Newcomers to the city of Edmonton inevitably have questions regarding our perpetual rivals to the south, or what has come to be known as the Battle of Alberta. They don’t ask me – I purposely sport a fanny-pack and 20 pounds of camera gear when I wander about the city so that tourists don’t talk to me – but they’ll ask somebody. The answer they’ll probably get is “hockey”, which is blatantly misleading and 100% wrong.
Edmonton and Calgary have held a semi-snarly relationship for much longer than the history of professional hockey in either city. Far from a rivalry of mere convenience (we are the only two major cities in the province), the Battle of Alberta extends to fundamental belief systems, to political preferential treatment, to bigotry, inclusion, and of course… money.
Which is truly the greater city? As a lifelong resident of Edmonton, my honest answer is that I don’t care. Both cities are gorgeous: they have the Stampede, we have the continent’s most impressive Fringe Theatre Festival. They have proximity to the magnificent mountains, we have an exquisite river valley. They are the economic home-base of the province, we have a gigantic mall.
But enough of the niceness. Let’s see how this got ugly.
The Battle of Alberta extends for centuries before there was even an Alberta over which to battle. The Blackfoot Confederacy was the political union among the Blackfoot tribes who moseyed about southern Alberta and Montana, killing buffalo and living a northern version of the indigenous lifestyle of the American Indian. Up in the boreal forest that covered the northern half of the as-yet-undesignated province, the Cree and their allies (known as the Iron Confederacy, making the history of this region sound like a bad-ass Native version of Game of Thrones) lived a subarctic lifestyle, which involved trapping and fur-trading. Read more…
Despite my wife’s overwhelming disinterest, one of my dream vacations involves combing the secondary highways of North America and tracking down the most boisterously benign roadside attractions the western world has to offer. I think it’s fantastic when a small town builds a UFO landing site, a massive ball of twine or the world’s largest collection of business convention name tags. It’s like the town can say, “Here – we offer the world this. Nothing else but this.”
I imagine there’s an inherent pride in curating one of these roadside spectacles. You might print out the tiny two-paragraph page on some obscure website like Weird-Iowa.net, then boast to passers-by about the dozens of hits your page has received, proving that the world is truly ready to embrace the magic of the two-headed squirrel corpse you found beside the highway and subsequently placed behind glass in an accurate Civil War-era Confederate uniform replica.
Some towns have pushed a little harder for their morsel of fame – never quite achieving the cosmopolitan status of a two-theatre town but still achieving enough notoriety to merit a two-minute segment on some show on the Travel Channel. For some, this is the pinnacle of their fifteen flickering minutes, and that suits them just fine.
I’ll start with a town I couldn’t possibly visit because it only existed for a very short time, and only for the purposes of one explosion. William George Crush, a passenger agent for the Missouri-Kentucky-Texas Railroad (also known as the Katy to you blues fans), thought it would be a great idea to stage a head-on train collision. Just for fun. Read more…
As a fiercely devout skeptic I have little patience for incorporating any spiritual routine into my life apart from my daily dose of Otis Redding and/or Etta James, both of whom possessed vocal talents that by their very nature taunted non-believers with their otherworldly oomph. Religious rituals, from Cree to Christianity and all points in between, hold little appeal for me. But as a professional anthropologist (and by ‘professional’ I mean the exact opposite of that), I possess a healthy curiosity for the spiritual to-do list of all my fellow humans.
I have been to a couple Native American round dances, and while I can’t speak with any praise to the music – there’s no backbeat, no groove, no emphasis on the ‘1’ – I admire the grace and harmonious tranquility in the process. It really jounces my think-meat to learn that this same dance directly led to an unthinkable slaughter.
I suppose it’s the old cliché of fearing what one doesn’t understand. Perhaps one can attribute the Wounded Knee debacle to abject stupidity or the tense national atmosphere due to the wretched economy under that spend-heavy rascal president, Benjamin Harrison. Mostly I think the massacre came about due to that tragic chemical collision between two of the most devious elements in the universe: ignorance and assholery.
By 1889, the bulk of the hostile skirmishes between Natives and Americans had subsided. The “old west” was beginning to peter out, and the new president was stubbornly set on filling in all that ‘territory’ space in the nation’s abdomen with legitimate states. On that list was South Dakota, which at the time was loaded with Sioux who had been “cordially assigned” chunks of land there by the US government. The government’s plan was to integrate the Native Americans by whatever means necessary. Read more…
If you’re like me, you probably have at least two or three friends on your Facebook feed who periodically vomit a string of ‘awareness’ or ‘activist’ posts. You’ll read the first couple, then your scrolling will gradually increase speed until you thankfully land on a photo of some friend’s friend’s funny-looking baby. A lot of those posts you skipped will be about the evils of Monsanto, a company so aptly named to sound like a Bond villain it’s almost too perfect.
