riderOlympic advertising is in full swing. It is a good time to recall that, not long ago, an Olympic year meant far more than corporate tie-ins and moody video of winsome young athletes. The Olympic Games meant war, albeit by other means, a war of propaganda and image, of perception and politics. There’s a reason no one remembers the U.S. hockey team beat Finland for the gold medal in 1980.

Toby C. Rider offers a history of the Cold War’s effect on the Olympic Games from the immediate postwar era through the 1960 Rome Games. At the time the Soviet Union appeared to be in irresistible ascendance and it moved to exploit the Olympic Games as a vehicle for promoting international communism. In response, the United States conceived a subtle, far-reaching psychological warfare campaign to blunt the Soviet advance. Drawing on newly declassified materials and archives, Rider chronicles how the U.S. government used the Olympics to promote democracy and its own policy aims and, when it could, make the Soviets look bad.

Rider’s immense research makes it clear both sides indeed saw sports as a major battlefield in the Cold War. The mass defection of Hungarian athletes at the Melbourne Games in 1956, celebrated by Henry Luce’s media empire and also in part facilitated by it, gave the Soviet Union a black eye, as it underscored their recent brutal intervention in Hungary had less than popular appeal. Contests with perhaps less at stake still moved officials on both sides to dismay and palpitations:

One particular incident prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity. In 1959, an understrength U.S. basketball team lost to the Soviet Union at the world basketball championships in Santiago, Chile. The outcome of the contest, a 62-37 drubbing, was reported in newspapers across Latin America, a fact that greatly disturbed U.S. information experts. “As a result of this victory,” wrote a public affairs officer in Lima, “the Soviet Union has again scored an important psychological advantage and, as far as the average, non-too-intelligent-man-on-the-street is concerned, it is another indication of Soviet ‘superiority’ over the U.S.”

His colleague in Santiago also was irate. The official complained that the U.S. defeat backfired in two respects. Not only was the loss a blow to national prestige, but it also was a “slight to Chilean pride” in that the United States did not deem it necessary to send its best team. He argued that the basketball tournament had “a psychological importance which transcends the frontiers of sports” and that this aspect should be taken into account for future U.S. participation in sports events.

breadlineMay 20, 1935 proved that budget impasses have played a part in Illinois history for a long time. That day, the papers printed warnings that over a million state residents faced hunger, perhaps outright starvation, due to wrangling between Springfield and the federal government.

The Associated Press put it succinctly:

Cupboards were bare in thousands of homes today where no food orders have been received for a week or more because the Illinois emergency relief commission has no funds.

The Depression was in full tilt boogie mode. With unemployment widespread, relief programs kept people fed and alive. Illinois was to receive $12 million in funds, if it ponied up $3 million on its own. Governor Henry Horner, like many other holders of his office, pled poverty–the state simply had no money. Known as an honest politician (unlike many other other holders of his office), Horner clashed often with Democratic machine politicians, including Ed Kelly, the mayor of Chicago, but the two agreed to use the influence of their respective offices to push through legislation that would hike the state sales tax to three percent. The increase in the tax raised the necessary funds, federal money came through, and Illinois avoided exacerbating an already serious crisis.

By the way, according to the papers, you could also buy a “full metal” refrigerator for $17.95.

pieperLindsay Parks Pieper is an assistant professor of sport management at Lynchburg College. She answered some questions about her book Sex Testing: Gender Policing in Women’s Sports.

Q: Given the colorful history of cheating in the Olympic Games, vigilance from IOC officials is perhaps understandable. But what factors led sex testing to change from finding men masquerading as women to judging whether biological women were “real” women?

