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Wood Working: Fate of the world a matter of territorial perspective

The Atlantic Monthly is now 156 years old and still hanging in there.

Little wonder.

It's still a fine magazine and usually comes up with enough fun stuff to keep a shallow thrill seeker like me amused.

In the last issue the editors asked a bunch of famous people "What day most changed the course of history?"

The answers ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Freeman Dyson, professor emeritus of physics at Princeton, answered: "The day the asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula and wiped out the dinosaurs, making room for our little primate ancestors to grow big and brainy and to take over the planet."

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns ("The Civil War") the day was June 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand's chauffeur took a wrong turn which enabled Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip, a chance to kill the archduke, which in turn led to World War I.

Nothing has been the same since.

Christina Paxson, president of Brown University says it happened in 1440, the day Johannes Gutenberg finished his wooden printing press and opened the path for more efficient and accessible communication of knowledge.

Philip Jenkins, Penn State history and religion professor, figures it was June 22, 1941, when Hitler supposedly defeated Wehrmacht, crashed through the Soviet border and essentially sealed Germany's and the world's fate.

On the weirder side, there's movie director Oliver Stone, who says it's July 20, 1944, when Henry Wallace lost the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic Convention in Chicago to Harry Truman of Missouri.

Here's Stone's logic: Had Wallace succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, we would have been friendlier to the U.S.S.R. because Wallace was a leftist and also probably wouldn't have dropped the bomb on Japan.

I thought Stone knew everything.

Apparently he didn't know that when Wallace was vice-president from 1940-1944, he consulted with fortune tellers.

No thanks, Oliver.

And the weirdest response came from W. Kamau Bell, host of a show called "Totally Biased."

"The obvious answer is May 16, 1983, when Michael Jackson first performed the moonwalk on TV. I think it's one of the reasons we have a black president today. People went, 'Wow, black people are sort of magical.' And Barack Obama is basically a walking sequin."

It's probably unwise to cast weird aspersions at Stone and Bell because as the sales rep in "The Music Man," sings, "You've got to know the territory, the territory."

I've told this story before, but it bears retelling.

My good friend Peggy Alnes told me a wonderful story about her life as an Associated Press reporter working out of Fargo back in the late 1940s.

Those were the days when very few people lived to be 100 years old. When it did happen, Alnes recalled, the AP was sure to want a story for the newswire.

"So it happened when I was a cub reporter," she recalled. "A farmer's widow in Mott or some such forgotten town out there turned 101 and my editor sent me out to the nursing home with a photographer to get a picture and a story."

Peggy got the information she needed to write the story and finally asked the sweet old lady a final question: "What was the most important thing that happened in the world in your years of life?"

The sweet old lady sipped her coffee, nibbled at her cookie, rubbed her chin and replied, "The invention of linoleum."

Linoleum!? How about the atomic bomb, how about flight? How about TV?

"No," she said. "It was definitely linoleum.

"In the old days on the farm we had wide board floors, which were rough, and before linoleum when my man would come in from the barn, he was always tracking manure behind him."

You gotta know the territory.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.