Monsanto is evil – that’s the gist of pretty much all of those posts. And Wikipedia – known for being edited by the same public that dispatches a number of its minions to make those Facebook posts – says pretty much the same thing.
For the benefit of those who don’t feel like waving the flag of online activism in your friends’ faces, but who still want to be informed, I’ll give you a quick rundown on the guy Bond won’t kill until the third act.
First I’ll set the stage – Monsanto started off as a tiny dream in St. Louis by founder John Francis Queeny. I’m not sure what that dream specifically was, but I think it had something to do with using chemicals to make food more chemical-laden, preferably in exchange for truckfuls of money. Read more…
For most nations, the years between the two World Wars was a time of boom and bust, a time when the economy trumped politics on the tips of citizens’ tongues. And when the call came for a new generation to pick up arms and fight for the cause, they were refreshed and ready, either too young to have battled the Kaiser or well-rested and eager to bring the fight to the Fuhrer.
But on the other side of the world from anywhere, in a land where women glow and men plunder, the Australian armed forces were still healing from a conflict less than a decade old. It was a dark time, as much of the world was still trying to claw their way out of an economic cave-in, but when Aussies grimly honored their duty and served their country, whatever the cost.
It was the Great Emu War of 1932.
Cue the music.
“There’s something happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear…”
We open on a barren wheat farm near the coast of Western Australia. It’s October, and already the weather is stifling and oppressive. This was the site of the first bloodshed, the first casualty of this inevitable war. Only the blood was not that of a human, nor was it even the blood of an emu. It was the blood of wheat. Wheat which was plucked before its time. Read more…
With no cash prize, with no great inheritance on the line, would you be willing to spend a night in an abandoned insane asylum? This is the sort of question which could open up an episode of American Horror Story (in fact, I think it did). A question which the average person never has the opportunity to answer with action.
Why does the idea strike such a cold quiver of mercury-fear into our hearts? It’s not the notion of the myriad of deaths which no doubt took place on the property. We have an abandoned hospital in my city, and nobody but the kookiest of kooks believes it to be haunted by spirits of the departed. Is it the notion of insanity that frightens us off? Few things are more terrifying than losing dominion over one’s mind whilst one’s body remains intact. No, I think it’s more than this.
I think the scariest thing about an abandoned asylum is the specter of cruelty which clings to the air, thickening it with the suffocating dread of the abuse, the neglect, and the outright vicious degradation which awaited those whose minds were crumbling in these institutions. The ghosts of places like Letchworth Village are not cruel – it is pure cruelty itself which haunts these decomposing walls.
In 1911, the New York State Board of Charities opened up Letchworth Village in the small hamlet of Thiells. It was a state institution designed for the segregation of the epileptic and ‘feeble-minded.’ It was a farming village, and the patients who were physically able were encouraged to tend the farms that would subsequently keep everyone inside fed. Letchworth landed on the medical map in February of 1950, when Hilary Koprowski tested his new polio vaccine on one of the children patients. Nineteen more tests followed, and Letchworth became a crucial step en route to the banishment of the disease from humankind. Read more…
I’d like to dedicate today’s article to my lovely wife, whose hatred of birds has spanned most of her life, and will no doubt follow her to her grave. It didn’t help when a filthy raven tumbled through the sunroof of her Mini Cooper while she was waiting at a stoplight a few years ago. That’s the kind of psychological trauma that can leave thick, craggly scars along the surface of a person’s brain.
While I don’t expect she’ll soften her stance even slightly with today’s piece, I’m hoping she’ll still appreciate some of the more interesting bird tales from around the webisphere.
If nothing else, she’ll love the first one, which involves a sizable cap getting popped in the ass of a rather obnoxious ornithological butt-face.
We begin with the Domino Day 2005 Sparrow. Domino Day is an annual gathering in the Netherlands of some of the most patient and sure-handed people in the world, who stack dominoes in elaborate designs so that they topple one another in the most spectacular fashion possible. Every year, these dedicated dominoers… dominizers?… dominatrixes?… not sure what the right word is here… anyway, they gather to set the World Record for most fallen dominoes. In 2005, they had to top four million to break the previous year’s record. So when a small house sparrow flew in through a window four days before the big event, people got worried.
The sparrow landed on a few domino bricks, causing them to fall. Which caused others to fall. Which caused… well, you know how this works. Panicked organizers called in Duke Faunabeheer, a local company that… I guess a company that safeguards professional domino events. Anyway, they tried using nets and sticks to shoo the bird outside, but nothing worked. So one of the hunters picked up a gun and shot the thing. Read more…