CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Let me be clear, right up front: I hate that we—all around the world—have to endure this pandemic.  But as with everything big and small, it’s fuel for writers.  Nothing ups the stakes like a global pandemic.

There is a long history of authors writing about society-wide epidemics, both real and fictional. One of the earliest examples is the plague in the Epic of Gilgamesh. A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe, is a first-hand account of the Bubonic Plague that devastated London in 1665. More examples of literary illnesses are below some important information from the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

Although you’ve no doubt heard much of what follows, I will nonetheless provide the cautions from the CDC website. According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, and everyone should TAKE STEPS TO PROTECT HIM/HERSELF.

Clean Your Hands Often

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (twice through the Happy Birthday song) especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. (Remember thumbs, backs of hands, and between fingers.)
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. 
    • Writers note: at this time, there is a run on hand sanitizer. Suppose your character looks online for a DIY recipe (2/3 cup 99% rubbing alcohol [isopropyl alcohol] or ethanol; 1/3 cup aloe vera gel; 8-10 drops essential oil, optional) and has a panic attack trying to find the ingredients.
    • Writers note: some people are allergic to hand sanitizer and can only use the soap and water method. What would they do if hand washing facilities were not available?
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. 
    • Writers note: on average, people touch their faces 20 times an hour (women typically touch their faces more than men; people with glasses touch their faces more). Consider a non-obsessive/compulsive person trying to follow even these three guidelines. Would thinking about it make them touch their face even more? Or consider a character who chooses not to do these things, or not to do them conscientiously.
Mustache stickers not included
  • If you are NOT sick, you do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers. 
    • The two most common types of facemask are those shaped like a rectangular piece of folded paper and those shaped like a cup. The cup-shaped masks are more effective, and they should be reserved for people in the most risk of infection.
    • Writers note: what if someone who needs facemasks can’t get them?
Italians keeping the mandated 1 meter distance

Avoid Close Contact

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
    • Writers note: what if the sick person is a spouse or child? Is the child old enough to understand why there are no hugs? Does your character avoid or not? And how does the sick person feel about that?
  • Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick. The recommended distance is at least 6 feet. 
    • Writers note: what if your character is a health-care provider, first responder, police officer, bus driver, or … ? 
    • Also note: people at higher risk are those with pre-existing conditions (like heart disease, etc.) and anyone 60 or over. What if your character is high risk? 
    • Plot point: what if an otherwise healthy characters becomes an unwitting carrier for the virus, spreading it to someone who would otherwise have been safe?

Take Steps to Protect Others

Stay Home If You’re Sick

  • Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Learn what to do if you are sick.
  • Call ahead: If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
  • Isolate yourself: people who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to isolate at home during their illness. You should restrict activities outside your home.
  • Stay at home until instructed to leave: Patients with confirmed COVID-19 should remain under home isolation precautions until the risk of secondary transmission to others is thought to be low.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider:  The decision to discontinue home isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
  • Avoid public areas:  Do not go to work, school, or public areas.
  • Avoid public transportation:  Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis. 
    • Writers note: tension points for employed people (and/or partners and children) are obvious. And what about childcare? And school children who rely on breakfast/lunch programs?
  • But for writers, staying home could be handy writing time!

Stay Away From Others 

Onions are a flu vaccine?
  • Lock yourself in: as much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available.
  • Limit contact with pets & animals: You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.
  • When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets and wear a facemask. 
    • Writers note: how will your character get food, medicine, toilet paper, … ?

Cover Coughs and Sneezes

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Throw used tissues in the trash.
  • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. 
  • Writers note: consider a character who is bullied or shunned because of seasonal allergies.
  • Writer’s note: in many countries, blowing one’s nose in public is considered as rude as farting loudly in church. How does a character in such a country stem the drip safely?
  • If you are sick:  You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.
    • If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room.  Learn what to do if you are sick. 
    • Writers note: not just any facemask. It must be one that hugs the bridge of the nose and the area around the mouth. So what if a sick person uses the wrong type of facemask?
  • Monitor your symptoms
  • Seek medical attention: seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening (e.g., difficulty breathing).
  • Alert health department: ask your healthcare provider to call the local or state health department. Persons who are placed under active monitoring or facilitated self-monitoring should follow instructions provided by their local health department or occupational health professionals, as appropriate.
Pro athletes have said that playing in empty stadiums is eerie and not much fun.

Clean and Disinfect

  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. 
    • Writers note: would your character do this or not? Or interfere with someone else doing it?
  • If surfaces are dirty, clean them:  Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
Cleaning and disinfecting products are already becoming hard to find

Pandemics Past and Present (Fiction and Non-Fiction)

As promised, here are some of the other authors who have written about illness sweeping through society and the ripples that spread out.

  • World War Z by Max Brooks
    • Unlike most zombie narratives, this book follows the entire course of a zombie plague, from Patient Zero to the eventual reconstruction of society. The “historical narratives” are provided by characters from every background and every part of the world. For an extra amazing experience, check out the audio-book, with actors from many countries providing a range of voices and accents.
  • Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
    • Set during the Bubonic Plague in 1666, this is a historical fiction account of a rural English village that quarantined itself to prevent the spread of plague to surrounding areas. The characters and most of the their interactions are fictional, but the story of the quarantined village is true.
  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
    • Following the history of Zambia from the end of the colonial era, the author covers in haunting detail the toll that HIV/AIDS has had on the country. She writes from unfortunately first-hand experience of losing an entire generation of Zambians.
  • A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
    • Defoe published this account of London in 1665-1666 as a warning to later readers. He included lists of how many people died in each parish, how entire households were forcibly quarantined, the morning dead carts being pulled through the streets (and what was likely to happen if you fell asleep on the sidewalk!), and lots of individual stories of the people around him in London.
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
    • Young adult fantasy novels and horrific plagues are not common bedfellows (bookfellows?), but Levine has included a twist on the typical hero’s journey, a fabulous protagonist, and an interesting side-quests. Still, behind all the heroism and romance is the inescapable dread and death that affects every member of society.
  • Survivors by Terry Nation
    • This was a television series in the 1970s, made into a novel by Terry Grant, and then made into another television series based on the novel in the 2000s. Except for the very beginning, Survivors deals with the aftermath of a pandemic that wiped out most of the world population; characters have to adapt to a society with no law or order.
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
    • This short novel is set around the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 and focuses on a young woman falling in love with a soldier, as both influenza and World War I threaten to destroy their entire world.
Patients coming off a recently docked cruise ship and going directly into quarantine

Bottom line for writers: any calamity can be good for writers—both fiction and non-fiction writers. Consider the daily news: quarantined cruise ships, all passengers aboard; quarantines for nursing homes and senior living facilities; schools and colleges closing. And the spin-off of people preparing to be quarantined, causing panic buying of hand sanitizer, disinfectants, toilet paper, frozen foods, disposable diapers, etc., etc., etc.

This is a prescription I can definitely follow!

HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

My oldest daughter was born bald as a billiard ball and stayed that way for more than three months. My cousin left the hospital with his black hair combed into an Elvis Presley pompadour, but after several weeks he began to lose it. Head hair goes through three stages: growth, resting, and shedding, in that order. At birth, babies’ hair is in the “resting” stage while bodily resources are devoted to more vital functions, like lung development and temperature regulation. After the resting phase, hair sheds. It goes into a growth phase again after three to seven months. From then till puberty, it’s a matter of gaining more head hair. Hair color and/or texture often goes through many changes in the first several month or years. 

Bottom line for writers: Your young characters’ hair is pretty much up for grabs; except for the stage of “baby-fine,” hair tells us little about age or health of young children.

Puberty

  • Males start growing body hair: face, underarms, chest, arms and legs, public area. This can be any time between 9 and 14.
  • Females grow hair in adult female patterns: underarms, legs, genital area. Usually starts between 8 and 13.
  • Following puberty, hair growth patterns are fairly steady for the next couple of decades.

Bottom line for writers: Hair can be used in a number of ways, but between puberty and 30 or so it isn’t an age marker. 

Adults shed hair regularly, perhaps 80-100 hairs a day. Shedding hair is not the same as thinning hair or going bald. Babies are born with all the hair follicles they will ever have. When hair follicles shut down, thinning hair or baldness result.  And why would writers care?

Why Hair Follicles Shut Down

  • Age: Both males and females typically notice some thinning or loss of scalp hair as they age, usually starting in the 50s and progressing in 60s, 70s, and 80s. 
    • A good way to show rather than tell that a character is a “mature” adult
  • Genetics: Both thinning and pattern badness tend to run in families for both females and males.
    • An unacknowledged family connection could be inferred by similar patterns and ages of onset
  • Alopecia: An autoimmune condition that attacks hair follicles leading to hair loss on the scalp as well as other parts of the body. Symptoms usually start in childhood. 
    • Good for adding stress and tension.
  • Side effects of medication/treatment: Think chemotherapy, but also vitamin deficiencies, some antibiotic, some antidepressants (4 to 6 months after starting treatment), some anticonvulsants for epileptics (dose dependent). Hair usually regrows when/if the treatment ends.
    • A clue to unacknowledged/undiagnosed medical issues
    • Maybe someone introducing unneeded treatment in order to produce the side effects of hair loss/thinning
  • Hormonal changes: For women, pregnancy and/or menopause; high cortisol levels and thyroid imbalance for both women and men, insulin resistance and estrogen dominance. Deficiencies in vitamin B12, biotin, and zinc can worsen hormone based hair loss.
    • Maybe the hair changes/losses create emotional stress during pregnancy or menopause
    • Maybe a character is so upset that a major life goal is to find a “cure” through hormone and/or nutritional therapy
    • A good hairstylist may notice an illness or pregnancy before the patient simply by observing changing hair
  • Certain hairstyles: High ponytails, cornrows, braids, and pigtails if they are too tight and these styles are worn too long.
    • Consider a character whose self-concept and/or identity is connected to hairstyle and appearance

How Hair Changes Over Time

  • Growth: Scalp hair grows an average of half an inch a month. And a single hair can last up to six years. Consider hair length as an indicator of age.
  • Color: Chances are, when you think of an old person’s hair, you first think gray.  Graying hair can be brought on or accelerated by stress, and unhealthy diet, lack of sleep, or serious illness.
    • Generally, the lighter your skin, the sooner your hair will turn gray. Caucasians usually start to turn gray in their early 30s, those with darker skin generally start to go gray in their 40s.
    • Hair often grays first at the temples; sometimes it’s throughout the head hair.
    • Body hair usually turns gray later, but sometimes not at all.
    • When eyebrows gray, the individual brow hairs are long and coarse. 
    • Is your character embracing gray, or fighting it every step of the way? 
    • What is your character willing to do to hide gray hair?
    • And N.B.: there are far more than 50 shades of gray. Be precise when you describe your character. Think silver, iron, lead, clouds, snow—or that old standby, salt-and-pepper.
  • Thickness and texture: Over time, hair becomes rougher and more prone to break, and each hair itself becomes thinner and smaller. Give more depth to your descriptions of old hair, perhaps through touch.
  • Thinning hair and baldness by sex
    • By age 60, two-thirds of males exhibit male-pattern baldness. Hair loss occurs first on the top or at the temples. 
    • Female-pattern baldness is typically exhibited as thin hair and visible scalp. 
    • Consider a man who shaves his entire head rather than exhibit graying hair and balding. 
    • What might a woman with thinning hair experience? Feel? Do?
Some women can create rather impressive facial hair.
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  • Facial and body hair: In general, facial and body hair also change with greater age. Women and men have less hair on arms, legs, underarms, chest, stomach, and in the genital area
    • Women’s remaining hair may get courser, usually around the lips and on the chin.
    • Men are likely to grow ear and nose hair.
    • Both men and women are likely to lose hair on the outer third of the eyebrows and to get long, coarse eyebrow hairs.
    • Older women may grow too much hair, hirsutism, showing hair in places usually associated with male bodies (face, neck, chest, thighs, back).

Using Hair To Distinguish Your Character

Face it, many people spend time on hair in one way or another. Except for haircuts, and maybe hair color, these are activities that tend to happen in private if not in secret. What your character does, how, and how often gives your reader a private, intimate view of your character.

  • Women
    • Changing hair color, either DYI or at a salon
    • Removing hair
    • Underarm, leg, eyebrow, face, genital area, around nipples
    • Via tweezing, depilatory, waxing, or shaving
  • Men
    • Changing hair color (scalp or facial)
    • Shaving
      • How often?
      • Using what instrument?
      • Beard?
      • What length?
    • Remove, trim, or shape body hair
  • Aging Athletes
    • Those who removed all hair to improve performance: swimmers, cyclists, runners, etc. Do they continue their old habits? 
    • Female athletes who train intensely throughout puberty often stop mentstruating temporarily, which can have a long-term effect on hair growth, texture, and color.

Hair Politics

Hair is so closely connected to personal identity and image that controversy is more or less inevitable. For more specifics on these issues, I advise you to visit the resources linked.

