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On October 18, 1898, the United States officially took possession of Puerto Rico – a trophy from the recent Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines represented the last grab of 19th-century manifest destiny – which even then was controversial.
The Philippines were granted independence after World War Two. Hawaii became a state (the 50th state) in 1959.
But Puerto Rico has been a territory ever since.
The Unincorporated Territory: The Almost-State of America
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. The term “unincorporated” means that Puerto Rico is not properly a part of the U.S. All natural-born Puerto Ricans are automatically U.S. citizens. In a series of Supreme Court decisions – known as the Insular Cases – it was decided that the U.S. Constitution extends to all territorial citizens ex proprio vigore (by its own force).
However, since Puerto Rico is not a State, it does not have voting representatives in Congress. Therefore, Puerto Ricans do not vote in national elections – including Presidential elections.
Since Puerto Ricans have no vote in Congress, Puerto Rico does not have a federal income tax on island-based income. The old “no taxation without representation” legal adage still applies! Puerto Rico still pays Social Security taxes and Medicaid.
Even without a formal federal income tax, Puerto Rico still pays some federal revenues and enjoys federal services. The FBI, the military, Department of Transportation, the EPA, etc., all have offices there. This is why the federal government can (and should) be involved in aid and recovery after hurricanes.
The Future 51st State?
In a 2012, territory-wide referendum asked two questions: (1) whether Puerto Rico should maintain its current status, and (2) if Puerto Rico should change, should it become a state, independent, or in a free association.
The results? On the first question, about 54% of the voters wanted a change in political status. On the second question, about 62% wanted statehood, 33% wanted free associated status, and only 5% wanted independence.
So barely more than half of the voters wanted a change in status, but if they did change, the majority preferred statehood.
If Puerto Rico did become a state, its population of 3.4 million would make it the 30th largest state in the nation – bigger than Iowa and smaller than Connecticut.
Will you ever see an American flag with 51 stars? The future is wide open.
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Dark Matter: The Ghost Right Next to You Is Big As the Universe
Right next to you. Right now. There is a ghost as big as the universe.
You cannot see it. No device or instrument on Earth can detect it. But it is there.
It is called dark matter.
Dark matter and dark energy comprise the majority of the universe. By the numbers, 68% of the universe is comprised of dark energy, 27% is dark matter, and only about 5% of the universe is detectable by modern science. As one NASA article said, “More is unknown than is known.”
If Undetectable, How Do We Know About Dark Matter?
Early astronomers had noticed that stars were not evenly distributed and instead seemed to form patches and “clouds.” By the early 20th century, astronomers realized that the “clouds” were actually different galaxies – which meant the Milky Way was not the whole universe.
Even weirder, these galaxies seemed to form clusters which spun around an unseen axis.
In the early 1930s, Swiss physicist Fritz Zwicky made measurements of the Coma galaxy cluster. By measuring the star density, he could estimate the total mass of the galaxies. He then measured how fast the galaxies were spinning.
But the galaxies were spinning far too quickly! They should be flying apart! But they were stable.
Galaxies Spin, So What?
Let me borrow an illustration made by Michael Brooks in his book “13 Things That Don’t Make Sense.” Imagine that you have a tennis ball on the end of a rope. Now imagine that you are spinning while holding that rope. Now the ball is spinning in a constant orbit at a constant height.
Now put a bowling ball on the end of the rope. Now imagine how fast you would have to spin to have the bowling ball fly in the same orbit as the tennis ball. You would have to spin much, much faster, right?
The greater the mass, the faster you have to spin to maintain orbit.
Zwicky noticed that the galaxies were spinning at a far greater velocity than their size would indicate. They should fly apart! But they were stable. Zwicky concluded that the galaxies were actually much, much denser – with an enormous mass that science could not detect.
Dark Matter Discovered
Zwicky couldn’t see the extra mass. It was invisible. This invisible mass was an order of magnitude greater than the visible mass! This was the first true discovery of dark matter.
Dark matter and dark energy form the majority of the universe. They cannot be seen. They do not create any measurement in the electromagnetic spectrum – and thus are not detectable by any technology that humans possess!
They are ghosts – ghosts as big and wide as the universe.
Brooks, Michael. 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time. Doubleday, 2008.
