Saturday, December 21, 2013

Euphorbia Pulcherrima

By Julie Rahm

Euphorbia pulcherrima is a culturally and commercially important plant species of the spurge family. The plant is indigenous to Mexico and Central America. Have you guessed correctly? The plant derives its common name from Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett was the first United States Minister to Mexico. He introduced the plant into the United States in the year 1825.

Poinsettias are actually shrubs or small trees. As you may know, the plant bears dark green leaves that can measure from two to six inches in length. The colored leaves, most often flaming red, can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marbled. The colored leaves are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors. The colors in the leaves are created through photoperiodism. They require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least 5 days in a row) to change color.

The association of poinsettias with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico. Legend tells of a girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. Later in the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus. Enter Albert Ecke.

Albert Ecke emigrated from Germany to Los Angeles in 1900. There he opened a dairy and orchard. He became intrigued by the plant and sold them from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke developed a grafting technique. But, it was the third generation of Eckes, Paul Ecke, Jr. who was responsible for advancing the association between the plant and Christmas. Besides changing the market from mature plants shipped by rail to cuttings sent by air, he sent free plants to television stations for them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas. He also appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show and Bob Hope's Christmas specials to promote the plants. Until the 1990s, the Ecke family had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias owing to a technique that made their plants much more attractive. The Eckes produced a fuller, more compact plant by grafting two varieties of poinsettia together. A poinsettia left to grow on its own will naturally take an open, somewhat weedy look. But, the Eckes' technique made it possible to get every seedling to branch, resulting in a bushier plant. In the 1990s, a university researcher discovered and published the method previously known only to the Eckes. As a result, competitors using low-cost labor in Latin America have entered the business. Still, the Ecke’s poinsettias serve about 70-percent of the domestic market and 50-percent of the worldwide market. Now you know. May the poinsettias make you smile this season. And, may your Christmas be merry and bright!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Over Torque

By Julie Rahm

My husband, John, is the king of over-tight. He over tightens everything. From pickle jars to oil filters, John will apply one last turn making most anything impossible to remove. Last week, John decided to fix a long-standing plumbing problem in our sailboat. Water pressure at the galley sink was low. The reduced flow was more of an annoyance than a problem. However, with the help of a friend, (name withheld to protect the innocent) John disconnected the water line and cleaned out some hard water scale that had clogged the connection.

It was a good fix until it was time to reconnect the line. The king of torque over tightened the connection and cracked the threaded male portion of the fitting adaptor. A gorilla would have a difficult time over tightening this adaptor to the point of failure. But, John cracked this adaptor with a few grunts and minimal effort. (impressive really) After a trip to the hardware store, a new fitting adaptor was installed. However, (déjà vu) when John tightened the stainless braided line (from the faucet) to the new fitting adaptor, the nut mysteriously cracked. John contends the nut was sub-standard Chinese metal. Maybe so, but now we needed a new braided stainless line down from the faucet. The nuts on these faucets are permanent and cannot be replaced.

And what did we learn next? The braided stainless line cannot be replaced! The lines are permanently attached to the underside of the faucet. We need a whole new faucet! And, because it is in a boat, John could not reach in behind the sink to remove the faucet. We have to enter the space through the engine compartment, which means removing part of a wall (bulkhead)! Perhaps to scare me, there was discussion about sawing through the cabinets to get at this faucet. The word calamity came to mind as the low water pressure issue was turning into major plumbing and carpentry. Anyway, the engine room the wall (and insulation) was removed allowing us access to faucet, which we promptly removed. We found a suitable replacement. After a word of caution about the torque, John installed the new faucet with only one minor hiccup.

Before tightening down the faucet, to detect any leaks, John decided to connect all the fittings. Well, there were no leaks. However, in order to install the threaded ring to the underside of the faucet, all the water lines must be run through the ring to seat it up against the underside of the sink! There was some technical language when John realized he had to disconnect all the lines in order to route them through the ring. Anyway, we can laugh about it now. So, I tell you this story to tell you this.

Do not over torque your life. Forcing too many “turns” in your relationships and finances can result in “cracks”. Instead of attacking a problem, choose the solution. And, may your Christmas season be exactly as you desire.