  • Religious direction at odds with uniform or dress standards
    • Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently changed their facial hair requirements, allowing Sikhs, Muslims, and members of other religions to serve as officers.
    • The US Air Force has made similar changes.
      • (Unrelated but still really cool – the Air Force has also started making uniform shirts that allow women to breastfeed while in uniform!)
    • British Royal Navy uniform regulations now allow Rastafarians to maintain their long hair and beards so long as safety (such as face mask seals) is not compromised. Uniform regulations may be adjusted further to allow turbans.
    • Many private religious schools in the US require specific hair lengths for boys and girls; boys cannot have long hair, and girls cannot have short hair.
    • Similarly, many schools have specific regulations forbidding cornrows, dreadlocks, box braids, and other hairstyles primarily worn by students of African descent.
  • Opposing cultural pressures on women (and men) to change the length, color, texture, or style of their hair
    • Society defines the ideal of beautiful hair ideal is silky smooth, blond or brunette, and as soft and fine as a baby’s – in essence, Caucasian.
      • Many of the products used to achieve these results are extremely caustic if not toxic.
    • Women who relax, color, heat, and style their hair to meet this ideal sometimes face push-back from within their own communities.
    • Military regulations, school dress codes, athletic associations, etc. often prohibit hair styles favored by women of African descent as well as “natural” hair styles; effectively, this forces women to cut their hair very short or use extreme treatments to mimic Caucasian hair. It is still legal in the United States to fire or refuse to hire an employee who has deadlocks, even if they are not a safety concern.
    • Both men and women are pushed to remove all traces of gray from their hair, along with masking crows feet, laugh lines, age spots, and so on from skin.
    • Men with long hair are told that only short hair is sufficiently manly.
    • Women with short hair are told that only long hair is sufficiently feminine.
      • Historically (and currently, in some parts of the world), women have been punished for various transgressions by having their hair cut very short.
    • Hair texture and color has been used as a marker on the scale of race differentiation in apartheid South Africa, by Adolph Hitler to determine Jewish ancestry, discriminating against “Catholic” redheads during the Great Famine in Ireland, while separating Aboriginal families in Australia, and in many other periods of history.
      • Czar Peter the Great of Russia decided that long beards were old-fashioned and not Western enough and forbade them in his court, going so far as forcibly cutting off the beards of his courtiers.
  • The dubious world of hair extensions
    • Hair extensions are primarily marketed to women trying to achieve the ideal set by society and hair product companies.
    • The hair to make the extensions is often sourced from women in dire situations.
      • Venezualan women have created a black market selling their hair and breast milk, which is the only way many of them can afford food.
      • Rural Indian women, whose long hair is often a traditional class or culture marker, have their hair forcibly shaved off by men in their families desperate for income.
      • Khmer women sometimes have their extremely long hair cut off by police as punishment for dubious charges or by family members desperate for food.
      • Northern Russian women with blond hair are particularly prized by buyers because of the versatility of naturally light hair. Several buyers make routine circuits through isolated areas and pressure women (and young girls) to sell their hair repeatedly, paying only a few dollars for hair they sell for hundreds of dollars.

Miscellaneous Hair Facts That May or May Not Be Useful to Writers

  • Regardless of location on the body, hair goes through the stages of growing, resting, and shedding.
  • Trimming does not affect the growth cycle of hair.
  • Head hair can continue to grow for 3-7 years for each follicle, at the rate of 6 inches per month.
  • Chest hair doesn’t grow beyond a certain length, often about 1 inch.
  • Armpit hair can be longer than chest hair and may grow outside the bounds of the armpit.
  • Pubic hair is often trimmed, shaped, or completely removed.
  • Eyebrow hairs stop at about 1 centimeter until they go rogue during older age, sometimes reaching an inch or more untrimmed.

Bottom bottom line for writers:  Use hair more in your characterizations and plots. It is less common and will make your work fresher.

NOT JUST FOR ROMANCE

On February 14, people in many countries celebrate love and friendship by exchanging cards, flowers, and candy. But for others, February 14 is a day of protest, a day of pain, death, and disasters—both natural and by human hands. Read this blog and weep. (Author’s Note: The pictures provided to illustrate this blog are not the gruesome, tragic images of the events described.)

Writers: Could your work use a slanted work at Valentine’s Day? Could you use one of these real events as a trigger for action or tension among your characters? It could be an older event that is read about or studied.

SOME EVENTS ARE L-O-N-G REMEMBERED

The Saint Valentine of Christian tradition is most likely an amalgamation of two or three different historical figures. Valentine of Terni was the bishop of what is now known as Interamna, known as Terni today; he was martyred in 273 under the reign Emperor Aurelian. Valentine of Rome was a priest who was martyred in 270; more information is provided about him below. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there is a third saint named Valentine who is mentioned on the date of February 14th under early lists of the martyrs. The only thing known of this Valentine is he was martyred with his companions in Africa and had his head added to the reliquaries of the New Minster Abbey in Winchester, England in 1041.

Relics of Saint Valentine preserved in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome
  • 270 c.e. Feb 14 The early Christian martyr, St. Valentine, was executed by Emperor Claudius II. The Catholic Bishop Valentine was clubbed, stoned, and beheaded for refusing to acknowledge the Roman Emporer’s outlawing of marriage. St. Valentine’s Day evolved from Lupercalia, a Roman festival of fertility.  The early Christians made Valentine a symbol to oppose the Roman mid-February ceremony in honor of the god Lupercus, in which Roman teenage girls’ names were put in a box and selected by young Roman men for “sex toy” use until the next lottery. The two or three historical Valentines became merged into a single legendary patron of young lovers.
  • 869 Cyrillus, Greek apostle to the Slavs (creator of the Cyrillic alphabet, used in Russian and most Slavic languages today), died.
  • 1009 St. Bruno of Querfurt was beheaded as a martyr. News of his death included the first mention of Lithuania is official Papal archives. 
  • 1076 Pope Gregory VII excommunicated English King Henry IV.
  • 1130 Half of the College of Cardinals elected Pietro Pierleone as Pope (or anti-Pope) Anacletus II, in opposition to Pope (or anti-Pope) Innocent II, elected by the other half of the College of Cardinals. The schism in the Catholic Church was not resolved until 1139.
  • 1400 Richard II, deposed king of England (1377-99), was murdered in Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire. 
  • 1405  Timur, aka Tamerlane (b. 1336), crippled Mongol monarch, died in Kazakhstan. In 2004 Justin Marozzi authored Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World.
  • 1540 Holy Roman Emperor Charles V entered Ghent with no resistance to put down a citizen’s revolt against taxes. Leaders were executed, and other rebels were paraded through the city barefoot and wearing nooses.
  • 1556 Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was declared a heretic, caught up in the aftermath of the religious and political turmoil caused by the Tudor dynasty.
  • 1571 Benvenuto Cellini (b. 1500), Italian goldsmith and sculptor, writer (Perseus), died. His 1545 autobiography greatly influenced the Renaissance. 
  • 1610 The Polish army deposed Russian Czar Vasili Shuishki by forcing the (probably impostor) Czar Dimitri II and the Romanov family to imprison Shuiski as a monk in Warsaw during The Time of Troubles.
  • 1645 Robert Ingle, commissioned by the English Parliament and captain of the tobacco ship Reformation, sailed to St. Mary’s (Maryland) and seized a Dutch trading ship. This marked the beginning of what came to known as “The Plundering Time.” 
  • 1670 Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I expelled the Jews from Austria.
  • 1779 Nearly 250 soldiers died at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Georgia, which resulted in American Revolutionary Patriot forces defeating Colonial Loyalists.
  • 1779 Captain James Cook (b. 1728), English explorer, was killed on the Big Island in Hawaii. In 2002 Tony Horwitz authored “Blue Latitudes,” and Vanessa Collingridge authored “Captain Cook: A Legacy Under Fire.”
  • 1780 William Blackstone (56), English lawyer, died.
  • 1797 The Spanish fleet was destroyed by the British under Admiral Jervis (with Nelson in support) at the battle of Cape St. Vincent, off Portugal. 
  • 1879 Chile invaded the Bolivian port of Antofagasta after Bolivian authorities attempted to auction the confiscated property of CSFA, a Chilean mining company.

SOME EVENTS ARE LONG REMEMBERED

  • 1900 General Roberts invaded South Africa’s Orange Free State with 20,000 British troops. 
  • 1904 The “Missouri Kid” was captured in Kansas.
  • 1913 Jimmy Hoffa (James Riddle Hoffa) was born in Brazil, Indiana, U.S. Remembered as the General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the most powerful unions in the United States and with links to organized crime. He is also remembered for his conviction for attempted bribery of a grand juror and defrauding the union’s pension fund. Following his release in 1971, he attempted to rebuild his influence in the Union but on July 30, 1975 he disappeared from the Machus Red Fox Restaurant in Bloomfield and was never seen again. Hoffa is the subject of many urban legends as to who, how and why he was murdered and books and movies have been made about his life.
  • 1917 In San Francisco a police raid closed down the Barbary Coast. The red lights of the Barbary Coast went out. Louis Sidney “Sid” LeProtti was the pianist who led the So Different Jazz Band at Purcell’s, one of the most famous Negro dance halls in the country at 520 Pacific St of the San Francisco Barbary Coast district. A 1982 book by Tom Stoddard: Jazz on the Barbary Coast covers the era.
  • 1921 The Literary Review faced obscenity charges in NY for publishing Ulysses by James Joyce.
  • 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: seven gangster rivals of Al Capone were murdered in a garage in Chicago when Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn ordered the kill of rival George “Bugs” Moran.  
  • 1933 Governor William A. Comstock declared an eight-day bank holiday—really a temporary moratorium. This decision was made in light of the financial emergency that was taking place in the city of Detroit and the rest of the state of Michigan. The main reason for this temporary bank closure was the Detroit Ford Motor Company’s refusal to entrust its deposits to the Union Guardian Trust. Governor Comstock felt that it would help protect the interest of small depositors. 
  • 1939 The German Reich launched the battleship Bismarck, which was the largest battleship ever commissioned up to that date. The Bismarck sunk the pride of the British fleet the battle-cruiser HMS Hood in the Battle of the Denmark Strait in May 1941, but in September after spending months trying to gain revenge The Bismarck was sunk by the British Royal Navy.  
  • 1940 Britain announced that all merchant ships would be armed. 
  • 1941 German Afrika Korps landed in Tripoli, Libya.
  • 1942 The Japanese attacked Sumatra. Aidan MacCarthy’s RAF unit flew to Palembang, in eastern Sumatra, where 30 Royal Australian Air Force Lockheed A-28 Hudson bombers were waiting. The elation was short-lived as Japanese soldiers were parachuting into the jungle that surrounded the airfield. 
  • 1943 
    • One of the most significant World War II American defeats occurred during the battle of the Kasserine Pass (de Faïd pass). German General Erwin Rommel and African troops headed an attack against American and other allied forces in Tunisia, North Africa. The Battle of the Kasserine Pass resulted in the death of over 1,000 American soldiers. Hundreds of others were taken prisoner.  
    • David Hilbert (b.1862), German mathematician, died. He is considered the father of modern mathematics.
  • 1944 An anti-Japanese revolt took place on Java.
  • 1945
    • 521 American heavy bombers flew daylight raids over Dresden, Germany following the British assault. The firestorm killed an estimated 135,000 people. At least 35,000 died and some people place the toll closer to 70,000. The novel Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut was set in Dresden during the firebombing where he was being held as a prisoner of war. US B-17 bombers dropped 771 more tons on Dresden while P-51 Mustang fighters strafed roads packed with soldiers and civilians fleeing the burning city. In 2006 Marshall De Bruhl authored Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden.
    • The siege of Budapest ended as the Soviets took the city. Only 785 German and Hungarian soldiers managed to escape.
  • 1949 The United States charged the USSR with interning up to 14 million in labor camps. 

