Research the lessons in history. “Study the past if you would define the future.” Confucius

What Might Have Been: The French View


James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States, and once worked as President Carter’s chief speechwriter.

The French National Library has a wonderful exhibit of prints from 1910, imagining the wonderful new world of the year 2000. For instance, how we would learn: 


And, le train électrique Paris-Pekin*:


Studies of “how the past imagined the future” make up a rich and established field — for instance, with David Gelernter’s 1995 book about the “futuristic” 1939 New York World’s Fair. Or in a different way Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. But if the library’s presentation of these images is not a breakthrough concept, the drawings are wonderful, in themselves and as specimens of the things people can envision and the things they can’t. For instance, the imagined Paris-to-Peking train actually looks quite similar to some recent drawings of Chinese trains designed to run on normal freeways — but suspended in a way that keeps them above the traffic.

One more after the jump. You can browse through the whole Utopie suite at the Bibliothèque nationale’s site (captions in French, but there are tabs for other languages). Thanks to former guest blogger Edward Goldstick for this find.Long-distance air travel of the future:


* There was a time in their high school careers when one of my sons was immersed in French and the other in Japanese. This is the kind of phrase the Japanese-studying son would use to illustrate his “my brother has it too easy” complaint that French and English were essentially the same language. Since in Japanese le train électrique would be (according to me) roughly ???????????. On the other hand, my faith that French and English are the same language ebbs whenever I am in France.

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World War II: The Invasion of Poland and the Winter War

In August of 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression treaty — one week later, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. The first attack of the war took place on September 1, 1939, as German aircraft attacked the Polish town of Wielun, killing nearly 1,200. Five minutes later, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on a transit depot at Westerplatte in the Free City of Danzig. Within days, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany and began mobilizing their armies and preparing their civilians. On September 17, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. Polish forces surrendered in early October after losing some 65,000 troops and many thousands of civilians. In November, Soviet forces invaded Finland and began a months-long battle dubbed the Winter War. By the beginning of 1940, Germany was finalizing plans for the invasions of Denmark and Norway. Collected here are images of these tumultuous first months and of Allied forces preparing for the arduous battles to come. (This entry is Part 2 of a weekly 20-part retrospective of World War II) [45 photos]

View of an undamaged Polish city from the cockpit of a German medium bomber aircraft, likely a Heinkel He 111 P, seen in 1939.(Library of Congress) 

In 1939, the Polish army still maintained many cavalry squadrons, which had served them well as recently as the Polish-Soviet War in 1921. A myth emerged about the Polish cavalry leading desperate charges against the tanks of the invading Nazis, pitting horsemen against armored vehicles. While cavalry units did encounter armored divisions on occasion, their targets were ground infantry, and their charges were often effective. Nazi and Soviet propaganda helped fuel the myth of the noble-yet-backward Polish cavalry. This photo is of a Polish cavalry squadron on maneuvers somewhere in Poland, on April 29, 1939. (AP Photo) #

Associated Press correspondent Alvin Steinkopf broadcasting from the Free City of Danzig — at the time, a semi-autonomous city-state tied to Poland. Steinkopf was relating the tense situation in Danzig back to America, on July 11, 1939. Germany had been demanding the incorporation of Danzing into the Third Reich for months, and appeared to be preparing military action. (AP Photo) #

Soviet premier Josef Stalin (second from right), smiles while Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (seated), signs the non-aggression pact with German Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (third from right), in Moscow, on August 23, 1939. The man at left is Soviet Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Boris Shaposhnikov. The nonaggression pact included a secret protocol dividing eastern Europe into spheres of influence in the event of a conflict. The pact now guaranteed that Hitler’s troops would face no resistance from the Soviets if they invaded Poland, bringing the war one step closer to reality. (AP Photo/File) #

Two days after Germany signed the non-aggression pact with the USSR, Great Britain entered into a military alliance with Poland, on August 25, 1939. This photo shows the scene one week later, on September 1, 1939, one of the first military operations of Germany’s invasion of Poland, and the beginning of World War II. Here, the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein is bombing a Polish military transit depot at Westerplatte in the Free City of Danzig. Simultaneously, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), and ground troops (Heer) were attacking several other Polish targets. (AP Photo) #

German soldiers comb the Westerplatte after it was surrendered to German units from the Schleswig-Holstein landing crew, on September 7, 1939. Fewer than 200 Polish soldiers defended the small peninsula, holding off the Germans for seven days. Wikipedia has more about the Battle of Westerplatte. (AP Photo) #

Aerial view of bombs exploding during a German bombing run over Poland in September of 1939 (LOC) #

Two tanks of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division cross the Bzura River during the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939. The Battle of Bzura, the largest of the entire campaign, lasted more than a week, ending with the German forces capturing most of western Poland. (LOC/Klaus Weill) #

Soldiers of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division, resting in a ditch alongside a road on the way to Pabianice, during the invasion of Poland in 1939. (LOC/Klaus Weill) #

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Before the Trail of Tears

The beginning of the end of sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation and her people was set in motion by the Treaty of Hopewell in the fall of 1785. This treaty stated that the Cherokee people be, “under the protection of the United States of America and of no other sovereign whatsoever,”.

