Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top Five of '12

  1. Allyson gets knocked up. In late April, my seed found purchase in Allyson’s womb. We look forward to welcoming our little girl into the world in January.
  2. My New York Times op-ed. Admittedly it’s a big drop off from No. 1, but in October the Times published my op-ed about Grover Cleveland and Hurricane Sandy ( 
  3. Paris. In January, Allyson and I flew from UB to Paris for the weekend. It was extravagant, and we loved every minute of it ( 
  4. Travels in Mongolia. In 2012, Allyson and I were fortunate enough to visit several aimags (provinces) in Mongolia. We saw camels, deserts, mountains, mosques, and nomads. What a gorgeous country!
  5. A baby on the way. Did I mention that Allyson is preggers? Can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Allyson's pregnant!

My beautiful and talented wife, the former Miss Allyson McCollum, is due to give birth on January 30. At 46, I will become a father for the first time. (And, at 41, Allyson will become a mother for the first time.) I'm scared s***less, but supremely excited. It's going to be a girl!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Removing Lenin

A big statue of Vladimir Lenin that stood in the center of Ulaanbaatar since Mongolia's Communist era was removed on Sunday. Ulaanbaatar's new mayor, one of the politicians who engineered the peaceful overthrow of the Communist regime in 1991, ordered the statue's removal. The statue was auctioned off, though I haven't learned who bought it yet. Allyson and I went up to watch the statue being taken down. Here are a few photos...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Where did the month go?

Crikey, September's almost over. I made a resolution at the beginning of the month to post something to the blog at least once a week. Obviously I have not met that goal...

It's been a good month, though. I've made a ton of progress on my book. Allyson and I had a very nice trip to Singapore (for medical reasons—but good medical reasons; more on that later). The weather here in Ulaanbaatar has been simply gorgeous lately. I know it will be -40 C/F soon enough, but right now, as I like to tell Allyson, we are the perfect distance from the sun...

Earlier this year on the blog I mentioned that I'd seen Leo Sayer performing in a Buffalo Sabres sweater. Well, I recently came across a YouTube video of (my new favorite band) Procol Harum performing in 1976—and the guitarist is wearing a Sabres sweater!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

All You Need Is Xайр

The Beatles are coming to Ulaanbaatar! Not the real Beatles, of course—that would be a neat trick—but a Beatles tribute band called the Bootleg Beatles. They will perform a free concert at Sukhbaatar Square next weekend. The Beatles are huge in Mongolia. There's even a monument to them in the city center (pictured above). I'm hoping to interview the Bootleg Beatles for a story about Beatlemania in Mongolia that I'm working on. I wonder if Paul and Ringo know they're big on the Steppes...

UPDATE: Here's the ad for the concert that's running on local TV:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

R.I.P. Neil Armstrong

I suppose my earliest memory is of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. I was three years old. I don't remember watching it on TV. It was past my bedtime. But I remember my older brothers and sisters showing me the newspapers the next day, and attempting (futilely, I'm sure) to explain to me the significance of the event.

I have a theory that, in 500 years, the person from the 20th century who will be best remembered will be Neil Armstrong. Think about it: The evils of some and the heroism of others will lose all context in five centuries. But what Neil Armstrong did can be explained by simply pointing at the moon hanging in the nighttime sky and saying, "He was the first person to touch that."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Paterno Statue

This is an op-ed piece that I was shopping around last week. Nobody bought it, and it's obviously dated now that the Paterno statue has been removed, but I thought it was worth posting on the blog at least.

The Paterno Statue: Penn State Should Have Listened to Harry Truman

By Matthew Algeo

Penn State University officials should have followed Harry Truman’s advice when they were thinking about erecting a statue of Joe Paterno on campus: Just don’t do it.

When the seven-foot-tall, bronze statue was unveiled outside Penn State’s football stadium in 2001, Paterno was regarded as nothing less than a living legend, the benevolent and beloved head coach of the university’s football team. We now know that, by then, Paterno was already involved in covering up the crimes of his pedophilic assistant, Jerry Sandusky.