SOME EVENTS ARE WITHIN LIVING MEMORY FOR MANY—IF THEY  NOTICED AT THE TIME

  • 1955 A Jewish couple lost their fight to adopt Catholic twins as the U.S. Supreme Court refused to rule on state law. 
  • 1956 The B.F. Huntley furniture plant in Winston-Salem, NC, was destroyed by fire. The factory was rebuilt and the Huntley name continued until it was sold to Thomasville Furniture Industries in 1961.
  • 1957 The Georgia Senate approved Sen Leon Butts’ bill barring blacks from playing baseball with whites.
  • 1965 Malcolm X’s home was firebombed. No injuries were reported. 
  • 1967 Ramparts Magazine published an ad in the NY Times and Washington Post saying: “In its March issue, Ramparts magazine will document how the CIA has infiltrated and subverted the world of American student leaders over the past fifteen years.”
  • 1974  Soviet authorities formally charged Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn with treason one day after expelling him from the country and revoking his Russian citizenship.  
  • 1979
    • Adolph Dubs, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was kidnapped in Kabul by Muslim extremists and killed in a shootout between his abductors and police. 
    • Armed guerrillas attacked the U.S. embassy in Tehran. 
  • 1984 In South Africa under Apartheid rule the Black community at Mogopa was displaced in a “force removal” action. Some 300 homes and a cluster of community buildings were bulldozed over.
  • 1989 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a ( FATWA ) death sentence on British writer Salman Rushdie for his authorship of the book Satanic Verses
  • 1990 Ninety-four people were killed when an Indian Airlines passenger jet crashed while landing at a southern Indian airport.
  • 1991
    • Iraq charged the bombing of an underground facility the day before, which killed hundreds of civilians, was a deliberate attack on an air raid shelter, a charge denied by the US.
    • The Iraqi weapons depot at Ukhaydir was bombed. Iraqi authorities revealed to US authorities in 1996 that the site stored hundreds of rockets filled with mustard gas and nerve gas.
  • 1993 The body of James Bulger, a 2-year-old boy who had been lured away from his mother in a Liverpool, England, shopping mall two days earlier, was found along a stretch of railroad track. Two boys (10), Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, were later convicted of murdering James; they spent eight years in detention before being paroled. 
  • 1994 Andrei Tsjikatilo, (the Rostov Ripper), Russian mass murderer, was executed.
  • 1996
    • Eva Hart (90), Titanic survivor, died.
    • A failed Loral Intelsat satellite launch caused a rocket to hit a village near the Xichang Space Center in China’s southwest Sichuan province. China acknowledged 6 deaths. US intelligence estimated the death toll at 200. The rocket was a new-generation Long March 3B. The satellite was intended for TV shows in Latin America for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
  • 1997
    • In Burma some 3,000 Karen refugees fled into Thailand to escape fighting. The Karen National Union had been fighting for autonomy since 1948. Thailand said 16,000 Karens were crossing over its border.
    • In Cambodia Khmer Rouge guerrillas killed all but three government officials sent to make peace.
    • In Egypt Muslim militants slew 9 Copts. Coptics?
  • 1998 
    • Authorities officially declared Eric Rudolph a suspect in the bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic and offered a $100,000 reward.
    • In India the Tamil Nadu election campaign ended with bombings and riots in Coimbatore. Some 13 bombs in 11 places took 46 lives.
    • In Cameroon, a train hauling oil tanker cars derailed and collided with an oncoming train outside Yaounde. It exploded and killed up to 100 people.
  • 1999
    • John D. Ehrlichman, President Nixon’s domestic affairs adviser imprisoned for his role in the Watergate cover-up that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation, died in Atlanta at age 73. He wrote at least 4 novels and the memoir Witness to Power: The Nixon Years.
    • Eritrea shot down an Mi-24 Ethiopian helicopter gunship at Bure and the crew was killed. Eritrea said that 16 civilians had been killed by Ethiopian aircraft since Feb 6.
    • In Hungary the death toll from the Feb 10 snow storm reached 19, and army helicopters were used to drop food to snow-bound villages.
    • On Haruku and Saparua Islands in Maluku province of Indonesia at least 20 people were killed in rioting as troops dispersed gangs of Muslims and Christians. 
    • Iraq said that air attacks had killed 5 people and wounded 22 and threatened Kuwait and Saudi Arabia with missile attacks for permitting US warplanes to fly from their countries.
    • In Kosovo a bomb explosion in Urosevac wounded at least 9 people. Serbian police rounded up about 40 independence activist Albanians.
    • In Uganda, 2 bombs exploded in Kampala bars and 5 people were killed and 35 injured.

GETTING TO THE HERE AND NOW

  • 2000 
    • A series of tornadoes swept through Georgia, killing 22 people.  
    • In Colorado, 2 teens, Nicholas Kunselman (15) and Stephanie Hart (16), from Columbine High School were shot and killed in a sandwich shop near the school, which was still reeling from the April 1999 massacre.
    • In Afghanistan, 73 passengers from the hijacked jet returned home, while 74 remained in Britain seeking asylum. The passengers reported that 9 men had taken over their flight and appeared to be relatives of many passengers.
    • In Russia, 7 mountain climbers, including 3 Britons, were reported killed in an avalanche in the Caucasus Elbrus Range near the Georgia border.
    • In Turkey, 8 people were killed in 2 clashes between Hezbollah and police.
  • 2001
    • The Kansas Board of Education approved new science standards restoring evolution to the state’s curriculum.
    • Khalil Abu Olbeh (35), a Palestinian bus driver, drove his bus into a group of Israelis in Tel Aviv and killed 8 people. The dead included 3 male and 4 female soldiers and 1 civilian woman. Olbeh was later sentenced to eight life terms.
    • In Chechnya, rebels opened fire on Russian positions and 12 Russian soldiers were killed.
  • 2002 
    • The 168th annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science opened in Boston with a bleak assessment of planet health and a call for conservation of resources.
    • Jayson Williams (34), former NBA star and NBC Sports commentator, accidentally shot and killed Costas Christofi (55), a limousine driver.
    • In China, 41 foreigners were arrested and later expelled following pro Falun Gong demonstrations on Tiananmen Square.
    • Militant Palestinians attacked an Israeli tank in the Gaza Strip and 3 soldiers were killed.
    • In Brazil, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of six men in the back seat and trunk of a car parked near a Rio de Janeiro slum.
  • 2003
    • In Colombia a massive explosion rocked the southern city of Neiva as police searched a house for explosives. 15 people died and about 30 were wounded.
    • Popocatepetl volcano southeast of Mexico City erupted but caused no significant damage.
    • In Zimbabwe, 2 Valentine’s Day peace parades by women clutching roses and singing hymns were broken up by baton-wielding police who arrested at least 88 people as well as eight journalists.
  • 2004
    • Valentine’s Day march stopped when Zimbabwe police in the capital, Harare, dispersed more than 100 women who were planning the march to urge national reconciliation. In Bulawayo, the high court refused to hear an urgent application by the Women of Zimbabwe Arise that would have compelled the police to allow the march.
    • China executed Yang Xinhua (38), a man convicted of murdering 67 people, in what media said might be the country’s longest killing spree in modern history. Yang was convicted of 67 killings and 23 rapes in Henan and three other provinces.
    • In Iraq, guerrillas launched a bold daylight assault on an Iraqi police station and security compound west of Baghdad, freeing prisoners and sparking a gunbattle that killed 23 people and wounded 33.
    • In Moscow, Russia, an indoor water park roof collapsed, killing 28 people and injuring more than 100.
    • In northern Pakistan, two strong earthquakes triggered landslides and toppled walls that killed at least 24 people and injured about 30 others.
    • In Uganda, a tanker truck carrying diesel fuel collided with a packed minibus and burst into flames, killing at least 32 people.
  • 2005 
    • A terrorist bomb in West Beirut killed nine, including the Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in an apparent assassination. 
    • A gas explosion in China’s northeast Sunjiawan mine killed 214 people in the deadliest mining disaster reported since communist rule began in 1949.
    • In Iran a mosque fire killed 59 people and injured another 350. It was blamed on a kerosene heater that was placed too close to a thick curtain that separated male and female worshipers.
    • A roadside bomb killed three Iraqi National Guard troops. Insurgents blew up an oil pipeline near Kirkuk and killed two senior police officers in Baghdad.
    • In western Japan, a man carrying a knife burst into a public elementary school and stabbed at least 3 adults. Kyodo News reported that one of the victims died.
    • In Beirut, Lebanon, Rafik Hariri (60) was killed in a massive bomb explosion, as well as twenty two other people were killed and 100 wounded in the blast that devastated the front of the famous St. George Hotel. An Islamist group calling itself the Victory and Jihad Organization in the Levant claimed responsibility.
    • Three bombs jolted Manila and two other Philippine cities, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 100 others. The Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for the blasts.
    • Togo police in riot gear faced off with crowds who blocked roads and intimidated residents during a general strike to protest the army’s installation of Faure Gnassingbe to succeed his late father as president.
  • 2006 
    • The UNHCR said flooding left more than 50,000 Sahrawi refugees homeless, destroying up to half of the mud-brick houses in their camps of Awserd, Smara, and Laayoune in the Tindouf region of western Algeria. 
    • Two Australians were sentenced to death by firing squad for leading a drug smuggling ring on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali, verdicts that could strain ties between the countries. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran masterminded the trafficking of 18 pounds of heroin to their homeland.
    • In southern China, toxic wastewater was flushed untreated into a river, prompting the government to cut water supplies to 28,000 people in Guanyin for at least four days. A power plant on the upper reaches of the Yuexi River in Sichuan province was to blame for the pollution.
    • The UN said 13 Eritreans employed by the UN peacekeeping mission in Eritrea have been detained by local authorities and another 30 are in hiding for fear of being arrested.
    • Gunmen attacked a group of Iraqi Shiites working on a farm north of Baghdad, killing 11 and wounding two. A roadside bomb killed a US Marine in western Baghdad in one of two attacks that also wounded six coalition military personnel.
    • In Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, armed men forced their way into a hospital and killed a teenager under treatment for an earlier attempt on his life.
    • In Pakistan, thousands of protesters rampaged through Islamabad and Lahore, storming into a diplomatic district and torching Western businesses and a provincial assembly in Pakistan’s worst violence against the Prophet Muhammad drawings. At least two people were killed and 11 injured.
    • Darfur rebels said they had shot down a government helicopter and captured the only surviving crew member, named as Captain Muawiya Zubeir.
    • Zimbabwe police arrested at least 60 women who took part in a march with a Valentine’s Day theme calling for love and harmony and protesting food shortages and alleged human rights violations. 
      • (VPM: as far as I can tell, this is not an annual event.)
  • 2007
    • Sleet stung the faces of pedestrians in New York and snow and ice coated windshields and streets as a Valentine’s Day blizzard roared out of the Midwest and shut down parts of the Northeast.
    • ConAgra recalled all Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter made at a Georgia plant because of a salmonella outbreak.
    • German-US auto giant DaimlerChrysler said it planned to axe 13,000 jobs at its loss-making Chrysler subsidiary as part of a broad restructuring plan aimed at returning the US unit to profitability by 2009. The bulk of the job losses will affect union workers, with 9,000 hourly jobs eliminated in the United States and 2,000 in Canada.
    • NATO officials said warplanes struck a Taliban compound in southern Afghanistan with “precision munitions,” killing an area commander and about 10 of his men. Villagers said the raid in the southern province of Helmand also killed civilians. NATO said Taliban fighters used children as human shields to flee heavy fighting this week during an operation by foreign and Afghan forces to clear rebels from around a key hydro-electric dam. In eastern Afghanistan US-led troops killed a suspected militant and detained 6 others, including one with alleged links to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
    • In Brazil violence cast a shadow over Rio’s famed Carnival when gunmen killed Guaracy Paes Falcao (42), a leader of one of the premiere samba band groups. Falcao was with an unidentified woman who was also shot dead.
    • A car loaded with explosives blew up near a bus carrying members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in southeastern Iran, killing 11 of them and wounding 31. An al-Qaida-linked Sunni militant group reportedly claimed responsibility. Within a week, Nasrollah Shanbe Zehi was convicted and executed for the bombing.
    • The Iraqi government formally launched a long-awaited security crackdown in Baghdad. A parked car bomb struck a predominantly Shiite district elsewhere in central Baghdad, killing four civilians and wounding 10. In Mosul a suicide car bomber targeted an Iraqi army patrol, killing one soldier and four civilians and wounding 20 other people.
    • Mexican immigration agents allegedly locked 10 Guatemalan and two Salvadoran migrants in a trailer after they refused to pay a bribe of $110 each. In late 2008, the country’s National Human Rights Commission called for a government investigation.
  • 2008 
    • A former student of Northern Illinois University, Steven Kazmierczak (27) opened fire at a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University killing 7 and injuring 14 more. The school placed the campus on lock down, and students and teachers were advised to head to a secure location or take cover. The perpetrator committed suicide at the scene. This was the fourth-deadliest university shooting in the United States.      
    • Chad’s President Idriss Deby declared a state of emergency and signed a decree increasing government powers for 15 days.
    • The chief of Hezbollah vowed to retaliate against Israeli targets anywhere in the world after accusing the Jewish state of killing the militant Imad Mughniyeh in Syria.
    • In Thailand, General Secretary Mahn Sha (64), leader of the Karen National Union (KNU), was shot and killed at his home in Mae Sot by three men who arrived in a pickup truck. The KNU is one of the biggest ethnic groups fighting Myanmar’s military government. Initial investigations showed that the assailants were also Karen.
    • Zimbabwe’s inflation rate, already the highest in the world, soared to a new high of 66,212.3%.
Yes, these chocolates are filled with ketchup.
  • 2009
    • In Alabama, suspicious fires destroyed 2 churches (Union CME Church and Liberty CME Church) and damaged a third near the Georgia border. Both are historically black churches, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church being the present name for former Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.    
    • In Canandaigua, New York, Kimberly and Christopher Glatz were killed at their home. Mary Silliman (23) was slain along with Randall Norman (41) a motorist who intervened when he saw her being roughed up in the parking lot in a pre-dawn attack outside Lakeside Memorial Hospital in Brockport. In August Frank Garcia, a nursing supervisor, was convicted of the Glatz killings and faced another trial for the Brockport killings. On Sep 1 Garcia was sentenced to life in prison.
    • Over 6,000 people fled the Ndele region of the Central African Republic for a Chadian border village after violence erupted between two ethnic groups, the Runga and the Gulus.
    • In Iraq, a roadside bomb killed two civilians and wounded four others, including a soldier, when it exploded near an Iraqi army patrol in western Mosul.
    • In northwestern, Pakistan a suspected US missile strike by a drone aircraft flattened a militant hide-out, killing 27 local and foreign insurgents. Two officials said dozens of followers of Pakistan’s top Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, were staying in the housing compound when it was hit.
    • In Sri Lanka, a suspected Tamil Tiger rebel hurled a hand grenade at a bus full of war-displaced refugees, killing a woman and wounding 13 others.
  • 2010 
    • In Arizona a helicopter crashed north of Phoenix killing 5 people on-board, including Thomas Stewart (64), the head of Services Group of America.
    • An apartment fire in Cicero, Ill., killed at least 7 people including 4 children. The fire spread to nearby buildings and over 20 people were left homeless. On March 4 landlord Lawrence Myers (60) and handyman Marion Comier (47) were each charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson.
    • Twelve Afghans, including 6 children, died when two rockets fired at insurgents missed their target and struck a house during the second day of NATO’s most ambitious effort yet to break the militants’ grip on the country’s dangerous south. Thousands of NATO and Afghan troops encountered pockets of resistance, as they moved deeper into Marjah, a town of 80,000 people that is the linchpin of the militants’ logistical and opium-smuggling network in Helmand province. Afghan officials said at least 27 insurgents have been killed in the operation. In the south two British service members died, one from small-arms fire and the other from a roadside bomb explosion.
    • Department of Conservation workers in New Zealand found nine whales dead on Stewart Island. Wild seas and strong winds made it impossible to mount a rescue for another nineteen beached whales, and conservation officials were forced to euthanize the animals.    
    • A Yemeni military helicopter crashed killing at least 10 troops in the north, as the government sought to implement a ceasefire with Shiite rebels in the mountainous area.
  • 2011
    • Afghan government prosecutors and police stormed into election commission offices in Kabul to seize control of voting data, accusing the body of not cooperating with a probe into fraud. A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of a Kabul shopping and hotel complex. Nine employees of Afghanistan’s Central Bank and a troubled private bank (Kabul Bank), were accused of stealing $1.5 million through a fake check scheme.
    • Bahrain’s security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at thousands of anti-government protesters attempting to bring the Arab reform wave to the Gulf. Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima (21) died.
    • Iran’s security forces blockaded the home of an Iranian opposition leader in attempts to stop him attending a rally in support of Egypt’s uprising. Security forces and opposition protesters sporadically clashed in Tehran’s Enghelab Square. Sanee Zhaleh (26) was shot dead during the opposition rally.
    • A plane used to deliver World Food Program aid crashed in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing its Russian pilot and his Congolese co-pilot.
    • A Honduran commercial airliner crashed near the capital, killing all 14 people aboard, including Assistant Secretary for Public Works Rodolfo Rovelo, United Workers Federation of Honduras leader Jose Israel Salinas, and former Economy Secretary Carlos Chain.
    • A series of drug cartel shootings in Mexico left 18 people dead in Padilla, Tamaulipas state. In neighboring Nuevo Leon state,  gunmen killed Homero Salcido Trevino, a top intelligence officer.
    • In Malaysia, Islamic morality police detained 40 unmarried Muslim couples in hotel rooms during Operation Valentine, aimed at curbing illegal premarital sex. The main Islamic body issued an edict in 2005 banning Muslims from celebrating what it said was a day synonymous with vice.
    • In Dagestan, on the border between Eastern Georgia and Russia, a pair of suicide bombers attacked security forces, killing 2 officers and wounding 21 others.
    • A couple in Pattaya, Thailand, locked lips for 46 hours, 24 minutes and 9 seconds to celebrate Valentine’s Day. A previous world record of 32 hours was set by a German couple in 2009.
  • 2012
    • Baton-wielding police in Harare, Zimbabwe disrupted a Valentine’s Day march of some 200 women, aimed at promoting peace and love between foes. No arrests were reported. Police said the demonstration was illegal under sweeping security laws that require police clearance.
    • Ten people were killed in Madagascar after Cyclone Giovanna struck land; a building collapsed in Alaotra Mangoro, killing six.
    • Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a series of bomb attacks in Nigeria targeting two major military bases and a highway overpass that wounded an unknown number of people in Kaduna.
    • A Ugandan minister raided and shut down a workshop run by homosexual rights activists in Entebbe, days after a draconian anti-gay bill was reintroduced.
    • Somali government forces backed by the African Union attacked Islamist Shebab rebel posts on the outskirts of the war-torn capital Mogadishu with tanks and artillery.
    • In Iraq, two separate attacks against Iraqi security forces in Mosul and Baghdad killed three people and wounded 18 others.
    • Bahraini security forces arrested 150 people while dispersing protesters attempting to march on the former Pearl Square in an event marking the one-year anniversary of the Shiite-led uprising against its Sunni rulers.
    • Syrian government forces renewed their assault on the city of Homs; twenty people were reported killed as pro-Assad forces and army defectors battled for hours in the northern town of Atareb.
    • Snow as deep as 15 feet (4.5m) isolated areas of Albania, Moldova, and Romania, requiring helicopters and military assistance to deliver food and medicine. Nearly 100 people died weather-related deaths in the extreme cold of early February.
    • Bolivian police arrested Julio Edwin Valdez (33), the leader of a gang in El Alto believed to have killed 69 people.
    • A fire in a prison in the Honduran town of Comayagua killed 362 people. When the fire started, the 852 inmates were locked into the prison that had been built for half that number. Most inmates had never been charged, let alone convicted. Many of the survivors of the fire escaped the prison in the chaos.
    • In South Korea, people rallied near the Chinese Embassy to protest China’s state security police for arresting dozens of North Korean defectors who face torture, imprisonment, and even death if returned to their homeland.
    • In Thailand, an Iranian man, Saeid Moradi, carrying grenades lost at least one leg in a grenade blast and wounded four civilians in Bangkok. A second man, Mohammad Kharzei, was arrested in Bangkok as he tried to board a flight to Malaysia.
    • Hackers claimed to have broken into Combined Systems Inc.’s website and stolen personal information belonging to clients and employees of the Jamestown, Pennsylvania-based firm, whose tear gas has been used against Egyptian demonstrators.
    • In Massachusetts, eleven dolphins beached themselves at Cape Cod. Ten were rescued. In January and February, 178 dolphins were stranded in the area and 125 died.
  • 2013 
    • Zimbabwean riot police in Bulawayo  broke up the eleventh annual Valentine’s Day march by Women of Zimbabwe Arise. The marches are an opportunity for the 80,000 members of WOZA to call for government action on such issues as access to water. In Harare, police used tear gas to scatter approximately 1,000 protesters. Bulawayo police detained 195 protesters, who say they were assaulted during the arrests. WOZA members the majority of those arrested suffered injuries and 25 sought medical treatment.
    • Dozens of Afghan activists and supporters marked Valentine’s Day by marching in Kabul to denounce violence against women amid reports that domestic abuse is on the rise.
    • Security forces in Bahrain clashed with anti-government protesters, leaving a sixteen year old boy and a police officer dead.
    • In Pakistan, a roadside bomb hit a vehicle carrying members of an anti-Taliban militia in Stanzai village, killing seven militiamen. A suicide car bomber detonated next to a police post in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing eleven police officers and wounding twenty three others.
    • Fighting between the Syrian government and Syrian rebels caused major destruction to the Syrian Air Force, military bases, the towns of Shadadah and al-Sahwa as well as the Jbeysa oil field. In addition to the deaths of soldiers and civilians, 42 Shiite women and children were kidnapped.
    • Turkish authorities arrested eight retired military officers over their alleged involvement in the ousting of an Islamic-led government in the late 1990s.
    • Indian troops shot and killed a Pakistani soldier who crossed the makeshift border separating Indian and Pakistani held Kashmir.
    • Mali’s military detained eight Arab men in Timbuktu in a sweep that raised fears of further reprisals against the region’s Arab minority. Hundreds of others have fled to Algeria and Mauritania, where they are living in refugee camps.
    • Oscar Pistorius, Olympic and Paralympic gold medalist runner, was arrested after shooting and killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.  
    • A Norwegian court in Oslo sentenced Sadi Bugingo (47) of Rwanda to 21 years in prison after he was found guilty of taking part in the slaughter of more than a thousand Tutsis in his home country.
  • 2014
    • A blast struck a bus in Bahrain carrying police as anti-government activists clashed with police, killing one police officer. Twenty six people were arrested in addition to the 29 people arrested the day before.
    • Egyptian police and residents clashed with supporters of ousted President Morsi, leaving a man shot dead in Damietta and a child killed in Minya.
    • Iraqi troops regained ground in the northern town of Sulaiman Pek, a day after parts of it were overrun by Sunni Islamist insurgents. At least 12 militants were killed by the army.
    • A car bomb in Syria killed 32 people the town of al-Yaduda (Yadouda) near the border with Jordan. Five soldiers were killed when Islamist rebels detonated mines under the Carlton Hotel in Aleppo. In Geneva, Syrian government and opposition delegates in Geneva said talks to end their country’s civil war have reached an impasse.
    • The death toll from a prison break in Sanaa rose to ten, according to Yemeni military and security officials. The government claimed al-Qaida received help from inside the prison to facilitate the escape of 29 inmates.
    • Dave Walker (58), a Canadian filmmaker, went missing in Cambodia. His body was found April 30 in the woods near the Angkor temple complex.
    • Eleven Chinese “terrorists” were reported killed during an attack in Wushi County in Xinjiang. The Chinese government sacked the police chief of the southern “sin city” of Dongguan following a report on the underground sex industry there.
    • In eastern China, a wedding hall collapsed, killing 10 people in Yazhuang village, Zhejiang province.
    • A volcanic eruption on Java, Indonesia sent a 17 km (10 mile) ash cloud into the air. More than 56,000 people fled their homes and 4 were killed when Mount Kelud erupted. Seven Japanese divers went missing off the island of Bali; five of the divers were found alive on February 17.
    • A UN Commission of Inquiry found that crimes against humanity had been committed in North Korea and recommended that its findings be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
    • Thousands of Muslims who tried to flee the violence in Bangui in the Central African Republic were turned back by peacekeepers, as crowds of angry Christians shouted “we’re going to kill you all.”
    • Twenty two Congolese soldiers and 230 Ugandan rebels were been killed in a nearly month-long offensive in eastern .
    • Zambian ex-diplomat and son of former president Rupiah Banda was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of corruption.
    • German Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich announced his resignation over claims he leaked confidential information about an international child porn probe.
    • Italy’s Premier Enrico Letta drove himself to the president’s palace and resigned following questionable back-room political maneuvering.
    • In Venezuela, soldiers fired tear gas and deployed water cannons to break up hundreds of student demonstrators blocking a highway in protest against President Nicolas Maduro, ultimately arresting more than 100 protesters.
    • In New Mexico, unusually high levels of radioactive particles were found at an underground nuclear waste site; investigators later found five other potentially explosive barrels in West Texas that came from the same Los Alamos waste stream.
    • About $2.5 million of Bitcoin was apparently stolen from Silk Road 2.0, a website used to trade mainly illegal drugs. A flaw in Bitcoin’s code was discovered earlier in the month.