Old Tassel, also known as Corn Tassel, was the venerable Chief of the Upper Town Cherokees. According To Hoig’s work, The Cherokees and Their Chiefs, Old Tassel was described as “a stout, mild-mannered but resolute man with a round face and a pleasant countenance.” (See Stan Hoig, The Cherokees and Their Chiefs, p.62). He was also known to be wise and honest, as one person noted that, “through a long and useful life, he was never known to stoop to a falsehood.” (Hoig, p. 62)

Congressional approval of the treaty occurred November 18, 1785. The treaty ignored the concerns of the State of North Carolina as that state objected on the grounds that her rights had been violated as land provided to Revolutionary solders now fell within the limits of the Cherokee Nation. The treaty also contained a stern provision that stated, “any settler who fails to remove within six months from the lands guaranteed to the Indians shall forfeit the protection of the Untied States, and the Cherokees may punish him or not as they please.” (See “A Brief History of the Cherokees 1540-1906, by Mary Evelyn Rogers, p.65)

Though the Cherokee Nation did cede land under the treaty, it did create animosity of some of the of Cherokees. Shortly after the treaty was concluded, several members removed from the nation resettling along the St. Francis River in what was then Spanish Louisiana. (Rogers, p. 65)

Within a short time, bloodshed occured by both whites and Cherokees. The most notable militant of the Cherokees was Dragging Canoe (Tsiyugunsini) son of Chief Attakullakulla.

By early 1786, Dragging Canoe and his warriors would attack any white settler found within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation most notably the settlement of Muscle Shoals which led to the abandonment of the site due to constant attacks by Cherokee warriors.

To be continued………….

Battle of Little Bighorn

Jun 25, 1876: 


“Comanche,” the only survivor of the Custer Massacre, 1876

Battle of Little Bighorn. (2011). The History Channel website. Retrieved 9:41, June 25, 2011, from

On this day in 1876, Native American forces led by Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeat the U.S. Army troops of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle near southern Montana’s Little Bighorn River.

Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americanshad gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River–which they called the Greasy Grass–in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.

In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer’s 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.

At mid-day, Custer’s 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer’s desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldier were dead.

The Battle of Little Bighorn–also called Custer’s Last Stand–marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty. Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.


Greater Glory: Why Scott Let Amundsen Win the Race to the South Pole

In the race to the South Pole, explorer Robert F. Scott refused to sacrifice his ambitious science agenda

By Edward J. Larson | Friday, May 27, 2011 | 2

Permanent Address:


SIDE TRIP: One of Scott’s 32 expedition members sleds past a massive ice structure named Castle Berg, off the shore of Ross Island, Antarctica. Image: Corbis

The history books say that Roald Amundsen beat Robert F. Scott in a race to the South Pole in 1911. Less widely known is that Scott had big scientific ambitions for his trip, which he largely fulfilled.

Scott’s team made several side trips to search for fossils and other scientific evidence, despite com­petition from Amundsen.

One of Scott’s most significant finds was fossils of an ancient plant, Glossopteris, that proved to be important evidence in support of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

One hundred years ago, in June 1911, Robert Falcon Scott and 32 explorers—most of them British scientists, naval officers or seafarers—were huddled in the darkness of the Antarctic winter, when the sun never rises above the horizon and up to eight feet of ice seals the surrounding sea. Winter temperatures on Ross Island, the southernmost piece of exposed land reached by Scott’s ship, can plunge below –50 degrees Fahrenheit. Blizzards rise up often. Lacking wireless communication and totally cut off from the outside world, the explorers waited for the longer, warmer days of spring, in October, when some of them would set out to cross nearly 900 miles of ice shelf, mountains and the Polar Plateau to arrive at a spot of no particular interest to anybody except for its location at the bottom of the earth.

Two British expeditions had tried to reach the South Pole before. Scott led one himself from 1901 to 1904, and Ernest Shackleton led another from 1907 to 1909. They had fallen short. This time, though, Scott was brimming with confidence. Drawing on those earlier experiences, he had methodically planned this expedition not merely to be the first to reach the South Pole but also to advance an ambitious scientific agenda. He had already put in place several teams that would fan out across the Ross Sea basin, collecting fossils, data and other things of scientific…



Friday the 13th Superstitions Rooted in Bible and More

This year Friday the 13th superstitions get a break—luckily for triskaidekaphobes.

friday 13th 2010 last supper

Legendary traitor Judas (fourth from left) is said to have been the 13th guest at Jesus’ Last Supper.

Painting by Leonardo da Vinci via Getty Images

John Roach

for National Geographic News

Updated May 13, 2011

They date back to at least ancient Roman times, but Friday the 13th superstitions won’t be getting much of a workout this year. Luckily for triskaidekaphobia sufferers, 2011—like 2010 before it—has only one Friday the 13th.

