Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Hemp and the amazing continuing influence of Hearst and DuPont

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

In more than one discussion about the merits of decriminalizing marijuana use, I have heard people state that the reason that marijuana use is a criminal offence can be traced back to the efforts of a couple of influential U.S. businessmen in the 1930s. The way the narrative goes, the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (with big investments in forest plantations) teamed up with the DuPont chemical company (with big investments in petroleum-based products) in an effort to make the growing of hemp illegal.  Using the services of Henry J. Anslinger, the head of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics, they supposedly embarked on a successful campaign to demonize and eventually criminalize marijuana.  Do a Google search on the keywords hemp, Hearst, DuPont and Anslinger for lots of detail.

The thing that puzzles me about that story is the fact that it addresses legislation in the United States approximately 70 years ago, and in recent decades several countries including Canada have legalized the growing of industrial hemp, yet most paper is still made from trees.  It seems odd to me that William Randolph Hearst could still dictate to countries like Finland that they must not use hemp for paper production.

It seems more likely to me that paper producers likely prefer making paper from trees instead of hemp for technical and economic reasons, not to mention environmental reasons (forest crops are grown over many decades with minimal site disturbance, providing a full suite of environmental benefits, whereas hemp requires annual site inputs).

With a bit of digging I found an article “Debunking the Hemp Conspiracy Theory” that I think makes sense.

90 years and a few days ago

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Throughout the year 2009 it seemed to me that I kept bumping into references to the year 1919.  I’m not saying that there is anything significant or prophetic about that observation, but having some interest in history, I thought I’d share some of them.

Clifford is Born in 1919

This summer our family had a visit from Terry, a distant relative from Missouri, an avid genealogist with interest in all branches of the family tree, whether pointing down to the roots or up to the branches.  In exchange for reams of his research, I was able to provide him a bit of information on our family, including my dad Clifford, born in 1919 to the Norwegian immigrant homesteaders Louis (Lars) and Sigrid.  If he were still alive, Dad would have turned 90 this past April.

The Great Fire of 1919

My part of Canada had variable weather in 2009.  Although we started out with a dry spring, the summer was unusually cool and damp, unlike B.C. where forest fires raged.  The area burned in Saskatchewan this year was fairly insignificant compared to The Great Fire of 1919.  Starting near Lac La Biche in Alberta, that fire raced across the provincial border and burned huge tracts of forest in western Saskatchewan.  As a result, the forests surrounding and west of Meadow Lake have a disproportionate amount of 90-year-old stands.

End of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic in 1919

In 1919, health authorities officially declared that the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918/1919 had run its course.  It’s estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 Canadians out of a population of 8 million died in that pandemic.  In 2009 Canada had another flu pandemic on its hands, with 401 deaths as of December 23.  That’s nearly 1/10 the number of annual deaths from the seasonal flu.  I received my H1N1 flu shot, and I’m more careful with hand-washing and sneezing into my elbow.

Paris 1919

I’ve been reading Margaret MacMillan’s history of the 1919 Paris peace talks.  It’s not an easy read, but my ignorance of that chapter of history has been reduced somewhat.  Some ongoing disputes in the Middle East, the Balkins, and other hot spots have roots in decisions made by the world leaders who dispensed their wisdom at the close of the Great War.

One obscure reference that struck me was in the chapter on Arab Independence.  Apparently the French and English were jostling for favourable positions in the Middle East, and the French produced some Arabs who

claimed that their people, whether Christian or Muslim, wanted nothing so much as French help.  Unfortunately, as the gray-bearded spokesman for the Central Syrian Committee was launching into his two-hour oration, an American expert slipped [President Woodrow] Wilson a note pointing out that the speaker had spent the previous thirty-five years in France.  Wilson stopped listening and wandered about the room. [French Premier Georges] Clemenceau whispered angrily to Pichon, “What did you get the fellow here for anyway?” Pichon replied with a shrug, “Well, I didn’t know he was going to carry on this way.”

I couldn’t help thinking of a dilemma that the Liberal Party of Canada is faced with.

Wolf Willow

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I’ve never been to Eastend, Saskatchewan.  In my mind it’s mostly been associated with Scotty the T-Rex.

However I have been to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, straddling the Saskatchewan/Alberta border a bit to the west of Eastend.  It is a fascinating area, with its lodgepole pine forests stuck in the middle of the prairies.

My perception of Eastend, Cypress Hills and southern Saskatchewan in general has been changed by the book Wolf Willow, by the American author Wallace Stegner.  It’s been on my to-read list for some time, and I finally got around to reading it during my days off around Christmas.

Wolf Willow works for me on a lot of levels.  It is a strange blend of non-fiction and short stories.  Stegner reminisces about his childhood in the village of Whitemud (Eastend) and a homestead on the Saskatchewan-Montana border, makes the history of the area breathe, and describes the natural environment in a way that makes it come alive – the shrub wolf willow (Eleagnus commutata, also known as silverberry) does indeed have a distinctive aroma.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in ecology, history, frontier attitudes, homesteading, law enforcement (North-West Mounted Police), Blackfoot/Sioux/Cree and other native peoples, Métis, Canadian vs. American attitudes, or just a good read.

Anno Domini 2009 – Happy New Year

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

The 2,008th year AD is history.  May this 2,009th year of our Lord be a good one.

Bjarni Herjolfsson was the first

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

In school I learned that the first European to reach the Americas was Christopher Columbus. This was taught as though it were fact. I don’t recall my teachers ever teaching me about Bjarni Herjolfsson, the Norwegian trader whose ship went off course on a trip between Iceland and Greenland, and who spotted what was probably the coast of Newfoundland. That happened in the summer of either 985 or 986, more than 500 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

I do vaguely remember hearing about Leif Ericsson, son of Eric the Red, who was so impressed by the wild grapes he found that he called the new land Vinland, but he was almost treated in the category of Norse mythology, like Thor, rather than history.

Of course when I was in elementary school in the 1960s, the Norse settlement dating to circa 1000 at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland hadn’t yet been excavated by Parks Canada archaeologists, so I suppose my teachers can be excused.

Being of Norwegian descent, it’s fun to imagine how history might have unfolded if the Norse settlers hadn’t given up on the hostile new land. Instead of English and French, would Norwegian be the official language of Vinland today? Would those warlike Norse have ever learned to get along with their aboriginal neighbours instead of attacking them with their broadswords upon every sighting? Would I be a 30th-generation Vinlander? …