Jeopardy highlights Americans’ poor knowledge of Canada

Americans’ wonderfully inept understanding of their northern neighbor was in full evidence during a recent episode of the long-running game show Jeopardy recently.

After running through the five other categories, the three contestants were left with five opportunities in the category titled “Canadian Cities.”

Contestants No. 1 and 2, “Dan” and “Victoria,” failed to venture a response on any of the five clues, appearing to have stuffed their signaling devices deep inside their lecterns, perhaps out of fear they might accidentally alert host Alex Trebek that they were interested in venturing a guess.

The other contestant, “Randy,” probably wishes he’d done the same. Trailing the other two, he took a crack at three questions and struck out all three times, watching his winnings go from $5,600 to negative $2,600, thereby eliminating himself from a chance at Final Jeopardy.

Most egregious of Randy’s errors was his response to this clue: “The swan is a symbol of this Ontario city; each year, black and white ones are released in to the Avon River.”

Randy’s response: “What is Edmonton.”

Oh, only missed it by 2,200 miles and four provinces, as the answer was Stratford. Edmonton remains firmly ensconced in the province of Alberta, while Stratford is more or less equidistant between Detroit and Toronto, in Ontario, as was noted in the question.

Here’s an idea: If I were going to venture guesses about Canadian cities and obviously didn’t know much about Canadian geography, I might want to stick with “Montreal” and “Toronto” as responses. Indeed, one of the five cities in the Jeopardy episode was “Montreal,” but, of course, no one got it.

Given that Trebek is from Canada, he likely found the entire episode distinctly disconcerting.

Still, at least no one blurted out “Alaska,” or something equally ridiculous.

Insanity of World War I summed up in conflict’s final hours

Saint Symphorien Cemetery

Today is recognized as Veterans Day in the United States. Decades ago, it was known as Armistice Day, in remembrance of the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.

Given the inane nature of the First World War, it’s not surprising that fully 11,000 men were killed or wounded during the final few hours of fighting on the last day, even though it was known by nearly all in positions of command that the war would, at a minimum, be suspended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11.

Germany, after four-plus years of fighting and being subjected to a naval blockade that left it on the brink of starvation, was in chaos and nearing internal collapse. Following days of intense negotiations with the Allies just outside of Compiegne, France, the German government had ordered its representatives to sign any terms put on the table by the Allies.

The armistice was signed shortly after 5 a.m. on Nov. 11, but the actual ceasefire would not start until 11 a.m., to allow word of the agreement to travel throughout the Western Front.

“Technology allowed the news to go to capital cities by 5:40 a.m. and celebrations began before very many soldiers knew about the Armistice,” according to the History Learning Site webpage. “In London, Big Ben was rung for the first time since the start of the war in August 1914. In Paris, gas lamps were lit for the first time in four years. But on the Western Front, many tens of thousands of soldiers assumed that it was just another day in the war and officers ordered their men into combat.”

But it wasn’t mere accident that the lives of thousands of men were forfeit on the morning of Nov. 11. Many generals actually ordered their troops to fight on, even knowing the war was likely over.

Some hoped to secure additional ground in case the ceasefire didn’t hold, while others, such as American Gen. John Pershing, wanted to further punish the enemy.

Callously, a number of artillery units ordered barrages that morning for no other reason than to avoid having to haul crates of unused ordnance back to the rear once the guns were silent

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Remembering the notorious ‘Uranium Gulag’

Joachimsthal mine

One of the lesser-known aspects of the Soviet Gulag was the brutal slave labor camps located in the mountains of Czechoslovakia following World War II, where prisoners were exploited in order to provide uranium for the Soviets’ nascent atomic warfare program.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin – recognizing the advantage the US had with its possession of atomic weaponry – sent the Red Army to capture one of the few areas then known to possess material that could be used in the construction of atomic bombs.

The Ore Mountains, which then marked the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany, first gained fame in the late 15th century as the site of a major silver discovery, with the Bohemian town of Joachimsthal taking on special significance as a source of the metal.

Also discovered around this time was pitchblende, a radioactive, uranium-rich ore, which early miners discarded as a waste byproduct.

Only at the beginning of the 20th century was it learned that pitchblende was a valuable commodity in and of itself. Within pitchblende, a variety of uraninite, Marie Curie discovered the element radium, and until the First World War Joachimsthal pitchblende was the only known source of radium in the world.

Also found within pitchblende is uranium. Like other elements, uranium occurs in slightly differing forms known as isotopes. The most common form of uranium is U-238, which makes up more than 99 percent of natural uranium found in the Earth’s crust.

