Branded

Gary Larson:  The Far Side

Gary Larson: The Far Side

On this day in 1777 Captain James Cook “discovered” the largest Atoll by land area in the world. He named it Christmas Island. It is now called Kiritimati and if you know anything about South Seas Pidgin you will recognize that the modern name is simply a native rendering of “Christmas”.

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I place “discovered” in parentheses for good reason. Cook was by no means the first to chart the island. The earliest evidence we have is from the Spanish in 1537 and was named Acea. It was uninhabited when discovered by both the Spanish and by the British, but the British name stuck.

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There are many examples throughout history of someone discovering or inventing something, only to be sidelined by a rival who marketed the discovery better. Even recording the discovery is not enough. You need to make it relevant and memorable to your audience. Discoveries need to be branded as well as patented.

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Christmas Eve: My Mother Dressing; by Toi Derricotte

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My mother was not impressed with her beauty;
once a year she put it on like a costume,
plaited her black hair, slick as cornsilk, down past her hips,
in one rope-thick braid, turned it, carefully, hand over hand,
and fixed it at the nape of her neck, stiff and elegant as a crown,
with tortoise pins, like huge insects,
some belonging to her dead mother,
some to my living grandmother.
Sitting on the stool at the mirror,
she applied a peachy foundation that seemed to hold her down, to trap her,
as if we never would have noticed what flew among us unless it was weighted and bound in its mask.
Vaseline shined her eyebrows,
mascara blackened her lashes until they swept down like feathers;
her eyes deepened until they shone from far away.

Now I remember her hands, her poor hands, which, even then were old from scrubbing,
whiter on the inside than they should have been,
and hard, the first joints of her fingers, little fattened pads,
the nails filed to sharp points like old-fashioned ink pens,
painted a jolly color.
Her hands stood next to her face and wanted to be put away, prayed
for the scrub bucket and brush to make them useful.
And, as I write, I forget the years I watched her
pull hairs like a witch from her chin, magnify
every blotch—as if acid were thrown from the inside.

But once a year my mother
rose in her white silk slip,
not the slave of the house, the woman,
took the ironed dress from the hanger—
allowing me to stand on the bed, so that
my face looked directly into her face,
and hold the garment away from her
as she pulled it down.

I saw 3 ships

I saw 3 ships come sailing in?  Not quite.  On this day in 1606 three ships left England and supposedly “began the British Empire”.  They were the Susan Constant, the Discovery and the Godspeed and they founded the first successful English colony in Jamestown Virginia.

It is hard today to understand what these men (they were all men) faced, but let me try to put it in context.  The English had tried and failed to establish colonies in Ireland.  The plantation of King’s and Queen’s Counties of 1556, an Ulster Plantation in the 1570s and the Munster plantation of 1586 were all failures.  The “wild” local tribes rose up and drove out the settlers.  Not enough new settlers could be found to “undertake” the plantation contracts.

In 1606 the potential colonist had two immediate options.  The lands of O’Neill and O’Donnell in Ulster were open for plantation, and the Virginia Colony was open for business. Neither was very attractive.  Cross 60 miles of sea to Ireland and set up in a country that has driven out all previous attempts to colonise it, or sail thousands of miles across the Atlantic and set up in a land of savages.  Previous English colonies in the new world had fared no better than those in Ireland.  Colonists disappeared such as those at Roanoke.

To board one of these three ships and sail for Virginia must have been the equivalent of joining an expedition to Mars today, except we know a lot more about Mars than the English knew about Virginia.

I have no doubt that we will colonise some of the planets or moons of our solar system, and that mankind will gradually push out into the great unknown.  It is what we do!

A Christmas Childhood; by Patrick Kavanagh

One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me.

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again.

The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch,
Or any common sight, the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.

And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
there was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

Virginia State Commemorative Quarter

Missing the target

Tasmanroutes

It was on this day in 1642 that Abel Tasman discovered the island that bears his name.  Tasman is an explorer that I feel sorry for.  He is not remembered as a ‘great’ explorer like Captain Cook.  In his own lifetime his employers, the Dutch East India Company, expressed their disappointment with his findings.  They thought that a more diligent explorer might have made a better fist of mapping and exploring the territories that he found.

On his first voyage of discovery he sailed right around Australia, and managed to miss it!  Quite a feat.

When you see his track in 1642 it does seem very much like a sail by and not a discovery trip.  And when he did hit Tasmania, was he not curious to see how far north he could map the land?  But bear in mind the sailing technology of the time!  He was doing his best with what he had.  It was a huge task for them to land at all in Tasmania.  One of his crew had to swim to shore in a storm to plant a flag.  He tried to sail north but was blown away by the weather.  Even today the Bass Strait has a bit of a reputation with sailors.

