Saturday, February 02, 2008

Groundhog Day: The Forgotten Holiday

Today is February 2nd. That means in the United States and Canada, this is Groundhog Day. However, looking at the local paper and the news channels, there is little if any coverage of this holiday. What is wrong? Why do we have such a lack of respect for the traditions from the past? A lot of people find it disturbing when stores put out Christmas displays before Thanksgiving is over. I find it equally annoying when Valentine's Day decorations go up before (or without) the acknowledgement of Groundhog Day.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Groundhog Day:

"Groundhog Day or Groundhog's Day is a holiday celebrated in United States and Canada on February 2. In weather lore, if a groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, marmot or ground squirrel, emerges from its burrow on this day and fails to see its shadow because the weather is cloudy, winter will soon end. If the groundhog sees its shadow, it will return into its burrow, and the winter will continue for 6 more weeks."

We can not let this holiday go away or be marginalized any further. I am thankful that the Pennsylvania Lottery is giving away 2008 Calendars honoring Groundhog Day and groundhogs in general. The calendars feature Gus who is a groundhog every month. Request for a free calendar can be made at I requested one several weeks ago and I am still waiting. I hope the Pennsylvania Lottery can deliver on the promise it has made to help keep this holiday strong.

What can you do? If you are in the USA or Canada, check your local paper. Has it given coverage to Groundhog Day? If not, protest loud! Call or write a letter complaining. Here is some sample text, "I am very disappointed that NAME OF PAPER HERE chooses not to acknowledge the Groundhog holiday. Why has this important event been ignored? Many local citizens celebrate this day every year. While local store ramp up their Valentine’s Day displays, there is no mention of Groundhog Day. It is a shame that only commercialized holidays get any coverage. Please fix this in the future."

As I drove through town this morning, I did see a sign of hope. A local fraternity had a sign up reading, "Honk for the Groundhog and we will drink a beer." All hope for this day is not yet gone.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Short History of Luxembourg

A Short History of Luxembourg
By Andre Sanchez
Reproduced with permission from

The Duchy of Luxembourg is generally considered to have been established in 963, though it is mentioned in the writings of Julius Caesar. The Count of Ardennes at the time, Siegfried I, traded some of his lands for an old fort called Lucilinburhu, presumably Roman.

This was developed into a small town, the surrounding area of which eventually expanded into a small state that became of extreme strategic importance in Europe. The fortress itself was situated on a rocky outcrop know as The Rock, and was developed by successive rulers till it became one of the largest in Europe.

In 1354, the Holy Roman Emperor of the time, Charles V, elevated it to Duchy status, and it passed through a succession of hands until it became one of the Seventeen Provinces of The Netherlands in 1469. These fell into the hands of the Hapsburgs in 1477 where Luxembourg remained for the next few centuries.

It fell successively into Spanish, French and Austrian hands until it was annexed by France in 1795 during the Revolution. Luxembourg remained French until the defeat of Napoleon, when the Treat of Paris turned it into a Grand Duchy, in union with The Netherlands. The Belgian Revolution resulted in the new state of Belgium being give half of Luxembourg's territory, and the political autonomy of the Grand Duchy was not confirmed until the Treaty of London in 1867. Luxembourg was also granted neutrality in international affairs, and the fortress walls were pulled down to reflect this. The Prussians, who had been garrisoned in the fortress, withdrew.

Gradually Luxembourg became increasingly under German influence, culminating in its occupation in 1914 though the government was allowed to remain. After its liberation in 1918, Luxembourg was occupied by the Americans until the Treaty of Versailles rejected Belgium's claim to the territory and reaffirmed Luxembourg's independence.

Between the two World Wars, Luxembourg's politics were very similar to those of other Europeans at the time, with a conflict between left and right wing ideologies. The government tended to side with the Nazis in Germany, and tried to put down the communist unrest in some of the industrial regions. Although the government attempted to outlaw the Communist Party, its cooperation with Nazi Germany created much resentment amongst the population, and a referendum in 1937 resulted in defeat for the government on this issue.

Both the monarchy and the government went into exile in Britain when Germany invaded the country in 1940, and Luxembourg was formerly annexed in 1942. Citizens of Luxembourg were now declared German citizens, and they were forced to fight in the German army. Most that refused were sent to concentration camps or executed, especially after the general Strike of September, 1942, that the Nazis violently quelled.