Friday, December 6, 2013


By Julie Rahm

Last week’s robbery of the First Citizens Bank in Oriental has obliged me to write about Bonnie and Clyde. When it comes to robbing banks, the manufactured Bonnie and Clyde folklore is hard to surpass. As you may know, Clyde Chestnut Barrow was born in Texas on March 24, 1909 near the town of Telico just south of Dallas. He was the fifth of seven children from a poor farming family. His family moved to the urban slum known as West Dallas in the early 1920s to escape their life as impoverished farmers. The Barrows spent their first months in West Dallas living under their wagon! Clyde was first arrested in 1926 after running when police confronted him over a rental car he had failed to return on time. His second arrest for possession of stolen turkeys came shortly after. Despite having legitimate jobs during the period 1927 through 1929, he also cracked safes, robbed stores and stole cars. After sequential arrests in 1928 and 1929, he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. While in prison, Barrow beat to death another inmate who had sexually assaulted him. It was Clyde Barrow's first killing. Paroled in February 1932, Barrow emerged from Eastham a hardened and bitter criminal. His sister Marie said "Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison, because he wasn't the same person when he got out." A fellow inmate said he watched Clyde Barrow "change from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake."

Another rattlesnake, Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born on October 1, 1910 in Rowena, Texas. She was the second of three children. Her father, Charles Parker, a bricklayer, died when Bonnie was four. Her mother moved with the children to her parents' home in Cement City, an industrial suburb of Dallas, where she found work as a seamstress. Bonnie Parker was one of the best students in her high school, winning top prizes in spelling, writing, and public speaking. As an adult, she found expression in poetry.

Bonnie Parker first met Clyde Barrow in January 1932 at a friend's house. Bonnie was out of work and was staying in West Dallas to assist a female friend with a broken arm. Clyde dropped by the girl's house while Bonnie was in the kitchen making hot chocolate. When they met, both were smitten immediately; most believe Bonnie joined Clyde because she was in love. Bonnie remained a loyal companion as the pair carried out their crime spree and awaited the violent deaths they viewed as inevitable.

Though known today for his dozen bank robberies, Barrow, in fact, preferred to rob small stores and rural gas stations. The Barrow gang killed at least nine police officers and several civilians. The couple themselves were eventually ambushed and killed in North Louisiana by law officers. The parish coroner’s report listed seventeen gunshot wounds on Clyde’s body and twenty-six on Bonnie’s, which was an appropriate ending for both rattlesnakes. So my message this week is don’t become a rattlesnake!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Muck Raking

By Julie Rahm

Muck raking is defined as searching for and exposing misconduct in public life. So, a muck raker is one who inquires into and publishes scandal and allegations of corruption among political and business leaders. The term comes from John Bunyan and his book Pilgrim’s Progress. Pilgrim’s Progress is a Christian allegory published in February 1678. The book is one of the most significant works of religious English literature. It has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print. The English text has 108,260 words and is divided into two parts. Each part is a continuous narrative with no chapter divisions. The first part was completed in 1677 and entered into the stationers' register on December 22, 1677. It was “licensed” on February 18, 1678, which is considered the date of first publication. After the first edition, an expanded edition, with additions written after Bunyan was freed, appeared in 1679. (Bunyan was jailed for religious violations at least twice with 12 years being the longest sentence.) The second part appeared in 1684. There were eleven editions of the first part in John Bunyan's lifetime. They were published in successive years from 1678 to 1685 and in 1688. There were two editions of the second part, published in 1684 and 1686. Anyway, according to Alexander M. Witherspoon, professor of English at Yale University, the two parts of Pilgrim's Progress in reality constitute a whole, and the whole is, without doubt, the most influential religious book ever written in the English language. So now you know. Back to muck raking!

Bunyan describes the man with the muck rake (manure rake) as the man who could look no way but downward, with the muck-rake in his hand; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, and who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake himself the filth off the floor. So, in Bunyan’s words, a muck raker cannot look up to heaven because he is so obsessed with the muck of worldly profit. But, the term muck raking was not popular until 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech dedicating the House of Representatives office building. President Roosevelt said the man with the muck rake typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty, and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing. As a result of President Roosevelt’s speech, muck rakers came to refer to reform-minded journalists who wrote largely for popular magazines. President Theodore Roosevelt agreed with the accusations of muck rakers, but questioned their methods. Some of the early muckrakers were Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Upton Sinclair.

So, I tell you all about muck raking to tell you this. If your life is filled with muck, keep your head up. Do not focus on “the filth of the floor.” This year, I wish us all a muck-free holiday season!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Brownist English Dissenters

By Julie Rahm

Have you already figured it out? The Brownist English Dissenters are the group we call the Pilgrims. But, did you know the Pilgrims’ first stop was not Plymouth Colony in New England? Actually, the Pilgrims first fled to the city of Leiden in the Netherlands. In Leiden, the Pilgrims enjoyed a religious tolerance almost unheard of in that day and age. Pilgrim leaders, William Bradford and Edward Winslow both wrote glowingly of their experience. In Leiden, God had allowed them, in Bradford’s estimation, “to come as near the primitive pattern of the first churches as any other church of these later times.” God had blessed them with “much peace and liberty,” Winslow echoed.