He found New Zealand and he did not discover the Cook Straight which divides the islands, he thought it was a long inlet.  But then he thought that he was on the west coast of South America.  Remember that the charts were not very accurate in those days.  Also, they were under constant attack by the Maori on the coast of New Zealand, and had to use their cannon more than once to defend themselves.

The East India Company were not interested in maps.  They were looking for trade goods to bring back to Europe or areas to exploit and colonize.  They were disappointed because he found neither.  Had the weather been more favourable Tasman might have stumbled upon Botany Bay 100 years before Cook.

It is easy to criticize the failings of past explorers when we have the complete map in front of us.  But given the Charts and directions that were available to Tasman would we do any better?  He had no way to calculate longitude, only dead reckoning.  And yet he rounded the Australian continent on his first voyage and found his way safely home.  On his second voyage he confirmed the existence of the fabled ‘Terra incognita australis’ and mapped most of its north coastline.  He filled in a lot of knowledge gaps and gave subsequent explorers a far better idea of where to look.

Discovery of the New World: By Carter Revard

The creatures that we met this morning
marveled at our green skins
and scarlet eyes.
They lack antennae
and can’t be made to grasp
your proclamation that they are
our lawful food and prey and slaves,
nor can they seem to learn
their body-space is needed to materialize
our oxygen absorbers –
which they conceive are breathing
and thinking creatures whom they implore
at first as angels or (later) as devils
when they are being snuffed out
by an absorber swelling
into their space.
Their history bled from one this morning
while we were tasting his brain
in holographic rainbows
which we assembled into quite an interesting
set of legends –
that’s all it came to, though
the colors were quite lovely before we
poured them into our time;
the blue shift bleached away
meaningless circumstance and they would not fit
any of our truth-matrices –
there was, however,
a curious visual echo in their history
of our own coming to their earth;
a certain General Sherman
had said concerning a group of them
exactly what we were saying to you
about these creatures:
it is our destiny to asterize this planet,
and they will not be asterized,
so they must be wiped out.
We need their space and oxygen
which they do not know how to use,
yet they will not give up their gas unforced,
and we feel sure,
whatever our “agreements” made this morning,
we’ll have to kill them all:
the more we cook this orbit,
the fewer next time around.
We’ve finished burning all their crops
and killed their cattle.
They’ll have to come into our pens
and then we’ll get to study
the way our heart attacks and cancers spread among them,
since they seem not immune to these.
If we didn’t have this mission it might be sad
to see such helpless creatures die,
but never fear,
the riches of this place are ours
and worth whatever pain others may have to feel.
We’ll soon have it cleared
as in fact it is already, at the poles.
Then we will be safe, and rich, and happy here forever.

Longitude

Harrison Sea Chronometer H5

Harrison Sea Chronometer H5

On this day in 1722 one of the greatest disasters in British Naval Military History occured;  the Scilly Naval Disaster.  A British fleet returning from the siege of Toulon during the Wars of the Spanish Succession, left Gibraltar bound for Portsmouth in heavy seas and bad weather.  Four ships of the line ran aground on the Isles of Scilly with the loss of 1,400 men.

An enquiry established that the disaster was due to the inability of the fleet to calculate their Longitude.  So began one of the greatest quests in maritime history.  In 1714 a large prize was made available for the person who could solve the problem.  It was not until 1767 that a Yorkshire carpenter and clock-maker, John Harrison was published as the winner.  He began by constructing massive clocks, perfected his technique and won the price with what looks remarkably like a large watch.  The principles, in particular the circular balance, underpinned the world of horology until the development of electronic systems.

At the same time as Harrison was working in England Pierre Le Roy invented the detente escapement in France, another essential of the accurate chronometer.

The invention of the Chronometer allowed explorers like James Cook to map the world accurately, and delivered an advantage to the British Admiralty which enabled the development of the British Empire.

It seems such a little thing, but it is very important to know exactly where you are.  I find a similar dynamic in operation in the Business World.  Many business owners know where they want to be, but struggle with how to get there, because they have a limited understanding of where they are now.  If you fully under stand your present position, and know where you want to get to, the intervening steps become very simple to map.  Those steps are what we call a ‘business plan’.  That mapping is the core of what I do in the workplace.

Lost; by Carl Sandburg

Desolate and lone

All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor’s breast
And the harbor’s eyes.