After a brief period of liberation in 1944, the Germans again occupied Luxembourg during the Ardennes Offensive, or the Battle of the Bulge as it was commonly known, but the German offensive was short lived and the population was finally liberated in January 1945. One result of the war was to prompt Luxembourg to abandon its neutral tendencies and it became one of the founders of NATO and the United Nations. It helped form the economic union between itself, Belgium and The Netherlands known as Benelux, and was one of the founders of the European Common Market in 1957, now the European Community.

Since then, Luxembourg has been an active participant in European economic and political affairs and is now one of the financially strongest members of the Euro countries. It was listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1994 and is ruled by His Royal Highness, Grand Duke Henri.

This is truly a remarkable story for such a small country that originated from an old Roman fort sold to a Prince by some monks.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

At the Top of Diamond Head Crater

(View from Diamond Head Crater, January 7, 2008.)

I was fortunate to be able to hike to the top of Diamond Head Crater on my recent trip to Honolulu, Hawaii. I woke up at 5 am to get ready for the hike. This was rather easy as my body time was still on Eastern Standard Time which was five hours off from Hawaii! I had signed up for a group tour and the guide picked me (and several others) up at the hotel at 6am in the morning.

We arrived at the crater shortly before sunrise as the crater is just off of Waikiiki Beach where the hotel was located. Once there, we began a short but strenuous climb to the top that took less than an hour. The trail was slick and steep at points and I noticed the tour guide eye several of the overweight and obviously out-of-shape tour members nervously at a few points of the hike.

Diamond Head Crater has a long history. Wikipedia notes, "Diamond Head is the name of a volcanic tuff cone on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu and known to Hawaiians as Lē'ahi. Its English name was given by British sailors in the 19th century, who mistook calcite crystals embedded in the rock for diamonds. It is located on the coast east of Waikīkī, Honolulu...Diamond Head, like the rest of the Honolulu Volcanics, is much younger than the main mass of the Ko'olau Mountain Range. While the Ko'olau Range is about 2.6 million years old, Diamond Head is estimated to be about 200,000 years old and extinct for 150,000 years. The eruption that built up Diamond Head was probably very brief, lasting no more than a few days. It was probably explosive, since when the cone was originally formed, the sea level is thought to have been higher and the vent burst erupted over a coral reef. Another factor probably contributing to the eruption's explosive nature was that rising magma would have come into contact with the water table. The eruption's relatively brief length is thought to explain why the cone today is so symmetrical."

(Walking into the side of the crater.)

After the Hawaiian Revolution of 1893, Hawaiians loyal to the Hawaiian Monarchy fought several battles in the Diamond Head Crater against Republic of Hawaii soldiers in an attempted counter-revolution. Despite covert assistance from the United States and President Grover Cleveland, the attempt failed.

Destructive cattle grazing on the volcano killed many indigenous plants. After Hawaii became American in 1898, this environmental destruction was stopped. Feeser (2006) noted that by 1905, only a single Hawaiian was tending cows in the crater. The establishment of the Fort Rutgers Military Installation restricted use of the area and allowed the local ecosystem to recover.

The military base is now gone. The area is open to the public. However, the past military presence is still obvious. The holes into the crater are from the military. The extensive multi-level spaces inside the rocks which lead upward are the remnants of the army. Without the assistance of the American Army, this climb would have been much more difficult and perhaps impossible for most tourists!

The tour guide was a native born Hawaiian of Asian descent. He spent his first twenty years in Hawaii before moving to New York. He returned twenty some years later and had been giving tours for about five years. He was very knowledgeable about Hawaii and was good at his job. I tipped him well.

If I go back to Hawaii, I will attempt to explore more of Diamond Head Crater. This is a great place on Earth and well worth visiting.
Feeser, A. (2006). Waikiki: A History of Forgetting and Remembering. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawai'i Press.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Treaty of Rapallo 1922

At the start of World War Two, Germany and the Soviet Union worked together to invade and conquer Poland. However, there had been a history of German-Soviet cooperation dating from 1922. The Treaty of Rapallo enabled the German army, through secret agreements, to produce and perfect in the USSR weapons forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. The Soviets were cooperating with Germany after World War One long before the Nazi's took power in Germany.

Here is the text of a short article on the treaty from The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th edition:

Rapallo, Treaty of, 1922, agreement signed by Germany and the USSR at Rapallo, Italy. It was reached by Walter Rathenau and G. V. Chicherin independently of the Conference of Genoa, which was then in session. Germany accorded the USSR de jure recognition (the first such recognition extended to the Soviet government), and the two signatories mutually canceled all prewar debts and renounced war claims. Particularly advantageous to Germany was the inclusion of a most-favored-nation clause and of extensive trade agreements. The treaty enabled the German army, through secret agreements, to produce and perfect in the USSR weapons forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.