TRICK OR TREAT

On Friday, October 31, many of us will celebrate Halloween. We will dress up in costumes and attend parties. Children will go door-to-door “trick or treating.” Of course, some will use the holiday as an excuse to create mischief or even mayhem, but for most of us it will be a day of fun and games and an opportunity to gorge ourselves on candy.

But, few, if any, of us will bother to stop and think about the origins of the holiday. When and where did it begin? How did it evolve? Why do we dress up in costume? Why do we go “trick or treating?” Glad you asked. Read on.

The origin of Halloween is a Celtic holiday dedicated to the dead. Although the Celts were interspersed in many areas of Europe, they were concentrated in what is now, England, Ireland and Scotland. The Celts divided the year into four sections, each of which was marked by a major holiday. The beginning of the winter season was November 1, which was celebrated by a festival called “Samhein,” pronounced “Sah-ween,” which means “end of summer” in old Irish. The word “Halloween” can be traced back as far as 1745. It means “hallowed evening” or “holy evening.” It is derived from a Scottish term for “All Hallows Eve,” the evening before “All Hallows Day,” aka “All Saints Day.” Over time, the word “evening” was contracted to “e’en,” thus Halloween.

The Celts were a pagan people and very superstitious. They believed that the ghosts of those who had died during the year had not yet completed their journey to the “otherworld,” and at Samhein they were able to mingle with the living. Accordingly, to placate these ghosts and other spirits the Celts offered sacrifices and lit bonfires to aid them on their journey. It has been suggested that the origin of wearing costumes was to disguise oneself from any lost soul that might be seeking vengeance on the living before moving on the next world. Some, believing that the souls of those who had died recently were still wandering in a sort of purgatory set a place for them at dinner. Many of these ancient traditions have persisted to this day.

In 601 Pope Gregory I issued an edict, the gist of which was that missionaries were to combine Christian holidays and festivals with existing pagan holidays and festivals and, hopefully, eventually supersede them. The ultimate objective was to foster the conversion of pagans to Christianity. As a result, All Saints Day, aka All Hallows Day, was moved to November 1 to coincide with Samhein.

By the end of the 12th century other Halloween traditions had developed. For example, the clergy would ring church bells for the souls stuck in purgatory; and “criers,” dressed in black, would parade through towns reminding the citizens to remember these poor souls. In about the 15th century people began to bake “soul cakes,” which are small round cakes, a practice called “souling,” which is believed to be a forerunner of “trick or treating.” Poor people would go door-to-door and collect these cakes in exchange for saying prayers for the dead. Interestingly, Shakespeare mentioned “souling” in The Two Gentlemen of Varona” in 1593. Over time, celebrations of All Hallows Day began to include additional customs, such as “trick or treating,” lighting bonfires, attending costume parties, carving “jack-o’-lanterns, apple “bobbing,” and attending church services.

As mentioned above, it is believed that the practice of “trick-or-treating” was derived from “souling” or “mumming,” which is going house-to-house in disguise singing songs in exchange for food. This was believed to have originated in Scotland and Wales in the 16th century. Sometimes people would paint their faces and threaten mischief if they were not welcomed. This evolved into the customs of wearing costumes and playing pranks. Nocturnal pranksters needed illumination, hence the development of jack-o-lanterns. In England, people would fashion them out of turnips or mangel wurzels, which are large, thick roots suitable for carving. In America, pumpkins were used, because they were plentiful and better suited for carving anyway. Jack-o-lanterns are believed to frighten evil spirits. In France, people believed that the dead buried in cemeteries would rise up and participate in a wild carnival-like celebration known as the “danse macabre.”

“Trick or treating,” as such, is a relatively modern development. As I said, it is believed to have evolved from “souling” or “mumming.” The earliest mention of it in print was in 1927, and it did not become widespread until the 1930s in the US. Also, costuming has evolved. Popular fictional characters have been added to the traditional skeletons, ghosts and ghouls. Basically, now, anything goes.