IT SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY

  • 2015        
    • Jason Hendrix (16) was killed in a shootout with Maryland police as they tried to pull him over for a speeding violation. A search of his home in Corbin, Kentucky revealed the bodies of his parents and a younger sister.  
    • Fighting intensified ahead of a midnight ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. Shelling killed at least eight people and wounded 23, focused in Donetsk and Debaltseve.
    • A barrage of shots were fired at the Krudttoenden cafe in Copenhagen, Denmark, disrupting a freedom of speech event and killing filmmaker Finn Noergaard (55).
    • Dozens of anti-coup Thai activists held a demonstration in central Bangkok, handing out roses and copies of George Orwell’s 1984 — a rare expression of public dissent in a nation still under strict martial law.
    • Algerian soldiers shot dead a heavily armed Islamist in the Tebessa region on the northeastern border with Tunisia.
    • Pakistani gunmen killed a driver and wounded a polio worker in the Khyber tribal region as another vaccination team went missing ahead of a nationwide vaccination drive.
    • Twenty six people were killed in Yemen in fighting overnight between Shiite rebels and Sunni tribesmen left 26 dead. Tens of thousands marched in protest against the Houthis in the cities of Ibb, Taiz, Hodeida, Dhamar, and the capital, Sanaa.
  • 2016        
    • Four American journalists, who were covering the anniversary of Bahrain’s 2011 uprising, were arrested and accused of participating in an illegal gathering amid a long crackdown on dissent.
    • Cameroon ended a four day operation during which its special forces reportedly killed 162 Boko Haram militants in Nigeria’s northeastern town of Goshi, destroying bomb factories and weapons to retake the extremist stronghold.
    • In Indian-controlled Kashmir, two students were killed during an anti-India protest that followed the killing of a local rebel in a gunbattle with government forces in southern Kakpora village.
    • A train crashed into a van at a crossing in southern Pakistan, killing eight people and injuring four.
    • Three Palestinian teenagers were shot and killed while protesting Israeli security forces in the West Bank. Yasmin al-Zaru (20) tried to stab an Israeli policeman in Hebron in the West Bank, but she was shot in the attempt. Two armed Palestinians attacked Israeli police just outside the Old City walls before being shot dead by officers.
    • The Turkish army shelled positions held by Kurdish-backed militia in northern Syria for a second day, killing two fighters.
    • Zimbabwe aviation authorities impounded a US-registered cargo jet, with a dead body and millions of South African rand reportedly on board.
  • 2017        
    • Amid anarchist riots and police officers’ strike threats, Brazilian President Michel Temer deployed 9,000 soldiers to maintain security in Rio de Janeiro’s until the end of Carnaval celebrations.
    • Two journalists were shot dead during a live radio broadcast in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.
    • In China, a gas explosion at a coal mine in Hunan province killed at least ten people. Three attackers with knives killed five people and injured another five before being shot dead by police in Xinjiang province.
    • Seven Hong Kong police officers were convicted in the 2014 assault (caught on tape!) of pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang.
    • Congo police made a pre-dawn raid on Bundu dia Kongo (BDK), a separatist group in Kinshasa, killing four people.
    • Four Indian soldiers and four militants were killed in gun-battles in the Bandipora district of northern Kashmir, in the second outbreak of violence between security forces and separatists in three days. 
    • A passenger train and a freight train collided in Luxembourg, killing one person and injuring several more.
    • Hundreds of Malians fled villages close to the city of Macina after violent clashes between Fulani herders and Bambara farmers over the weekend killed 20 people. 
    • Two days of fighting in northern Syria left 69 dead, including 39 from the Levant Liberation Committee and 30 dead from Jund al-Aqsa.
    • Police in Vietnam forcibly prevented hundreds of protesters from marching to present compensation claims against a steel plant over a toxic spill in 2016.
    • Storms packing heavy rains, lashing winds and tornadoes hit the Houston, Texas metropolitan area, ripping roofs off homes, blowing windows out of frames, and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.
  • 2018       
    • Nikolas Cruz (19) barged into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle. He killed 17 students and teachers and injured 17 more.
    • Youth in Iran, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia celebrated Valentine’s Day in protest of religious government authorities banning the celebrations as part of “decadent Western culture.”
    • In Afghanistan, Taliban attacks on police stations killed at least ten police officers and thirteen insurgents. A land mine in western Herat province killed two children of a local Taliban figure.
    • Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari announced that 18,000 people had been killed and 36,000 wounded in the war with the Islamic State militant group since 2014.
    • Two airport vehicles collided on the airfield at London’s Heathrow Airport, killing a British Airways engineer and injuring another man.
    • In the Netherlands, former prime minister Ruud Lubbers (b. 1939), died in Rotterdam. He had governed the country from 1982 to 1994.
    • Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party withdrew from parliament a European treaty designed to combat violence against women after language around gender roles triggered uproar in the European Union’s poorest country.
    • Most schools in Slovenia closed as nearly 40,000 teachers held a one-day strike following a week of protests by public sector workers.
    • In north-central Mexico, a train hit a bus carrying factory workers, and at least seven people were killed in San Luis Potosi.
    • Bolivia’s defense minister said an explosive was used in a blast that killed at least four people during Carnaval de Oruruo celebrations.
    • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte offered a nearly $500 bounty for each communist rebel killed by government forces and told soldiers to shoot female communist guerrillas in the genitals to render them “useless.”
    • Cambodian lawmakers unanimously approved changes to the criminal code and the constitution making lese majeste – insulting the monarchy – a criminal offense punishable by a fine and up to five years in prison.
    • In Sri Lanka, a building collapsed in a busy part of Colombo’s Grandpass district, killing seven. 
  • 2019       
    • The World Health Organization (WHO) said that at least 922 children and young adults had died of measles in Madagascar since October, despite a huge emergency vaccination program.
    • In Iraq, eight members of a militia linked to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were killed in a bomb blast near Samarra.
    • Adil Ahmad Dar rammed a car full of explosives into a paramilitary convoy in Kashmir along a key highway on the outskirts of Srinagar, killing 41 soldiers and wounding more than two dozen others.
    • An armed group in Libya kidnapped 14 Tunisian workers in the western city of Zawiya, near Tripoli.
    • Yusuf Saloojee, South Africa’s former ambassador to Iran, was arrested in Johannesburg on charges of bribery with international corporations.
    • In Sudan, security forces fired teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters close to the presidential palace in Khartoum, before plainclothes officers armed with plastic piping rounded up around 30 people.
    • Italian police arrested Francesco Strangio, convicted in 2018 for international drug trafficking.
    • Louisiana State Univ. in Baton Rouge announced the arrest of nine members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity for hazing related crimes.