Leiden was a city of 100,000 inhabitants. However, the success of the congregation in Leiden was mixed. Leiden was a thriving industrial center and many members were well able to support themselves working at Leiden University or in the textile, printing and brewing trades. Others were less able to bring in sufficient income. Their rural backgrounds and the language barrier hampered them.

Eventually, the Pilgrims became concerned with losing their cultural identity. It was difficult to remain “English” in Holland during the early 1600s. It’s fair to say that the Pilgrims left England to find religious freedom, but that wasn’t the primary motive that propelled them to North America. If a longing for religious freedom had compelled them, they probably never would have left the Netherlands.

The Pilgrims cherished the freedom of conscience they enjoyed in Leiden, but they found it a hard place to maintain their English identity and an even harder place to make a living. In America, they hoped to live by themselves, enjoy the same degree of religious liberty and earn a “better and easier” living. And, did you know the Mayflower was not the intended ship?

In July of 1620, the Speedwell, at sixty tons (originally named Swiftsure, built in 1577 and was part in the English fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada) departed the Netherlands with the Leiden Pilgrims. Reaching Southampton, Hampshire, the Speedwell met with Mayflower and some additional colonists. With final arrangements made, the two vessels set out on August 15, 1620. Soon thereafter, the Speedwell crew reported that their ship was taking on water, so both were diverted to Dartmouth, Devon. There the Speedwell was inspected for leaks and sealed, but a second attempt to depart also failed, bringing them only so far as Plymouth, Devon. It was decided that Speedwell was untrustworthy, and it was sold. The ship's master and some of the crew transferred to the Mayflower for the trip. While observing that the Speedwell seemed "overmasted", thus putting a strain on the hull, William Bradford attributed her leaking to crewmembers that had deliberately caused it, allowing them to abandon their yearlong commitments. Passenger Robert Cushman wrote that a loose board caused the leaking.

So, this week my point in all this is that the story behind what we’re taught is often interesting! Enjoy your Thanksgiving! And, visit me on Facebook at Even if you're not on Facebook yourself, you can still enjoy my posts.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Quantum Thanksgiving

By Julie Rahm

Quantum Theory is mostly based on the concept that subatomic particles can have both wave-like and particle-like properties. This phenomenon is known as wave–particle duality. The theory is widely accepted because experiments have shown that electrons can bend around objects and can display wave shapes. Also fascinating is the fact that particles travel in probabilistic waves. Electrons always “are” where we attempt to measure them.

Quantum Theory is still incomplete and mind blowing to most of us. However, it has a direct connection to our Rahm household Thanksgiving Day dinner. In Quantum Theory, subatomic particles travel in probabilistic waves. Probabilities are a vital ingredient in all the theories. In our Rahm Thanksgiving Day dinner, probabilities also play an important role. There is a certain probability that my husband, John, will start a minor fire while deep frying the turkey. The probabilistic nature of this minor fire is confirmed by the annual presence of a big fire extinguisher positioned by the deep fryer. John will not fry anything without our big fire extinguisher. I don’t think John understands Quantum Theory. But, he has at least an acquired understanding of grease fires. And, like electrons circling an atom, John will keep everything and everybody at an appropriate circling radius by positioning the fryer in the middle of our driveway.

Early Quantum Theory was developed through extensive measurements and experimentation. Likewise, our Thanksgiving Day turkey frying requires quantum-like measurement and preparation. The frozen turkey is placed in the pot and covered with water. Then, the turkey is removed and the waterline is marked on the inside of the pot. This line will indicate the amount of oil that is required to cover the turkey and not spill into the fire, in theory!

In both Quantum Theory and turkey frying, how you do the experiment matters. It is important to get the procedures correct. For example, if the turkey is incorrectly inserted into the boiling oil feet first, its narrow neck will act like a funnel atop a boiling pot. Hot boiling oil will geyser and spew upward. And, just like light behaves in Quantum Theory there will be reflection, refraction, diffraction, and interference! Mostly it will be John yelling and running for the fire extinguisher.