Lindsay Parks Pieper: The shift in sex testing paralleled the shift in the International Olympic Committee’s gender beliefs. At first, the IOC—and most sport practitioners—assumed women could not compete in sport. Prevailing ideologies held that physical endeavors were too strenuous for the frail female physique. Medical and sport officials alike framed running, jumping, and throwing as activities reserved explicitly for men. Thus when female Olympians eventually demonstrated competency in these areas, the IOC’s knee-jerk reaction was that these successful athletes could not actually be women. Only men posing as women could run that fast, jump that high, or throw that far, officials reasoned. The IOC therefore conducted its first, sporadic physical exams on the female participants who excelled in “masculine” competitions.

Yet, as female athletes increasingly demonstrated prowess in elite sport, and the IOC failed to uncover a single instance of a male imposter, the ideology changed. From male masqueraders the focus turned to masculine women. The IOC worried that mannish female athletes unfairly defeated “real” women, those who appeared more conventionally feminine. Changing course, the IOC instead suggested that gender verification measures detected unfair biological assets and weeded out unfairly advantaged (i.e. masculine) competitors.

Q: How did Cold War tensions influence Western officials, journalists, and others to see women from the Eastern Bloc in biased ways? Did those tensions create a set of biases around Western women in the Soviet Union, East Germany, and other communist countries?

Pieper: During the Cold War, Eastern and Western countries celebrated contrasting gender norms, which extended into sport. For example, the Soviet Union expected women to labor in the same capacity as men; in turn, the nation also promoted egalitarian sport training and embraced muscular female athletes. The United States, on the other hand, upheld a “June Cleaver” ideal that exalted domesticity and femininity. U.S. women’s sport was moderated to match this model. Both the Soviet Union and the United States viewed the other country’s gender system as harmful and unnatural to women.

As a result, Western officials, journalists, and the larger population disliked both the successes and the appearances of the Soviet women. Newspaper articles criticized the size, muscularity, and power of the Eastern Bloc women. Comparisons to boxers and American football players were commonplace. Eastern accounts likewise disparaged the treatment of Western women. Soviet reports painted American housewives as unhappily anchored in the kitchen and highlighted the United States’ inability to promote equal pay or promote the Equal Rights Amendment.

Q: Sex testing obviously forced women into embarrassing, vulnerable situations. Did women ever protest what might be seen as a violation of their human rights?

Pieper: Not as often as one might think. Although several athletes recounted the humiliating nature of the “nude parade”—the visual inspection of the 1960s—most women supported testing. Western competitors, in particular, backed sex control for three reasons. First, they internalized the IOC’s mantra that testing eliminated male impostors and ensured a level playing field. Two, most did not recognize the complexity of the human body nor realize the flawed nature of the chromatin control. Finally, and most significantly to the athletes, they viewed sex testing as a chance to prove their womanhood. These competitors experienced criticism for their athleticism; testing removed doubt.

That said, once the medical community highlighted the inadequacies of sex testing, several female athletes started to protest the policy. In conjunction with the women’s liberation movement, for example, some questioned why male participants did not have to undergo a parallel procedure. It was actually the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission that finally convinced the Executive Board to abandon the practice in 1999.

Q: Beginning in the late 1970s on, many authorities—including former Olympians—stepped forward to criticize the tests. What specific events, if any, galvanized the anti-testing forces?

Pieper: The 1985 World University Games was a turning point. During this event, María José Martínez Patiño forgot her “femininity certificate,” a document given to women who underwent testing. She had previously passed the exam; yet, this time around, she “failed.” Rather than quietly retire from sport as her team doctor recommended, Patiño continued to compete and ran hurdles at the 1986 Spanish National Games. She immediately faced intense backlash. Spanish sport authorities revoked her athletic scholarship, kicked her out of the athletic residence, and removed her medals. What Patiño experienced was cruel and horrific, but her case caught the attention of the anti-testing group. Finish geneticist Albert de la Chapelle contacted the Spanish hurdler and she became the face of the policy’s flaws. For the first time, those opposed to testing had an athlete who came forward and could show the negative effects of the unsound system.

Q: How did Olympic officials resist the growing evidence that the tests were flawed or even unscientific?

