Saturday, February 27, 2010

Haiti: The US Occupation, 1915-1934

Responding to near-anarchy in the Republic of Haiti, the United States occupied the nation from 1915 to 1934. During this time, they installed puppet governments, ran the economy, military and police and for all intents and purposes were in absolute control of the country. Although this rule was relatively benign, it was unpopular with both the Haitians and the citizens of the United States and American troops and personnel were withdrawn in 1934.

Haiti’s Troubled Background:

Since gaining independence from France in a bloody rebellion in 1804, Haiti had gone through a succession of dictators. By the early twentieth century, the population was uneducated, poor and hungry. The only cash crop was coffee, grown on some sparse bushes in the mountains. In 1908, the country totally broke down. Regional warlords and militias known as cacos fought in the streets. Between 1908 and 1915 no less than seven men seized the presidency and most of them met some sort of gruesome end: one was hacked to pieces in the street, another killed by a bomb and yet another was probably poisoned.

The United States and the Caribbean:

Meanwhile, the United States was expanding its sphere of influence in the Caribbean. In 1898, it had won Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain in the Spanish-American War: Cuba was granted freedom but Puerto Rico was not. The Panama Canal opened in 1914: the United States had invested heavily in building it and had even gone to great pains to separate Panama from Colombia in order to be able to administer it. The strategic value of the canal, both economically and militarily, was enormous. In 1914, the United States had also been meddling in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Haiti in 1915:

Europe was at war and Germany was faring well. President Woodrow Wilson feared that Germany might invade Haiti in order to establish a military base there: a base that would be very close to the precious Canal. He had a right to worry: there were many German settlers in Haiti who had financed the rampaging cacos with loans that would never be repaid and they were begging Germany to invade and restore order. In February of 1915, pro-US strongman Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam seized power and for a while it seemed that he would be able to look after US military and economic interests.

The US Seizes Control:

In July of 1915, however, Sam ordered a massacre of 167 political prisoners and he was himself lynched by an angry mob that broke into the French Embassy to get at him. Fearing that anti-US caco leader Rosalvo Bobo might take over, Wilson ordered an invasion. The invasion came as no surprise: American warships had been in Haitian waters for most of 1914 and 1915 and American Admiral William B. Caperton had been keeping a close eye on events. The marines that stormed the shores of Haiti were met with relief rather than resistance and an interim government was soon set up.

Haiti Under US Control:

Americans were put in charge of public works, agriculture, health, customs and the police. General Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave was made president in spite of popular support for Bobo. A new Constitution, prepared in the United States, was pushed through a reluctant Congress: according to a debated report, the author of the document was none other than a young Assistant Secretary of the Navy named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The most interesting inclusion in the constitution was the right of whites to own land, which had not been permitted since the days of French colonial rule.

Unhappy Haiti:

Although the violence had ceased and order had been restored, most Haitians did not approve of the occupation. They wanted Bobo as president, resented the Americans’ high-handed attitude towards the reforms and were indignant about a Constitution that was not written by Haitians. The Americans managed to irk every social class in Haiti: the poor were forced to work building roads, the patriotic middle class resented the foreigners and the elite upper class was mad that the Americans did away with the corruption in government spending that had previously made them rich.

The Americans Depart:

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Great Depression hit and citizens began wondering why the government was spending so much money to occupy an unhappy Haiti. In 1930, President Hoover sent a delegation to meet with President Louis Borno (who had succeeded Sudre Dartiguenave in 1922). It was decided to hold new elections and begin the process of withdrawing American forces and administrators. Sténio Vincent was elected president and the removal of the Americans began. The last of the American Marines left in 1934. A small American delegation remained in Haiti until 1941 to defend American economic interests.

Legacy of the American Occupation:

For a while, the order established by the Americans lasted in Haiti. The capable Vincent remained in power until 1941, when he resigned and left Elie Lescot in power. By 1946 Lescot was overthrown. This marked the return to chaos for Haiti until 1957 when they tyrannical François Duvalier took over, beginning a decades-long reign of terror.

Although the Haitians resented their presence, the Americans accomplished quite a bit in Haiti during their 19-year occupation, including many new schools, roads, lighthouses, piers, irrigation and agricultural projects and more. The Americans also trained the Garde D'Haiti, a national police force that became an important political force once the Americans left.