Modern physicists are now trying to reconcile the well proven Quantum theories and the classical, Einstein-like description of how the universe operates. String theory has emerged as the latest attempt to bridge the gap. Essentially, String Theory hypothesizes that particles wobble around like strings. I believe in String Theory because on numerous occasions I’ve forgotten to remove the string, neck and bagged giblets from inside the turkey. Consequently, all the fixins got deep fried inside the turkey.

So, if you want to learn more about life applications of Quantum Theory you can visit me online at Lastly, I want to thank Dr. Pearlstein who taught me Quantum Theory at the University of Nebraska. Perhaps we’ll name the turkey in his honor this year!

Saturday, November 9, 2013


By Julie Rahm

The word “event” has many different definitions. Wikipedia lists several different uses of “event” with a few interesting twists. In the world of computer software, an event can be a software message indicating something has happened. A keystroke or mouse click can be an event. In Unified Modeling Language, an event is defined as a notable occurrence at a particular time. Or, an event can be a synchronization mechanism. In the world of particle physics, an event refers to the results just after a fundamental interaction took place between subatomic particles. Even further, an event can be a point in space at an instant in time. In that case, an event can be a location in spacetime! For those interested in probability theory, an event can be a set of outcomes to which a probability is assigned. If you are a philosopher, an event can be an object in time or an instantiation of a property in an object. Got all that? All this is interesting. However, in our daily lives, events that occur usually get translated into our mental psyche. Good or bad, events can be life changing, life altering or life coloring.

Life changing events are usually traumatic and inject substantial change into a person’s life. Examples include death of a loved one, disability, divorce, marriage, or high school/college graduation. For the participant, life after one of these events is changed forever. A life-altering event is generally less traumatic or severe than a life-changing event.

Life altering events can disrupt or redirect life. But, for the participant life usually goes on as before. Accidents, engagements, or promotions are some examples of life altering events.

Lastly, life-coloring events are simply those that make good stories or teach life lessons without the trauma and drama. When the Pamlico High School football team wins or loses, the result is not life changing or life altering. The setback of a loss usually serves as a setup for the next victory. Life continues to the next game and season. Here’s the twist.

Perspective is most important. Not all events are life changing. For example, with teenagers, everything seems life changing! Life for them will end without the latest fashion or cell phone. It is difficult to persuade a teenager they are not what they drive.

So my message this week is when a life-changing event happens, stop and take a breath. Use a quiet moment for some event evaluation. Ask yourself, is this event going to change, alter or simply color my life? Perhaps these categories I have imposed on you are mostly a personal choice. Don’t allow an insignificant event to become life changing. My husband’s grandfather refused to watch the Oakland Athletics play baseball on television. He was angry because they left Philadelphia in 1955. He allowed the move of his favorite baseball team to become life altering! So be different. Know what kind of event is happening around you. And, look for ways that life changes can result for your good.

Monday, November 4, 2013

SS Ile de France

By Julie Rahm

Like many of the French Line's great passenger ships, Ile de France was built by Chantiers et Ateliers Saint Nazaire. Launched in 1926, she was the sixth largest in the world. Her maiden voyage on 22 June 1927 was from Le Havre to New York by way of Plymouth. During World War II, she was used by the British and served as a troopship. Her postwar career began in October 1946 providing service from Cherbourg to New York.

On 25 July 1956, the Ile de France was eastbound and had passed the westbound Andrea Doria many hours earlier. After receiving the distress call from the sinking (see last week’s column) Andrea Doria, Captain Baron Raoul de Beaudean, demonstrating the moral courage of the finest human being, turned the Ile de France around to rescue those aboard the Andrea Doria. The decision, fraught with risk, was a major turning point in the rescue effort. The French liner had sufficient capacity to accommodate the many extra passengers, and was fully provisioned, only a day out of New York on its planned eastbound crossing. While Captain de Beaudean steamed back through the fog to the scene, his crew prepared to launch its lifeboats and receive those to be rescued.

Arriving at the scene less than three hours after the collision, as he neared, Captain de Beaudean became concerned about navigating his huge ship safely among the two wounded liners, other responding vessels, lifeboats and possibly even people in the water. Then, just as Ile de France arrived, the fog lifted, and he was able to position his ship in such a way that the starboard side of Andrea Doria was somewhat sheltered. He ordered all exterior lights of Ile de France to be turned on. The sight of the illuminated Ile de France was a great emotional relief to many participants, crew and passengers alike.

Captain de Beaudean managed to rescue most of the passengers by shuttling his ten lifeboats back and forth to Andrea Doria, and receiving lifeboat loads from those of the other ships already at the scene (as well as the starboard boats from Andrea Doria). Some passengers on Ile de France gave up their cabins to be used by the wet and tired survivors. Many other acts of kindness were reported by grateful survivors.

