Tuesday, August 21, 2012

10 Things You Don't Know About Coffee

I love coffee!

Even before I was old enough to drink the brew, I enjoyed its alluring aroma. Coffee was also my favorite flavor of ice cream and still is. Fortunately, when I was about 10 years old we visited relatives and my Cousin Jerry who was a year younger than me was allowed to drink coffee so that pretty much made my case and the official drinking of the stuff was finally permitted although I had already sneaked sips on the sly for years. I can honestly say that coffee made me what I am...namely a writer because I highly doubt I could have written more than a dozen of the thousands of stories and articles I have produced without the aid of coffee. Therefore this "10 Things You Don't Know About Coffee" ironically could not have been written without drinking coffee. And since this is a hot afternoon, I have just switched from hot coffee to the iced variety. So allow me to take another sip of my favorite brew while you learn some amazing things about coffee.

1. Coffee was on the verge of being banned in Europe until it was baptized by the Pope.

After coffee was introduced into Europe in the 16th century from the Muslim world, its popularity worried religious authorities who considered banning it as a trap set by Satan to capture the souls of the populace. A cup of coffee was presented to Pope Clement VIII for his judgement. Attracted by its alluring aroma, the Pope took a sip and declared: "Why, this Satan's drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it, and making it a truly Christian beverage."

2. The caffeine in coffee is a natural pesticide.

Although the level of caffeine in coffee is too low to harm humans, it is deadly to insects and acts to prevent coffee trees from destruction. So we can all thank insects for existing and forcing coffee trees to produce the form of pesticide that we all appreciate.

3. Napoleon Bonaparte blamed coffee for his downfall.

During the British blockade of Napoleon’s Empire, the Continental System was developed to enable Europe to become self-sufficient. Although sugar beets proved to be a good substitute for imported cane sugar, native chicory as a substitute for coffee was unpopular with the public. Because of the demand for coffee, that product was smuggled into Europe and was instrumental in undermining the Continental System. Napoleon during his St. Helena exile condemned the coffee drinkers whose cravings caused the smuggling of the illegal bean into his empire: “When I think that, for a cup of coffee with more or less sugar in it, they checked the hand that would set free the world.”

4. The English are known as tea drinkers but before that they were fanatic coffee consumers.

In the 17th century, long before the arrival of tea, the English were so enamored of coffee that by 1670 there was hardly a street in London without a coffee house. Because coffee, as contrasted with liquor, was looked upon as a great stimulant, coffee houses became a popular gathering spot for the intellectuals and literati of that era. Lloyd’s of London insurance even began as Lloyd’s coffee house which was a popular gathering spot for merchants interested in the shipping business. There was even one coffee house, Wills, that could be considered the world’s first comedy club since it attracted wits and satirists who entertained the other customers.

5. Coffee in Cuba is Chock Full o’ Peas.

Although Cuba before Castro was one of the world’s largest coffee producers and exporters, producing 60,000 tons per year, it has plunged since then to the point where they produced only a little over 7000 tons last year and had to import another 11,000 tons to meet domestic demand. However, even that is not enough and the coffee must be supplemented with roasted peas to produce their unique Chock Full o’ Peas brew. Oh, and the flavor is far from heavenly since the roasted peas impart a bitter taste.

6. On the small the island of Manhattan there have been up to 171 Starbucks stores.

In 2007 comedian Mark Malkoff not only visited all of the 171 Starbucks stores in Manhattan in one day but also made a purchase in each one. You can watch Malkoff perform this amazing feat in this VIDEO. Oh, and the other magic number besides 171 is 11 which is the number of bathroom breaks he had to take that day.

7, Frederick the Great of Prussia hated coffee because he thought it would make men effeminate and women sterile.

In addition to laying heavy taxes on coffee, Frederick the Great also urged that his subjects should switch to another drink: “It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country in consequence... My people must drink beer.