“Dark Energy, Dark Matter.” Nasa.gov. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Accessed 15 October 2017. https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-is-dark-energy/
Fifteen Pretty Cool Facts About Pumpkins
By Heath Shive
America is pretty pumpkin-crazy from September through November. In 2012, American Studies Professor Cindy Ott wrote an exhaustive book entitled Pumpkins: The Curious History of an American Icon - which details how the pumpkin went from poor people's food to an autumn idol of Americana.
From her book, here are some facts for your pumpkin “fix.”
1. The word pumpkin is a derivation of the French pompion, which comes from the Latin pepo, meaning to ripen, or “cook by the sun.” Before Europeans colonized the Americas, a pompion connoted a large fruit, melon or gourd – basically, anything round in a garden.
2. Although Americans today commonly refer to the pumpkin as a vegetable, it is by definition a fruit! It is a seed packet encased in flesh and develops from a flower, like apples and berries.
3. The pumpkin is probably the oldest domesticated plant in the Western Hemisphere! Archaeologists discovered the oldest domesticated pumpkin seeds in a cave at Guilá Naquitz, Oaxaca, Mexico. The seeds date from 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, which is 2,000 years earlier than the oldest corn or bean seeds yet found!
4. What we call a “Pumpkin” today was domesticated by American Indians living in eastern North American about 5,000 years ago. Their yellow and green squashes were the source for the species Cucurbita pepo. The modern field pumpkin (your jack-o’-lantern) is born from the species Cucurbita pepo!
5. Here’s where it gets a little weird. The orange field pumpkin is derived from species Cucurbita pepo – and so is the zucchini! Zucchini, acorn squash, patty pan squash, and the classic orange field pumpkin are all the same species! They’re just different varieties (cultivars).
6. But there’s more than one species of pumpkin! The other great pumpkin species is Cucurbita moschata. From C. moschata, we also get butternut squash, winter crookneck, and the famous Dickinson pumpkin (the best pumpkin for pies). C. moschata dates date back to 6,900 years ago and was born in Mexico. The pumpkin species C. moschata is the pumpkin you touch more often, because it’s the pumpkin you eat – not the pumpkin you carve.
7. That’s right! Your jack-o’-lantern and your pumpkin pie are made from two different kinds of pumpkin! Your jack-o’-lantern is made from Cucurbita pepo, but your pumpkin pie is made from Cucurbita moschata. This fact is often overlooked so that some people believe that pumpkin pie is actually made from squash. No, no, no! Pumpkin pie is made from pumpkins - just a different species of pumpkin, the Dickinson pumpkin of Cucurbita moschata!
8. To be more precise, about 90% of the pumpkin eaten in the United States is made from the Dickinson pumpkin, a pumpkin variety of C. moschata. Dickinson pumpkins are famous for having the most flesh and the best taste. Libby’s – the most popular brand of canned pumpkin – makes all of its canned pumpkin from a variety of the Dickinson called “Libby’s Select.”
9. Incidentally, the word squash is derived from the Algonquian language of Native America. Squash and pumpkins were called isquoutersquash or askutasquash, summer squash and winter squash respectively. Squash means “to eat raw.” Pumpkins were included with askutasquash.
10. One of the greatest assets of pumpkin and winter squash was their ability to be preserved over the winter, when other food was scarce. Memoirs of French voyageurs describe how American Natives would cut the pumpkin into slices and string them up to dry. It would last for months and was eaten like beef jerky.
11. All colonial farms had pumpkin patches by the 1700s. The pumpkins were famous for bearing a large number of large fruits that could last all winter. Pumpkins were crucial to colonial survival. As Cindy Ott describes, “When people had no apples for pies, barley for beer, or meat for supper, they could substitute the prolific pumpkin.”
12. In the early 1800s, pumpkins were derided as a “poor people’s food.” By this time, pumpkins were used principally as food for cows and pigs.
13. As squashes acquired respectability as a food and commodity, they became a part of the modern world. The pumpkin was different. Because the pumpkin – the field pumpkin in particular –retained its association with the subsistence farm economy, it remained a powerful symbol of nature.
14. By the late 1800s, the only time most people ate pumpkin was for Thanksgiving. The pumpkin pie became a Northern tradition – and so its symbolic power increased.
15. The pumpkin became more and more powerful as a symbol - for the harvest season, from Halloween to Thanksgiving. By 2007, 87 percent of pumpkins were not even eaten but were put on display as Halloween and autumn decorations. The pumpkin is now an American icon.
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Ott, Cindy. Pumpkins: The Curious History of an American Icon. University of Washington Press, 2012.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.