Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Guam-Part 2

I've been thinking about Guam again, not just because I had already planned to write more about it, but because of Puerto Rico. And I've been thinking about Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Irma. What Puerto Rico has in common with Guam, apart from being an island, is that both are unincorporated territories of the United States.

The Mariana Islands in a regional context


In my previous post, I visualized Guam as being a very small island out in the middle of nowhere. But this isn't really the right way to think about it. It's actually the southernmost island in a string of islands. Geographically, if not politically, it belongs  with the Northern Mariana Islands. They are all part of a submerged mountain range. According to Wikipedia, the northern ten islands are volcanic and are currently uninhabited, while the southern five are made of coralline limestone and are inhabited. But though once united culturally, history has divided Guam from the others.

Guam and the other Mariana Islands


In my last post, I had gotten to the point in history when Spain had colonized the islands, used Guam as a refueling site and reduced the native people to a fraction of their former size both through warfare and the inadvertent introduction of disease. But how did Guam end up becoming a U.S. unincorporated territory?

In an excellent article from the Smithsonian Magazine called "A Brief, 500-Year History of Guam", which  happened to come online on the same day that I was starting to look into Guam for my first post about it, Doug Herman describes the strange way in which Guam became separated politically from the other islands. The Spanish-American War was in full swing, but isolated Guam had no idea about that. As Herman tells it:

The Spanish troops and officials stationed in Guam were at first glad to have visitors when the USS Charleston arrived. They didn’t know that war had been declared between the two nations, and mistook their cannon fire for a salute. A peaceful transfer of power ensued.


U.S.S. Charleston in Manila Bay, 1898


But the Americans missed a trick in the 1898 Treaty of Paris because while solidifying their possession of Guam, they failed to ask for the other islands in Micronesia that Spain held in its portfolio. One account I read says that they just weren't all that aware of them, but a probably more accurate report  has it that America didn't want to appear too greedy, and knew that the German Kaiser was looking for prestige.So Spain sold the rest of their holdings to the Germans, including all the other Mariana Islands. Germany apparently ruled in a fairly relaxed fashion. But enter World War I. The Japanese were allied against the Germans in that war and captured all of Germany's colonial territory, continuing to rule the region for thirty years thereafter.

Apra Harbor at the U.S. Naval Base


Guam, however, underwent a different fate. In a poignant bit of Doug Herman's article, he tells us that after the U.S arrived, the leading families of the native Chamorro got together and set up a legislature, expecting to be forming a representative government like the rest of the U.S. But this was not what the American powers were thinking. Instead, they placed the island under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the U.S. Navy and basically treated the island as a military base. In his words, "Guam was run like a well-ordered battleship under what was essentially martial law." 

Apparently, the holding of territory involved the U.S. in some odd mental gymnastics. Again, from Herman:

In a series of Supreme Court rulings known as the Insular Cases of 1901, it was decided that new territories might never be incorporated into the union and were to receive only unspecified ‘‘fundamental’’ Constitutional protections. They were to be governed without the consent of the governed in a system that lacked the checks and balances that underlie the principle of limited government.


This would seem to be bad enough, but perhaps the real tragedy for Guam was that it ended up on the wrong side of the war, at least from its people's perspective. They suffered a different fate with the Japanese than their northern neighbors. From Herman:

While the bombing of Pearl Harbor still lives on in infamy in American memory, the bombing of Guam—four hours later—is virtually forgotten. In a brief but locally well-remembered air and sea attack, Japanese troops seized control of the small American colony and began an occupation that lasted three years. More than 13,000 American subjects suffered injury, forced labor, forced march or internment. A local priest, Father Jesus Baza Dueñas, was tortured and assassinated. At least 1,123 died. To America, they are forgotten.


And if all that wasn't bad enough, history had an extra terrible twist in store for them. Because according to Wikipedia, the Japanese brought down Chamorro people from the Northern Marianas to act as translators and in other capacities. And not under duress, because these people thought of themselves as on Japan's side. So, to this day there is bad feeling between these two groups of people, because the Guamians Chamorros felt they should have been treated with more compassion by the Northern Mariana Chamorros.