8. Percolation of coffee is probably the worst way to brew it.

The water used to brew coffee becomes too hot since it must be brought to a boil. It also gets overextracted, and you end up with the bitterness and acidity. That explains why coffee began to lose its popularity in the early 1980s among young people. The resurgence of coffee’s popularity came when other methods of brewing became popular and allowed consumers to enjoy the flavor of both regular and gourmet coffee. And for those of you still nostalgic for percolated coffee you can watch this Maxwell House COMMERCIAL.

9. Johann Sebastian Bach produced the “Coffee Cantata.”

The story concerns the father Herr Schlendrian portrayed by a plodding lead-footed melody, and his daughter Lieschen, the coffee-lover. She is introduced by a lively and beguiling Aria. In an effort to rid his daughter of the evil drink, he progressively forbids her her luxuries. Lieschen refuses to give it up, saying that coffee is “more delicious than a thousand kisses, and sweeter than muscatel wine”. It is only when Schlendrian refuses to allow her to marry that she relents. But even then, as the father goes off to find a husband, Lieschen reveals that she will make it a part of the marriage contract that she be allowed her three cups a day.

10. After the Boston Tea Party, drinking coffee was considered such a patriotic act in America that the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia occurred outside the Merchant’s Coffee House.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

10 Things You Don't Know About The Japanese Surrender

 (Today marks the 67th anniversary of the announcement on August 14 (August 15 Tokyo time) 1945 by Emperor Hirohito of the acceptance of the Potsdam terms for unconditional surrender (with the condition that he could remain as a figurehead emperor). I find the period from Hirohito's announcement until the formal surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2 to be a fascinating period chock full of things you probably don't know. Although my last blog entry was about the Guadalcanal campaign, the next edition will be about a completely different topic than WWII.)

1. Although the formal surrender of Japan did not occur until September 2, 1945 aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, the occupation of that nation began five days earlier when a team of 150 American personnel arrived at Atsugi airfield on August 28.  They were originally supposed to arrive on August 25 but a Japanese delegation in Manila informed the Americans that several more day were needed to ensure that military resistors to the surrender could be disarmed. They were correct since a few days before the Americans arrived, Japanese pilots took off from Atsugi airfield and dropped leaflets on Tokyo and other cities urging resistance by the civilians. Fortunately those pilots were gone, along with any resistance, by the time the Americans arrived at Atsugi.

2. The surrender ceremony aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2 was carefully planned...except for one small but very important detail. The fancy British mahogany table brought aboard the Missouri for the surrender was too small for the two large documents that had to be signed. In desperation, an ordinary table from the crew’s mess was drafted as a replacement. It was covered by a green coffee-stained tablecloth from a wardroom. After the 2 surrender documents were signed on the table, it was returned to the mess and was being set for lunch until the ship’s captain and others realized it was an historical object and removed for posterity.

3. There were 280 allied warships in Tokyo Bay when the surrender took place but no aircraft carriers. They were out at sea as a reserve force  just in case the Japanese changed their minds.

4. There was a thick cover of low dark clouds over Tokyo Bay during the 20 minute surrender ceremony. Unfortunately, 2000 planes were scheduled to fly over the bay the moment the ceremony finished. However, at the last moment the clouds suddenly parted, as if in a Hollywood movie production, and the sun burst through allowing all aboard the U.S.S. Missouri to view the mightiest display of air power ever seen.

5. When Emperor Hirohito announced over the radio the acceptance of the allied terms of surrender on August 15 (Tokyo time), very few Japanese listening to him understood what he was saying because he was using formal court language not used by the general populace. It wasn’t until the radio announcers followed up by describing what he said that the public understood what he meant.

