November 30 – Bonifacio Day in the Philippines

Posted on November 30, 2016

Another day, another nation, another hero!

Today people in the Philippines celebrate the birthday of one of their greatest heroes, Andres Bonifacio.

Born on this date in 1863, Bonifacio had to drop out of school at age 14 to support his siblings when his parents died. He created a thriving family business making canes, paper fans, and posters. He continued his education by working at a German trading firm, where he learned English, and by reading a lot of history, biography, and fiction books. He studied Philippine penal and civil codes (hey, don't we all do that in our free time?), and he even founded a theater company with his friends!

At the time, the Philippines were a Spanish colony. But many Filipinos wanted to be independent. Bonifacio was one of the founding members of the political organization La Liga Filipina, which was Jose Rizal's “baby,” but when Rizal was seized and deported, Bonifacio and others began to think that armed insurrection was necessary rather than the oft-attempted peaceful reforms.

Bonifacio is considered the Father of the Philippine Revolution because he was one of the men who started a secret revolutionary society called the Katipunan, and he became the military leader and the president of the revolutionary government. He wrote articles that, when published, helped convince tens of thousands of Filipinos to join the revolution.

As usual, humans are complex, and history is messy. There was this whole complex, messy thing among the Filipino revolutionaries, and various historians give different accounts of how it went down that a man named Emilio Aguinaldo became the first president of the Philippines, and why he arrested, tried, convicted, and executed Bonifacio. Suffice to say that some Filipinos view Bonifacio as a hero and even as the rightful first President of the Philippines, but others view him as a traitor or criminal.

A lighter look at the “Phils”

Here are some interesting facts about the Philippines:

Four of the eleven largest malls in the world are in the Philippines!

A volcano with a lake in the caldera, with a volcanic cone forming an island in the lake, and a smaller lake inside that cone, and an even smaller cone inside that lake...all of that can be seen at Taal Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the nation!

The Philippines includes more than 7,000 islands, and Filipinos speak more than 125 languages!

Yo-yocooties and boondocks are all words English borrowed from Filipino languages.

There are rice terraces in the Philippines that remain as they have been for centuries and centuries – and that were built about 2,000 years ago!

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November 29 – Birthday of W.V.S. Tubman

Posted on November 29, 2016
In Harriet Tubman, the U.S. has a true hero. 

Well, the African country of Liberia has a Tubman as a hero, too! William Vacanarat ShadrachTubman, born on this date in 1895, has been called the “father of modern Liberia.”

(Actually, the last name Tubman is more common in Liberia than one might guess, because, in the mid-1800s, a slave owner in Georgia named Emily Tubman tried to free her slaves and to pay for them to travel to Liberia where they could live in freedom. It was actually quite hard to do – Emily Tubman had to appeal to the Georgian legislature for permission to free each slave, and when permission was denied, she had to work to get a special ruling to free them! When the group of 69 freedmen finally traveled to Africa to seek new lives, they took the last name “Tubman” to honor their former mistress.)

William Tubman grew up to be a lay pastor, a lawyer, a court recorder, a tax collector, a teacher, and a colonel in the militia – and all that before he was 28! In 1923 he was elected as the youngest senator in the history of Liberia. He also served as a spokesperson on behalf of his nation to the League of Nations and as a justice in the Liberian Supreme Court. In 1943, at the age of 48, Tubman was elected president.

Right away he had a difficult decision to make. You see, Germany was at the time being run by Hitler and the Nazi Party, and it had plunged the world into a horrific war. But Germany and Germans were deeply involved in Liberia's economy. Liberia relied on German merchants, on trade with Germany, and on German doctors – most of the doctors in the entire country were from Germany!

Even though it was the harder thing to do, Tubman ruled that Liberia sided with the United States and the other Allies fighting against Germany, and he expelled all Germans living in his nation. Eventually Liberia declared war on Germany and Japan.

After the war, Tubman worked to create friendly relations among all the new nations emerging in Africa; in 1961, these efforts resulted in the founding of the African Union.

Tubman is a hero for Liberians partly because he worked hard to reduce the problems between Americo-Liberians (former slaves transported to Africa from the U.S.) and indigenous Liberians (native peoples). He is a hero partly because he instituted policies that brought in investments from other nations, leading to vastly increased prosperity for Liberians. And he is a hero because he he invested government monies into developing roads, railway systems, sanitation systems, hospitals, and literacy programs. Instead of relying on just one product, rubber, Tubman made sure that multiple kinds of industries developed the nation's resources, including making Liberia #1 in Africa for iron production.