Paterno is dead but his statue remains, an uncomfortable reminder of his complicated legacy. Penn State officials say they will take their time deciding what to do about the statue, but this small bit of drama inside a much darker tragedy would have been avoided if the university had listened to the last president whose most advanced degree was a high school diploma.

While raising funds to build the library in Independence, Missouri, that now bears his name, Harry Truman was careful to point out that he was not interested in building a memorial to himself. “I’ll be cussed and discussed for the next generation anyway,” he said.

As a rule, Truman opposed erecting monuments to the living. “You can never tell what foolishness they may get into before they get into a pine box,” he said, “and then the memorial sometimes has to be torn down.”

It’s been known to happen. In the 1950s, a tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike was going to be named after Thomas J. Evans, the chairman of the turnpike commission – until Evans was convicted of attempting to defraud the commission of $19 million.

Former Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden – himself a living legend and Joe Paterno’s longtime friend – believes the Paterno statue should be removed. “Every time they show that statue on TV, people won’t remember the good years,” Bowden told an interviewer last week. “They’re only going to remember the things with Sandusky.” Bowden speaks from a position of unusual authority: There’s a statue of him outside Florida State’s football stadium.

It has already been announced that Paterno’s name will be removed from a building on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon. The building is named the Joe Paterno Child Development Center.

Of course, if officials at Penn State had followed Harry Truman’s advice, they never would have erected the Paterno statue on campus in the first place. For the time being, at least, the statue stands as a literal monument to the inherent perils of memorializing the living – and to the enduring wisdom of Harry Truman.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Trip "Out West"

“Welcome to the our museim” reads the sign above the entrance to the aimag museum in Hovd. But don’t be alarmed. They may need to work on their English, but the curators of this fine little museum have done an excellent job. The museum includes a wide array of indigenous animals (stuffed, of course), as well as a “wall of fame” with photos of local notables. There’s also a small display of Socialist-era military uniforms and a late-70s computer (said to be the aimag’s first). 

Allyson and I visited the museum on a trip we took “out west” a few weeks ago. We flew into Hovd, then took a car from there to Bayan-Olgii. It was a long (eight hour), bumpy ride, but a new (paved) road is being built from Hovd to Olgii, so the trip should be faster (and more pleasant) in the near future. In Bayan-Olgii we spent a couple days in Tsengel, the largest soum in the aimag. It’s a Kazakh town, and the differences with soums in other parts of Mongolia were striking. The gers are of a distinctly Kazakh style, and most homes are completely surrounded by wooden fences. The people mainly speak Kazakh, so even a little Mongolian won’t go very far.  And, as I was dismayed to learn, since this is a Muslim area, it is impossible to buy even a beer on Fridays. (Believe me, I tried.) 

We ended our trip in Olgii, the aimag center, which also has a nice museum, as well as a wonderful Turkish restaurant. Flying home from Olgii, I found myself wishing I could have spent more time out west. It is a rugged, mountainous area, so travel can be difficult, but the scenery and the people make it all worth it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Gobi Desert, June 10, 2012

Allyson and I visited Mongolia's South Gobi Desert region over the weekend. Here we are at the Flaming Cliffs, site of some of the world's most amazing dinosaur fossil discoveries. We didn't find any fossils, but we had a wonderful time!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Corporate logos on sports uniforms... Not that new.

The NBA is considering adding corporate logos to its uniforms.

Of course, this is nothing new: European soccer teams have worn advertisements on their jerseys for years. And have you seen a Nascar driver lately? (This subject has been covered in depth by my friends at the Uni Watch blog.)

But while researching my book about the nineteenth-century sport of pedestrianism, I was a bit surprised to come across this image from the early 1880s. It appears in the book Runners & Walkers: A Nineteenth Century Sports Chronicle by John Cumming (Chicago: Regenery Gateway, 1981).

In it, the pedestrian John Hughes is donning a jersey with a corporate sponsor: The Police Gazette, which was one of the most popular periodicals in the country at the time. (Further research has shown that the publisher of the Gazette, Richard Kyle Fox, was a huge pedestrianism fan.)

