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September 24, 2007



You can spend a lifetime re-writing history from Columbus to the present. There are hundreds if not thousands of people that were made out to be heroes that were nothing more than fakes and opportunists.
Just one example........General Custer and the battle of Big Horn. Custer deserved what he got and the Sioux and Crow should be proud of themselves for defending their homeland. The Sioux and Crow were not savages, they were doing what you and I would have done if some army attacked your families and your way of life. Custer should be removed from any history book portraying him as some kind of hero when in fact he was a murderer.


Does that mean we can impeach Clean Genie and Joey Cakes?
Right on.


"Using an obelisk’s shadow, a long hike to the outpost of Sayene, and the Pythagorean theorem, a librarian in Alexandria had calculated the earth’s circumference to within 240 miles of its true measure."



If we're going to re-write history, let's also tell the truth about John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. A little more recent, and a little more verifiable.


"Using an obelisk’s shadow, a long hike to the outpost of Sayene, and the Pythagorean theorem, a librarian in Alexandria had calculated the earth’s circumference to within 240 miles of its true measure."


The same way one can tell, using an astrolabe or a sextant, what latitude and longitude they're at on a ship at sea. All you need to know is the time of day, day of the year, and distance above the earth (or ocean's) surface.

The 240 mile run-out was due largely to the Earth's not being a true sphere. In fact, if you look at an exaggerated gravitational vector view of it, it looks more like a round-ish potato or an asteroid sort of "squished" at the poles.

Also, the Aztec calendar is much more accurate than the Julian (Roman) calendar.


Bill Shelton

JAR's answer is exactly on the money. How Eratosthenes,chief of the library at Alexandria, figured that out makes a good story.

He was the first to use the word “geography.” Travellers told him that at noon, on the longest day of the year, vertical sticks in the ground cast no shadows and one could see to the bottom of wells. Sayene was the southernmost Greek outpost in Egypt. He surmised that the sun was directly above Sayene at that moment, and he knew that this did not happen in Alexandria.

Eratosthenes was also the first scholar who history records as having divided up the world into east-west and north-south meridians. He believed that Sayene was on the same longitude (north-south meridian) as Alexandria. At noon on the summer solstice (when there were no shadows in Sayene), he measured the length of an obelisk’s shadow in Alexandria. That, with the height of the obelisk, gave him two sides of a triangle. He used the angle of the triangle to figure the degrees of the earth’s 360°-circumference that the sun above Sayene was from directly overhead in Alexandria. He calculated it to be 7° 12’, which is approximately one-fiftieth of a circle’s 360°.

One account says that Eratosthenes retained a slave to pace off the distance between Alexandria and Sayene. Another says that he consulted merchants, who told him that Sayene was about 5,000 stadia from Alexandria. He multiplied 5,000 stadia, times 50, the fraction of a circle represented by 7° 12’, and came up with 250,000 stadia, which is 25,000 miles. The actual measurement of the earth’s circumference is 24,860 miles.


Bill (and anyone else interested):

I know JN frowns upon this and thus I apologize, but once again I have to defer you to a link. Go to the following PDF and scroll to page 27 for a view that shows the Geoidal shape of the Earth magnified (or exaggerated) 15,000 times. The link, by the way, talks about the in-progress Gotthard Baseline Tunnel in Switzerland which, when completed, will be the world's longest railway tunnel at approx. 35 miles (like digging a twin-tube tunnel from Somerville to Windham, NH).



Bill et al:

The last part of that link seems to have been truncated. It is...



Ron Newman

I'm from Columbus, Ohio. I doubt you could get many people there (or in Columbus IN or Columbus GA) to agree to rename it.

Dr. Mrs. McCarthy

Butters Newman,

Stop telling people that story about you being from Columbus Ohio. It's simply not true.

We all know you come from a galaxy far, far away.

I miss all of you. But I'll try and write more.

This stuff about Columbus is gonna get you in deep trouble in the North End and elsewhere Shelton. If you know what I mean. Badda Bing Baby, Badda Bing!

Rock On Cambriville,

Dr. Mrs. McCarthy


Bill, you must have learned your history at the revisionist college. Most of the Arawak indians died of disease (smallpox) and inter-wars between the carib tribes. Also, Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (after finally expelling the Moslems from Grenada) only gave him 2 ships. The third he had to acquire himself and he did.