By contrast, 2009 boasted three Friday the 13ths—the maximum possible in a year, at least as long as we continue to mark time with the Gregorian calendar, which Pope Gregory XIII ordered the Catholic Church to adopt in 1582.

“You can’t have any [years] with none, and you can’t have any with four, because of our funny calendar,” said Underwood Dudley, a professor emeritus of mathematics at DePauw University in Indiana, and author of Numerology: Or, What Pythagoras Wrought.

The calendar works just as its predecessor, the Julian calendar, did, with a leap year every four years. But the Gregorian calendar skips leap years on century years except those divisible by 400. For example, there was no leap year in 1900, but there was one in 2000. This trick keeps the calendar in tune with the seasons.

The result is an ordering of days and dates that repeats itself every 400 years, Dudley noted. As time marches through the order, some years appear with three Friday the 13ths. Other years have two or, like 2011, one.

Curious Calendar Encourages Friday the 13th Superstitions

“It’s just that curious way our calendar is constructed, with 28 days in February and all those 30s and 31s,” Dudley said.

(Related: “Leap Year: How the World Makes Up for Lost Time”.)

When the 400-year order is laid out, another revelation occurs: The 13th falls on Friday more often than any other day of the week. “It’s just a funny coincidence,” Dudley said.

Richard Beveridge, a mathematics instructor at Clatsop Community College in Oregon, authored a 2003 paper in the journal Mathematical Connections on the mathematics of Friday the 13th.

He noted the 400-year cycle is further broken down into periods of either 28 or 40 years.

“At the end of every cycle you get a year with three Friday the 13ths the year before the last year in the cycle … and you also get one on the tenth year of all the cycles,” he said.

2009, for example, was the tenth year of the cycle that started in 2000.

Friday the 13th Superstitions Linked to Triskaidekaphobia

Friday the 13th superstitions are rooted in ancient bad-luck associations with the number 13 and the day Friday, said Donald Dossey, a folklore historian and author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun.

The two unlucky entities ultimately combined to make one superunlucky day.

Dossey traces the fear of the number 13—aka, triskaidekaphobia—to a Norse myth about 12 gods having a dinner party at Valhalla, Norse mythology’s heaven. In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous god Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow.

“Balder died, and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned. It was a bad, unlucky day,” Dossey said.

There is also a biblical reference to the unlucky number 13. Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper. (See “Lost Gospel Revealed; Says Jesus Asked Judas to Betray Him.”)

As for Friday, it’s well known among Christians as the day Jesus was crucified. Also, some biblical scholars believe Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit on Friday. Perhaps most significant is a belief that Abel was slain by his brother Cain on Friday the 13th.

Meanwhile, in ancient Rome, witches reportedly gathered in groups of 12. The 13th was believed to be the devil.

In modern times, many triskaidekaphobes point to the ill-fated mission to the moon, Apollo 13.

Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist in the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center at the University of Delaware in Newark, said the number 13 suffers because of its position after 12.

According to Fernsler, numerologists consider 12 a “complete” number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus, he pointed out.

Thirteen’s association with bad luck, he said, “has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. The number becomes restless or squirmy”—not unlike some folks with triskaidekaphobia today.

Paralyzed by Friday the 13th Superstitions

Some people are so paralyzed by Friday the 13th superstitions that they refuse to fly, buy a house, or act on a stock tip, for example.

“It’s been estimated that [U.S] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day, because people will not fly or do business they would normally do,” said Dossey, the historian, who is also the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina.

Among other services, Dossey’s organization counsels clients on how to conquer Friday the 13th superstitions, which fuel a phobia that he estimates afflicts 17 to 21 million people in the United States.

Symptoms range from mild anxiety to full-blown panic attacks. The latter may cause people to reshuffle schedules or miss an entire day’s work.

When it comes to bad luck of any kind, Richard Wiseman—a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, England—has found that people who consider themselves unfortunate are more likely to believe in superstitions associated with bad luck.

Supersitious people’s “beliefs and behavior are likely to be part of a much bigger worldview,” he said. “They will believe [both] that luck is a magical force and that it can ruin their lives.”

Triskaidekaphobia’s Architectural Effects

Triskaidekaphobia can be seen even in how societies are built. More than 80 percent of high-rise buildings lack a 13th floor. Many airports skip the 13th gate. Hospitals and hotels regularly have no room number 13.

On streets in Florence, Italy, the house between number 12 and 14 is addressed as 12 1/2. In France socialites known as the quatorziens(“fourteeners”) once made themselves available as 14th guests to keep a dinner party from an unlucky fate.

DePauw University’s Dudley said nobody really knows why Friday the 13th has spawned so many superstitions.

“You’ve got to have something that is unlucky, and somehow they hit on 13,” he said. “But all these explanations are just moonshine.”