Herman cites a Chamorro scholar named Keith Camacho who points out that:

 in military narratives of World War II’s Pacific theater, Pacific Islanders play no central role. Instead, military historians tend to envision the Pacific Islands as “a tabula rasa on which to inscribe their histories of heroism and victimization,” forming “a body of discourse in which only Japanese and Americans constitute the agents of change and continuity in the region, erasing the agency and voice of indigenous peoples.”


Battle of Guam, 1944

As I began learning about Guam's northern sister islands, I thought, okay, the Germans don't rule the Marianas anymore, and the Japanese don't rule the Marianas anymore, so who governs them now?Naively, I thought that they had probably been granted their independence after the war.

But no. We, the United States, govern the Northern Marianas. But even though they are part of one island chain, they are governed as a separate entity than Guam. Guam is an unincorporated territory, while the Northern Marianas are a commonwealth, which makes their position more like Puerto Rico's, though I haven't been able to pin down exactly what the precise difference in governance is. 

Which brings me back to my initial associations here. As we watched Hurricane Irma roaring across the Caribbean, people didn't seem to be talking about the fact that as it lurched toward Puerto Rico, it was actually heading toward a part of the United States. We didn't have to wait till it hit the Florida Keys to be worried about American citizens. Yet in a poll taken as recently as earlier this year, 41 percent of people did not believe that Puerto Ricans were U.S. Citizens and another 15 percent weren't sure. This despite the fact that anyone born in Puerto Rico is automatically an American citizen, which has been true since 1940. If people don't know that Puerto Ricans are citizens, I am pretty sure that very few of them know that the Guamians are. And never mind about the Northern Mariana Islands.

But since I began thinking about this Hurricane Irma has come and gone, and I now feel that the U.S. Virgin Islands might be even more parallel to Guam. The U.S. Virgin Islands are also part of an island chain colonized by different European countries (the U.S. territory was originally colonized by Denmark and the U.S. bought them in 1916). Though underreported elsewhere, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell have pointed out on their respective MSNBC shows that the American islands of St. John and St. Thomas have been severely damaged by the storm. As Rachel emphasized, the residents are American citizens, and it is the responsibility of this country to help them. 

The Virgin Islands
A U.S. territory is not just ours when it's convenient to us to remember it.



Thursday, August 31, 2017

Nicknames

This is a bit of a lazy find, involving no research at all, but I just happened to come across this post from a website called How Stuff Works, which explains how many of our nicknames for names with English origins have gotten a little twisted over time. Like many people, I have been subconsciously curious about why Jack is the nickname for John or Peg is the nickname for Margaret. Well, my questions have been answered, at least in part. If you've ever wondered about Sarah becoming Sally or Charles becoming Chuck, well, head on over HERE.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

picnic

The Picnic by George Goodwin Kilburne


Well, I was all set to write another post on Guam, which turns out to be a much bigger subject than I thought, when I fell over this word. I was doing a little Spanish review on Duolingo when I came across a question where you were supposed to translate the English word picnic into Spanish. Turns out the Spanish word for picnic is, uh,  pícnic. Yes, there's an accent mark over the first i, but otherwise, it's the same. Obviously a loan word. Okay, so where does it come from in the first place?

Turns out, I'd fallen into a bit of a stink hole. Not that there's anything wrong with the word "picnic". It's just that it turns out a lot of people find it suspect. 

First things first. It seems to have come from the French word piquenique. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it's first seen in print in English in Chesterfield's "Letters" in 1748. The French sense, which became the English sense had initially nothing to do with eating outdoors, but meant something more like what we would now call a potluck. Oh, I forgot--a fashionable potluck. The origin of piquenique is a bit unclear, but pique may have meant "to pick or peck", while nique may have meant some "worthless thing", and come from the German. In any case, you get the drift. 

