countries to grant women the vote and said that I thought it was 1976.  Samantha said it was 1971 and looked it up.  She was right and I was wrong.

Even though I already had this fuzzy fact in my head (picturing suffragettes as older ladies with large hats and ankle length dresses in our country), I knew Switzerland was late to the game.  After reading a little bit last night, I was even more surprised to uncover a few additional facts.

Two Swiss Anti-Suffrage Posters from the late 1950s
(left translation, "The mother works in politics! NO women's suffrage & voting)
(right translation, "Do you want those women? No women voting")

Although Switzerland held several national votes to grant women's suffrage, each was denied until 1971, but Switzerland is a confederation so each canton could grant suffrage and the first women voted at the local level in 1959.  At the time of the 1971 vote, the majority of cantons still denied votes to women.  Since that time, all but one had approved votes for women until 1990.  Appenzell Innerrhoden was the lone holdout, rejecting it in 1973, 1982, and 1990.  Following the 1990 vote, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court forced the canton to allow it, thereby making Switzerland the last country in Europe to allow full suffrage at all levels for women (the last to allow it nationally was tiny Lichtenstein in 1984).

So how could this small Swiss canton continue to reject votes for women despite overwhelming external pressure to adopt universal suffrage?  My guess is that it was the massive internal pressure to keep things the way they were.

Most of the worst case scenarios presented by the anti-sufferage movement had typically centered around the notion that if women were to get involved in politics, they would abandon domestic life or somehow reverse the social order and fall under the rule of domineering Amazonians.

Poor chap, he had it so good until his wife was able to cast a ballot!

Can't blame them, politics takes so much time, I'd abandon my children too!

Just like women, let them vote and then they want to put out fires!

Getting back to Appenzell Innerrhoden, the curious thing I discovered was that many Swiss cantons practice a rather unique forms of direct democracy – particularly so in Appenzell Innerrhoden, where they still hold something called Landsgemeinde, an open-air election assembly.  Each year on the last Sunday in April, all eligible voters gather in the village square for a cantonal assembly.

Landsgemeinde in Appenzell Innerrhoden

The Sunday morning begins with a church service followed by a parade at noontime to the village square.

Landsgemeinde Parade

Elected officials and members of the court wear their black robes and take their places on the platform in front of the assembly.  To gain admittance to the assembly, in the roped off center of the square, citizens must present their voters card (until 1991, when women first voted a family sword or bayonet was used as identification and men are still allowed to use this in place of a voting card).  After electing cantonal officials, anyone in the assembly is allowed to discuss any bill or make proposals and votes are conducted with a raising of the hand.

I think more than anything else, this public display of your voting was what kept women's suffrage from passing earlier.  With only men voting and looking around to see who would grant women the right to join them was probably too much pressure for some of these traditional men.

There may have also been a bit of the natural tendency for some of them to think about women who they didn't believe were thoughtful enough to vote.  I was surprised to learn, while listening to a radio show, that the early female British archaeologist and explorer, Gertrude Bell, was an anti-suffragist.  She believed that while she may have been intelligent enough to vote, the majority of her gender were not yet ready.  I must admit, sometimes I feel that way today, but about both genders.

Well, thanks for reading.  If you ask me, I believe that women in Switzerland would have gotten the vote far earlier if they had campaigned more like this:

Friday, December 07, 2012

Irene Woodward (AKA "La Belle Irene")

Well, I'm out on the trail again this weekend with a Boy Scout outing, so I didn't have time to prepare a Person-of-Mystery Contest for this weekend, but I did want to share with you what I was thinking about.  If we had done the contest, it would have been Irene Woodward (also known by her stage name "La Belle Irene."

Why would I have chosen her - and who was she?

Well, I was sitting at the dinner table with the family when the name Lydia came up.  Of course I immediately started singing "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," from the Marx Brothers movie At the Circus.

My boys were amused by the whimsical nature of the song and I was actually a little surprised they hadn't heard it before (growing up in our house).  After telling them about it, I was going to show them the YouTube clip of the original song from the movie, but I saw that there was a Muppet Show version where Kermit the Frog sings the song too, so I played that one for them instead.

I remember seeing this Muppets sketch when I was younger, but I didn't realize that Jim Henson was a big Marx Brothers fan.  This sketch ran on the first show and Henson drew all the illustrations on Lydia (the pig).  Of course, both are illusions to women with tattoos, a staple of sideshow performances at early circuses.  Two of the most famous were Irene Woodward and Nora Hildenbrandt.  Although, Irene was billed as the "Original Tattooed Lady."  Tattoos of the day were often patriotic in nature and this is revealed in the lyrics in the song.  Like any good sideshow, barkers would speak of Irene being captured by Indians and Chief Sitting Bull himself only releasing her after her father had tattooed her from head to toe - obvious lies, but adding to the overall mystique.

Irene is long gone, but I figured I'd save you the dime and reveal her in all her tattooed glory [warning NSF (circa 1900) W]:

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Emotions All Over the Map

The other day, I noticed an article on the Washington Post website about Gallup creating an emotional map of the world based on their polling data.

You can check out the article yourself, but I always have a hard time with maps like this.  I start thinking of people I know from different countries to see if they fit the map.  Of course, this is nonsense as there are more and less emotional people in every country, but in general I still enjoy thinking about these things (and an excuse to look at a map in a new way is always fun).

According to Gallup, Singapore is the least emotional country whereas nearby Philippines is the most emotional.  There are other trends that can be witnessed here.  Russia and the old Soviet Bloc nations tend to be less emotional.  The Americas tend to be more emotional.

One thing I wish was that the map for the United States was broken down by state.  As I've traveled around our country, I've noticed that the upper Midwest in particular tends to be rather stoic.

Saturday, December 01, 2012


You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided here for you to identify.

The theme for today is:  Highly Paid Persons

So, who could he be?  That's the mystery!  Go ahead and take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post to be right on the money will be declared the winner.

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is correct, enter his name into Google Images and this photo will be found on the first pages of the image results.

And thanks today to my awesome readers who submitted ideas for allowing me to keep posting pictures like these!