National heroes often appear on stamps and money!
Here's the not-so-heroic part:

Liberia had no term limits for the presidency. Here in the U.S., George Washington set a precedent of stepping down after two 4-year terms; in 1947, after having Franklin Delano Roosevelt elected president a record-breaking four times, an amendment was added to the Constitution mandating a maximum of two terms. But not so in Liberia.

As I said, Tubman became president in 1943, and he stayed in office until his death in 1971. That's 28 years with just one president – a period of time in which the U.S. would have from four to seven different presidents. Tubman controlled the majority party and did not volunteer to let go of his power, and probably acting in fear after an assassination attempt, he repressed those who opposed him.

So even though Tubman did a lot of good things for his country, he became more and more authoritarian. Definitely not a good thing!

After Tubman died, his Vice President took over, but there was political dissent, an overthrow, two civil wars. Most of Tubman's good works were undone by all of that – a lot of people died, a lot of people displaced, a devastated economy! Even though there was a peace agreement in 2003 and democratic elections in 2005, still, more than a decade later, 85% of Liberians lived below the poverty line.

Here, a Liberian boy walks down a street
littered with shell casings from bullets! Yikes!

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November 28 – Cider Monday

Posted on November 28, 2016

First there was “Black Friday” - the semi-official start of the Christmas shopping season in the United Sates, a day when stores open ridiculously early and shoppers line up even more ridiculously early for bargains and sales and even a wee bit of hysteria.

Black Friday is traditionally (since the early 1930s) the Friday after the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving.

Then there was Cyber Monday – held the Monday after Thanksgiving – a marketing scheme to get people to shop for Christmas gifts online. Once again, it's seen as a day to get great prices (if you're a shopper) and loads of sales (if you're selling stuff).

Cyber Monday made its debut in 2005.

Now there's Cider Monday. Also on the Monday after Thanksgiving, Cider Monday is a chance to step away from our computers and maybe even from bargain hunting – a chance to slow down and warm up – a chance to support the arts and local businesses.

Specifically, we are urged to go to independent book sellers – actual bookstores with walls and shelves of books to handle and leaf through and read the back covers. Some bookstores are offering free hot cider – and if you're lucky enough to be sipping the warm, fruity/spicy stuff, hopefully you'll take the time to scan the shelves for the next great book to read!

Apple cider is a kind of apple juice – the really yummy kind! It's unfiltered, unsweetened, and often heated and mulled. To be mulled is to be heated with slices of orange and lemon, and with spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.

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Anniversary of the first skywriting in U.S. skies

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November 27 – Happy Birthday, Dora Dougherty Strother

Posted on November 27, 2016

I knew that WASPs had veteran's benefits – but I didn't know that we could thank Dora Dougherty Strother (among others) for that!

Strother and two other WASPs.
The Woman Airforce Service Pilots existed because of the great demand for military pilots during World War II. The women pilots flew every sort of military aircraft – but in non-combat missions. The goal was to free up the male pilots for combat roles; the women pilots flew aircraft from factories to military bases, towed drones and aerial targets, trained new pilots, and even tested new planes.

Strother, born on this date in 1921, had earned her pilot certificate in 1940 and later became the sixth woman in the U.S. to earn an airline transport pilot license. So when the call went out for WASPs, she was one of the 25,000+ women who applied. Only 1,075 women were accepted into the paramilitary program – and Strother was one of them.

Strother achieved about as much as was possible within her WASP role. She commanded 23 different aircraft and was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force in late 1944.

One of the planes that Strother tested, demonstrated, and trained
male pilots on is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber.

She went on to teach flight courses, including at the University of Illinois. She earned her doctorate in Aviation Education in 1955 and was Chief Research Pilot for her university. She went on to design helicopter cockpits and became a test pilot for Bell Helicopter Company. She even set two world records in helicopter flying!
Strother became a member of "Whirly-Girls."

After her wonderful career, which included winning the Amelia Earhart Award, becoming an inductee in the Military Aviation Hall of Fame and the Texas Women's Hall of Fame, Strother put time and effort into making sure that she and other women pilots gained veteran's status and benefits. After all, a whopping 28% of the WASPs made the ultimate sacrifice, dying in training or on duty. They didn't go into combat, but they flew in combat zones and in combat-like situations. The law giving WASPs veteran's status was signed by President Jimmy Carter on Thanksgiving Day in 1977.

Thank you, Dora Strother, for flying so high, achieving so much, and asserting the rights of women to gain fair benefits for their efforts!

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