In 1928 Henry Ford built a town in the Amazon Rainforest to try and cut out the middle-man and produce his own rubber. It was a failure.

During the rising success of his automotive company, Henry Ford (famed industrialist, Nazi sympathizer, and know anti-semite who believe that Jews were controlling the banks and that Jazz was a Jewish conspiracy) realized that he had a problem with rubber. The source of the rubber used in Ford automobiles (for tires, hoses, belts, etc) was controlled by European colonial plantations in Asia. He was dependent on them and was at their mercy.

So in 1928 Ford launched a plan to produce his own rubber, a plan that would allow him to cut out the middle-man. Ford purchased 2.5 million acres of Amazon Rainforest from the Brazilian government to grow rubber trees. To cultivate and process this rubber he created a prefabricated town for 10,000 workers, and he called it Fordlândia.


The town was a slice of Michigan in the middle of the Amazon. It had American style homes, white picket fences, hospitals, schools, a golf course, tennis courts, a movie theater, swimming pools, etc. Stray dogs were caught and puddles were drained to reduce the possibility of malaria carrying mosquitos. The town was also a cultural project where employees would have to follow Henry Ford’s ideas of healthy living. There was no alcohol, almost no women, they had to eat oatmeal and canned peaches, and employees were encouraged to participate in poetry readings, square dancing, and gardening.

Eventually Fordlândia failed. The Brazilian workers grew tired of following Ford’s rules for how to conduct their lives during their off-hours. They revolted more than once and took trips to the “Island of Innocence” which was a bar / brothel just upriver from town. Some of the Ford managerial employees went mad in the jungle, as was the case with Mr. Johansen who bought perfume from a trading post upriver and started chasing farm animals shouting “Mr. Ford has lots of money; you might as well smell good too.”

As for the rubber trees, Ford ignored agricultural experts and had the trees planted too close together in poor rocky soil. They developed blight, they became a salad bar for the local insect population, and failed to ever really produce rubber. Fordlândia was abandoned in 1934 and the project moved to new land 25 miles downstream, but with the invention of synthetic rubber the entire project was shut down for good in 1945. Over 17 years Ford spent $25 million on Fordlândia, or around $379 million in 2019 dollars. The land was sold back to the Brazilian government for just $244,200. Fordlândia was an expensive commercial & social failure. Henry Ford never visited Fordlândia.

Over the years the Brazilian government tried to use the town but eventually abandoned it. By the early 2000s less than 100 people lived there but the space has seen a renewal. Today, while much of it is in ruins, the habitable areas are home to around 3,000 Brazilians.

Tippi Hedren’s Nails

Tippi Hedren helped Vietnamese immigrants become manicurists, who eventually dominated the American nail salon industry

Tippi Hedren began her career as a model and moved into acting. Her big break was being discovered by Alfred Hitchcock and was cast as the lead of 1963’s The Birds. The two worked together again when she starred as the titular Marnie in 1964. While Hitchcock was a great director he was not a great person (particularly to Hedren) and they never worked together again. His bitterness over being rejected by her led him to use his movie studio clout to prevent her from working on other films for years, from which her career never really recovered.

Fast-forward several years and Hedren is working on smaller movies but has also more time for her political activism. She became an animal rights activist, famously living with a lion named Neil, and eventually started the Shambala Preserve as an animal sanctuary for a variety of big cats. Shambala is also where Michael Jackson’s two tigers (Sabu & Thriller) ended up. Hedren also became involved with the charity Food for the Hungry, which gets us to her nails.

Tippi Hedren and her pet lion Neil

Vietnamese Manicurists

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, with the charity Food for the Hungry, Hedren volunteered on a rented Australian battleship in the South China Seas rescuing Vietnamese refugees. Later she went to Sacramento to volunteer at Camp Hope, a Vietnamese refugee camp. As she was trying to help the women of the camp start new lives in the United States as seamstresses or typists, she noticed that what the women were really interested in were her nails and she hit upon an idea.

Hedren had her manicurist Dusty Butera flown up to Sacramento to begin teaching twenty Vietnamese women how to be manicurists. These lessons continued for a few months and eventually those women enrolled in the local Citrus Heights Beauty School. Those twenty women would go on to teach other Vietnamese women, and those women taught other women, and so on.