Pieper: Initially, the composition of the IOC Medical Commission allowed it to avoid most questions. The IOC assembled the group to combat doping, with sex testing added as a secondary concern. Most members therefore had expertise for the former issue and not the latter. Moreover, Prince Alexandre de Mérode, the head of the medical commission from 1967 to 2002, was trained in philosophy and law. He was the most steadfast in championing the necessity of sex testing and disregarded the opposition. When evidence of the unscientific nature of the test proved too great to ignore, the medical commission responded to the criticisms by pointing out the uniqueness of sport. De Mérode repeatedly suggested that scientists did not understand the realities or nuances of elite competition. He further argued that sex testing did not aim to delineate sex but simply strove to ensure a level playing field.


goldmanIn 2015, the State of Illinois designated May 19 as Malcolm X Day. It doesn’t always show up on the list of official state holidays, interestingly enough, perhaps due to bureaucracy’s slow wheels, perhaps because the observance is a trifle controversial. Other than Illinois, the only government entity to recognize the day is the city of Berkeley, California, where schools have let out since 1979.

Praised coast to coast upon publication, The Death and Life of Malcolm X provides a dramatic portrait of one of the most important black leaders of the twentieth century. Focusing on Malcolm X’s rise to prominence and the final year of his life, the book details his rift with the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad, leading to death threats and eventually assassination at the hands of a death squad. In a new preface for this edition, Peter Goldman reflects on the forty years since the book’s first publication and considers new information based on FBI surveillance that has since come to light.

begin3During the Depression, the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) dispatched scribes to sample the fare at group eating events like church dinners, political barbecues, and clambakes. Its America Eats project sought nothing less than to sample, and report upon, the tremendous range of foods eaten across the United States.

Writers, a demographic known for going hungry even when the economy works properly, threw themselves into the pursuit with gusto. From “ravioli, the diminutive derbies of pastries, the crowns stuffed with a well-seasoned paste” to barbeque seasoning that integrated “salt, black pepper, dried red chili powder, garlic, oregano, cumin seed, and cayenne pepper” while “tomatoes, green chili peppers, onions, and olive oil ma[de] up the sauce”, they ate their way through an America that despite hardship seemed only too happy to share.

Continue reading

john deere logoFleeing debt, John Deere made his way from Vermont to Illinois with a dream: to earn big money making tools. The blacksmith settled in the charmingly-named Grand Detour, Illinois, and he soon lived up that town’s name by eventually turning his one-man tool business into one of the great Midwestern success stories.

Deere’s cast steel plow, fashioned from a saw, changed prairie and plain, allowing farmers to plow a field without constantly cleaning the tool. Iron and wooden plows went by the board. People flocked to the middle of the country to buy and use them on inexpensive land, and an agricultural revolution followed.

The company behind The Plow That Broke the Plains eventually made its home in Moline, in order to use the Mississippi River for transport. History tells us that Deere’s company shipped over 10,000 plows per year by the mid-1850s.

Until International Harvester mounted a challenge in the implement business in the early 1900s—a challenge Deere & Company met with its gasoline-powered tractor—John Deere’s brainchild ruled the roost. By then, Deere himself had retired to run a bank and the public library, before taking a term as Moline’s mayor. Deere died on May 17, 1886, leaving behind a business that included a nine-acre manufacturing operation under all-electric lights.

Deere’s tractor trade began in the early 1910s, when the company tested a three-wheeler. It didn’t turn out so well, and the company leaders had less than total enthusiasm for tractors, anyway, perhaps because they had already failed with bicycles.

But the company entered the tractor business by the end of the decade, once again changing agriculture—worldwide, no less. Today’s Deere & Company makes all kinds of machinery, including earthmovers and lawnmowers, and the trademark green is a ubiquitous part of the landscape from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains, and beyond.

harper coltraneMichael S. Harper had a claim on the title of poet-historian, for he drew on the vast histories of African Americans as well as the United States to create works celebrated for their scope and jazz-influenced rhythms. “My poems are rhythmic rather than metric,” he once wrote. “The pulse is jazz; the tradition generally oral; my major influences musical; my debts, mostly to the musicians who taught me to see about experience, pain and love, and who made it artful and archetypal.”