Bottom line for writers: This blog is about how horrific a day with generally positive associations can be. Having a fresh and/or slanted take on something familiar is nearly always a winner. Have at it!

PS – Happy Half-Price Chocolate Day! It lasts all weekend this year!

SALT

It’s everywhere!  And surely anything as ubiquitous as salt has a place in your writing. The English language is sprinkled liberally with salt.  The following phrases are so common that they are clichés, and writers note: as such these may have a place in dialogue but seldom, if at all, in narrative. No doubt most if not all of these are familiar, so take this as a nudge to use them.

Basamaci Restaurant in Shiraz is made entirely of salt.
Wieliczka-Zwiedzanie Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland
  • Rub salt into the wound: make a painful experience worse
  • Salt a mine: bring in ore or something else to make the source seem rich
  • Salt the books: inflate receipts to falsely show more money 
  • Salt of the earth: a really good person
  • Salting the earth: victors sowed salt to prevent the growth of plants on enemy land
  • Worth one’s salt (or not): has earned his money (or not)
  • Take something with a pinch/grain of salt: view skeptically, think something is exaggerated
  • Salt away: save for the future
  • Old salt: old seaman
  • Above/below the salt: above is closer to the seat of power, indicating the diners’ relative status
  • Salt mine: figuratively, work, especially a difficult job or task
  • Salty language: somewhat rude or shocking 

Writers: Consider building a scene or a plot around one of these

Salt Mines in India

Salt in Religion 

As valuable as salt has been, finding it used in religious ceremonies is only to be expected.

Different types of salt can make a rainbow of flames
  • In Hittite rituals, during Semite and Greek festivals at the time of the new moon, salt was thrown into fire where it popped and crackled.
  • Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans made offerings of salt and water to their gods.
    • Some historians think this may have been the origin of Holy Water in Christian rituals.
  • In Aztec tradition, the fertility goddess (Huixtocihuatl) presided over salt and salt water.
  • Hindus consider salt auspicious and use it in weddings and house-warmings.
  • Devotees of Jainism lay an offering of raw rice with a bit of salt before a deity to symbolize devotion.
    • Salt is sprinkled on cremains before they are buried.
  • Mahayana Buddhists use salt to ward off evil spirits.
    • After a funeral, a pinch of salt is thrown over the left shoulder to prevent evil spirits from entering the house, a practice that is also copied by superstitious people of many cultures.
Shinto Priestess
  • In Shinto Buddhism, salt is used for ritual purification (people and places).
    • Small piles of salt are placed at the entrances of shrines to ward off evil and attract patron spirits.
  • In Judaism, salted bread is recommended for passing around the table after the Kiddush.
    • Sabbath bread is dipped in salt, as are the bitter herbs at Passover.
  • Both Jewish and Muslim dietary laws require removing blood from freshly slaughtered meat; salt and brine are used for the purpose.
  • In Wicca, salt is symbolic of the element Earth; it cleanses harmful or negative energy. A dish of salt and one of water are nearly always present on an altar, and salt is used in many rituals and ceremonies.

What if a character not of a particular culture or religion learned something about the rituals and decided to practice them?

Catedral del Sal, Colombia

When most people think “salt” they think of seasoning food.  In fact, only 6% of salt is consumed by people.  Even so, gourmets identify at least 12 salts used in food preparation. Also, salty is one of the five basic tastes (along with sweet, bitter, sour, and umami). In addition, salt releases food molecules into the air, giving food an aroma. And FYI, apart from the basic tastes, almost all other tastes are actually smell. In small amounts, salt curbs bitterness and enhances sweet, sour, and umami. In higher amounts, it reduces sweetness and enhances umami, great for savor and meat dishes.

  • Table salt: most common, from underground deposits, highly refined and finely ground, usually treated with an anti-caking age. Often iodine is added to prevent goiter.
  • Kosher salt: flakier and coarser grained than table salt, good for sprinkling on food and cooking. Does not have additives. Not kosher itself, it’s used in the koshering process
  • Sea salt: from evaporated sea water, usually unrefined and coarser grained than table salt. Contains minerals (e.g., zinc, potassium, iron) and flavor from where harvested.
  • Himalayan pink salt: purest salt in the world. It contains the 84 elements found in the human body.
  • Celtic sea salt (gray salt): harvest off the coast of France, mineral rich, chunky grains.
  • Fluer de sel (flower of salt):delicate, paper-thin crystals, harvested by hand with wooden rakes, the most expensive of all food salts
  • Kala namak (black salt): it’s Himalayan, with a faint sulfur aroma that goes tofu (for example) the taste of eggs
  • Flake salt: harvested by boiling sea water, thin irregular crystals, very low mineral content
  • Black and red Hawaiian salt: both coarse-grained and crunchy, great with seafood and meat.
  • Smoked salt: slow smoked up to two weeks over a wood fire (e.g., hickory, mesquite, apple, oak, alder); varies in flavor
  • Pickling salt: used for pickling and brining, no added iodine or anti-caking agents, not many base minerals

Consider a character who has 5 or 6 types of salt on hand: which kinds and why?

Salt Mine in Belarus

Myriad Uses for Salt 

In researching this topic, I read that there are more than 14,000 uses for salt. Searching online for uses for salt turns up lists of all sorts of lengths—6, 12, 20, 55—more than enough to establish salt’s place in the life of your character.  Is your character thrifty, and thus finds salt a less expensive alternative to cleaning, medical, or beauty products? Does your character strive for simplicity, and want to purge as many products as possible? Here are a few examples. Each bigger topic could be researched separately.

  • Around the home
    • Keep wicker looking new
    • Put out a fire
    • Deodorize shoes
    • Prevent new towels from fading in the wash
  • Health and beauty
    • Alternative to mouthwash
    • Exfoliate your skin
    • Dandruff treatment
    • Gargle saltwater for sore throat
  • Cleaning with salt
    • Remove tea and coffee stains from mugs and carafes
    • Clean a dirty room
    • Refresh chopping boards
    • Get rid of watermarks on wood furniture
Pickled Lemons
  • Salt in the kitchen
    • Quick and easy nut shelling
    • Test the freshness of an egg
    • Extend the life of cheese
    • Whip egg whites and heavy quicker
    • Keep sliced apples and potatoes from browning
  • Salt outside
    • Keep car windshield frost-free in winter
    • Pain relief from a bee sting
    • Keep stains from setting in clothing
Salt Flats in Bolivia

Importance of Salt—Past and Present

Or you could go to a salt cave in Minneapolis and sit
  • It is essential for human and other animal life.
    • At the same time, excessive salt consumption is related to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.
  • Salting food is one of the oldest methods of preservation, along with drying and smoking, dating to at least 6050 BCE in Bulgaria, 5400 BCE in Romania, and 6000 BCE in China. It’s still used as a preservative in processed foods.
  • Other uses include water conditioning (12%)
    • De-icing highways (8%)
    • 68% of world-wide salt production is used for manufacturing and industrial processing (PVC, plastics, paper pulp, aluminum, soaps, glycerine, synthetic rubber, and firing pottery, drilling, to fix color in dying textiles, tanning hides)
  • Salt was used for barter pretty much world-wide:
    • Moorish merchants in the 6th century traded salt for gold, weight for weight.
    • Salt was traded like gold or silk everywhere along the Silk Road and throughout Europe.
  • Salt has been used as money in Ethiopia, other parts of Africa, and Tibet.
    • An allowance of salt was made to officers and soldiers in the Roman Army.
The Road (2009) from the novel by Cormac McCarthy

Writers: Consider an apocalyptic story in which the basic necessity of salt returns.

The Lasting Stamp of Salt 

In many places, in many forms, the historical significance of salt continues to reverberate today.

サラリーマン !
  • Naming rights:
    • One of the oldest roads in Italy is Via Salaria, salt route
    • The river Salzach in Austria translates to salt river
    • Salzburg means salt castle
  • The Roman allowance of salt turned into a monetary allowance to buy salt, and this salarium gave rise to the English word salary 
    • In Japan, a person who works a M-F office job is often referred to as a salaryman (サラリーマン )
Gandhi led people on a march to the sea to distill salt after British salt laws were imposed.

Salting the Dead—and Not Dead

Somehow, I don’t think salt water is going to help alleviate torture…
  • Salt accelerates the process of decomposition of the body.
  • It helps to prevent bad odor from leaking out of the soil where the corpse is buried, so dogs and other predators don’t dig up the body.
  • If someone is buried in salt up to his/her neck: the salt would start to draw water out of the body slowly. The skin starts wrinkling and drying as time goes by, mouth becomes parched and eyes become irritated because of the loss of moisture. It becomes harder to breathe as water leaves the body and the blood becomes thicker and more coagulated. The terrible thing is that unlike being buried alive, the person would likely remain conscious and eventually delirious before dying a long time later.  The corpse would be dehydrated and preserved by the salt and thus become a mummy.

Writers: consider the dark possibilities of torture and/or murder.

Cristal Samana Salt Hotel in Uyumi, Bolivia

Bottom line for writers: sprinkled throughout!

No discussion of salt is complete without mentioning legendary musicians Salt N Pepa!

SEEING THINGS

Yep. I’m into body parts.  I’ve blogged about feet, hands, handedness, hair, etc. Today, it’s eyes. Eyes stare, wink, and roll, among other things.  For many people, eyes are the first thing they notice.  They communicate all the time.  But what are they saying? I’m talking about the U.S. But be aware that the meaning of eye contact varies between societies, with religious and social differences.

I think these eyes are saying, “I’m going to steal this firetruck!”

Those Lying Eyes

 It’s a truism that a liar can’t look you in the eye, that people look away when lying or trying to deceive. What does the research say?