Two years later the Ile de France was laid up and then sold for scrap to Japan. Renamed Furanzu Maru for the journey to Japan, she became a movie star under the name Claridon in the movie "The Last Voyage". Once filming was completed, she was taken to Osaka and scrapped in 1959.

So, this week, Captain Baron Raoul de Beaudean serves as the metaphor for answering the call for help. He assumed great risk by turning Ile de France around in the fog and racing back to help. When faced with a similar choice, I hope we all have enough courage and accept the risk to help others.

Baron Raoul de Beaudean

By Julie Rahm

My column last week has generated some discussion about the Andrea Doria. So, as requested by many in our nautical community, here is the first half of the rest of the story.

The Italian ship Andrea Doria was a luxury liner. On 25 July 1956, while approaching the coast of Massachusetts, the eastbound freighter Stockholm collided with the Andrea Doria. Struck in the side, the top-heavy Andrea Doria immediately started to list to starboard, which left half of its lifeboats unusable. The shortage of lifeboats might have resulted in significant loss of life, but the efficiency of the ship's technical design allowed it to stay afloat for over 11 hours after the ramming. The professionalism of the crew, improvements in communications and the rapid response of other ships averted a Titanic-like disaster. 1,660 passengers and crew were rescued and survived. The evacuated luxury liner capsized and sank the following morning. This accident remains the worst maritime disaster in United States waters. So, here’s the short list of what went wrong.

The Andrea Doria crew had not followed proper radar procedures by using the plotting equipment available to calculate the position and speed of the Stockholm. The Andrea Doria crew failed to realize Stockholm's size, speed, and course.

The Andrea Doria crew did not follow the rules and turn right (to starboard) in case of a possible head-on crossing at sea. As Stockholm turned right, Andrea Doria turned left (to port), closing the circle instead of opening it. Beyond a certain point, it became impossible to avoid a collision. The Andrea Doria was speeding in heavy fog, an admittedly common practice on passenger liners.

The Stockholm and Andrea Doria were experiencing different weather conditions immediately prior to the collision. Although the Andrea Doria had been engulfed in the fog for several hours, Stockholm had only recently entered the bank and her crew was still acclimating to atmospheric conditions. The officer in charge of Stockholm incorrectly assumed that his inability to see the other vessel was due to conditions other than fog, such as the other ship being a very small fishing vessel or a blacked-out warship on maneuvers. He testified that he had no idea it was another passenger liner speeding through fog.

The Andrea Doria's fuel tanks were half empty and not pumped with seawater ballast in order to stabilize the ship, in accordance with the Italian Line's procedures. This contributed to the pronounced list following the collision. There was also perhaps a "missing" watertight door between bulkheads near the engine room, which was thought to have contributed to Andrea Doria's flooding.

The Stockholm's navigating officer misread his radar thinking he was on a 15-mile setting when in reality the radar was set for five miles. He thought he was farther from the Andrea Doria than was so. He also failed to consult his captain as was required by regulation… Unfortunately, I have reached 500 words. Read about the actions of Baron Raoul de Beaudean next week!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Diabatic and Adiabatic

By Julie Rahm

There has been a lot of fog in the county this week. Fog is the suspension of liquid water droplets in the air near the earth’s surface that reduces visibility to less than one kilometer. Also important is the dew point temperature. Dew point is the temperature of the air if it is cooled to saturation. If the outside air temperature and the dew point temperature are within three degrees, fog will develop. Of course, cooling of air is the most common mechanism by which fog is produced. Cooling of air may occur as a result of diabatic processes in which heat is removed from the air or adiabatic processes in which no heat is removed. Diabatic processes include radiation and conduction. Adiabatic cooling occurs when air expands as it is lifted and pressure decreases. Fog produced by diabatic cooling is most common near the ground. Conductive diabatic cooling occurs when moist air comes in contact with a colder surface such as snow, cold water or cooler ground.

The marine fogs of the west coast are caused by the cooling of low level air by cold water. San Francisco is perhaps the most famous for its fogs. These great summer fog banks pour inward under the Golden Gate Bridge riding the sea breeze. These fogs do not survive more than a few kilometers inland during the day because the surface heating erodes them from below. These fogs are beneficial near the coast because they contribute moisture to vegetation during dry seasons. For example, the needles of redwood trees strain the tiny water droplets from the air. The droplets drip off the trees providing necessary water. These redwoods grow only on the coast. Thirty miles inland, where fogs rarely reach, redwoods cannot survive. However, not all fog is beneficial.