CONCLUSION

At the present time, Halloween, like other holidays, has become highly commercialized. Selling costumes and other related paraphernalia has become big business. The original religious significance of the holiday has been eclipsed and forgotten by most people. Yes, some people still attend church, but many more attend parties. Many if not most people, especially children, know Halloween merely as a day to dress in costumes and go “trick or treating.” We do love our candy.
Hopefully, after reading this blog you will have gained some knowledge of and perspective as to the origin and meaning of the holiday.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME

If I were to ask you to name the most popular sport in the US most of you would answer football, and statistically, you would be correct. According to a recent poll published by Yahoo sports, football is the sport most watched on tv in the US followed by baseball. There are many reasons for this, which I won’t get into as they are outside the scope of this blog. But, if I were to ask you which sport is the essence of America, is woven inextricably into the fabric of American lore, is part of our soul, chances are you would say baseball. Who doesn’t remember, as a young boy or girl, that first game of “catch” with their father or attending their first baseball game. I, for one, have better recall of a World Series game I attended with my father in 1955 than I do of things I did yesterday. So, at this time of the year with the World Series in progress, I feel it is appropriate to blog about our “National Pastime,” baseball. The focus of this blog will be on the origins of the sport.

Until recently, the widely held belief was that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. This myth appears to have originated in 1905. Apparently, at the time there was some controversy as to whether the sport, which had become known as the “American Pastime” had originated in the US or had been descended from an English game called “rounders.” Influential baseball people, such as Abraham Mills, the President of the National League, and Albert Spalding, the President of the Chicago Cubs, formed a commission to research and study the matter. Mills and Spalding had a great stake in the Commission deciding that the game had originated in the US, and they packed the Commission with persons who agreed with them. Predictably, the Commission determined that baseball had, in fact, originated in the US and was not related to or descended from the English game of “rounders” or any other game. Furthermore, the Commission promulgated the myth that Abner Doubleday had invented the game. Supposedly, in 1839 he had a “eureka” moment. In a flash, he laid out the diamond and set forth the rules. The first game was said to have been played in Cooperstown, NY in 1839. This story held sway for many years despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

Abner Doubleday was born on June 26, 1819 in Ballston Spa, NY. He was a career US Army officer who had fought in the Civil War. There is no record that he ever claimed to have invented baseball. Furthermore, neither his private letters, his diaries nor even his obituary so much as mentioned the game. He was not even in Cooperstown in 1839. He was stationed at West Point. Although I can see how the Mills Commission could want to claim that baseball was invented in America by an American, it is unclear how it came up with the name Abner Doubleday. It could be that the Commission relied on a certain witness, one Abner Graves, whose credibility was, to put it mildly, questionable. Another theory is that Abner Doubleday was confused with another Doubleday who was living in Cooperstown at the time. In any event, at the time the myth was accepted as truth.

Now, thanks to continuing research, we know better. It is clear that baseball evolved over hundreds of years from other bat and ball games, rather than from a “eureka” moment. For example, a French manuscript from 1344 depicts French clerics playing a game with similarities to baseball. In addition, for many years the English played various games called “rounders,” “tut-ball,”and “stoolball,” which exhibit similarities to baseball. Some sports historians believe “cricket” may also have descended from those games, although there is contrary evidence that suggests it may been imported from Flanders. In any event, by the 1830s many varieties of bat and ball games were being played in America.

Most sports historians credit Alexander Cartwright with promulgating the first rules of the game in 1845. Cartwright was born on April 17, 1820 in NYC. In the 1840’s He was a volunteer fireman with the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company in NYC. At that time, they were playing an informal bat and ball game called “town ball.” With the help of others, he codified some 14 rules of the game. For example, he stipulated that the field be laid out in a diamond shape; there were nine fielders and three outs per inning. He has long been recognized as the “father of baseball” and was officially designated as such by Congress in 1953. He was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1938, 46 years after his death. Furthermore, it is believed that the first officially recorded game was played on June 19, 1846 at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ. Some of the early rules were weeded out over time, to wit:

1. One of the ways to record an “out” was for a fielder to throw at and hit a runner with the batted ball.

2. The ball was required to be pitched underhanded.

3. A batted ball caught on a bounce was an “out.”

4. Fielders did not wear gloves.

5. Foul balls were not counted as strikes.

Baseball’s “modern era” began in 1901 when the American League was formed to join the National League, which been established in 1876. Most baseball records are counted from 1901. The oldest professional team was the Cincinnati Red Stockings, which was formed in 1869 and went undefeated that year playing against semi-pro and amateur teams.