In 2015 it was estimated that 51% of all manicurists in America were of Vietnamese descent. In California it’s estimated to be almost 80%. This Vietnamese domination of the American nail salon market is directly tied back to Tippi Hedren’s efforts to help immigrants start new lives. In 2019 Tippi Hedren was honored at the Vietnamese American Nail Appreciation Gala in recognition of her activism that started an industry.


From a mythical origin story, to common kitchen spice, cinnamon has a long strange history.

To start, cinnamon is a spice (which means it’s not leaves, which is what herbs are). It comes from the bark of trees in the Cinnamomum family. It’s been used for thousands of years but where it grew was intentionally shrouded in mystery for much of that time. During the spice trade cinnamon was harvested in southern Asia, brought to the Middle East along the Maritime Silk Road, and then resold by spice merchants around the Mediterranean and onward. To maintain control over the Western market, the Asian origins of cinnamon were kept secret by its Arabian merchants.

This cinnamon subterfuge begins with an incredible origin story. Westerners were told that there was a species of Arabian bird called the Cinnamologus (ie. “cinnamon birds”) which made their nests with pieces of cinnamon that they collected from an unknown land. These nests were either high on cliff faces or at the tops of very tall trees depending on who was telling the story. The key was that the nests were inaccessible. So the cinnamon was harvested by either leaving heavy pieces of meat out for the birds, who would carry the meat back to their nests but the weight would topple the nest to the ground, or the nests were shot with projectiles which would do about the same thing.

Medieval manuscript depictions of the harvesting of cinnamon

This exotic & daring method of harvesting cinnamon only made it more desirable, much more so than if people found out you just had to peel the bark off of a tree and let it dry. Not everyone believed these stories, but either way the market supply was cornered by Arabian merchants and so cinnamon remained an expensive spice & Western status symbol for hundreds of years.

Two kinds of cinnamon

Today southern Asia still produces most of the world’s cinnamon. There are several kinds but the two you will find the most are Cassia Cinnamon (aka Chinese Cinnamon) and Ceylon Cinnamon (aka “True” Cinnamon). Cassia Cinnamon originates in China but is now grown all around southeast Asia. It has a bold flavor and is the version of cinnamon most commonly found in the United States. Ceylon Cinnamon comes almost exclusively from Sri Lanka (Ceylon being the old name for Sri Lanka). It has a subtler taste but in the culinary world it is considered the superior cinnamon (hence, “True” Cinnamon). One other difference is that Cassia Cinnamon contains higher concentrations of the chemical compound coumarin, which in large amounts can cause liver and kidney damage.

In general, other than just tasting nice, cinnamon has a variety of potential health benefits and it’s proven to be antimicrobial. Cinnamon can kill E. coli along with other harmful bacteria and as such was used for thousands of years to preserve meat (including during the embalming process of Egyptian mummies, which is just preserving meat of a different kind).

Baseball Organs

The organ was a part of early movie theater entertainment and then moved over to entertain baseball fans

Hot dogs, the seventh inning stretch, and the organ are all a part of the summertime ritual of baseball. Organs became a part of baseball game entertainment because, in the early 20th century, organs were played in theaters to provide music for silent films. Since they were associated with entertainment, baseball stadiums took the next step and incorporated the organ into their games. On April 26, 1941, Chicago’s Wrigley Field became the first baseball stadium to feature an organ (and they still feature a live organ, not a digital recording).

A feminist baseball anthem

Probably the most well known baseball song performed on the organ is Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Most teams feature the song (usually just the chorus) during the 7th inning stretch. The song was written in 1908 by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Jack Norworth & Albert Von Tilzer, neither of whom had ever been to a baseball game. The chorus speaks to the love of the game, but it’s the two verses that bookend the chorus that are groundbreaking.

The song is about a woman named Katie Casey whose young man asks if she wants to see a show, but as a sports fan she would rather go to a baseball game. She’s “baseball mad,” knows the players names, she argues with the umpire from the stands, she leads a chant to raise the home team’s spirits, etc – she does all of this as a woman in 1908. The character of Katie Casey was based on outspoken suffragist Trixie Friganza, a vaudeville star who also in a relationship with Norworth at the time. With Take Me Out to the Ball Game the early 20th century suffragist spirit of confidence & equality, typically associated with politics, was brought into the arena of sports (… which was also traditionally just for men). So while most people know the song’s chorus as an ode to baseball, the full song’s feminist message makes it more important than just a sports song.