"It was a long journey of hardship and privation. Columbus’ sailors were superstitious and mutinous in their fear that they would fall off the earth. But Columbus’ courageous leadership prevailed. In the end, he discovered a whole “new world,” launching a new chapter in human history." What part of that is not true? Who cares if some people knew the earth was round before Columbus? He still had some serious cajones and skill to have done what he did. Why not celebrate that? I'm good with it.

"...Dick Cheney’s assurances that ordinary Iraqis would welcome American troops with jubilation, that liberated oil revenues would finance the war, and that Iraq would become a Middle Eastern beacon of democracy." Newsflash: the surge worked. Violence is way down and the troops will be home soon. All of the above is coming true - just took a little longer than planned. I'm good with that too.

Yorktown Street

If you liked Bill's column, read Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen.

Bill Shelton


You always make things interesting. I really mean that.

It might be comforting to dismiss your comments that are at odds with my own beliefs as “mean spirited,” but I don’t get that sense from you at all. Instead, you create opportunities for an interesting conversation.

OK. I’ve seen no historical evidence that the Lucayan, Arawak, or Taino engaged in decimating inter-tribal warfare, although it you can point me to it, I am prepared to be enlightened. Columbus himself said that this was not the case.

Yes, as I’ve suggested above, many of the natives did die from European diseases, against which they had no immunity. As Jared Diamond argues in “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” this was probably the inevitable outcome of interaction between Europeans and Americans.

Columbus and his men did not intentionally contaminate the natives, as, for example, the U.S. Army did when they deliberately infected Manda Indians in 1837 by giving them blankets from smallpox wards. Instead, the Spaniards transmitted their germs innocently in the process or raping, torturing, enslaving, and conducting other forms of intimate contact with the natives. The evidence for this comes from the personal account of friar Bartolomé de las Casas, who chronicled Spanish atrocities on Hispanola.

"It was a long journey of hardship and privation. Columbus’ sailors were superstitious and mutinous in their fear that they would fall off the earth. But Columbus’ courageous leadership prevailed.” What’s wrong with that statement?

Well, every mariner of that day knew that the earth was round, although they imagined it to be small than it is. During the 33-day journey, they weren’t afraid that they would fall off they earth, they were pissed over Columbus’ brutal treatment of them. I mentioned only one small example—his expropriating the reward that rightfully belonged to Rodrigo de Triana.

His conduct, both during the voyage and on Hispaniola had much more to do with greed that with courage. As he himself wrote about the Arawak/Taino “They willingly traded everything that they owned...They do not bear arms, and do not know them...They would make fine servants...With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

If we were going to discuss whether the surge is working, I would need to understand what you mean by “working.” But let’s save that conversation for a year from now.

Dr. Mrs. McCarthy,

I miss you.




Bill, nothing mean spirited about my comments at all. I genuinely enjoy reading most of your articles. I just wanted to point out that there should be no shame celebrating what Columbus accomplished. It may not be what we were told in grammer school, but it was still quite an accomplishment to sail across an unknown ocean to an unknown fate. It was a different world and they did not have the luxuries and knowledge we take for granted today.

I also disagree with Jared Diamond in “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. It's one of the few books I gave away to a friend and told him I don't even want it back. I celebrate what western civiliation has accomplished (even with the blemishes) and just choose not to join in the "piling on" of what our forefathers built and believed in. I'm old school like that.


Bill, sorry for not addressing the rest of your response. I got caught up in MNF game (I took the Saints (-5) and the over (45)) and posted before I was complete.

Surge: Violence in Iraq is way down and the surge NOT working is not an option. It's just not, so we all need to support it. I did not support going in the way we did to Iraq, but it is what it is and we need the surge to work. The evidence seems to say that is working and working good now.

The Arawaks were not a warrior tribe, but the caribs were. "Throughout history the Arawak where subject to many hostile take-overs, diseases, enslavement, damage to food supplies and much more....In order to understand the mass extinction of the Arawak tribe, we must understand that the Arawak population was just not given to warfare, despite a complex social organization. This made them a very easy target for the Spaniards or the Indian tribe known as the Caribs (for their cannibalistic nature) to enslave, take over or kill."
Arawak Indians

For a better perspective of Columbus I would recommend reading "Dogs of God" by James Reston, JR. A much more in-depth look at the reasons why Columbus did what he did and the pressures on him.

Bill Shelton


Well, I think that we can enthusiastically agree with this point that you made: "I celebrate what western civilization has accomplished (even with the blemishes)."

It is remarkable, isn't it? And despite the ugly blemishes, I'm proud of it.

Hunky Dory

Erm...Sioux. The Crow were scouts for Custer. It was the Lakota, Nakota, Dakota, Arikira, Arapaho and Cheyenne who fought at Little Big Horn.