At first, there were no prohibitions against blacks playing. In fact two brothers, Moses and Welday Walker did play in 1884. But, by the 1890’s due to a “gentlemen’s agreement” among the owners, blacks were effectively barred. This ban continued until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1946 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

CONCLUSION

Modern day baseball has some flaws, which need to be tweaked. The pace is too slow, the games are too long, and many believe the game is not as exciting as other sports. It has been usurped as the #1 sport in America by football. On the other hand, it has many plusses:

1. Baseball is the only sport with an official song, which is sung at every game. “Take me out to the Ballgame” was written in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert Van Tilzer, who, ironically, had never attended a game prior to writing the song. It was not sung at a ball game until 1934. The version we all sing is merely the chorus. (Incidentally, crackerjacks may own its very survival to the song. Have you ever eaten them other than at a ball game?)

2. It is highly statistical, which enables fans to compare the abilities of current players with those who played 50 or 100 years ago with some reliability.

3. Its records have more meaning and familiarity than those of other sports. Most fans know who has the lifetime hits record, Pete Rose, who had the highest lifetime batting average, Ty Cobb, who hit the most home runs, Barry Bonds, and who has won the most World Series, the Yankees. Conversely how many fans know who holds the NFL rushing record, who has won the most Super Bowls, or who led the NBA in scoring last year. Does anyone even care?

4. Baseball is the only sport without a time clock, so the trailing team always has a chance to come back. At some point in a football or basketball game it becomes obvious that the clock will run out on the losing team. But, in baseball the losing team will always get its “last licks.” You have not won until the last out has been recorded. Just ask the 1986 Boston Red Sox.

5. Baseball connotes nostalgia. We associate it with our youth. After all, the movie, “Field of Dreams” was not about football.

BARBARY PIRATES

Every once in a while one of my followers requests that I publish a blog on a particular topic. So, Michael, my friend, this one’s for you.

The Barbary pirates, aka Barbary corsairs, operated primarily in the western Mediterranean Sea, however, on occasion, they ranged as far as Iceland and South America. Their primary bases of operation were the ports of Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis, which, collectively, were known as the Barbary Coast. Piracy in the Mediterranean can be traced back to the Emirate of Crete in the 9th century, but its peak was from the 16th to early 19th centuries. The pirates would not only hijack ships but they would also raid coastal towns ala the Vikings of earlier times. The main purpose of these raids was to capture Christians who would either be held for ransom, sold to the Ottomans as slaves, or retained as galley slaves on pirate ships. Basically, galley slaves were subjected to a horrendous existence. They were chained virtually permanently to their seats, received very little rest or sustenance, and were worked to death in a relatively short period of time.

Normally, the money for ransoms was paid by church groups or wealthy individuals. It seems to have operated as a type of business arrangement – the corsairs would capture individuals and sell them back at a certain price. One can see parallels to how the Somali pirates of present day operate. These raids of coastal areas, known as “Razzias,” had a secondary consequence, which was that coastal areas of Italy and Spain, among others, became abandoned as people were afraid to live in those areas. During the aforementioned peak period, it is estimated that as many as 1.2 million people were captured and sold into slavery. During much of this period the pirates operated, for the most part, with little organized opposition as the European powers had not yet developed naval power sufficient to oppose them. European military forces consisted primarily of mercenaries, not professional, well-trained, soldiers.

Interestingly, not all the pirates were Muslims or North Africans as one might assume. For example, about two-thirds of their ships captains were Europeans, no doubt motivated by financial gain, who had “taken the turban.” The pirates’ power began to wane at the end of the 17th century when countries such as England, France, Spain and Portugal developed their navies into effective fighting forces. It took another blow when the US defeated them in the Barbary Wars; it ceased for good when France conquered Algiers in 1830.