But imagine my surprise when my first search led me directly to a  Snopes report. Huh? Well, it turns out that a rumor has spread that "picnic" derives from a connection with American lynchings. World Wide Words delineates a spurious etymology which I can't repeat here, but basically people believed it because there are historical pictures of people taking picnics to lynchings. So, though the etymology is false, the association isn't. 

Just because it's a false etymology doesn't mean that it contains no grain of truth. 


The 1893 public lynching of black teenager Henry Smith in Paris, Texas





Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Guam--Part One

Here's pretty much the full extent of what came to mind whenever I heard the word "Guam" until a few nights ago. My mother, at that time still known as Carolyn Stanley Brunton, had been back in her native California for a while, but after having served in the WAVES during World War II and then lived abroad as a member of the Army Special Services in postwar Germany, she got the travel bug again. So she applied to go to one of two places that offered hardship pay--Guam and Tripoli. I think actually she may have decided on Guam when the Tripoli posting came up. In any case, she accepted it, ended up at Wheelus Airbase, met and married my father, and the rest is history.

So much for  my associations to Guam, the not chosen place. But a couple of days ago, when North Korea threatened to launch some missiles into the waters around Guam, I got interested again. First of all, because a lot of Americans still live there. And secondly, because Guam was not where I thought it was. Having been too lazy to ever bother looking it up, my conception of its placement in the world was extremely hazy. But I think I thought it was in the Caribbean somewhere. In any case, I did not think of it as being within striking range of North Korean missiles.




Guam in Oceania
Or here's another way of looking at in context:


The United States in its Region
Wikipedia tells us that Guam is about 30 miles long and between 4 to 12 miles wide, or, if it helps your frame of reference, 3/4ths the size of Singapore. Unlike Singapore, it is very remote from pretty much any place else, other than the still tinier islands that constitute the rest of Micronesia, of which it is a part. A website called Guampedia says that it is roughly the same distance from both Manila and Tokyo at roughly 1500 miles, and a full 3800 miles west of Hawaii. 

One might think that such a small space in the middle of nowhere could expect to be left unmolested through the eons, but there is probably no place on earth that is actually too small to be exploited by bigger places anymore. As the largest of the small islands in the neighborhood, Guam is actually just right, depending on your point of view, especially if your view is a Western one which seeks to have a strategic base in the Asian neighborhood. 

The U.S. actually has a naval base and Coast Guard station in the south and an airforce base in the north, which according to Fox News take up 30 percent of the island. The article also tells us that the American would actually like to increase that number by relocating thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Not sure if this is so true in the present moment with North Korea's current posturing, but in 2014 then deputy defense secretary Bob Work said that Guam has increasingly been a strategic hub for the U.S. military. 

It might surprise you to learn that anyone born in Guam is automatically a U.S. citizen. That's why the news these days refers to 160,000 U.S. citizens being in harm's way in the North Korea crisis. However, as has been rather ignominiously the American pattern, some citizens are more equal than others. The Guamanians don't get to vote for the president of the United States, even though he or she is their president, and they send one representative to Congress, who isn't allowed to vote. Their only real participation in American government is to participate in the Republican and Democratic primaries. 

Guam has had to deal with outsiders running their lives for a long time. A recent discovery of settlement has led archaeologists to conclude that the people who settled the Mariana Islands, of which Guam is the lowermost island, may have been the earliest long-distance ocean crossers in history, having made the journey 3500 years ago. Magellan, the first recorded Westerner to make it to that part of the world, didn't get there till 1521, and even then, he didn't stay long. It wasn't until 1565 that Spain realized the importance of Guam as a pit stop for their Manila galleons as they plied the Pacific trade route between Manila and Acapulco. And it was another hundred years before they actually colonized it. (Like I said, it's a remote place). 

The story of that colonization, unique though it is in its elements, has a very familiar ring to it. The native peoples resisted and were nearly wiped out in the process, not just by superior military force but by that well-known plague, smallpox. At the end of a 26-year war, only 5000 Chamorros (as they had been named by the Spanish) remained, a tenth of their former population. 