The Italian ship Andrea Doria was a luxury liner. On 25 July 1956, while approaching the coast of Massachusetts, the eastbound freighter Stockholm collided with the Andrea Doria. Struck in the side, the top-heavy Andrea Doria immediately started to list to starboard, which left half of its lifeboats unusable. The shortage of lifeboats might have resulted in significant loss of life, but the efficiency of the ship's technical design allowed it to stay afloat for over 11 hours after the ramming. (The pictures are remarkable.) The professionalism of the crew, improvements in communications and the rapid response of other ships averted a disaster similar to the 1912 Titanic. 1,660 passengers and crew were rescued and survived. Sadly, 46 people died. The evacuated luxury liner capsized and sank the following morning. This accident remains the worst maritime disaster in United States waters. Fog was a contributing factor.

However, the worst fog in the world is the fog produced by those seeking elected office. So this week, I warn you about the upcoming elections and the candidate-generated political fog. This political fog obscures good vision, judgment and decision-making. Keep your vision keen and unencumbered!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sugar Coated

By Julie Rahm

Around 8,000 BC, the people of New Guinea first domesticated sugarcane. After domestication, cultivation spread rapidly to Southeast Asia, southern China, and India. There juice was refined into granulated crystals. By the sixth century AD, sugar cultivation and processing had reached Persia. Sugar was then carried throughout the Mediterranean by the Arab expansion. The Arabs spread sugar and its production technology across the region. Then came the Crusades.

Crusaders brought sugar home with them to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land. The Crusaders encountered caravans carrying "sweet salt". Early in the 12th century, Venice acquired some villages near Tyre and set up estates to produce sugar for export to Europe. Sugar supplemented honey as the only other available sweetener. Crusade chronicler William of Tyre, writing in the late 12th century, described sugar as "a most precious product, very necessary for the use and health of mankind".

Spanish and Portuguese exploration and conquest in the fifteenth century carried sugar south and west. Henry the Navigator introduced sugarcane to Madeira in 1425. The Spanish eventually subdued the Canary Islands and introduced sugar cane there. In 1493, on his second voyage, Christopher Columbus carried cane seedlings to the New World, in particular Hispaniola. So, that is the short version of the history of sugar and its journey to the “New World”.

The crucial problem with sugar production was that it was highly labor-intensive in both growing and processing. Because of the huge weight and bulk of the raw cane, it was very costly to transport, especially by land. Therefore, each estate had to have its own factory. There the cane had to be crushed to extract the juices, which were boiled for concentration. It is a backbreaking and intensive operation lasting many hours. However, once sugar had been processed and concentrated, it had a very high value for its bulk and could be traded over long distances by ship at a considerable profit.

With the European colonization of the Americas, the Caribbean became the world's largest source of sugar. These islands could supply sugarcane using slave labor and produce sugar at prices vastly lower than those of cane sugar imported from the East. Thus the economies of entire islands such as Guadaloupe and Barbados became based on sugar production. By 1750, the French colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) became the largest sugar producer in the world. Jamaica also became a major producer in the 18th century. Sugar plantations fueled a demand for manpower; between 1701 and 1810 ships brought nearly one million slaves to work in Jamaica and in Barbados. All this leads to one of my favorite Stanistaw Jerzy Lec quotes.

“I give you bitter pills, in a sugar coating. The pills are harmless - the poison's in the sugar.” Often in life, bitter pills come sugar coated. The bitter pill could be an acquaintance, business deal or family member. With these pills, once the sweetness is tasted, turmoil ensues. Think about it and have awareness when tempted with things too sweet!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sharp Stick in Your Eye