6. After Emperor Hirohito made his surrender announcement, the Japanese public ran through a gamut of emotions...anger, despair, sadness, and relief. However, one Japanese person had a very different thought on his mind...how to make money off the surrender. He was Ogawa Kikumatsu, a book editor. Ogawa was on a business trip when the surrender was announced on the radio. He immediately returned to Tokyo by train and while traveling he began thinking of how to take advantage of the impending occupation.. By the time he reached Tokyo, he had his idea...to publish a guide booklet of Japanese phrases translated into English with the aid of phonetics. It took less than three days for Ogawa and his team to prepare the 32 page booklet and it was published exactly a month after the surrender. Its first run of 300,000 copies sold out immediately and by the end of 1945, 3.5 million copies had been sold.  Here are some sample English phrases from the booklet followed by the phonetics that the Japanese used:

Thank you! 
Thank you, awfully!
How do you do?

San kyu!
San kyu, ofuri!
Hau dei dou?

7. One of the biggest concerns of the Japanese government after the announcement by Hirohito on August 15 was to find “comfort girls” who would serve as a buffer to protect the chastity of the majority of the Japanese women from the occupation troops. Government funds were used to set up the “Recreation and Amusement Association” for this purpose. Ironically most Japanese prostitutes resisted recruitment since they believed wartime propaganda cartoons portraying Americans as having oversized sex organs and they didn’t want to risk bodily injury. Therefore, other women had to be recruited into the “buffer zone.”

8. The women of the Recreation and Amusement Association were known as Okichis after a woman named Okichi who was assigned to be the consort of the first American consul to Japan, Townsend Harris,  in 1856 to keep him from hitting on other Japanese women. You can see Okichi portrayed in a 1958 movie, “The Barbarian and the Geisha,” starring Eiko Ando as Okichi and John Wayne as Townsend Harris. However, there is no record of consul Harris ever saying, “Hit the sack, pilgrim!”

9. Soupy Sales was almost torpedoed by the Japanese after the surrender... Although most Japanese surrendered peacefully following the surrender, some of them didn’t know about the surrender due to poor communications. The U.S.S. Randall, an attack transport, was on its way back to the states just after the surrender when a Japanese submarine was detected following it. One of the sailors aboard who performed a White Fang comedy act over the ship’s PA system, Seaman Milton Supman (Soupy Sales) worried that the Japanese submarine captain hadn’t heard about the surrender. Or perhaps the Japanese captain just didn’t like Soupy’s shtick. No torpedoes were fired nor was Soupy Sales harmed during that incident.

10. For a long time after the Japanese surrender, many imperial troops had not heard about it and took years to surrender. The last holdout was Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda who was discovered to be still holding out on Lubang island in the Phillipines in 1974. Although he was known to be a holdout he eluded searchers until he was found by a Japanese college dropout, Norio Suzuki, who was on a mission to travel the world in a search for Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman in that order. In 1986, Suzuki died in the Himalayas attempting to find the Abominable Snowman. It is unknown whether Suzuki ever found a panda but perhaps he was unable to travel to the San Diego Zoo to see them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

10 Things You Don't Know About Guadalcanal

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first offensive land operation taken by the United States in World War II. On August 7, 1942, the U.S. Marines landed at Guadalcanal. The general outlines of that battle which lasted which lasted 6 months until February 9, 1943 are known by many but here are 19 things about Guadalcanal that you might not know.

This is the first of my regular "10 Things You Don't Know" posts that I hope will encourage the History Channel to bring back that series. You can read my full mission statement about this in my introductory blog post here. And now on to 10 Things You Don't Know About Guadalcanal:

1. Most of the enemy force on Guadalcanal when the Marines landed on August 7, 1942 were actually ordinary laborers, not combat troops.  Of the 2800 enemy personnel on the island, 2200 were laborers, of whom many were Korean, not Japanese.

2. The most hated uniform of WWII met its demise at Guadalcanal. It was the one-piece coverall jungle uniform issued to army troops. The main defect was that when the dysentery suffering troops, of which there were many, had to relieve themselves (or what they called the “Tulagi Trots”), the entire uniform had to be removed. One improvised solution was to use a razor blade to cut the thread in the crotch area and make sure not to wear skivvies. Ultimately the one-piece coverall was replaced by a more practical two-piece jungle uniform.