Source: Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America From the Beginnings to the Present.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

The Elements of Bacon

Bacon is good (actually, it's great). Elements are good. What do you get when you put the two together? A pretty cool t-shirt, as seen over at Geekologie and for sale online at ThinkGeek. The t-shirt spells out Bacon as Ba Co N.

Now, that's not the only way to spell out bacon using the elements. Who can tell me some other options?

This Day in Science History - February 27 - Aspirin

February 27th could be considered aspirin's birthday. The process to make aspirin was patented in 1900 by Felix Hoffman on behalf of the German pharmaceutical company, Bayer. Hoffman's aspirin was a stable form of acetylsalicylic acid and named in three parts for this active ingredient. The 'A' was from acetyl, 'spir' was from the source of slaicin, the spirea plant, and 'in' was tacked on the end to give it a good pharmacological sounding name.

Find out how to make your own aspirin and what else occurred on this day in science history.

.Fun Oxygen Facts

Oxygen is one of those elements you simply can't live without. You find it in the air your breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat. Here are some quick facts about this important element. You can find more detailed information about oxygen on the oxygen facts page.

1.Animals and plants require oxygen for respiration.

2.Oxygen gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.

3.Liquid and solid oxygen are pale blue.

4.Oxygen is a non-metal.

5.Oxygen gas normally is the divalent molecule O2. Ozone, O3, is another form of pure oxygen.

6.Oxygen supports combustion.

How To Grow a Big Alum Crystal

Alum is found in the 'spices' section of the grocery store. With a bit of time and effort, you can grow a big alum crystal.
•coffee filter/paper towel

Alum crystals are probably
the easiest crystals to grow.
The chemical is non-toxic and
the crystals grow quickly and reliably.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: Days to Weeks

Here's How:

1.Pour 1/2 cup of hot tap water into a clean jar.

2.Slowly stir in alum, a little at a time, until it stops dissolving. Don't add the whole amount - just enough to saturate the water.

3.Loosely cover the jar with a coffee filter or paper towel (to keep dust out) and allow the jar to sit undisturbed overnight.

4.The next day, pour the alum solution from the first jar into the clean jar. You will see small alum crystals at the bottom of the jar. These are 'seed' crystals that you will use to grow a big crystal.

5.Tie nylon fishing line around the largest, best-shaped crystal. Tie the other end to a flat object (e.g., popsicle stick, ruler, pencil, butter knife). You will hang the seed crystal by this flat object into the jar far enough so that it will be covered in liquid, but won't touch the bottom or sides of the jar. It may take a few tries to get the length just right.

6.When you have the right string length, hang the seed crystal in the jar with the alum solution. Cover it with the coffee filter and grow a crystal!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Natural Easter Egg Dyes

It's fun and easy to use foods and flowers to make your own natural Easter egg dyes. The two main ways to use your own dyes are to add dyes to the eggs when boiling them or to dye the eggs after they have been hard-boiled. It's a lot faster to boil the dyes and eggs together, but you will use several pans if you want to make multiple colors. Dyeing the eggs after they have been cooked takes as many dishes and more time, but may be more practical (after all, most stoves only have four burners!).

Try both fresh and frozen produce. Canned produce will produce much paler colors. Boiling the colors with vinegar will result in deeper colors. Some materials need to be boiled to impart their color (name followed by 'boiled' in the table). Some of the fruits, vegetables, and spices can be used cold. To use a cold material, cover the boiled eggs with water, add dyeing materials, a teaspoon or less of vinegar, and let the eggs remain in the refrigerator until the desired color is achieved. In most cases, the longer you leave Easter eggs in the dye, the more deeply colored they will become.

Here is the preferred method for using natural dyes:

Place the eggs in a single layer in a pan. Add water until the eggs are covered.

Add approximately one teaspoon of vinegar.

Add the natural dye. Use more dye material for more eggs or for a more intense color.

Bring water to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

If you are pleased with the color, remove the eggs from the liquid.

If you want more intensely colored eggs, temporarily remove the eggs from the liquid. Strain the dye through a coffee filter (unless you want speckled eggs). Cover the eggs with the filtered dye and let them remain in the refrigerator overnight.