  • Introverts struggle to maintain eye contact when lying
  • Extrovert liars tend to engage in more eye contact as a way of asserting innocence 
  • In many cultures, eye aversion is a sign of respect for the speaker
  • We look away when we are comfortable
  • We look away when we retrieve facts from our memory
  • We look away when we contemplate the future
  • We look down, move our eyes side to side, hold still, or even close our eyes as we process information
  • People with autistic disorders or social anxieties find eye contact particularly unsettling

Those Truthful Eyes

  • Squinting or narrowing the eyes indicates discomfort, stress, or anger, i.e., nothing good
  • When nervous or troubled, blink rate increases five times or more over the base rate
  • People make more eye contact with people or things they like, indicating attraction, attentiveness, interest
  • People look away from things/people found distasteful
  • Eyes can convey six basic emotions: sadness, disgust, anger, joy, fear, and surprise
  • Direction of gaze indicates where one’s attention lies
  • Eye contact is an important element of flirting
  • In many crowded cities (New York, London), strangers in close proximity avoid eye contact to help maintain privacy 

Consider Problem Eyes

  • Although looking at a speaker indicates respect and/or shows you are listening, too much of a good thing might signal an effort to assert dominance.
  • A condition like chronic dry eye, which is accompanied by redness, watering eyes, rubbing itchy or burning eyes send negative messages, such as lack of interest, fatigue, disagreement, or disbelief.

FYI: Studies suggest that eye contact has a positive impact on the retention and recall of information—i.e., it facilitates learning.

Colorful Considerations

Eye color is genetic. Blue, green, and grey eyes are a result of recessive genes.

There is some evidence that the color of a person’s irises has some effect on personality or physical health. Though the science on that is still a bit nebulous, multiple studies have shown that eye color affects the way a person is perceived. Of course, every person is different and perceptions vary among cultures, there are some stereotypes that are more common than others.

  • Brown eyes
    • Compassionate
    • Humble
    • Warm and friendly
    • Outgoing, vivacious, extroverted
    • Fabulous kissers, fabulous lovers
    • Energetic
    • Willing to take risks
  • Blue eyes
    • Insincere, untrustworthy
    • Self-absorbed
    • Intelligent
    • Excelling at strategy, academic sciences (left-brained!)
  • Studies have shown that men with blue eyes are more likely to choose romantic partners who also have blue eyes. Men with other eye colors did not demonstrate any consistent preference.
  • Babies are born with blue eyes, which usually darken to other colors as melanin in the iris increases.
  • Hazel eyes
    • Determined, strong in the face of adversity
    • Imaginative and creative
    • Fall in love quickly and intensely
    • Self-centered
  • Green eyes
    • Self-sufficient
    • Confident
    • Emotionally restrained
    • Love fun and laughing
    • Initially reserved but ultimately quite talkative
  • Grey eyes
    • Conformist
    • Quiet
    • Sensitive, empathic
    • Mystical and wise
    • Deceptive

Bottom line for writers: Eyes are a powerful tool, but to be clear, eyes have to be interpreted in context.

Don’t discount the appeal of puppy eyes!
And then there are those times when no eyes can be seen…

TALKING HANDS

Finger Hands made by Archie McPhee

The first thought to come to mind is probably American Sign Language. Important as it is, that isn’t a big part of this blog, primarily because I know next to nothing about it. For information from experts in Sign Language and Deaf culture, check out these other sources:

Instead, I am going to take a look at the hand language that people pick up without really thinking about it. In spite of humans developing amazing verbal language, we still engage our hands to enhance communication of our emotions, thoughts, and meaning. Think of how hands are used by effective speakers (e.g., Hitler), magicians, and orchestra conductors, for example.

Talking Hands are a Gift for Writers! 

Use hands to show rather than tell how a person is feeling, whether anxious, scared, frustrated, or confident. Mismatching words and hand movements are invaluable for indicating dishonesty, lies, or at the least a situation undermining trust.

Hand slang is culture-bound. By hand slang, I mean gestures that convey a specific meaning in a particular culture. For example, in the United States, the following gestures are generally understood:

  • Rubbing palms together: anticipation, positive expectation; rubbing faster is more positive
  • Tubbing thumb against index finger or fingers: financial gain, expectation
  • Fist pump: victory, win
  • Fist bump: congratulations, casual greeting
  • Closed fist, middle finger extended: f*ck you, up yours
  • Closed fist, index and middle fingers extended: peace, accent for photos
  • Thumb to nose, fingers waggling: mocking, distain
  • Thumbs to ears, tongue sticking out: a childish gesture of disdain or insult
  • Hand over heart: sincerity, believe me
  • Right hand raised, elbow bent: believe me, I swear; stop
  • Clenched fist: anger, irritation, or tension
  • Crooking the index finger: come here, sometimes used flirtatiously 

Hand slang often changes in meaning over time, even within the same culture:

  • Historically, thumbs down means death; now, disapproval or disagreement
  • Thumb up: historically, let the combatant live; now, okay, good job 
  • Index finger curled to touch the thumb: historically, this meant “okay”; recently, this gesture has become a symbol that the wielder is a white supremacist.

Writers note: The same gesture often has different meanings in different cultures. Use the confusion your advantage when there is a cross-cultural element to your story. Touching the index finger to the thumb means different things all over the world:

  • You’re a zero – France and Belgium
  • Money – Japan
  • @sshole – southern Italy
  • Sexual invitation – Greece and Turkey

President Nixon caused a scandal in Brazil when he deplaned with both hands overhead in the American peace sign, which in Brazil is equivalent to flipping someone the bird.

Gendered Gestures

By middle school/early adolescence, gender differences in the use of gestures emerge. Some gestures are used equally by both males and females.

  • Thumbs protruding from pockets: dominance and self-assuredness
  • Gesturing/pointing to someone with the thumb: dismissive, disrespectful, ridiculing
    • Women more likely to use this gesture with people they dislike
  • Males
    • Give “the finger” 
    • Give the finger with an upward arm more to convey “up yours”
    • Pound the table
    • Pound a fist into the opposite hand
    • Display clenched fists
    • Use expansive, powerful hand movements
    • Use adaptors less frequently (see below)
    • Holding jacket lapel with thumbs exposed: dominant and self-assuredness
  • Females
    • Put their hands in their laps or on their hips
    • Tap their hands on the table or on their leg
    • Pull in their gestures as if their elbows are attached to their waists
    • Use more “bonding” gestures, such as hands and arms outstretched toward another person
    • Be more expressive, more animated in their use of gestures
    • Use low steepled finger position (see below)
    • Place one hand over the other and rest her chin on top, drawing attention to the face

Writers portraying a person of the other sex heed this: getting body language wrong—in this case hand talk—makes your character come across as unreal or unbelievable.

Professional Gestures

Several professions require conveying information through hand gestures that fall outside the structure of a formalized language. People in these professions tend to remain cognizant of their hand movements and position even when not working. Some make an effort to minimize or completely still their hands, while others are especially prone to enhance their communication with conscious hand gestures.

  • Musical conductors often subconsciously cue other speakers even when off the stage. Conductors are trained to use their left and right hands simultaneously to make completely independent movements, signalling the tempo and style with the right hand and controlling musicians’ entrances and overall tone with the left.
  • Classical dance traditions in India, Bali, Japan, and many other regions include a “vocabulary” of hand signs. These signs are not a formalized language like ASL, but they are used in combination with the music to create a message or tell a story physically embodied by the movements of the entire body.
  • Romani dancers have a much less formal dance style, and it is common for individual dancers or families to create or adjust their own lexicon of hand movements. These gestures often reflect activities in daily life. Unlike Indian or Balinese dancers, Romani dancers’ footwork and figures tends to be relatively simple.
  • Ballet, and many offshoot lyrical dance styles, uses hand gestures either to extend the movement of their arms or to communicate story elements via pantomime.

Gestures as Adaptors

Adaptors are almost always learned in childhood, typically involving touching oneself, for the purpose of self-soothing. Often people exhibit only one such behavior/habit, but an individual could have multiples. For example, pulling on an ear, tapping toes, smoothing eyebrows, touching nose or chin, bouncing a knee, twisting fingers, picking at one’s nails, twirling hair, and brushing hair back. Adaptors can include adjusting clothing (e.g., pulling on/straightening a tie), fiddling with jewelry, pocket change, or a pencil, and drumming one’s fingers. 

Important things about using/exhibiting adaptors:

  • They attract attention, detracting from the verbal communication and/or annoying others
  • They are often interpreted as signs of anxiety
  • They make the exhibitor less persuasive 

Writers note: There are lots of ways to show anxiety or nervousness without telling the reader that is what is being felt.

What the hands say is often louder than words. Research by Joe Navarro’s and others supports this conclusion. 

  • When people hide their hands (for example, under a table or desk) they are perceived as less open and less honest.
  • How we touch someone reveals how we feel about them: full touch with the palm is warm and affectionate; touching with fingertips shows less affection.
  • When people feel comfortable and strong, fingers are spread out more, making hands more territorial.
  • When feeling insecure, people’s fingers are closer, sometimes thumbs tucked into palms.
  • Steepled fingers: when held high, feeling confident; low steepled fingers signal the person is listening, attending.
  • When feeling confident, thumbs rise more as the person speaks, especially if fingers are intertwined.
  • Two gestures express extreme stress: the Teepee Finger rub (palms facing, fingers interlaced and held stiff or rubbed slowly back and forth; and fingers intertwined palms facing up.
  • When adults’ words don’t match their gestures they are seen as less trustworthy.
  • Hands clenched together: scared, nervous, or holding back a strong negative emotion.

Position is important: in front of face, on desk or lap, in front of genitals when standing; in general, the higher the clenched fists, the stronger the negative emotion.

  • Hand behind the back, one hand gripped in the other: superiority and confidence.
  • Arms back, one hand gripping wrist: holding back frustration, a gesture of self-control. 

Get a grip on yourself?—Arms back, one hand gripping the other arm: the higher up the hand grips the opposite arm, the more frustrated or angry the person is likely to be.

Writers be aware: mismatching words and hand movements is a powerful tool.

Pay attention to handshakes. Because a handshake is often the first touch between people, it shapes first impressions.

  • No one likes vice-like grips, which convey aggressiveness, perhaps an attempt to intimidate or establish dominance.
  • A limp handshake does not denote femininity, but rather weakness.
  • Body language experts suggest mirroring the other person’s handshake, with good eye contact.
  • NB: In some cultures a hug or cheek-kissing might be more in order.

Talking With One’s Hands Isn’t a Bad Thing

  • An analysis of TED talks found that the most popular speakers used nearly twice as many hand gestures as the least popular speakers.
  • People who talk with their hands tend to be viewed as warm, agreeable and energetic.
  • People who use their hands less are seen as logical, cold and analytical.
  • According to Kinsey Gorman, “Gesturing can help people form clearer thoughts, speak in tighter sentences, and use more declarative language.”
  • Hand gestures often tell others the strength of our emotions and motivations.
  • Young children (age 5 or 6) using more hand gestures predicts a strong vocabulary as well ask sills related to sentence structure and storytelling later.

Bottom line for writers: Hand movements and gestures allow you to convey so much information to your readers:

  • Show not tell emotions and attitudes
  • Add depth to your character
  • Add power to your dialogue
  • Break up big chunks of narrative or dialogue in meaningful ways

SINISTER DEXTERITY

All writers should seriously consider including one or more lefties among their cast of characters – think of the possibilities! Let’s begin with ways being left-handed in and of itself creates obstacles for the leftie.

By definition, a left-handed  person is in the minority: with no overt effort to control handedness, lefties make up only 10% of the population today (9% of females, 11% of males). There is evidence that 500,000 year ago, neanderthals were characterized by this 90/10 split.  Simply living in a right-handed world is a challenge. Consider the number of things that are made to be used right-handed, from scissors to guitars to golf clubs. Yes, special implements are available, but that is just the point—they are “special,” and often more expensive. In some places, and at some times, special accommodations aren’t even available. 

Writers Note:  Any right-handed implement being used by a leftie could make a nice scene, and the way the leftie copes would clearly illuminate the leftie’s character.

Biases Against Lefties

  • “Right” phrases for positive things (such as right answer, right-hand man) vs. “left” phrases for things that are clumsy or bad (e.g., two left feet or a left-handed compliment).
  • Because the left hemisphere of the brain (which controls the right side of the body) is responsible for words, in almost every language the words for the right side of the body are positive and for the left side are negative.
    • In English, the direction “right” also means correct or proper.
    • In languages derived from Latin, left also means unlucky; sinister means evil.
    • In French, gauche means left, awkward, and clumsy; droit(e) means right, straight, as well as law.
  • In Ghana, a person can’t point with a left hand because the left hand is reserved for dirty things.
  • In some Islamic cultures, people are said to step into the mosque with the right foot, into the toilet with the left.
  • Only the right hand can be used for eating in most cultures where eating with bare hands is the norm.
  • Across cultures, words with more letters on the right side of the keyboard are rated more positively than average; words with more left side letters were rated more negatively. Since 1990, names with more right-side letters are wildly more popular.
  • Most religions have a strong bias for the right hand, particularly in Christian cultures:
    • The faithful sit at the Right Hand of God.
    • Black magic and Satanism are often referred to as the Left-Hand Path.
    • “And he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left.” Matthew 25: 32–33
  • When asked to judge two alien creatures side-by-side on the page, right-handers attributed more positive to the one on the right, while lefties were more positive toward the one on the left (attribution of honest, intelligent, attractiveness).
  • Lefties can learn to behave like right-handed people, and some cultures and periods in history have pushed strongly to suppress left-handedness.
Left-handed children were forced to use their non-dominant hand in school well into the 20th Century in the US.

Writer questions: How does your leftie cope with these biases on a daily basis? What if a leftie from a more accepting culture finds him/ herself in a stricter culture, and had to learn to write right-handed, and not hand anything to someone with the left hand?