An added bonus: in the Wrigley Field tradition of special guests leading the crowd in the 7th inning stretch, please enjoy Cookie Monster singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

Googie Architecture

1950s American suburban sprawl created an eye-catching architectural movement.

The American post-war economy of the 1940s boomed. With this increasing wave of affluence many Americans joined the middle class and subsequently moved to the suburbs. If you were living in the suburbs then you had to drive everywhere and as you flew down the road in your new car business owners knew they had to stand-out to be noticed. Enter, Googie Architecture.

If you threw some rocket ships, neon lights, trapezoids, and boomerangs into a 1950s blender, you’d get Googie Architecture. Googie is mid-century modern but with a lot of flair. The name comes from a now demolished Hollywood coffee shop called Googies. In 1949 famed architect John Lautner designed the Googies shop with striated lines, odd angles, and in big neon letters “GOOGIES” with eyes in the O’s. Soon other businesses created their own energetic designs, and from the late 1940s through the 1960s it was an architectural arms race for customers’ attention & dollars.

The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport

Today many Googie buildings are gone, replaced as design trends have changed. The Googie style McDonalds restaurants of the ‘50s with giant golden arches & cantilevered roofs, were replaced by the dull rectangular beige shingle-roofed McDonalds of the ‘70s (which were also replaced).

Still, some excellent Googie buildings live on. The Seattle Space Needle, the Theme Building at LAX, the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” sign, and more still stand as testaments to a mid-century space-age era where function followed form.

An added bonus: Wildwood, New Jersey is full of Googie architecture, but there it’s referred to as Doo-Wop architecture. Also with the return of American soldiers from the Pacific, 1950s America produced another kitschy architectural style known as Tiki which celebrated an exaggerated/fanciful version of South Seas Polynesian culture.

In Wildwood, NJ, Googie is called Doo-Wop architecture

Lobster Immortality

Lobsters are not immortal, but are still pretty special

To point out that lobsters aren’t immortal may seem unnecessary unless you’ve previously seen internet buzz stories that lobsters might be able to live forever. Different species of lobsters have different lifespans but male European lobsters typically live around 31 years and females live around 54 years. This is far from forever. Aside from being killed by fishing, how do lobsters die?

One of the remarkable things about lobsters is that, unlike humans and most other animals, lobsters continue to get bigger as they get older. Humans get to an adult size and stop getting taller, but for lobsters there is no upper limit on how large they can grow to be. Another remarkable thing about lobsters is that they don’t show many signs of aging like we do. They don’t get weak, or slow down, or stop reproducing as they get older. Part of this longevity is how their cells divide. Unlike humans, lobsters continue to produce an enzyme called telomerase which helps repair damaged chromosomes during cell division. Having undamaged chromosomes allows lobsters to avoid the effects of old age and to keep living normal lives … until they don’t.


Lobsters are invertebrates with exoskeletons. In order for a lobster to get larger as it ages it has to shed its current exoskeleton and grow a larger new one. It basically runs out of room in its shell and needs to start a new roomier one. Therein lies the problem. While there may be no physical upper limit as to how large a lobster can get, every moulting takes more energy than the time before and eventually a lobster just doesn’t have the energy to shed its exoskeleton. 10-15% of lobsters die during the moulting process because they run out of energy. For those older lobsters who just stop moulting, they begin to accumulate damage to their shells and eventually die.

An added bonus: Another question the internet seems to ask is if lobsters feel pain. Yes they do, and being boiled alive is not enjoyable for lobsters (it’s illegal to boil a lobster alive in New Zealand, Switzerland, and parts of Italy).

To end on a high note, while most lobsters are typically dark bluish greens and greenish browns, genetic mutations can produce some really spectacular looking lobsters. Similar to most animals, albinos are very rare (1 in 100 million). Unlike most other animals though, lobsters have another extremely rare coloration (1 in 100 million) where the lobster is pastel blues & subtle pinks called “cotton candy”.


Lightning Bugs

Lightning bugs glow for a variety of reasons through a chemical reaction

Lightning bugs, fireflies, glowworms, or whatever else you may call them based on where you live, are beetles (not bugs) known for their summertime bioluminescent light shows. There is a great deal of diversity among lightning bug species. Most are nocturnal (but not all), most can create bioluminescent light (but not all). In some species both the males & females can glow (but in others only one or the other can glow). They also produce different colors (light green, yellow green, red), depending on the species.