Until the American colonies won their independence from England their shipping was protected under the umbrella of the British, who, like other European powers, had negotiated a treaty with the pirates. Typically, these treaties required the payment of tribute in return for safe passage. Reasonable tributes were regarded as merely a cost of doing business. One of the unintended consequences of independence was the termination of this protection. Ironically, Morocco, which had been the first nation to officially recognize the US as an independent country also became the first to seize an American ship. Eventually, the US negotiated a treaty of its own, but the cost of tribute and ransoms was exorbitant. As a fledgling nation, America’s financial resources were limited. In 1800 the amount of tribute and ransom paid amounted to 20% of the US government’s expenditures. This was unsustainable. Something had to be done.

Many politicians were vehemently opposed to paying this onerous tribute. Among the most outspoken was Thomas Jefferson. He had firsthand experience as during the 1790s he was often involved in negotiating the release of prisoners. He firmly believed that paying tribute and ransoms only encouraged further hijackings. (If this sounds familiar, it should, as this was likely the foundation of our policy of not negotiating with terrorists.) Around this time the US began to develop a navy to deal with the pirates as well as to protect its national interests on the high seas.

When Jefferson took office as President in 1801 he decided to cease these payments. This decision led to two Barbary Wars, 1801 – 1805 and 1815. The pasha of Tripoli declared war on the US in May of 1801. In response, Jefferson sent a fleet to the area. At first this show of force calmed things down, but things accelerated again when one of the ships ran aground, and the pirates captured its crew. That led to armed conflict. Eventually, the US marines landed in Tripoli and captured the port. This battle was the genesis of the line in the Marine hymn with which we are all familiar – “from the halls of Montezuma to the shore of Tripoli.” As a result of this victory a new pasha was installed who was friendly to the US. As a symbol of this victory, the new pasha presented the American naval commander with a special sword called a “Mameluke,” which is named for North African warriors. The “Mamaluke” became the model for the Marines’ dress sword. It is still in use today. The victory at Tripoli marked the end of the first Barbary War. Incidentally, two young officers and soon-to-be-famous naval leaders whom you may have heard of distinguished themselves in this war – Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge. They both went on to long, distinguished naval careers.

The second war began after the conclusion of the War of 1812. The Dey of Algiers, believing that the US was now considerably weakened, declared war. In response, the US promptly sent a fleet under the command of Decatur and Bainbridge to the area. The fleet defeated the pirates quickly and decisively. This led to a new treaty and the end of the pirate attacks on US shipping permanently. As mentioned above, the pirates’ power ended soon afterwards when France conquered Algiers and established colonies in North Africa.

CONCLUSION

The Barbary Wars marked the first time that the US asserted itself on the world stage. The prompt response and decisive victories served notice that the US was to be respected. I believe that establishing itself in this manner was critical for the young fledgling nation.

In my opinion, we can learn a lesson from this that can be applied to today’s terrorists. It sounds trite, but it’s true. Deal with them promptly and decisively and from strength, not weakness. History has demonstrated this time and again. Compare and contrast our success/failure in WWII with that of Viet Nam and the Barbary pirates with ISIS and other Muslim terrorists. It doesn’t take a genius to see which approach is more effective.

EBOLA

Ebola is a relatively new disease. It was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, there have been several outbreaks of the disease, however, until now the disease has been confined to Africa (although there have been a few deaths elsewhere due to contamination in laboratories). It is believed that “patient zero” of a particular outbreak catches the virus from contact with bat detritus.