By Julie Rahm
          A few days ago, I caught my husband at his laptop; unusual because he is poor typist. He was quiet and very focused. In our house, this could mean a storm is brewing! I was right. He was pounding out a “Letter to the Editor”. And, I do mean pounding. John was angry and someone was going to get a sharp stick in their eye. Not literally, but figuratively. Letting someone “have it” in a public forum can provide a satisfying release for one’s frustration. And, John was going to have his satisfaction with harsh, sharp words. Of course, John was absolutely correct. Are you curious? Read on.
          When Bob Dales passed on, the firehouse flew their U.S. flag at half-mast. My former Marine husband goes berserk when the town’s people of Oriental do this. United States Code; Title 4; Chapter 1; grants authority to only the President of the United States or the Governor to fly the U.S. Flag at half-mast. (I will not mention the authorities granted to the mayor of the District of Colombia and other U.S. territories.) So, the firehouse, town council or mayor (etc.) have no half-mast authority. John was going set the record straight and prevent this from happening by plunging a sharp letter into people’s eye sockets.
          After the letter was completed, John’s blood pressure backed down to a slow boil. Clarity of thought returned. I intervened by reminding him that we have to live in this town. Bob Dales is a shining example of what a person should be. People might misconstrue his objection for insensitivity. Furthermore, the people at the firehouse could not be any better human beings. And, what harm has been done?  At least the U.S. flag is at the firehouse! One day at half-mast is no big deal. I reminded John, these are the people that are coming to extinguish our house fire. (God please forbid.)  Did he really want to burn these bridges? Ultimately, John did not send the letter. He let it go. So this week, my point is not about the authority to fly the flag at half-mast. Any questions can be answered by reading the U.S. Code. My message this week is to choose your battles carefully. Perhaps you may want to let a few things “go”. Don’t fight the small wars.
The Duke of Wellington, who lived from 1769 to 1852, is credited with the quote, “Great countries don’t fight small wars.” As you may know, the Duke of Wellington was actually Arthur Wellesley. He was a leading military and political figure of the 19th century. As a Field Marshall, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Anyway…
Life is short. Don’t waste time sharpening sticks intended for people’s eyes. When faced with the choice between right or happy, perhaps happy is the better choice! Let the small things “go”. Still, a little more adherence to flag etiquette would keep my husband from going temporarily berserk!

Saturday, September 21, 2013


By Julie Rahm

As promised in last week’s column, I have continued the “over the hump” theme into this week. The “Hump” name was given by Allied pilots in the Second World War to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains. These allied pilots flew military transport aircraft from India to China. Their mission was to resupply the Chinese (Chiang Kai-shek) war effort against the Japanese. Here is the history:

After the Japanese invaded China in 1937, they controlled China's Pacific coast. The Chinese could not be resupplied by sea. Then, in the spring of 1942, Japanese units overran Burma, cutting off the land route that supplied the struggling armies of Chiang Kai-shek. When Japan cut off the Burma Road supply route, the U.S. (with planes commandeered from U.S. domestic airlines!) began flying the treacherous route over the Himalayas and became the lone supplier of China’s combat forces along with Air Force General Chennault’s American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers. The United States and its allies needed to keep China in the war. Chinese forces preoccupied hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops. Holding China permitted the Allies to attack Axis powers in Europe. China could also be a launch site for an Allied attack on Japan's home islands. However, the grand strategy could only work if China could be supplied; hence the airlift.

Furthermore, it is not exact to believe the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The reality is, the U.S. began to help the Chinese before the December 1941 Pearl Harbor Attack. Aid to the Chinese began in April. And, in June the Flying Tigers were sent to fly missions against the Japanese. The U.S. was engaged in conflict with the Japanese six months before Pearl Harbor. The Japanese know this. (Ever wonder why Pearl Harbor was attacked?) Now you know!

Anyway, creating an airlift presented the Air Force with a huge challenge. In 1942, there were no units trained or equipped for moving cargo. There were no airfields in India for basing the large number of transports. Flying over the Himalayas was extremely dangerous and made more difficult by a lack of reliable charts, an absence of radio navigation aids, and no information about the weather. Regardless, in April 1942, pilots started flying the "Hump," and continued missions until 1945, when the Burma Road was reopened. The dangerous 530-mile long passage over the Himalayan Mountains took its toll. Nearly 1,100 men and 638 planes were lost over the Hump. The thousand-mile roundtrip was full of high winds, sub-zero temperatures, thunderstorms and 18,000 foot mountain peaks. They flew it without cabin pressure or heat in the transport planes of the day, twin-engine C-46s and C-47 "gooney birds". Navigation was by radio and dead reckoning. Each of the men earned a Distinguished Flying Cross! The effort is legendary by any measure.

So my message this week is when you are trying to make it over the Hump, I hope the heroic efforts of the Hump pilots inspire you to persevere!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dromedary and Bactrian

By Julie Rahm

There are two species of camels, the Dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) and the Bactrian (Camelus bactrianus). Dromedary camels have one hump and were domesticated about 4,000 years ago. There are no Dromedaries left in the wild. However, there is a large feral population (600,000) of Dromedaries living in the Australian outback. On the other hand, Bactrian camels have two humps. Although most of their numbers are domesticated, they still have a small wild population.