Naturally-colored eggs will not be glossy, but if you want a shiny appearance you can rub a bit of cooking oil onto the eggs once they are dry.

You can use fresh and frozen berries as 'paints', too. Simply crush the berries against dry boiled eggs. Try coloring on the eggs with crayons or wax pencils before boiling and dyeing them. Happy Easter!

Easter Chemistry Projects

If you celebrate Easter, there are several projects you can do that will add a bit of educational chemistry-related fun to the holiday season. If you want to get an early start, it's fun to dye hollowed eggs before Easter or make a sugar crystal string Easter egg for an Easter decoration.

Rohypnol or Roofies Drug Facts

Would you recognize the drug Rohypnol (roofies) if you saw it? Rohypnol is sometimes called the "date rape drug" because a person who takes the drug may be incapacitated and also unable to recall events which occurred under the influence of the drug. While Rohypnol used to be manufactured as a white pill, which could be crushed and dissolved in a liquid such that it was invisible, the drug is now supplied as a green tablet that contains a blue dye. The dye is intended to be visible if an attempt is made to dissolve the drug in a drink, though obviously the color wouldn't be noticeable in a blue or dark-colored beverage.

I've added some quick facts about Rohypnol to my drug facts index so you can learn more about this drug and also see what it looks like.

Emerald Crystal Geode

You can grow this emerald crystal geode by substituting ammonium phosphate for alum (and green food coloring) in this easy geode project.

Easy Violet Flames

Violet flames are very easy to make. All you do is sprinkle salt substitute on your fire. Salt substitute contains potassium chloride and potassium bitartrate. If you are familiar with the emission spectra from flame tests, you'll recognize that potassium salts burn violet or purple. To me, the color seems more of a blue-violet, but you can get a more reddish purple if you mix a little strontium from the red fire tutorial in with the salt substitute.

Keep in mind, violet is not one of the colors your eyes see really well. The subtle glow of these flames can be completely overwhelmed by the colors from trace impurities. This means two things: (1) Use as pure a fuel as you can. I used Heet™ fuel treatment, which is methanol. If you sprinkle the salt substitute on your wood-burning campfire, the flames will change color but the color won't necessarily be violet. (2) Use salt substitute and not lite salt. Lite salt is a mixture of normal table salt (sodium chloride) with potassium salts. The yellow from the sodium will overpower the violet from the potassium.

This Day in Science History - February 24 - Inflammable Air

February 24th marks the passing of Henry Cavendish. Cavendish was a British natural philosopher that made meticulous studies of gases. He made extensive studies of the 'airs' he collected including the discovery of hydrogen. He collected hydrogen by collecting the gas given off by the reaction of metals and strong acids and called it 'inflammable air'. Inflammable air was almost entirely made up of phlogiston, the substance in a body that causes them to burn. He found if he combined three parts inflammable air with seven parts of common air and dropped fire into the mixture, it would make a very loud noise and produce water. He also noted that all of the inflammable air and nearly a fifth of the common air was used up in this experiment. Further investigation found if he mixed two parts of inflammable air with one part dephlogisticated air (oxygen) would produce water. We know this reaction today as:

2 H2 (g) + O2 (g) → H2O (l)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Is the Wavelength of Magenta?

Here is a picture of the visible spectrum. Can you find the color magenta?

Why can't you find magenta in the visible spectrum? This is because magenta cannot be emitted as a wavelength of light. Yet magenta exists; you can see it on this color wheel.

Magenta is the complementary color to green, or the color of the afterimage you would see after you stare at a green light. All of the colors of light have complementary colors that exist in the visible spectrum, except for green's complement, magenta. Most of the time your brain averages the wavelengths of light you see in order to come up with a color. For example, if you mix red light and green light, you'll see yellow light. However, if you mix violet light and red light, you see magenta rather than the average wavelength, which would be green. Your brain has come up with a way to bring the ends of the visible spectrum together in a way that makes sense. Pretty cool, don't you think?

Calcium Facts

Calcium isn't found free in nature, but it can be purified into a soft silvery-white metal. Calcium is the 5th most abundant element in the Earth's crust, present at a level of about 3% in the oceans and soil. The element is essential for animal and plant nutrition. Calcium participates in many biochemical reactions, including building skeletal systems and moderating muscle action.