Thursday, August 3, 2017

scientist

With my latest version of Internet Explorer, I get a gorgeous photo of somewhere on earth every time I log in. The latest one shows a myriad of stars against the night sky and a little factoid in the center of the frame, claiming that only 6.7 percent of women graduate with STEM degrees, STEM referring to the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. This leads to a website advocating that girls and young women stay in STEM classes, which you can look at HERE.

The reason I mention it, though, is that I happen to get a newsletter from a website called Brain Pickings, a creation of a human juggernaut by the name of Maria Popova. Lately she has done a couple of great articles related to total solar eclipse, which our planet is due for on August 21st, and which many people in North America will be able to experience in full this time around. (But you have to be in the Path of Totality to have the whole experience.) She has a fascinating article up about a nineteenth century astronomer named Maria Mitchell and her account of the 1879 total solar eclipse. In passing, Popova mentions that:

Mitchell’s choice [of the gender neutral "we"] inclines her reader to the assumption, standard in her era and still lamentably common in ours, that “scientist” defaults to maleness (even though the word itself had been coined for woman thirty-five years earlier).

I thought, Really? But did not more than wonder at it in the moment as I went on to finish the absorbing article. Later, though, I decided to look up the etymology in a separate source, namely the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1834, a hybrid coined from Latin scientia (see science) by the Rev. William Whewell (1794-1866), English polymath, by analogy with artist, in the same paragraph in which he coined physicist (q.v.)

Mary Somerville, by Thomas Phillips, 1834


Which would be interesting enough, seeing that apparently such an important and general word can be pinpointed to  a specific time and person. But what the etymology omits is that the word was coined by Whewell in his description of a woman, one Mary Somerville, whom Popova discusses in a separate article. Somerville was an interdisciplinary researcher, who we may feel a more current connection with because she was the tutor of Ada Lovelace and introduced her to Charles Babbage, with whom Lovelace would go on to collaborate with to invent the world's first computer. According to a quote in the article from Renée Bergland, the author of a biography on the aforementioned Maria Mitchell:

[Whewell] called Somerville a scientist, in part because “man of science” seemed inappropriate for a woman, but more significantly because Somerville’s work was interdisciplinary. She was no mere astronomer, physicist, or chemist, but a visionary thinker who articulated the connections among the various branches of inquiry. 

Popova adds:

Whewell called Somerville “a person of real science,” as opposed to the mere popularizers of science whom he held in mild disdain. In suggesting the term “scientist,” he emphasized its similarity to how the word “artist” is formed. Indeed, he had recognized in Somerville that singular creative genius of drawing connections between the seemingly disconnected, which is itself an artistic achievement. 


Popova's linked articles on women of science suggest quite a different history than the one many of us think we know. Even a reputable etymology source omits the woman for whom the word scientist was coined, and Popova's articles detail many other omissions in the history of women's scientific achievements. Maybe there would not be such a low percentage of women finishing STEM degrees if there was a broader cultural understanding that, when it comes to science, women have actually been there all along. 

Annular Solar Eclipse January 4, 2011










Tuesday, May 2, 2017

javelina

One of my Santa Cruz friends departed for Arizona a couple of years ago, but she was back this weekend with tales of living in the Southwestern desert. One of the creatures she sometimes has to contend with that we don't have on the Central Coast is the javelina. Apparently, they are rather awful creatures, although their offspring are quite cute. One of the sad trends of life in general, I'm afraid. They like to get into the garbage cans, and make horrible warring noises while contending with each other. It is not altogether out of the question that they will make themselves at home on the porch. Yikes. (Here's a little mp3 that the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum put out of how they sound when not fighting. Listen to the end.)

Then, I happened to be reading a novel today, New Dawn by Sudha Balagopal, which also takes place in Arizona. In the part I read, two friends are out on a hike and one hears a strange noise, and wonders, what was that? The other says, likely a coyote or a javalina. Obviously, it was time to do a little research.


I know vaguely that javalinas are a bit like wild boars in nature--or think I know that. But maybe I am visualizing them completely wrong. In any case, two references in under two days is always a sign to me to dig a little further.