The Downside of Left-Handedness

  • Mental illness is more common in left-handed people.
    • Lefties have a higher risk of psychosis. Lefties make up 20% or more of people diagnosed.
    • Lefties make up 40% of people diagnosed as schizophrenic.
    • Scientists have also found an increased risk for autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.
    • Lefties are more affected by fear, often showing subtle behaviors like people with PTSD.
    • Lefties are more prone to having negative emotions, such as anger.
    • Lefties seem to have a harder time processing their feelings.
    • Lefties report feeling more inhibited, shy, and embarrassed.
    • For mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disease, lefties make up 11%, close to their proportion in the general population.
During certain time periods, being left handed was enough to be convicted of witchcraft.
  • Left-handedness is positively correlated with lower-birth-weight and complications.
  • 40% of children with cerebral palsy were left-handed.
  • Lefties are more likely to break bones.
  • Lefties are more likely to have heart disease and to die earlier as a result.
  • For women 
    • Left-handedness is associated with a 62% increased risk for Parkinson’s disease.
    • A higher risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
    • Lefties have a higher risk of breast cancer, especially in post-menopausal women.
  • Paraphiliacs (exhibiting atypical sexual interests, typically involving extreme or dangerous activities) have a higher rate of left-handedness.
  • Greater rates of left-handedness have been documented for pedophiles.
  • Overall lefties salaries are 10% lower on average than right-handers. (Among the college educated, lefties earned 10-15% more than their right-handed colleagues.)

Writers: choose the psychological or health issue your leftie has(to) overcome.

Several members of the British Royal Family are left-handed.

The Upside of Left-Handedness

  • Lefties are more likely to develop some measure of dexterity in their non-dominant hand, most likely a result of years using tools designed for righties.
  • Lefties have a lower rate of arthritis.
  • Lefties have a lower rate of ulcers.
  • Lefties are better at divergent thinking, which generating ideas that explores many possible solutions.
  • Lefties tend to be drawn to careers in the arts, music, sports, and information-technology fields, and are often successful.
  • A slightly larger proportion of lefties are especially gifted in music and math.
Link from Legend of Zelda Is one of the few canonically left-handed video game characters.
  • Lefties have an advantage in hand-to-hand combat, analogous to throwing a curveball.
  • Lefties have an advantage in sports that involve aiming at a target, and are over-represented in baseball, tennis, table tennis, badminton, fencing, cricket, and boxing.
  • Some cultures have historically accepted or even revered left-handed individuals:
    • The Incas positively regarded left-handed individuals as people who possessed special spiritual abilities.
    • In Buddhism, the natural persuasion to use the left hand implied wisdom, according to it’s teachings.
    • In early Russia, “levsha” (left-hander) became a common noun for a skilled craftsman of status.
  • Women who hold their infants in their right arm (presumably to leave their left hand free for fine-motor skills) are less likely to suffer from post-partum depression.

Writers: At last! Ways your leftie might thrive.

Also Related to Handedness—or Not

  • Immune system disorders are not more common for lefties.
  • The research on handedness and homosexuality is not consistent.
  • A childs dominant hand is clear by age 3 or 4.
  • Genetic males with female gender identities were more than twice as likely to be left handed than the control group
  • Lefties drink more
    • But they are no more prone to alcoholism.
  •  How speech is heard:
    • Right-handed people like rapidly-changing sounds like consonants;
    • Lefties hear slowly-changing sounds like syllables or intonation better.
  • People use their non-dominant hand for negative gestures
  • Handedness is a combination of genetics, biology, and environment; although left-handedness does tend to run in families, but a left-handed identical twin’s twin is right-handed about 30% of the time.
  • Overall, people gesture more with their dominant hand, especially when saying something positive.
Castles were built with clockwise spiral staircases to provide an advantage to defenders coming down the stairs.
  • People attack with their dominant hands, defend with the other.
  • Lefties are biased in favor of candidates on the left side of the ballot. (Everyone is biased in favor of people listed near the top of the ballot.)
  • Four of the last seven U.S. presidents were left-handed (Obama, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ford); earlier, Garfield and Truman were lefties, and maybe Reagan was born a leftie but made into a right-hander. Info isn’t available for earlier presidents due to widespread efforts to suppress left-handedness.

Writers: Some of this info might help your hero/ine leftie in a fight, or it could just make for and interesting behavioral quirk.

Left-handed Chinese fencer Li Na again South Korean Shin A-lam

Not addressed in this blog: There is a lot of research on handedness and brain lateralization which I haven’t touched on. I focused instead on observables and emotions that might be useful to writers.

BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS: a left-handed character could be a gold mine. Start prospecting!

AND LEFTIES HAVE THEIR OWN DAY: AUGUST 13 IS INTERNATIONAL LEFT-HANDERS DAY.  Since 1992, it is a celebration of sinistrality—i.e., left-handedness! Mark your calendar for 2020.

2020: YEAR OF THE METAL RAT

The Dendera Zodiac chart, one of the oldest surviving zodiac star charts

In Western astrology (derived from early Babylonian star charts), your birth sign depends on when during the calendar year you were born. I happen to be an Aries. But the Chinese sign of the zodiac under which one is born depends upon the birth year (based on the Chinese lunar year). I happen to have been born under the sign of the Rooster. Many people in the US—most?—are more or less aware of such things.

Not THAT kind of Metal Rat!

Similarly, awareness that 2020 is a Rat year is relatively widespread. (Rat is often translated as Mouse in some countries, like Vietnam.) But not so many people are aware that Rat years aren’t all alike: 2020 is the year of the Metal Rat. Say what?! There is a Rat year every 12 years, but a Metal Rat year cycles every 60 years.

This is because the Chinese Five Elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth) also cycle in order, so the alignment repeats every 60 years. The basic theory is that the zodiac sign characteristics are affected by/ interact with the elements. The Five Elements are used in Chinese medicine, philosophy, fengshui, fortune-telling, and martial arts.

 Because they are less familiar to most Westerners, I’ll start with the qualities of the five elements:

  • Wood-benevolence,
  • Fire-propriety,
  • Metal-righteousness,
  • Water-wisdom,
  • Earth-fidelity/honesty.

Traditionally, Metal is either silver or gold. In the West, people consider a gold year to come every 60 years. According the Chinese fortune-tellers, it’s once every 600.

The Chinese Five Elements are a bit like scissors/ paper/ rock in that no one element is always the strongest. In the controlling/ overcoming/ destruction/ restraining/ weakening interactions: Fire melts Metal, Metal chops Wood, Wood breaks up Earth, Earth absorbs Water, Water quenches Fire.

In the generating/ begetting/ engendering/ mothering/ enhancing interactions: Metal carries Water, Water nourishes Wood, Wood feeds Fire, Fire creates Earth/ash, Earth bears Metal. 

How do the elements and signs of the zodiac interact?  Each Chinese Zodiac Sign has a fixed element. This is the element that carries over from year to year. For the Rat, the fixed element is Water—and wisdom fits very well with the overall characteristics of Rats.

How do we get a metal rat?  This year aligns a Metal year and a Rat year. A person’s characteristics are said to be determined both by the fixed element of their zodiac sign and the element of the year they were born in. Children born this year are supposed to have characteristics of Rats, Water, and Metal.

Characteristics of Rats – People born in the year of the Rat like saving and collecting. They are organized and financially secure. They tend to be parsimonious in terms of gift-giving. Rats don’t seek praise and recognition. They are sensitive, aware when there is trouble. When Rats take risks, they usually succeed. Add wisdom and, in 2020, righteousness.

Writers take note: consider drawing on the Chinese Zodiac and the related elements when characterizing your character. The traits often seem to be compatible.

How did the zodiac order come to be?  In Western astrology, the astrological signs are based on constellations of stars that typically light the night sky during that month. They are ordered by the calendar year.  

How did the Chinese zodiac years come to be Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig in that order?  According to chinahighlights.com, the story of the Chinese zodiac is much more entertaining. I’ll quote it here.

The Heavenly Gate Race Story — Reasons for Zodiac Rankings

Long, long ago, there was no Chinese zodiac. The Jade Emperor wanted to select 12 animals to be his guards. He sent an immortal being into man’s world to spread the message that the earlier one went through the Heavenly Gate, the better the rank one would have.

Early Risers: Quick-Witted Rat and Diligent Ox

Rat ranks first.

The next day, animals set off towards the Heavenly Gate. Rat got up very early. On his way to the gate, he encountered a river. He had to stop there, owing to the swift current. After waiting a long time, Rat noticed Ox about to cross the river and swiftly jumped into Ox’s ear.

The diligent Ox did not mind at all and simply continued. After crossing the river, he raced towards the palace of the Jade Emperor. Suddenly, Rat jumped out of Ox’s ear and dashed to the feet of the Emperor. Rat won first place and Ox was second.

Competitive and Fast: Tiger and Rabbit

Tiger and Rabbit came third and fourth because both are fast and competitive, but Tiger was faster. (Rabbit got across the river by hopping on stepping stones and a floating log.)

Good-Looking Dragon and Crafty Snake

Good-looking Dragon was fifth and was immediately noticed by the Jade Emperor, who said Dragon’s son could be sixth. But Dragon’s son didn’t come with him that day. Just then, Snake came forward and said Dragon was his adoptive father; so Snake ranked sixth.

Kind and Modest Horse and Goat

Horse and Goat arrived. They were very kind and modest and each let the other go first. The Jade Emperor saw how polite they were and ranked them seventh and eighth.

Jumping Monkey

Monkey had fallen well behind. But he jumped between trees and stones, and caught up to be ninth. Last were Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

These 12 animals became guards of the Heavenly Gate.

Why No Cat? — Enmity Between Cat and Rat

cat

Although Cat and Rat were neighbors, the former always bullied the latter, and Rat felt very angry but dared not say it out loud; therefore, he sought revenge on Cat.

Upon hearing the Emperor’s decree Rat chuckled to himself and thought: “This is an opportunity”.

The sleepyhead Cat kicked open Rat’s door, ordering Rat to keep him informed of when he was going to the Emperor’s birthday party, and Rat readily promised that he would.

On the morning, however, Rat left quietly without informing Cat.  Cat didn’t wake up until the race was over and it was too late — he was not able to make it into the cycle.

After the party, a great enmity grew between Cat and Rat, so that rats scatter in all directions when a cat appears.

An alternative version of the story says that Cat and Rat got as far as crossing the river together on Ox’s head, but Rat pushed Cat into the water (and Cat was washed away and drowned or didn’t get back to the Heavenly Gate in time to get a ranking).

People’s Personal Traits

The ranking story above is made up according to people’s understanding of characteristics of the 12 animals. And when people talk about a person’s zodiac sign, they might think about the zodiac sign’s characteristics.

For example, when talking about Rats, people think of quick-witted, resourceful, and versatile people. Oxen are decisive, honest, dependable, and hardworking. There is a wealth of information available online about every aspect of life suggested for each sign, including careers, colors, numbers, flowers, education, and just about anything else a writer might use.

People born under certain zodiac animal signs are also assumed to have varying levels of compatibility with other signs. This goes beyond simple romantic relationships; like the balance of the five elements, each animal offers something different to each other animal. A friend of mine had a daughter in the year of the Fire Monkey and insisted that her sister-in-law (an Earth Rat) was the first person to hold the baby. Rats provide wisdom and guidance to Monkeys, tempering some of their more negative qualities.

How to Behave During Chinese New Year 

According to chinesenewyear.net, there is a whole raft of taboo behaviors during this time. The majority of these taboos stem from an overall belief that the year will continue as started – whatever you are doing at the beginning of the year, you will be doing the whole year long. In 2020, Chinese New Year falls on January 25th and the festival will last till February 8th, about 15 days. Good luck observing all of these taboos for two weeks!

  1. Do not say negative words.
  2. Do not break ceramics or glass.
  3. Do not clean or sweep.
  4. Do not use scissors, knives or other sharp objects.
  5. Do not demand debt repayment.
  6. Avoid fighting and crying.
  7. Avoid taking medicine, visiting the doctor, perform/undergo surgery, get shots.
  8. Do not give New Year blessings to someone still in bed.

Writers note: Breaking these taboos could be a source of tension between characters. The lengths a character goes to in order to avoid these taboos could make for interesting tension.  

Red is considered a lucky color almost everywhere Chinese New Year is celebrated, especially red envelopes. Adults hand out lucky money to children (and sometimes elders) in special red envelopes. Crisp, clean, new bills straight from the bank are preferred, always in an odd number. In America, $2 bills are especially prized!

Because of the Chinese diaspora, the Lunar New Year is celebrated in many countries with large populations of people with Chinese heritage (including America!) Many of these countries have their own traditions and taboos while celebrating. Here are a few examples of different customs:

  • Vietnam – Tết Nguyên Đán
    • Celebrations follow the same lunar calendar used for Chinese New Year but usually only last for three days.
    • Family is a primary focus of celebrations, including offerings to ancestors, visiting elders and other family members. and tending to family graves. The first day of festivities is usually reserved for family gatherings.
    • Lion dances, setting off fireworks, displays of symbolic fruits and flowers, and “Chinese Markets” are common public forms of celebrating.
  • Mongolia –  ᠴᠠᠭᠠᠨ ᠰᠠᠷᠠ (Tsagaan Sar)
    • Specific methods of celebrating vary widely among regions
    • White is a very lucky color at this time (Tsagaan Sar literally translates as “white moon”): people ride white horses, exchange white gifts, and eat white foods made from dairy
    • Honoring elders and making sincere reconciliations with anyone wronged figure prominently in every community
    • Piles of food!
  • Korea – 설날 (Seollal)
    • Family is the main focus of most celebrations
    • Because so many Koreans travel home to be with family on Seollal, airports, train stations, etc. are extremely busy
    • Before they can receive their red envelopes with lucky money, children must perform a full traditional Korean bow to their elders
    • Korean festivities are much quieter than many other countries celebrating the Lunar New Year, centered around family
  • Tibetan Buddhism – ལོ་གསར་ (Losar)
  • Losar celebrations vary according to regional differences in Buddhist practices
  • The holiday is often celebrated with prayer and temple visits
  • Decorations incorporate Buddhist signs, such as the Eight Auspicious Symbols marked on walls
  • The first three days of Losar focus on specific devotions: Lama Losar – dharma teachers and gurus; Kings Losar – community and national leaders, the Dalai Lama offers greetings and blessings to other national leaders; Choe-kyong Losar – gods and divine protectors
  • Less formal festivities often continue until Chunga Choepa, the Butter Lamp Festival, 15 days after Choe-kyong Losar
Happy New Year!

