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The Bering Strait and Seward's Folly

With his dying hand, Emperor Peter the Great signs the order that sends Vitus Bering on his journey of exploration. It has been the Emperor's fondest wish to modernize Russia. He has been building up his navy and hiring the skills he needs from various seafaring nations such as Denmark. That explains how a Dane like Captain Bering was selected to head this expedition. It is known that Russia extends very far to the east, but they only have a vague notion of what is out that way. The Emperor is worried about European domination of those eastern regions so Captain Bering sets out on a secret mission to map the eastern coastline. The Emperor is already dead by the time the Captain finds the strait that will one day bear his name. Captain Bering is not the first European to reach the strait but he is the first to map it. Most global maps will split the world at the Bering Strait and place Alaska at the far left of the map. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Alaska was part of the Russian Empire until 1867 when they made it known that they were willing to sell it. Secretary of State William Seward (SUE-word) negotiated a price of $7.2 million. That was cheap enough, but no one knew what to do with it once the USA owned it. People jokingly called it Seward's Icebox or Seward's Folly as if he had traded a cow for a handful of magic beans, but then oil was discovered and during the Cold War, Alaska became part of the NORAD early warning system. Nowadays, NORAD is used to track Santa Claus from the North Pole but back then it was tracking possible ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) launches from the Soviet Union. Alaska became a buffer zone. There is still tension between the two countries. On a TV episode of "The Deadliest Catch," one of the Alaskan fishing boats was being shadowed on the Bering Sea by a Russian fishing boat that wasn't fishing. (Yikes!) It was a tense moment. [4] [5] [6]

Have the Stars Moved? OR HAVE I?

Something is wrong. The stars are not where they should be. As measuring instruments of the day have become more accurate, scientists are able to make more precise measurements. James Bradley has been trying to measure the distances to the stars using a method called parallax. In essence it is like triangulating on a radio signal. If you know the angle to your target signal (in this case, the light of a star) and then move to another location and measure the angle again, you have measured two angles of a triangle and can calculate the length of the sides. The math is not that tough but James has found an error. He knows what the angle should be to a given star. It should be there, but it is a little off. Since he hasn't moved his position, what changed? Did the star move or did he? He concludes that he moved... or that the Earth moved. He has found proof that the Earth is moving by measuring the aberration of light. It is like what happens when one is standing still in the rain. The drops come straight down, so one's umbrella is angled straight up but if one is running, the drops appear to fall at an angle so one changes the angle of the umbrella to compensate. By measuring the angle of compensation one can measure the speed. This. Is. Freakishly. Clever. [7] [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
FYI, using parallax (or triangulation) is only useful to find the distance to the nearest stars. Astronomers use the orbit of Earth as the base of the triangle so it takes six months to make the measurements. The stars are moving, but they are so far away that this trick works reasonably well. James Bradley also noticed that the Earth is not spinning precisely. Like a top that is losing speed, it is wobbling slightly. It's not a lot of wobble, but astronomical measurements must take this into account. It also changes the location of circles of latitude by a few yards every year. The phenomenon is called "nutation". If you ever wondered why there is a special military organization designated to adjust GPS satellite measurements, this is one of the reasons. There are other reasons having to do with Relativity, but let's not open that can of worms yet. [9]