Harper died this weekend. He was 78.

Born in Brooklyn, Harper moved at a young age with his family to Los Angeles. A failed gym class put him on the vocational track at his school. His parents went to all lengths to get that decision reversed, as part of their encouragement toward his studying medicine. Harper had perhaps less interest in a medical career than they did. He found his way into letters, both the writing—of poems—and the carrying—of mail, as a postal worker. In 1961, he entered the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. There, he was the only African American student in his classes and lived in segregated housing.

Harper’s first collection, Dear John Dear Coltrane, brought him immediate attention. Keith D. Leonard wrote:

In the volume, John Coltrane, who Harper knew, is both the man and his jazz, the talented and tragic musician, and his wholistic worldview and redemptive music. With an understanding of black music similar to W. E. B. Du Bois’s in his description of the African American “sorrow songs,” Harper includes the music of poetry as similar affirmation of the importance of articulating suffering to gain from it and survive it. Here, as in Harper’s later volumes, musical rhythm replaces traditional metrics in the poetry without sacrificing craft.

As Harper himself told NPR:

…the most important thing you learn from musicians is phrasing. And you learn it from the singers , you know, the Bessie Smiths, the Billie Holidays, the Mamie Smiths, the Aretha Franklins even. But you also learn, more than anything else, about the authenticity of phrasing because musicians take you to places that you might not necessarily want to go. And they go instantly to the transcendent and of course the mastery of their playing is not technical mastery. It is spiritual mastery. It is to take you to a place that perhaps is not your mode. And when we are in performance with musicians, they take us to places sometimes we don’t want to go. We’re not prepared to go. They take us instantly there.

In 1970 he joined the faculty at Brown, where he taught until 2013. Along the way he was awarded a Guggenheim and other honors, received a National Book Award nomination for his collection Images of Kin, and won the Melville-Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America. Harper became the first state poet of Rhode Island in 1989.

begin3Camille Bégin is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Sensory Studies at Concordia University in Montreal. She answered some questions about her book Taste of the Nation: The New Deal Search for America’s Food.

Q: What was the goal of Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) when it came to documenting how people eat?

Camille Bégin: In most FWP projects, documenting food was only incidental. Some of the FWP’s most well-known projects were folklore studies and guidebooks for states and cities. Historians can glean a lot of food and sensory information from these, but it was not their main focus. Yet, through these projects, the Washington-based editors realized that food was a topic worthy of attention and they developed a food-focused project.

That project was American Eats. Its goals evolved as it developed, between 1941 and 1942. The one thing that stayed constant is that the editors knew they did not want to produce a cookbook. The goal was not for the book to be used in the kitchen, but read in the living room. Their examples were tourist guidebooks, not cookbooks. It was to be an entertaining read rather than a pedagogical one. They insisted on this throughout the project because many of the state-based contributors kept sending in recipes. At first, the goal of America Eats was to write what we would now identify as a sociological, or anthropological, account of American foodways and taste. The editors were inspired by recent anthropological breakthrough and were looking for “patterns of eating.” They wanted the essays to be descriptive, precise, and sensorial—as we would expect to find in today’s food writing. They understood food as part of culture and wanted to show the uniqueness of the American table, especially towards Europe. This last goal became more and more important as the project grew. With the looming involvement of the country into World War II, America Eats, while keeping its entertaining tone, became much more about strengthening patriotism. Writers from western states such as Texas or Wyoming latched on this new goal, celebrating the meat-heavy, masculine character of their diets. Food fit for a nation at war. Of course, this was before wartime food rationing began. Continue reading

whitmanThe well-read are abuzz over Walt Whitman’s recently discovered journalistic work Manly Health and Training. Published in an obscure newspaper in 1858, Whitman’s dive into the medical science and ubiquitous quackery of the day offers one of those rare opportunities for today’s mass and social media to act smart by referencing a towering literary figure.