I can't imagine there are many earlier examples of advertising on an athletic uniform.

John Hughes, by the way, was one of the great pedestrians in the second half of the nineteenth century. He won a six-day race at Madison Square Garden in January 1881 with 568 miles.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Grover Podcast

A Facebook friend recently turned me on to an excellent (and free) history podcast called My History Can Beat Up Your Politics by Bruce Carlson. The latest installment is about Grover. Check it out!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Last Great Pedestrian Venue

Some of the greatest pedestrian (competitive walking) matches of the 1870s and 1880s took place at the Royal Agricultural Hall in the Islington district of London. The Aggie, as it was known, was built in 1861, and it is still standing. Today it is a conference center known as the Business Design Centre. It is the last great pedestrian venue still extant. Below is a picture of the Aggie circa 1890, and another I took on my recent trip to the U.K.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Leo Sayer and the Buffalo Sabres...

While in the U.K., I saw an old episode of Top of the Pops on TV. 
On it, Leo Sayer performed his 1977 hit "When I Need You" in a Buffalo Sabres sweater. 
For some reason, I felt the need to record the moment...

Monday, March 19, 2012

My lovely co-workers

Me and my "girls" at,
Tungaa and Enkhtuya.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Things are warming up... a bit

Things are beginning to warm up a bit in Ulaanbaatar, with daytime highs this week in the 0 F to +3 F range. Not time to break out the shorts yet, but I have reduced my upper layers from four to three, and I've started wearing my regular jeans again (instead of the flannel-lined pair). ... R.I.P. Florence Green, the very last World War I veteran. Florence was a member of the British Royal Air Force. She died on Saturday, just two weeks shy of her 111th birthday. ... A blogger has translated one of my articles about the secret operation on Grover Cleveland into Italian. Very cool! ... The Chicago-based band Canasta is touring Mongolia this week as part of the State Department's Arts Envoy Program. She's traveling with them out in the countryside (as the boondocks are called here) and sent along this photo of one of her hotel bathrooms. The shower has a small hot water heater that needs to be plugged in when you shower. But, as you can see, when you plug it in, it creates a wee bit of a hazard!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

This is historically the coldest time of the year in Mongolia. In Ulaanbaatar this week, we’re expecting daytime highs around -10 F and overnight lows around -50 F. I spend at least an hour a day outside, walking to and from work. The cold doesn’t really bother me too much, at least not until it gets around -30 F or so. Then you really begin to notice it, especially when it’s windy (which it rarely is; hence the terrible winter pollution in UB).

In fact, it’s surprising how fast one adjusts to the bitter cold. Back in October, I think, Allyson and I walked home from a restaurant one night when it was -9 F. That felt cold. But now -9 F practically feels balmy.

There are certain precautions that must be taken when spending any time outside here. It goes without saying that every part of your body that can be covered must be covered. Gloves won’t do, you need good insulated mittens. Keep moving and you’re OK. Standing in the cold waiting for a taxi is no fun. Flannel-lined jeans or long underwear are mandatory. Layers are your friend. I bought a fancy down jacket from LL Bean before we came here, but mostly I just wear two lighter jackets, one over the other, and that does the job nicely.

There are certain inconveniences that come with the extreme cold. Bundling up to go out (and unbundling when you get home)… Eyeglasses fogging up… Beard covered with ice… Frozen sidewalks, steps, and streets… Eyes watering...

But on the whole, I prefer extreme cold to extreme heat, and the summers here are really quite lovely!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Weekend in Paris

Allyson and I went to Paris last weekend. It was a whirlwind visit. We left UB at 8 AM on Friday and arrived in Paris at 6 PM on Friday. So we had breakfast in Mongolia and dinner in France! We stayed on the Left Bank and spent Saturday wandering around, browsing in markets, enjoying some oysters for lunch (can't get those in UB!). Saturday night we had another amazing dinner (at a restaurant with a cat!). Sunday afternoon we flew back, arriving home on Monday afternoon. Great trip!