1920: THE YEAR THAT SHAPED A CENTURY

In his introduction to 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar, Eric Burns wrote, “But although the year that is the subject of this book was a preview of a decade, it turned out to be more than that: it would be a preview of the entire century and even the beginning of the century to follow. . .” This blog entry focuses on this amazing year! 

The Nineteenth Amendment [finally] passed, granting 26 million American women the right to vote in time for 1920 US presidential election.  It was a near thing. The Tennessee House of Representatives voted in favor of the amendment 50/49.

  • Approximately 1,000 years since the formalization of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy guaranteed women equal political voice in the Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Tuscarora, and Cayuga nations around the Great Lakes region
  • 365 years after the first American woman insisted on voting in the New World and being told she was not entitled
  • 282 years after Margaret Brent, a successful Virginia businesswoman, demanded the right to vote in the state’s House of Burgesses in 1638 and was denied
  • 144 years after Abigail Adams urged her husband to “remember the ladies” in the new constitution
  • 51 years after the Territory of Wyoming officially gave women the right to vote
94 years before women were able to vote for a women for president on a major party ticket
All of these ladies were born before the 19 Amendment passed and are shown here voting for a female president for the first time.

Other than 1791 (when the Bill of Rights was ratified), 1920 was the only year in which the Constitution was amended more than once.  The Eighteenth Amendment (ratified in 1919 and put into action in 1920) prohibited alcohol in the United States. Dare I say the Nineteenth was the more successful amendment? The Eighteenth was subsequently revoked by the the Twenty-First Amendment.

The Volstead Act at work:
The alligators in the New York City sewers were very happy that day!
  • Prohibition forced California vineyard owners to diversify production, to market table grapes, and to improve raisin production methods.
    • The raisins would be marketed under the Sunmaid label.
    • These raisins were very talented, recording several jazz albums, starring in a TV show, and creating their own video game. I think they also fought crime.
  • Sales of coffee, soft drinks, and cream sodas boomed.  
  • Many hotels converted their bars to soda fountains and lunch counters.

The U.S. population reached 105.7 million.  A third of all people lived on a farm, but for the first time we had more urban dwellers that rural dwellers (54 million to 51.5 million).

1920 saw the beginnings of many major brand names: La Choy Food Products, Seabrook Farms, the Good Humor ice cream bar, Mint Products, Inc. was renamed Life Savers, Inc., Baby Ruth was trademarked, Oh Henry! Candy bar created.

The “Lost Generation” became a force in American literature.  Among books published in 1920: Main Street, This Side of Paradise, Flappers and Philosophers.  Also, F. Scott Fitzgerald introduced Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins to the short stories of Ernest Hemingway.

The biggest oil deposits in the world outside of Texas were discovered in Alaska.

In a story too strange for fiction, Superman later played a vital role in diminishing the Klans influence.

The Ku Klux Klan was revitalized in 1920.  They terrorized the nation, in well-known ways. Decades later, President Johnson tasked J. Edgar Hoover with subduing the KKK. The FBI (as the former BOI was then known) won an enormous law enforcement victory—but it wasn’t eradicated.

KDKA in Pittsburgh had approximately 1,000 listeners to their first broadcast.

Mass media were born with the first commercially licensed radio station broadcasting live results of the presidential election.

Arthur Perdue had rather questionable taste in accessories, a trait his son did not share.

Perdue Farms was founded in Salisbury, MD.  Former railroad worker Arthur Perdue, 34, paid $50 to buy 50 Legthorn chickens, built a backyard chicken coop, and produced table eggs. Most U.S. poultry specialized in eggs because chickens were a riskier proposition.

Perdue family note: Frank Perdue was born May 9. He grew up to attend college for two years and play semipro baseball briefly, but he ultimately went to work with his father.

The first terrorist attack ever in the U.S. The bomb was a horse-drawn wagon packed with 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of cast-iron sash-weights that acted like shrapnel. It was detonated by a timer at noon on the busiest corner on Wall Street. Thirty-eight people were killed outright, 57 people were hospitalized, some of whom later died. All told, more than 400 people were injured. Suspects included Russians, Italian anarchists, and the KKK.

“League of Nations: Capitalists of All Countries, Unite!”
The USSR was also not terribly keen to join the League of Nations.

John Reed, pro-Bolshevik author of Ten Days That Shook the World, died. He was and still is the only non-Russian buried inside the Kremlin walls.

The League of Nations was established.  President Woodrow Wilson was a chief architect. Although his Fourteen Points became the framework for the League of Nations, the United States never joined. In 1920, Wilson was completely disabled, having suffered a blood clot while promoting U.S. joining. 

The blood clot left Woodrow Wilson paralyzed, partially blind, and brain damaged.  In 1920, First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson was the de-facto POTUS. She took over, controlled access to the president, and made policy decisions on his behalf. She held a pen in his hand to write his name. The French ambassador to the U.S. referred to her as Mme. President.

Overfishing of the Sacramento River forced the closing of San Francisco’s last salmon cannery.  Cannery Row is now a tourist attraction. Steinbeck’s  Cannery Row is a big seller in the shops there.

Charles Ponzi was arrested in 1920 and charged with 86 counts of mail fraud.

The world sugar price dropped from thirty cents a pound in August to eight cents in December.  Milton Hershey lost $2.5 million in the collapse, as did other large sugar consumers. Pepsi-Cola headed toward bankruptcy when Caleb Bradburn lost $150,000. Chero-Colo (later known as RC Cola) ended the year with over $1 million in debts that hung over the company for years.

In 1920 the second and “most spectacular” of the notorious Palmer raids was carried out.  All across the country, in one fell swoop, thousands of accused communists and anarchists were arrested. The raid was organized by J. Edgar Hoover, then head of the Bureau of Investigation’s General Intelligence Division. This began his political ascent.

California legislators enacted a new Alien Land Act to prevent Asians from renewing their leases on farmland.

Among the many parallels Burns highlights, he wrote, “…just as there were pleas to close the borders, so were there arguments to keep them open. The issue was an incendiary one…”

For more parallels between 1920 and 2020, check out this post from Cheapism. Automation of labor, marijuana legalization battles, forward strides in feminism, increasing income gaps… Many of the issues we see in today’s headlines are eerily similar to headlines from 1920.

BOTTOM LINE FOR WRITERS: consider a plot that has historical roots; consider a character whose family traditions, money, or values have deep historical roots. And stay curious!

INVENTING KIDS

The National Inventors Hall of Fame hosts Camp Invention every year!

Children are incredibly imaginative, and sometimes they are incredibly inventive as well. Children have probably been inventing things forever! I found this information amazing and entertaining—and I hope you do, too. Some bits helpful to writers even surface here and there!

Louis Braille, blind from age 3, learned of and simplified a method of silent communication created for the French military. Braille was born in 1824.

At the age of 15, Chester Greenwood set out to solve the problem of cold ears in winter, created the first earmuffs, and patented the invention 1877 at the age of 19.  He improved the design and sold earmuffs for soldiers during the First World War. 

Writers note: Earmuffs were his idea but his grandmother sewed the beaver skin pads.

In 1905, at age 11, Frank Epperson accidentally invented popsicles.  He left a mixture of soda water powder and water in a glass and left in the stirring stick. After a cold night outside, he had the world’s first popsicle. 

Writers note: He didn’t immediately do anything with the idea. In 1922, he served it at a fireman’s ball and the success led him to patent the idea, first under the name Eppsicle, but changed it to Popsicle because that’s what his children called it.

In 1921, at age 15, Philip (Philo) T. Farnsworth diagramed an electronic television system.  It transmitted the first image six year later.

In 1922, Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier (age 15) unveiled the first version of a snowmobile to his family.  It traveled half a mile. He continued to modify it, and by 1959, his efforts had resulted in the Ski-Doo.

At age 16, in 1930, George Nissen came up with the idea for the trampoline.  He was struck by circus acrobats bouncing in their catch nets and set out to create something that would allow people to bounce higher. He started with canvas stretched on a metal frame, moved on to nylon, and eventually trademarked “trampoline.” He traveled the world demonstrating the trampoline and promoting his invention. At age 92, he could still do a headstand. 

Writers note: Nissen completed the early work on his invention by taking over his parents’ garage for a workshop. 

Alternate version: as a teenage gymnast, George Nissen and his coach created a bouncing rig of scrap steel and tire inner tubes to help him get the power and height to do a back somersault. 

Writers note: Perhaps one of your characters contests the accepted story of some invention.

As a teenager in 1934, Jerry Siegel got the idea for Superman.  His artist friend Joe Shuster made sketches. It took four years to find a publisher.

In 1962, 5-year-old Robert Patch used shoe boxes and bottle caps to make a vehicle the could be a dump truck, a flatbed, or a box truck.  His father happened to be a patent attorney and applied for a patent in his son’s name. At the time the patent was granted, Patch was 6, the youngest patent holder ever at that time.

Abbey Fleck was inspired to create Makin’ Bacon at age 8.  She and her dad created the prototype and patented their idea in 1993. It has been enormously lucrative. 

Writers note: She had the idea, her father helped and supported her to make it happen, and her grandfather took out a loan to pay for the first 100,000 units.

In 1994, K-K Gregory (age 10) invented Wristies.  These are fingerless fuzzy sleeves for the hands and forearms, worn under mittens. She tested them on her Girl Scout troop. Her mother worked hard with K-K to get the business going. 

Writers note: At an early age she met with patent attorneys, shopped fabrics, and wrote license and sales agreements. After 16 years exploring options, she returned to business and is CEO of her company.

In 1996, on a trip to Hawaii, Richie Stachowski (age 10) lamented that he couldn’t talk to others underwater. Back home, he researched aquatic acoustics, worked on prototypes, and came up with the Water Talkie.  Besides the people at the public pool who allowed him to test there, his mother helped him set up a company for inventing toys. Toys ‘R’ Us ordered 50,000 units. At age 13 he sold his company for a ton of money.  Again, the kid inventor was seminal but not alone!

Kelly Reinhart (age 6) invented the Thigh Pack when her parents challenged their children, on a rainy afternoon, to draw a picture of an invention, promising to make a prototype of the winning idea.  Inspired by holsters worn by cowboys, Kelly’s idea was a thigh-pack for kids to carry around their video games. They tried them with other children, refined the prototype, and patented it in 1998. The company Kelly started, T-Pak, sold nearly a million dollars’ worth of Thigh Packs and discussed possible military applications with the Pentagon before selling it in 2001. 

Writers note: In 2002, she started a not-profit to teach kids how to become inventors. Maybe you have a character who learned from Kelly?

At age 11, Cassidy Goldstein invented a Crayon Holder, which she patented in 2002.  This invention was intended to allow kids to continue to use broken, short crayons. 

Writers note: The unintended consequence was to help kids with poor fine-motor skills handle crayons. Consider the unintended consequences of the invention of plastics.

Sarah Buckel, age 14, invented magnetic locker wallpaper in 2006.  She asked her father, COO at MagnaCard to make magnetic wallpaper for her so she could decorate her school locker and not have to scrape off the decorations at the end of the year. He ran with the idea, Sarah helping with patterns and age-appropriate accessories. 

Writers note: Like many of the inventors described here, Sarah’s father’s faith in his daughter’s idea significantly contributed to the success of the invention.

Hart Main (age 13) got the idea for  ManCans in 2010.  His sister was selling typical scented candles at a school fundraiser. Main teased that she should try more “manly” scents. 

Writers note: His parents encouraged him to move beyond the tease. Hart used $100 from his newspaper route and came up with scents like Coffee, New Mitt, Bacon, and Fresh Cut Grass to add to his candles. 

Another note: Hart uses relabeled Campbell Soup cans, after donating the contents to soup kitchens across Ohio.  

In 2014, 12-year-old Shubham Banerjee, created a Braille printer from a LEGO Mindstorms set. Although Braille printers were available for $2,000, his printer cost $200.

Also in 2014, Alicia Chavez at age 14, in response to news stories of children who died with accidentally left in hot cars, came up with the idea of the Hot Seat.  It’s basically a small cushion that the child sits on in a car seat that connects to the parent’s smartphone. If the smartphone moves more than  20 feet from the car and the child is still in the seat, it sounds an alarm.

Students at the Melania Morales Special Education Center in Nicaragua created their own language, a form of manual sign language entirely independent of any other language system. Before the establishment of a school specifically for deaf students in the 1980s, Nicaragua had no system of sign language; children were taught to read lips. Students created their own system to communicate with each other, with the youngest children generating most of the grammatical systems.

Innovate Tech Camps in Australia

Bottom line: kids continue to invent. Why not one of your characters?

A student at Camp Invention