Observers have already noted Whitman’s pro-meat diet and his pointed urging that we maintain an active lifestyle, lest we become choleric or some other ungodly thing. Whitman had not become a nurse yet. That would happen during the Civil War. But he clearly had done some thinking on the topic of the (manly) body. Or maybe he was just getting paid by the word.

The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review provides the full text but, always interested in keeping our readership healthy and in sweet breath, we would like to provide an excerpt.

Among the signs of manly health and perfect physique, internal and external, are a clear eye, a transparent and perhaps enbrowned complexion (the latter not necessarily), an upright attitude, a springy step, a sweet breath, a ringing voice and little or nothing of irritability in the temper.

Putting on his prophet’s hat, Whitman looks past the pen and paper of his day to warn future generations like us:

If you are a student, be also a student of the body, a practiser of manly exercises, realizing that a broad chest, a muscular pair of arms, and two sinewy legs, will be just as much credit to you, and stand you in hand through your future life, equally with your geometry, your history, your classics, your law, medicine, or divinity. Let nothing divert you from your duty to your body. Up in the morning early!

As of Thursday at midday, Manly Health and Training had been downloaded over 20,000 times. Why not? Belief in the benefits of, and route to, physical fitness never fundamentally change. We just find new ways to avoid exercise. Let’s commit to the Whit. Tonight, eat a big steak and then do some blacksmithing. Let nothing divert you! Especially Instagram!

On May 13, 1905, the War of 1812 passed finally out of memory, for Hirum Cronk, the last surviving veteran of that still-misunderstood conflict, died in Ava, New York, aged 105.

The career shoemaker stood in defense of Sackets Harbor, New York, in 1814. At the time the U.S. Navy had a major shipyard in the community. Later it became Naval Headquarters for the entire Great Lakes as we sought to force our Canadian rivals off those fine, fresh waters. The British attacked the area by sea and by land and, as Donald R. Hickey tells us in his acclaimed history The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, kept it under close watch in order to disrupt American naval movements:

Captain Stephen Popham, who was on detached duty from the main British squadron, discovered [American commandant Melancthon] Woolsey’s presence. Convinced that the American flotilla was undefended, Popham led a flotilla of gunboats carrying 200 British soldiers, seamen, and marines into the creek to mount an attack. Although the Oneida Indians fled, Popham’s force was cut to shreds by the American artillery and riflemen. More than seventy British soldiers were killed or wounded before the rest surrendered. The American force sustained only two casualties. . .

With the British squadron nearby, Woolsey could not hazard moving his precious cargo back into the lake, so most of the guns and rope were transported to Sackets Harbor overland. But there was one cable intended for the Superior that was so large that it would not fit into any wagon. It was 300 feet long, seven inches in diameter, and weighed a staggering 9,600 pounds.

After some delay, Colonel Allen Clarke’s regiment of New York militiamen offered to carry the hope on their shoulders. Part of the rope was loaded into a wagon, while the rest was carried by the men, perhaps 100 in all. The men marched for a mile at a time and then rested. Many padded their shoulders with straw to cut down on the chafing. Although some men dropped out along the way, others appeared to take their places. Thirty hours after departing from Sandy Creek, the militia arrived at Sackets Harbor with the cable. As a reward, the men were given a barrel of whiskey and a bonus of $2 a day.

Enlisting with his father and two brothers, Hirum became part of a massive military buildup that in time left Sackets Harbor the third-largest city in the state after New York City and Albany. Once discharged, he worked as a shoemaker and received a federal military pension of $12 per month ($25 after 1903, plus a special pension from the state of New York). He fought at a time when Native Americans played a part in New York military conflict. He died when film could be taken of his funeral.