Posts filed under “History”


On this day in 1973, Richard M. Nixon spoke the famous words, “I am not a crook.” Many observers had begun to suspect that the President was not a shepherd’s staff, curving at the end; or the pastoral staff of a bishop or abbot, fashioned in the form of a shepherd’s staff; or a hook hung in an open chimney to support a pot or kettle; or the curved metal tube between the mouthpiece and the body of a bassoon; or a bracket or truss consisting of a vertical piece, a horizontal piece, and a strut; but this was the first official confirmation of their suspicions.


On this day in 1605, Guy Fawkes and friends did not blow up Parliament. Thus began a longstanding colorful British tradition of not blowing up parliament, in spite of daily temptations.


On this day in 1889, the Dakota Territory was, by a clerical error on the part of Secretary of State Blaine, accidentally admitted into the United States as a state twice. This error was such a deep and abiding embarrassment to the Department of State that it has never been corrected, and to this day the Union is saddled with one redundant Dakota.


France at the treaty of Brétigny

On this day in 1360, the Treaty of Brétigny brought an end to the Hundred Years’ War after only 23 years. Unfortunately the treaty was soon broken, since the Hundred Years’ War was scheduled to last for 116 years and still had 93 years to go.


On this day in 1582, the Gregorian Calendar was first adopted in a few Catholic countries, beginning a process of calendrical revision that took centuries to propagate through the world and guaranteeing that every “On This Day in History” feature you read is probably inaccurate by ten or eleven days somewhere along the line.


We have just celebrated Columbus Day, and each celebration comes closer to being our last. Statues of Columbus are coming down everywhere, and a strong movement to oust him from the calendar has been making itself felt. The man who discovered America while looking for something else is no longer the hero he once was.

Columbus Day always seemed to Dr. Boli to be an odd holiday. We do not have holidays for other people who got thoroughly lost. There is no Wrong Way Corrigan Day in our federal calendar. We do not even have a local holiday for the college kid who drove off the Bridge to Nowhere. (Even as he writes this, Dr. Boli knows his Pittsburgh readers are thinking, “But why not?”) Yet Columbus, a man who set out for Asia and ended up at a completely different continent, and furthermore never figured out how lost he was, gets himself a federal holiday.

But it is true that Columbus accidentally had a large effect on history. He brought cultures together, whether they liked it or not. And that has inspired Dr. Boli to suggest a replacement for Columbus Day, or, if you prefer, an enhancement to Columbus Day. We shall call it Encounter Day. The Encounter Day tradition will be to throw parties and stage events that celebrate the encounter of all our different cultures.

In practical terms, what this means is food. Italians bring pasta, Mexicans bring spiced chocolate, Cambodians bring ban chhev, Ethiopians bring sambusa, and so on. English people bring Indian takeout, because that is far and away the best food in England.

So there is our plan: a holiday for food, which is the best kind of holiday. We have a little less than a year to get ready for next year’s Encounter Day. Start planning the dish you’ll bring.


Dear Dr. Boli: Can you explain professional sports to me? In my neighborhood right now, thousands of people are crammed into the bars on Carson Street watching grown men play football, which implies that you have to get drunk to watch football. But do you have to watch football to get drunk? Is there no other way? And why would anyone want to watch other people play games? I mean, wouldn’t you rather play the game yourself? Why would you pay somebody else to do it for you? Do you pay people to eat ice cream for you? Do you pay people to get drunk for you, if that’s your thing? So I can’t figure out professional sports, and I was wondering if you could explain them to me. —Sincerely, A Man Who Can’t Figure Out Professional Sports.

Dear Sir: Man, said Aristotle, is a political animal, by which he meant an animal that forms a πόλις, or city. The word “civilization,” by which we designate all the accomplishments we consider most indicative of our superiority over the beasts, means the formation of cities. Now, a cursory glance at the history of civilization will show us that the main activity of human beings once they have formed a city is to go to war against that other city over there. The civilizations of ancient Sumer, of Greece of the classic age, of Renaissance Italy were all formed by incessant war between cities.

Our modern civilization has formed larger empires and national units that include many cities, so as to enjoy certain economies of scale. Imagine the ruinous expense, for example, if London, Liverpool, Norwich, Canterbury, Edinburgh, Belfast, Toronto, Vancouver, Melbourne, Belize, and so on each had to support an entire royal family, instead of sharing a royal family spread out among fifteen countries, each an agglomeration of cities.

The instinct for war between cities, however, is set deep in human nature, and it cannot be eradicated by rational considerations of economy or national unity. Thus professional sports are necessary to keep the tradition of interurban warfare alive. The main difference is that professional sports, which require whole neighborhoods to be bulldozed for the construction of billion-dollar stadiums and arenas, are generally more costly and more destructive than an average interurban war.


This illustration in the style of the Renaissance was created by a self-learning image generator trained on the collective visual experience of humankind, and is therefore your fault, not ours.

Archimedes. Among the inventions of the great Archimedes was a two-wheeled powered vehicle that would, he claimed, annihilate distance by making it possible to travel five hundred miles in a day. After his death it was found and brought to the victorious Roman general Marcellus, who tried the thing himself and immediately fell over. He therefore declared all two-wheeled vehicles useless and ordered the prototype to be thrown into the sea, and the idea would not come up again until 1507, when Leonardo exhibited a primitive form of Vespa.