The current outbreak is the largest and most dangerous ever, based on the number of cases and the geographic areas affected. Although the primary affected area is West Africa – Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria – it has spread to other locales, such as the US and Spain. The CDC, WHO and other relief agencies have been working diligently to contain the disease, but heretofore, it appears they are playing catch-up. WHO has warned that within two months West Africa could be facing up to 10,000 cases a week. Even worse, the death rate has been approximately 70%. I repeat, 70%, although part of that is due to the relatively primitive level of healthcare in West Africa. (In some areas, patients still consult witch doctors for medical issues.) Although comparisons could be misleading, by contrast the death rate during the Flu Pandemic in 1918, which caused widespread panic and killed an estimated 30 – 50 million people worldwide, was only 2%; in the 14th century, the so-called Black Death pandemic killed over 100 million people in Europe, which was about 1/3 of its population at the time.

Some facts and figures about Ebola and the current outbreak:

1. There is no FDA-approved vaccine or medication for it.

2. Treatment consists primarily of providing fluids intravenously, careful monitoring of blood pressure and oxygen levels, and treating any ancillary infections that may occur. These are not actual cures per se, but they serve to keep the patient alive until his body can develop its own antibodies to fight off the disease.

3. As always, early detection and strong supportive care are critical. All of the above are generally lacking in West Africa.

4. Survivors of the disease develop antibodies that last for at least ten years, although it is not known whether or not they can subsequently be infected with another strain of the disease prospectively. Additionally, some survivors have been known to develop other medical problems, such as joint or vision problems.

5. On the plus side, a blood transfusion from a survivor can be an effective treatment for a new patient. In point of fact, in Dallas one of the infected nurses is receiving such a transfusion.

6. Medical professionals have cautioned against panic, stating that Ebola can only be transmitted through direct contact. I agree that we should refrain from panicking, but there are many ways one can become infected, some of which one might not realize.

a. “Direct contact” includes not only means one would expect, such as touching the blood, semen, urine, saliva, sweat, vomit, feces and breast milk of an infected person, but also if an infected person sneezes or coughs on you.

b. The virus can survive in the open for several hours, if not days. Thus, it can be transmitted by a handshake, stepping in a puddle, or touching a dry surface, such as a door knob, needles, clothing or bedding. Family members and healthcare providers are at the greatest risk. Transmission on an airplane certainly seems plausible, though not likely. Furthermore, it is more than a little disconcerting that nurses have caught the disease despite wearing protective gear.

7. Speaking of airplane flights, it has been proposed that the US suspend all flights from West African nations and deny entry to any persons holding passports or visas from a West African country at least until the situation is under control. This would insulate Americans better and alleviate health concerns. I am in favor of this. I think it is unrealistic to expect untrained airport and airline personnel to be capable of screening passengers for Ebola symptoms. It is dangerous for the screeners and creates a false sense of security for the public.

CONCLUSION

The CDC and US government must step up their game. The CDC appears to have been caught off-guard by the severity of this outbreak and is still playing catch-up. They must be honest with the American people. CDC Director Tom Frieden’s conflicting and illogical justifications for not suspending flights from infected areas have not exactly inspired confidence. Most people are in favor of suspending flights from infected areas or at least quarantining them. There is precedent for that (Ellis Island).

Many people have sensed that Frieden is presenting an overly optimistic or even unrealistic picture of the situation. I understand the government doesn’t want to create panic, but don’t sugarcoat it either. Polls show that about half the people believe the government is withholding information, and it makes them uneasy.

The present Ebola outbreak is definitely the most severe since the disease was first discovered in 1976. It has the potential to become as devastating as the Flu Pandemic of 1918, however, through modern healthcare facilities and techniques we have the means to contain it. Literally, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies here. The key is prompt, comprehensive and decisive action.

The situation remains very fluid. I will provide updates when, as and if necessary.

COLUMBUS DAY

Columbus Day was celebrated on October 12 as it is every year on that date. The purpose of the holiday is to commemorate Columbus’ “discovery” of America in 1492 (more on that later). In addition, Italian-Americans observe the holiday as a means of celebrating their proud heritage. The holiday is celebrated in various forms in most, but not all, of the States and in many foreign countries as well.