3. Malaria caused many more American casualties than Japanese bullets on Guadalcanal. One estimate is that every American who served on Guadalcanal between the landing on August 7, 1942 until the official end of the campaign in February 1943 had been infected to one degree or another by malaria.

4. As a result of the many Japanese ships sunk trying to resupply their troops, the waters off Guadalcanal are among the most popular scuba diving sites in the world. Many of these scuba tourists are Japanese.

5. On the morning of August 7, 1942, a Japanese radio operator on Tulagi off of Guadalcanal answered his own question when he keyed off this message to the Japanese base at Rabaul:


The answer he sent shortly afterwards followed by silence, due to intense shelling:


6. The best equipment and supplies that the Marines had  in the early days following their landings on Guadalcanal were provided by the Japanese themselves. The landings so surprised the Japanese they did not have time to destroy their equipment at the airstrip which was soon named Henderson Field. Among the supplies  left behind were construction equipment, lots of food, and even an ice making machine. The latter must have been very welcome in that tropical environment.

7. The U.S. Navy suffered its worst naval defeat of WWII outside of the Pearl Harbor attack (which can be considered peacetime) at Guadalcanal. On the night of August 8-9 a Japanese force of seven cruisers and one destroyers sank one Australian and three American cruisers near Savo Island off of Guadalcanal. Ironically the Japanese commander, Vice Admiral Gunichi Mikawa was later strongly criticized for not destroying the unprotected American invasion transports following his naval victory. Had he done so, it would have removed the tenuous  American foothold on Guadalcanal.

8. A New Zealand longshoreman’s union almost caused the cancellation of the Guadalcanal campaign. Even though New Zealand was facing a dire threat from the expanding Japanese Empire, the unionized dockworkers of Wellington went on strike rather than load American naval vessels with supplies during poor weather for the Guadalcanal invasion. The union refused to budge despite the pleas from the navy so finally the dock workers were ordered off the docks and their places taken by Marines. Unfortunately the loading situation was a mess. The food supplies were packed in thin cardboard and the rains made a soggy mess of much of it. The dock was covered with soggy cornflakes and mushed up chocolate bars. Meanwhile the Marines covered much of Wellington’s walls with profane graffiti describing what they thought of the Wellington dock workers.

9. The marines on Guadalcanal became quite skilled in counterfeiting red “meatball” Japanese flags which they traded to sailors unloading supplies on the beach for candy bars and other products.

10. The number of warships lost by each side during the Guadalcanal campaign was precisely equal: 26 with almost exactly the same amount of tonnage. The big difference was that the Japanese could not replace such losses due to their decreasing industrial output while the Americans were able to vastly increase their supplies and equipment over the course of the rest of the war.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"10 Things You Don't Know About" Mission Statement

This is my first post in "10 Things You Don't Know About." I am starting this blog because I really enjoyed the CONCEPT of the History Channel show by the same name..."10 Things You Don't About." I enjoyed much, but not everything, about that show and this blog is an attempt to hopefully convince the History Channel to do more episodes of "10 Things You Don't Know About" because I haven't seen any information about any more shows they have planned in addition to the episodes they produced several months ago.

One suggestion is to ditch interviewing people on the street to ask if they knew about this or that as well as to give the percentage of people who didn't know about a certain fact. To me that was just a waste of time and cut into the meat of the show. Also some of the episodes tried to play to sensationalism and were inaccurate such as how Abraham Lincoln enjoyed going to taverns and drinking. Yes, Lincoln did sell liquor but was himself  (unusual for his time) a teetotaler.

I will soon begin posting my own version of "10 Things You Don't Know About" on events and people from history that I hope you will find informative and interesting. And, of course, I will concentrate on researching things that most of you don't know about.

Stay tuned...And History Channel---I sure hope you resurrect "10 Things You Don't Know About." And if everybody notices something inaccurate in what I post in "10 Things You Don't Know About," please feel free to correct me. Hey, even your humble correspondent can be fallible.