"Running Javelina" by Wing-Chi Poon



Hmm. Not as ferocious looking as I'd have thought. No long scary tusks, for one thing. (though the do have small straight ones, which have been adapted for crushing seeds and cutting roots.)The javelina, it turns out, is not a wild pig. It is a peccary. Pigs and peccaries bear a distant relationship, but have several differences. For one thing, all the extant peccaries are native to the Americas, while pigs and wild boars and the like are from Europe, Asia and Africa. Those we have here are all imports. Apparently there were some Old World peccaries, but they are all extinct.


Some other distinctions according to the folks at Animals.mom.me. While pigs have long, hairy tails, peccary tails are small and not visible. Peccary ears are smaller, and pigs ears are large and upright. Other small differences lie in the number of teeth they have and the number of back toes. Peccaries are apparently also distinguished by their scent glands, which this website says lie along their backs and above their tails, though Wikipedia says that they also have some under their eyes. In any case, they use them for marking territory and identifying themselves within a group. It's perhaps no accident, then, that some other names for the peccary are "skunk pig" and "musk hog."




"Peccary" comes from the Cariban language, which is a native South American language group. The original word is pakira or paquira, according to Wikipedia. "Javalina", unsurprisingly, is a Spanish word, which is an alteration of jabalina, the feminine form of jabali, or wild boar. Jabali  stems from Arabic jabal meaning mountain. So hinzir (or khinzir) jabal means "mountain swine."

As Language Hat points out, one should not be swayed by folk etymologies such as one that claims they are called javelinas after their short sharp tusks, which would be named for the Spanish word for javelin or spear. It's a bit complicated, though, because Spanish javelins actually ARE called javelinas. And why are they called javelins anyway? Well, maybe we'll get into that next time. Meanwhile, here's a little picture book about javelinas in case you can't get enough of them. The story sounds a tad familiar...almost like a certain pig story you might happen to know.










Wednesday, March 8, 2017

dossier

With the reemergence of Christopher Steele, former MI6 guy, who went into hiding after compiling a not (yet) wholly substantiated intelligence report which became public through Buzzfeed, the word "dossier" has attained prominence in the news cycle. And I have become aware that I don't really know what a dossier is. I mean, I have a sense of it, just from this example, but I don't know its precise definition or its origin--though on that last, I assume it comes to us from the French. Let's find out.

***


                                                                                Yann Riché


A dossier is actually a pretty simple thing. It's just a collection of detailed papers about a certain person or a certain subject. And, yes, it's from the French. It came into English some time around 1880, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The dos part comes from twelfth century French and means "back", which in turn goes back to Vulgar Latin dossum, a variant of the Latin dorsum, also meaning "back", like, you know, dorsal fin.


                                                                             Pixabay/Hans
There are a couple of ideas out there about why "back" has anything to do with it. One is that these packets of paper used to have  characteristic labels on the back. Another, at first glance,  a little more out there, is that such bundles of papers would have a bulge that resembled the curve of a back. (I say, show me.) But an interesting support to that hypothesis is that there is another Old French word, dossiere, which meant the back strap or ridge strap of a horse's harness. So, you decide.

                                                                            Pete Markham




In looking at the site English Language & Usage, a different aspect of "dossier" came up, which hadn't quite risen to the surface for me, but is interesting in the current context. A commenter there said that for him, "dossier" had a negative connotation, and he wasn't sure why, given the neutral character of the definition. Another commenter said that this was because of its Cold War connotations, and still another that most of us know the word largely from spy novels. Someone else pointed out that in fact, dossiers had been kept on potential enemies of the state by regimes long before the Cold War, and that there are cognates and near cognates in several European languages.

That said, "dossier" is a word that can and often does have a completely neutral meaning. As I was looking up the etymology, I found a listing for Etymology Dossier, which turned out to be a detailed list of a chapter's contents on Medieval Grammar.

In the current moment, though, all our thoughts do tend to drift spyward...