Calcium is a metal. It readily oxidizes in air.
Because it makes up such a large part of the skeleton,
about one-third of the mass of human body 
comes from calcium, after water has been removed.


Atomic Number: 20
Symbol: Ca
Atomic Weight: 40.078
Discovery: Sir Humphrey Davy Davy 1808 (England)
Electron Configuration: [Ar] 4s2
Word Origin: Latin calx, calcis: lime

Properties: The melting point of calcium is 839 +/- 2°C, boiling point is 1484°C, specific gravity is 1.55 (20°C), with a valence of 2. Calcium is a silvery white, soft alkaline earth metal. Although none of the alkaline earths occur free in nature, calcium compounds are abundant.

Uses: Calcium is essential for human nutrition. Animals skeletons get their rigidity primarily from calcium phosphate. The eggs of birds and shells of mollusks are comprised of calcium carbonate. Calcium is also necessary for plant growth. Calcium is used as a reducing agent when preparing metals from their halogen and oxygen compounds; as a reagent in purification of inert gases; to fix atmospheric nitrogen; as a scavenger and decarbonizer in metallurgy; and for making alloys. Calcium compounds are used in making lime, bricks, cement, glass, paint, paper, sugar, glazes, as well as for many other uses.

What Is Canola Oil?

Did you think there was a canola plant? I never gave it much thought.

I mentioned in my biodiesel tutorial that oils which contain tocopherol (Vitamin E) have a longer shelf life than oils that do not contain this natural preservative. I noted that rapeseed oil contains tocopherol... what I didn't say was that canola oil is made from rapeseed. So why don't we just call it rapeseed oil? Blame Canada! I'm joking, but seriously, the word 'canola' was coined in 1978 from 'Canadian oil, low acid'. Canola oil comes from select rapeseed cultivars that produce low erucic acid rapeseed oil and low glucosinolate meal. These cultivars were developed in Canada in the 1970s by Keith Downey and Baldur Stefansson.

This Day in Science History - February 21 - Carl Dam and Vitamin K

February 21st is Carl Henrik Dam's birthday. Dam was a Danish biochemist who discovered vitamin K. He was feeding chickens a cholesterol-free diet to find out if they needed cholesterol or not. He discovered the chickens could synthesize some of cholesterol, but several fell ill due to severe internal hemorrhaging. Further testing showed he could prevent this if he added green leaves or liver to their diet. Something in these foods helped the chicken's blood to coagulate, but did not match up with any of the other known vitamins.
He called his new coagulation nutrient vitamin K from the German Koagulations-Vitamin. Dam would earn half the 1943 Nobel Prize in Medicine for this discovery. Find out what else occurred on this day in science history.

How To Grow Ammonium Phosphate Crystals

Monoammonium phosphate is one of the chemicals included in commercial crystal growing kits because it is safe and practically foolproof for producing a mass of crystals quickly. The pure chemical yields clear crystals, but you can add food coloring to get any color you desire.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: one day

Here's How:

  1. Stir six tablespoons of monoammonium phosphate into 1/2 cup of very hot water in a clear container. I use water heated from an electric drip coffee maker and a drinking glass (which I wash before using it again for beverages).
  2. Add food coloring, if desired.
  3. Stir until the powder is completely dissolved. Set the container in a location where it won't be disturbed.
  4. Within a day, you'll have a bed of long, thin crystals blanketing the bottom of the glass or else a few large single crystals. Which type of crystals you get depend on the rate at which the solution cools. For large single crystals, try to cool the solution slowly from very hot down to room temperature.

Everyday is special - 21 February 2010

Also called Ekushey Day, Martyrs’ Day or Language Movement Day, this day commemorates the students who were killed by Pakistani police on Feb. 21, 1952 while they were campaigning for the recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages of Pakistan. After this event, the movement gained momentum and Bangla was recognized as one of the state languages of Pakistan at a session of parliament on May 9, 1954. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in 1971, this day became a national holiday. At one minute past midnight on Feb. 21, the president of Bangladesh arrives at the Shaheed Minar, the