Light show

Lightning bugs have a special organ to produce light, which happens when luciferin (a chemical compound) and luciferase (an enzyme) mix. Both luciferin & luciferase are named after Lucifer, which is the Latin name for the planet Venus meaning “light bringer”, because Venus can appear just before dawn in the night sky. Only later did Lucifer also come to mean Satan.

Why lightning bugs glow varies by species as well as age. In larvae they can glow as a warning to predators telling them “I don’t taste good, don’t eat me.” In adults it’s primarily for mating purposes. Adult males puts on a light show to attract females. Females reciprocate with a glow of their own.

It’s worth noting that the females of the Photuris genus of lightning bugs are known as the “femme fatale lightning bugs” because they imitate the light pattern of other species to attract & then eat the males. Of this genus, the species Photuris pensylvanica is the state insect of Pennsylvania.

Celtic to Gaelic to Irish

What we call “Celtic” is a bit of a misnomer that misses the bigger picture

People use the term “Celtic” to generally describe traditional Irish (as well as Scottish and Welsh) types of art, literature, music, etc. Celtic crosses, Celtic dance, Celtic jewelry, Celtic tattoos even, all have a certain “look” we call Celtic, but it didn’t start out that way.

What we call “Celtic” is largely because of the Celtic Revival movements of the 19th & 20th centuries. This term constitutes a series of narrowly selected cultural elements from a limited range of time in the British Isles. While this generated renewed interest in these particular traditional cultures, the Celtic Revival movements also oversimplified (and flat-out got wrong) other elements of Celtic culture.


The Celtic Revival focused on the Celtic cultures found in the British Isles, but the Celts were a lot bigger than that. The Celts were a mix of tribal peoples who originated in central Europe (more or less around Austria) a few thousand years ago. Pinning down exactly where the Celts came from and when they came into being, is debatable.

Eventually the Celts worked their way westward claiming land across Europe and around the 6th century BCE began migrating up into the British Isles. In the 1st century BCE the Romans expanded their empire and killed off many of the Celts in mainland Europe in the process. As a result, the survival of the Celtic culture was primarily in the British Isles but also in a few small pockets of territory along coastal Western Europe.

The Celts had their own language which evolved over the centuries depending on where in Europe they were. Eventually Celtic got split into three categories:

  • Continental: which created a few now extinct languages
  • Britonic: which created a few extinct languages as well as Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.
  • Gaelic


In Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man the Celts became the Gaels who developed their own language of Gaelic. Gaelic then became the basis of three languages:

  • Manx: the (mostly extinct) language of the Isle of Man
  • Scottish Gaelic: spoken in the highlands & the Hebrides of Scotland, it is also called Scottish (which is different though than Scots, which is a different Scottish language that is Germanic based)
  • Irish Gaelic


The Gaels who made Ireland their home developed their own culture and their own Gaelic language of Irish Gaelic, also just called Irish. Today Irish is one of two official languages of the Republic of Ireland (the other being English). Because of early Irish Gaels leaving Ireland for Scotland and the Isle of Man, Irish Gaelic was the basis of what became Scottish Gaelic and Manx.

Today most people in Ireland speak English as their primary language. Most media, politics, and business is in English. That said, according to the 2016 Irish census 39.8% of the country (1.7 million people) said they could speak Irish. But of those Irish speakers only around 73,000 people (around 1.7% of the population) speak Irish as their primary language. To help the language survive & grow the Irish government has programs & plans in place such as Irish being a mandatory subject in school.

So while “Celtic” tends to mean all things Irish in pop culture, the true roots of Celtic culture are much older and much more diverse. While large parts of Irish culture (including the language) are originally Celtic, not all things Celtic are Irish.

Also: Celtic is pronounced with a hard “k” sound as “keltic”, unless you are referring to the Boston basketball team or the Glasgow football club which use a soft “s” sound as “seltic”.

Cleopatra was Egyptian…ish

Cleopatra was the last in a line of Greek rulers of Egypt

Cleopatra (aka, Pharaoh Cleopatra VII Philopator) was the final ruler of Egypt before the kingdom fell to the Roman Empire. During her rule she commissioned portraits of herself in the traditional Egyptian style and she could speak the Egyptian language (something that her family predecessors never bothered to do). All of this would make it seem like Cleopatra was Egyptian, except she was Greek.