However, another uranium isotope, U-235, while it is makes up less than 1 percent of the Earth’s uranium, is important because under certain conditions it can readily be split, yielding a tremendous amount of energy.

The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 derived its explosive power from the nuclear fission of uranium-235.

In late 1945 Stalin pressured the Czechoslovak government to sign a confidential treaty that would give Moscow the rights to material from mine, according to Tom Zoellner’s outstanding 2009 work “Uranium.”

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Nicaragua’s canal-sized pipe dream

PANAMA-ENERGY-DROUGHT-CRISIS

The Panama Canal took a decade to complete, cost the lives of thousands of workers and proved one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

So why not a repeat performance?

Earlier this month, the Nicaraguan legislature approved construction of a canal to compete with the Panama Canal, an endeavor that would double the number of shortcuts between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The project would apparently be built by a Chinese telecommunications equipment firm, with financing largely coming from China, according to the magazine The American.

The project envisions building a canal as long as 178 miles (the Panama Canal is 48 miles, by comparison), as well as two deep-water ports, two free-trade zones, an oil pipeline, a railroad and an international airport, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The cost is estimated at a staggering $40 billion, about four times the country’s annual gross domestic product.

Supporters of the latest iteration of the project, approved last week, hope that it will propel Nicaragua out of its economic doldrums by bolstering employment and economic growth, added the Journal.

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Nazi commander found residing in Minnesota

 Galician SS-Volunteer Infantry Division

Inserted in the opening paragraph of Slate magazine’s story about a Nazi collaborator who was discovered last week to have been living in the US for the past 60-plus years were these two sentences, which would be slightly amusing if not representative of a grave injustice:

“Michael Karkoc now lives in Minnesota and when he entered the United States in 1949 told authorities he had not performed military service during World War II. That wasn’t really accurate.”

No, indeed it wasn’t. Karkoc was a founding member and an officer of the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion and later was an officer in the SS Galician Division.

There appears to be plenty of evidence that the company Karkoc commanded massacred civilians, including burning villages filled with women and children, and that he was at the scene of the atrocities, even if there’s no proof Karkoc himself didn’t actually participate.

The Associated Press broke the story about Karkoc on Friday and provided an exhaustive report on not just the fact he’s been living in the United States for decades, but included background between groups allied with the Nazis and how many individuals avoided being brought to justice under the guise of fighting communism.

It will be hard for Karkoc to plead mistaken identity; in 1995 he published a Ukrainian-language memoir that stated he helped found the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion in 1943 to fight on the side of Germany – and wrote that he served as a company commander in the unit, which received orders directly from the SS, through the end of the war.

The memoir is available at the US Library of Congress, according to The Associated Press.

(Above: A 1944 photo shows head of the SS Heinrich Himmler, center, reviewing troops  of the Galician SS-Volunteer Infantry Division, of which Michael Karkoc was a  member.)

North Korea: the medal-makers’ mother lode

north korean medals

North Korea has been making headlines a great deal lately, and not for good reasons.

So-called Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has spent the past few months engaged in sabre rattling to a degree that would have made his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, proud.

In a move that must have warmed the hearts of millions of impoverished North Koreans scraping to find enough food to keep their families from starving, the nation’s leadership announced intentions to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States, calling the US the “sworn enemy of the Korean people.”

A few days later, North Korea confirmed it was ending the 60-year armistice connected to the 1950-53 Korean War.

On March 30, Pyongyang declared it was in “a state of war” with South Korea, and Kim Jong-un stated that rockets were ready to be fired at American bases in the Pacific in response to the US flying two nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula.

While US intelligence officials speculate that Kim Jong-un is using the bluster to assert control over his country, and his ultimate goal is recognition rather than getting involved in a devastating conflict, the general consensus seems to be that the baby-faced dictator is decidedly unpredictable, if not eight kinds of crazy.

Which is just what the people of North Korea don’t need at this point.

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Cotton prices drops as projections rise

Global cotton production for the coming year is expected to drop 4 percent, according to estimates by the US Department of Agriculture.

The projected decline is attributed to a significant reduction in Brazil, where the crop for the 2012-13 year is expected to fall by fully one-third.

Record soybean and corn prices, disease outbreak and erratic precipitation are expected to lower the crop in the central Brazilian states of Bahia and Mato Grosso, which together account for more than 80 percent of Brazil’s total annual cotton production, according to Southeast Farm Press.

In the US, production is expected to be slightly more than 17 million bales, which represents a 2 percent increase from the previous month’s USDA estimate and is 11 percent higher than the previous year’s crop, the publication added.

Worldwide, 2012-13 cotton production is estimated at nearly 120 million bales.

Global cotton stocks are expected to be significantly higher this year than last, the USDA also reported.

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