This is a good issue for Billy Boy to be spending his time on. I can see a rally in a phone booth occuring any time now.

Billy, let us know how your movement goes.... and don't forget to tell people where they can send they can sign up to help out this essential cause.

To Hunky Dory

From Wikipedia:

"While exact numbers are difficult to determine, it is commonly estimated that the Northern Cheyenne and Lakota outnumbered the 7th Cavalry by approximately 3:1, a ratio which was extended to 9:1 after Custer's command became the focus of the fighting and the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors massed together against it."

You are right about the Crow, I meant to say the Cheyenne. My bad.

Italian Pride

Granted, Columbus wasn't a saint but I think you seem to miss out on the reason why some people may be offended by what you said. My culture, the Italian Americans celebrate Colombus Dat because its the only holiday we have where we can say were proud to be Italian. Its a shame that its in celebration of a Monster but why not look to use this holiday to honor a famous Italian American or use it as a day to honor Italian Americans who came to this country with nothing and rose to the top. So with that in mind, lets not forget what Colombus day means to millions of Italian Americans. Its a day where we remember who we are and where we came from, want more proof take a trip down to NYC and see the Colombus Day parade. Its not a celebration of this guy, we use the day to be proud of are heritage. In a city like Somerville that was once a major destination for Italian Immigrants who turned the city into a nice place to live, why not honor them and not Colombus. In this day and age where Italian Americans are stereotyped as ignorant, angry, violent criminals. This is not true, many Italian Americans are statesman like Joe Curtone and a possible next President, Rudy Guilliani. For you Democrats out there, think Nancy Pelosi and Geraldine Ferraro, two of the first female politicians to rise the ranks of this countries government. Then we have some of the greatest actors in the world, Al Pacino, Robert Deniro to musicians like Frank Sinatra, Bostons own (and Yonkers) Steven Tyler (Talrico) to everyday people who try to make America better. Lets not focus on Colombus, lets use this day to honor Italian Americans and their contribution to the world. By pushing to change Columbus day to honor a famous Italian American, we can have our cake and eat it. Columbus's legacy goes away, but Italian Americans don'
t lose their day.

Viva Italia!!!!!!


Who cares about nationalities? I'm Italian, but I could not care less about it. I lived in many places, known good people from all over. I don't care about where I was born. I'm neither proud nor ashamed of it. I just happened to be born there.

William Hurst

Mr. Shelton could you please point out where in your post does it mention "surge" or "Cheney". Infected blankets? Did the crew members wear latex gloves when giving out these and other articles to the islanders they encountered?
The past is exactly that and history can never be changed, "for it tis never history until that day passes"

It could happen here too

Let me tell you about a place called Slavic Village and the death of a girl named Cookie Thomas. You've never heard this story before -- talk of housing markets and hedge funds, interest rates and the Federal Reserve has drowned it out.

Twenty years ago, the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland was a tightly knit community of first- and second-generation Polish and Czech immigrants. Today, it's in danger of becoming a ghost town, largely because a swarm of speculators, real estate agents, mortgage brokers and lenders saw an opportunity to make a buck there.

You could say it was because of them that 12-year-old Asteve' "Cookie" Thomas lost her life on Sept. 1, shot in Slavic Village when she stumbled into the crossfire of suspected drug dealers. The neighborhood wasn't always a haven for criminals -- not until hundreds of foreclosures destabilized the community. Houses (800 at last count) and then entire streets were abandoned. Crime increased as vacant properties offered shelter to people who had a reason to hide...

Bill Shelton

Italian Pride,

Many people who post comments here tell me and other comment posters what they think of us. In doing so, they often reveal more about themselves than about whom they are directing their comments at. Your approach is more courageous and more powerful. You communicate your point by inviting us to see who you are.

In my last column I said that an "operational definition" of "respect" would be to understand that another's experiences are just as authentic as our own, and that we can learn something from them. I have learned something from you and am now better acquainted with the limitations of my own understanding. Thank you.

Mr. Hurst,

I'm don't quite understand what you are asking. Columbus' expeditionaries did not intentionally infect the Arawak. The blanket atrocity that I referenced was committed by the U.S. Army, 345 years later. I mentioned Dick Cheney in the last paragraph of the column, and I asked Imux what "working" meant in the context of his or her comment about the surge.


Italian Pride,

It is so refreshing to have someone tell us why they believe something, based on their own experiences, instead of calling us names based on unsupported assertions. Please keep posting.

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