A Spy is Born, as a Man... No, a Woman... Wait

Charles is born to a poor noble family in north-central France. His father is an attorney who will eventually become mayor of their township. Growing up, Charles will not look like a man, strictly speaking. It is difficult to tell. He will exploit his ambiguous and androgynous look to become a spy working on behalf of King Louis the 15th, but it will be more like Mission Impossible... "... should you be caught or killed..." no one is going to admit they ever knew you. Charles will be sent to Russia to infiltrate the court of Empress Elizabeth. At that time French men will not be allowed into Russia, but women and children will be able to cross the border. He/She will present herself convincingly as Lady Lea de Beaumont and he/she will become maid of honor to the Empress. When he returns to France, he will be knighted for more things than simply impersonating a lady, but if they had movies back then, he would be selling the rights to his story for millions. [10]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
We are talking about hermaphroditism or the modern term they are using... intersex. The term 'intersex' seems confusing so I'll stick with hermaphrodite for now. Authorities in the Talmud speak about how to determine the sex of a child. The fact that they felt compelled to discuss it in detail means that there were times when it was not obvious. That suggests they were talking about hermaphrodites. They are rare and genetically identifiable if not easily identifiable physically at birth. I have known a man who wanted to become a woman just as Bruce Jenner wants to become Caitlyn Jenner. From a religious point of view I know this is prohibited, but from a personal point of view, I just don't care what Bruce/Caitlyn does, one way or the other. What I resent is the social pressure that demands that I must care. It is worse than the religious pressure! So in honor of Caitlyn Jenner, I am NOT raising my middle finger to all those non-religious fanatics. [11] [12]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1728, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 334-335. 
  2. Vitus Bering - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 9 February 2016. “On 29 December 1725 [N.S. 9 January 1725], Peter I of Russia asked Bering to command a voyage east, probably to map the lands (and possibly seas) between Russia's eastern boundary and the North America continent.[6] Preparations for the trip had begun some years before, but with his health rapidly deteriorating, the Tsar had ordered that the process be hurried, and it was with this backdrop that Bering (with his knowledge of both the Indian Ocean and the eastern seaboard of North America, good personal skills and experience in transporting goods) was selected ahead of the experienced cartographer K. P. von Verd.”
  3. Gibson, James R. (September 1982). "Vitus Bering (1681-1741)". Arctic (Arctic Institute of North America) 35 (3): 438-439. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40509363. Retrieved 10 February 2016. "Meanwhile, the thoroughgoing and draconian transformation of Muscovy by Peter the Great along Western lines included not only the creation of a respectable navy but the extension of Russian geographical knowledge and political dominion. The lands and waters of the far North Pacific -- still unexplored and unsettled by European powers -- had long interested the inquisitive and versatile tsar, who now decided to satisfy his scientific curiosity and imperial appetite with a secret expedition.". 
  4. Intercontinental ballistic missile - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 February 2016. “An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a guided ballistic missile with a minimum range of 5,500 kilometres (3,400 mi)[1] primarily designed for nuclear weapons delivery (delivering one or more thermonuclear warheads).”
  5. North American Aerospace Defense Command - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 February 2016. “The Alaska NORAD Region (ANR) maintains continuous capability to detect, validate and warn off any atmospheric threat in its area of operations from its Regional Operations Control Center (ROCC) at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Alaska (which is an amalgamation of the United States Air Force's Elmendorf Air Force Base and the United States Army's Fort Richardson, which were merged in 2010).”
  6. Bering Sea - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 February 2016. “The Bering Sea also serves as the central location of the Alaskan king crab and opilio crab seasons, which are chronicled on the Discovery Channel television program Deadliest Catch. Landings from Alaskan waters represents half the U.S. catch of fish and shellfish.”
  7. James Bradley - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 February 2016. “This discovery of what became known as the aberration of light was, for all realistic purposes, conclusive evidence for the movement of the Earth, and hence for the correctness of Aristarchus' and Kepler's theories; it was announced to the Royal Society in January 1729 (Phil. Trans. xxxv. 637). The theory of the aberration also gave Bradley a means to improve on the accuracy of the previous estimate of the speed of light, which had previously been estimated by the work of Ole Rømer and others.”
  8. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 334-335. 
  9. Nutation - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 February 2016. “The nutation of the axis of the Earth was discovered in 1728 by the British astronomer James Bradley, but this nutation was not explained in detail until 20 years later by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler.”
  10. Chevalier d'Eon - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 February 2016. “D'Éon had androgynous physical characteristics and natural abilities as a mimic, good features for a spy. D'Éon appeared publicly as a man and pursued masculine occupations for 49 years, although during that time d'Éon successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia by presenting as a woman. For 33 years, from 1777, d'Éon dressed as a woman, claiming to have been female at birth. Doctors who examined d'Éon's body after d'Éon's death discovered that d'Éon would have actually been designated male at birth.”
  11. Hermaphrodite - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 February 2016. “Aside from having an ambiguous-looking external genitalia, true hermaphroditism in humans differs from pseudohermaphroditism in that the person's karyotype has both XX and XY chromosome pairs (46XX/46XY, 46XX/47XXY or 45X/XY mosaic) and having both testicular and ovarian tissue. One possible pathophysiologic explanation of this rare phenomenon is a parthenogenetic division of a haploid ovum into two haploid ova. Upon fertilization of the two ova by two sperm cells (one carrying an X and the other carrying a Y chromosome), the two fertilized ova are then fused together resulting in a person having dual genitalial, gonadal (ovotestes) and genetic sex.”
  12. Caitlyn Jenner - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 10 February 2016. “Caitlyn Marie Jenner (born October 28, 1949), formerly known as Bruce Jenner, is an American television personality and retired Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete.”

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