The roots of the holiday can be traced back at least to 1792 when various cities, such as NYC, celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. Other celebrations were held in succeeding years. For the most part, these celebrations took on patriotic themes, such as nationalism, good citizenship and even support for wars. The first state to recognize Columbus Day as a holiday was Colorado in 1906. This was largely due to the lobbying efforts of one Angelo Noce, a first generation Italian-American living in Denver. It became recognized as a federal holiday in 1937, through the strong and persistent lobbying efforts of the Knights of Columbus and other Italian-American organizations.

As I alluded to above, Columbus Day is not celebrated universally in the US. The methods of celebration vary widely. Most states, such as NY and California, treat it as a major holiday. Schools and state office buildings are closed; there are parades and other official events. Other states mark the day merely as a “Day of Observance.” Virginia combines two celebrations on the same day – Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day, which recognizes the decisive victory that marked the end of the Revolutionary War. Four states – Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon and South Dakota – do not celebrate it at all. Hawaii celebrates the Polynesian discovery of Hawaii on that day, but it is not an official state holiday. Government offices and schools are open. South Dakota celebrates “Native American Day.”

Throughout the years there have been various protests surrounding the day. In the 1800s there was an anti-Columbus Day movement based upon its association with immigrants and Catholics in general and the Knights of Columbus, in particular. Those biases were prevalent in those pre-politically correct days. In present day, opposition is based primarily on Columbus’ harsh treatment of Native Americans. He has been labeled as an unsavory character and an opportunist. Furthermore, he has been accused of introducing slavery and disease to the indigenous populace. In general, many historians have a somewhat negative view of Columbus.

There are many myths and exaggerations surrounding Columbus and his famous voyage of discovery. Here are the facts as close as I was able to discern them:

1. Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy. He was not Spanish, as many assume.

2. The main purpose of his voyage was to discover a western route to Asia. He was convinced one could reach Asia by sailing west. It wasn’t so much to prove the world was round instead of flat as by 1492 most astronomers, scholars and educated people recognized that it was. In point of fact, Aristotle had proven this concept scientifically over 1,000 years before by using astronomy. Trade with Asia was very lucrative. The only known routes were either sailing around the Cape of Good Hope or travelling overland, both of which were long, arduous and dangerous. If he could, in fact, find a faster alternate route, so much the better. Literally, time was money.

3. Columbus had great difficulty finding backers for his venture. Before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella agreed to finance his venture, he was turned down by many others, including the governments of England, France and Portugal. Potential financial backers were quite skeptical of Columbus’ proposal. For one thing, the conventional wisdom of the day was that the earth was much larger than Columbus thought, and, of course, the experts were correct.

4. The “Nina and the “Pinta” were not the actual names of two of his ships. In those days it was customary to name ships after saints. Often, the sailors would rename them with nicknames. So, for example, the actual name of the Nina” was the “Santa Clara.” “Nina” referred to the ships owner, Juan Nino. The name Pinta was slang for “prostitute.”

5. Columbus was not the first European to set foot in the Americas. It has been well documented that the Viking, Leif Ericsson, landed in what is now Newfoundland in about the year 1,000. Furthermore, there is evidence that Irish and Celtic explorers may also have preceded him, and, of course, many thousands of years before even them Asians had trekked across the Bearing Strait to settle the Americas.

6. Columbus never did accomplish the primary objectives of his mission. He never found the Northwest Passage to Asia. In fact, Columbus did not even set foot in North America. In his maiden voyage he landed on the West Caribbean island of Hispaniola (present day Haiti). He thought he was in India, so he called the natives “Indians,” an appellation that has stuck. On subsequent voyages he landed on other Caribbean islands and in what is present-day Venezuela, never North America. It’s true that navigation in the 15th Century was far from an exact science, but nevertheless Columbus was nowhere near where he thought he was. (I suppose he could have used a GPS.)

CONCLUSION

Unlike other holidays, Columbus Day is not universally celebrated. In fact, one can argue that it was founded due to the intense lobbying efforts of Italian-Americans and other interested parties. As far as Columbus, himself, is concerned, his “discoveries” certainly paved the way for opening up the New World to European exploration and settlement (some would say exploitation). He deserves credit for that. But, present-day evidence shows conclusively that he did not actually “discover” anything. One might say he had a good press agent. I’m not trying to “trash” the man, but facts are facts.

SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD PAKISTANI WINS NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

Finally, a feel good news story! Amid all the bad news and turmoil in the world nowadays, Ebola, ISIS beheadings, Middle East strife, nuclear proliferation, and economic uncertainty, to name a few, how uplifting is it to find a positive, uplifting news story?

Seventeen year old Malala Yousafzai, a human rights and women’s activist from Pakistan, has been chosen as the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014, sharing it with Lailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India. (There is a certain symmetry and irony in a Muslim from Pakistan and a Hindu from India sharing a Nobel Peace Prize, don’t you think?) Yousafzai is the youngest winner of this award in its 114 year history. As mandated by Alfred Nobel’s will the peace prize is awarded annually to those persons or entities that have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

The Nobel Prizes were established and authorized by the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swede who was a well-known inventor, engineer, chemist and arms manufacturer. Among the more famous of his over 300 inventions were cordite and dynamite. These inventions made him an extremely wealthy man. Interestingly, by some quirk Nobel was able to read his own obituary. His brother had predeceased him, and apparently, at least one newspaper, thinking Alfred had died, published a rather unflattering obituary in which he was described as the “merchant of death.” Supposedly, Alfred was so taken aback by this unflattering characterization he decided to change his will and use his fortune for some good. One of these changes was the establishment of the Nobel Prizes. Alfred died for real in 1896, and the first Nobel Prizes were awarded according to his will’s specifications in 1901. Without boring you with the details there is a lengthy nomination process, which takes several months to complete. The entire process, including the nominated names or entities, is kept sealed for 50 years. Not even the nominees are aware that they have been nominated. The winners are announced in October. For some reason the Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, while the others, for chemistry, economics, medicine, and physics, are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.

In order to appreciate fully the magnitude of this astounding achievement one must delve into Malala’s life story and background. Malala was born on July 12, 1997 in Minora, Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan. The area in which she lived was under the domination of the Taliban, which, as we know, strongly believes in suppressing women’s rights and has not hesitated to use force to achieve this goal. In February 2009 the Taliban began enforcing a ban on young women attending school in the area. They reinforced this ban by simply destroying the schools. In response, Malala’s father began to home-school her. Later in 2009, at the tender age of eleven, Malala began writing a blog for the BBC describing life under the thumb of the Taliban. One of the primary themes of her blog was to promote education of young women in the Swat district, where she lived. Even though she had used a pseudonym, apparently the Taliban eventually figured out her identity. First, she received death threats. These were published on Facebook and in newspapers and even slipped under her door. When that didn’t work, the Taliban leadership voted formally to assassinate her. Folks, just think. We’re talking about an 11 year-old girl! Finally, in 2012 a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus, seeking her by name. Once she identified herself, the gunman shot her three times and left her for dead. The assassination attempt backfired, however, as she recovered. All it did was raise her profile and trigger an outpouring of support for her and her cause internationally. To wit:

1. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, protests sprang up all over Pakistan.

2. In excess of two million people signed a petition supporting the “Right to Education” bill, which eventually was passed.

3. The Pakistani government offered a 10 million Rupee (US$105,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of the would-be assassin. In due course the assassin and all members of the conspiracy were captured.

4. Time magazine featured her on the cover of its April 29, 2013 issue and in that same issue named her one “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

5. In July 2013 she addressed the UN to speak out for greater access for females to education worldwide.

6. In September 2013 she was the key speaker at the opening of the Library of Birmingham, England. She has also spoken at Harvard and met with both Queen Elizabeth and President Obama.

7. She was the winner of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize.

8. And, of course, the big one – she is co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

CONCLUSION

Like I said at the outset this is a real feel-good story. From humble beginnings, a young woman, a child, really, has led a movement, survived assassination by terrorists, met with world leaders and received the Nobel Peace Prize. If this were a Hollywood movie, we would deride it as unrealistic. A truly amazing story, and an inspiration to us all.