Cleopatra was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a 275 year rule that originated in Greece. The founder of this family dynasty was her ancestor Ptolemy I Soter who was one of Alexander the Great’s most senior generals. When Alexander died in 323 BCE he left a kingdom that stretched across the ancient world from Egypt to India and it had to be managed. After a series of deals & wars Ptolemy gained control of the Egyptian portion of the kingdom and declared himself pharaoh. Thus began the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Under this dynastic rule, native Egyptians were generally held to the lower classes while Greeks held the political and economic power. The Greek descendants of Ptolemy continued to rule over Egypt until Cleopatra’s defeat by Julius Caesar’s grandnephew Octavian in 30 BCE.

A Beatles Opening & Closing

Two of the most famous chords in music.

An opening chord

It’s been called the most famous chord in rock ’n roll. It’s the jangly opening chord that starts the Beatles 1964 hit song A Hard Day’s Night which also starts the album & the movie of the same name. This one sound is actually multiple instruments playing different notes simultaneously. For years it has been the subject of debate trying to solve exactly what instruments and chords are being played.

The jangly opening of 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night is one of the most famous opening chords in music.

One of the reasons it is so hard to solve this mystery lies in the concept of polyphonic music. In polyphonic music different instruments or voices are playing different melodies that together create a larger whole. European polyphonic music originated in the early Middle Ages but became much more complex by the 16th century and onward (as heard in the organ fugues of J.S. Bach). When you line up the rows of sounds being played, Renaissance era polyphonic music paid attention to the vertical sounds, the harmonies and chords, that could happen when the different rows of music would momentarily come together a key points. This brings us back to the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night.

The opening chord is made up of five instruments sounding simultaneously. When you line up those five instruments, together they produce a sound that no single instrument is playing on its own. This is why it has been so hard to solve exactly what was being played – you have to separate out five different instruments that are sounding as one big chord.

A lot more has been written on this chord, but you can listen to Randy Bachman (of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive) recount his experience of getting to visit the Abbey Road Studio and listen to the opening chord one track at a time to break it down.

A Closing chord

From the most famous opening chord, to one of the most famous closing chords. The final chord in A Day In The Life ends both the song and the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Like the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night, much has been written about the closing cord of A Day In The Life. The song was written by Lennon & McCartney as usual, but their contributions remained fairly separate in the song.

The opening portion of the song was by John Lennon which then transitions to the Paul McCartney portion following a chaotic swelling of the orchestra (which will be used again). The song transitions back to Lennon using a modified melody based on Hey Joe. Following the second Lennon portion the chaotic swelling orchestra is used again to build tension and dissonance. The orchestra swells higher and higher, with seemingly no end in sight.

The final explosion of sound at the end of A Day In The Life marks both the end of the song and, for some, the end of the Beatles’ most prolific period of creativity.

Frank Lloyd Wright used a concept he called “compression & release” in his architecture. He would compress you into a small space and then, turn a corner, you are released into a spacious open room. His grand open rooms are that much more impressive after you have just been compressed in a small space. He would build tension and then release it in a big payoff. In a similar way, the Beatles architected the end of A Day In The Life.

The chaotic climbing swirling orchestra increasingly builds tension for the listener until suddenly a pause and then an explosion of a thunderous monophonic harmonious final chord. This final chord is actually produced by three pianos and a harmonium all playing an E-major chord simultaneously. It rings out for over 40 seconds by a slow increase in the volume in the studio.

The Alpha and the Omega

It’s said that upon hearing an early version of A Day In The Life, an already frayed Brian Wilson was left in shambles realizing the the song’s greatness. Jonathan Gould, author of Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, said the closing chord was “… a forty-second meditation on finality that leaves each member of the audience listening with a new kind of attention and awareness to the sound of nothing at all”

Bringing both chords together, British music critic Ian MacDonald said that the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night and the closing chord of A Day In The Life were “… opening and closing the group’s middle period of peak creativity.”

An added bonus: Jeff Beck’s fantastic all-instrumental cover of A Day In The Life.

With other Yardbirds present, Jeff Beck demonstrates his virtuosity by playing an instrumental version of A Day In The Life.