One hump or two, camels are one of the most adapted animals in the world. They can avoid perspiring by raising their body temperatures about ten degrees and thus preserve their fluid. Their eyes are large and protected from wind and sand by double layers of long lashes. Their eyebrows provide a boney "visor" that shields the eye from the sun. Camels also have a third eyelid that moves sideways and acts like a windshield wiper, brushing the eye clean of sand. Even when this eyelid is closed, camels can still see, allowing them to travel in blinding sandstorms. The camel's ears and nose are lined with hair for protection from dust and sand. The camel's nose is also designed to trap moisture from its exhalations, thereby conserving body fluids. A camel's long legs keep the bulk of its body high above the reflective heat of the desert sand.

A camel is a cud-chewer and vegetarian, preferring dates, grass and grain. But, when food is scarce, it becomes an omnivore, making a meal out of anything it can find, including thorns, bones, meat and even its owners’ tent. Camels need salt in their diet and can drink brackish water that would make other animals ill. The camel's mouth is tough-skinned and has a split lip, allowing it to strip even the thorniest trees of vegetation. Camels possess sharp teeth, which are used to feed and defend themselves. In the summer, camels can go five to seven days without food or water. In the winter, a camel can extract enough moisture from its food to go 50 days without water. A thirsty camel can drink up to 30 gallons of water in less than 15 minutes. A camel’s kidney concentrates its urine thus preserving water. Camel urine can be as thick as honey. (Now you know!) And, a camel's poop is so dry it can be used immediately to start a fire. (Too much info?)

Camels have a reputation for spitting. But this is incorrect. (Just ask my former Marine husband, John who has first-hand experience with Bedouin camels.) Actually, camels “hock” stuff up from their stomachs and vomit on you. (Nice!) John says camels are the nastiest animal on the planet. He contends considerable discipline restrains Marines from occasionally shooting a surly camel. And finally, let’s get to this week’s life message.

Persevere until you get over the hump. Often, time will provide perspective and relief. And, to improve the situation contact me at my website, More on humps next week!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Big Boxes

By Julie Rahm

The company is the world's third largest public corporation and the biggest private employer with over two million employees. Walmart is the largest (sells the most) retailer in the world. However, it is still a family-owned business. The Walton family, who owns a 48-percent stake in the corporation, controls the company. Walmart is also one of the world's most valuable companies with assets exceeding $204 billion! In 2012, the company had revenues exceeding $407 billion! Walmart has 9,000 stores in 15 countries, under 55 different names. The company operates under the Walmart name in the United States, including the 50 states and Puerto Rico. It operates in Mexico as Walmex, in the United Kingdom as Asda, in Japan as Seiyu, and in India as Best Price. It has operations in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China and beyond.

Walmart was founded by Sam Walton in 1962, incorporated on October 31, 1969, and first traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 1972. The company is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart is also the largest grocery retailer in the United States. It generates about 51-percent of its sales in the U.S. from its grocery business.

Walmart Stores U.S. is the company's largest division, accounting for about 63-percent of its total sales. It consists of three retail formats: Discount Stores, Supercenters, and Markets (Neighborhood and Express). This is where the Oriental saga enters.

Walmart Express is a smaller discount store with simple grocery shopping, check cashing, and gasoline service. The concept is focused on small towns that are not able to support a larger store, and in large cities where physical space is at a premium. Express stores are less than one-tenth the size of Walmart supercenters. The larger Neighborhood Markets are more than twice the size of Express stores.

Walmart planned to build 15 to 20 Walmart Express stores, focusing on Arkansas, North Carolina and Chicago, by the end of its fiscal year in January 2012. As of the end of July, Walmart had 10 Express stores and had ramped up its Neighborhood Market concept to 217 locations.

A large portion of retail growth has been in the smaller markets; hence, Walmart’s Oriental strategy. It has been interesting to witness the emotional reactions by Oriental towns-people. I’m not sure Walmart is a colonial super power like 18th century England (town meeting reference)! Granted it may not be wise for local businesses to compete head-to-head with Walmart Express on prices of basic goods. However, the corporation has huge overhead and the local pricing will probably still be very competitive. And, to those who fear local businesses will not survive, I say exhale. Take Denton Pharmacy for example. Ed Denton’s business practices will ensure his continued success: local relationships, networks, niche products and customer service. Ed knows his customers by name. His customers quickly become friends. Denton Pharmacy rivals Nordstrom and the Ritz-Carlton in customer service. Our local business people are strong and savvy. I look forward to seeing their creative strategies for success unfold!
Top curve