Friday, October 04, 2013

Lincoln's Tomb

Last month I spent a week in Springfield, Illinois, to do some research for my next book (hint: it's about Lincoln's dog). While I was there I visited all the major Lincoln sites: his home, his law office, and of course, his tomb (above). 

Zaya has beautiful eyes, doesn't she?!

Eight months old.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

One Word or Two? The Spelling of Mongolia’s Capital Can Ruffle Feathers

According to the New York Times, the capital of Mongolia is Ulan Bator. But to Mongolians, it’s Ulaanbaatar. The difference is not academic: Many Mongolians consider the spelling favored by the Times (and other news organizations) to be anachronistic, a vestige of a time when Mongolia was utterly subservient to the Soviet Union. 

Under Genghis Khan in the 12th century, Mongolia ruled wide swaths of Europe and Asia. But after that, the sparsely-populated Asian nation, landlocked between Russia and China, was itself subjugated, first by the Chinese, then by the Soviets. 

Mongolia declared its independence from China in 1921, but for the next 70 years it was a Soviet satellite, controlled so completely by Moscow that, by 1950, it had abandoned its traditional alphabet, a swirly vertical script reminiscent of Arabic, for the Cyrillic alphabet used by Russia. That’s when confusion over the spelling of Mongolia’s capital began, for the Mongolian language fits imperfectly into Cyrillic.  

Mongolia’s capital was named “Red Hero” by the country’s Communist government in 1924. In the Mongolian script, the name is rendered as a single word, so, according to one theory, when the Mongolians adopted Cyrillic, they spelled it Улаанбаатар, which in the Roman alphabet is Ulaanbaatar.

But in Russian (as in English) “Red Hero” is spelled as two words, and the Soviets spelled the capital Улан Батор (Ulan Bator), using a slightly different transliteration. Since the Soviets were infinitely more influential than the Mongolians, theirs was the spelling that stuck in the West.

After Mongolia’s Communist government was overthrown in 1991, the Mongolians’ preferred spelling slowly began to be adopted by the outside world. The Economist, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal all use it now. But to the Times, the capital of Mongolia is still Ulan Bator (though the paper has occasionally slipped up and let an “Ulaanbaatar” appear in print).

Until recently it was a moot point: The Mongolian capital wasn’t exactly a frequent dateline. But now the country’s economy is one of the world’s fastest growing, owing to abundant natural resources—coal, copper, gold—which its neighbors and former colonizers covet.

To many Mongolians, the spelling of their capital is a matter of national pride. “It’s a pet peeve of the whole country,” Munkhdul Badral told me over a Diet Coke in a coffee shop inside one of the city’s gleaming new skyscrapers. “There’s only one way to spell the name of the capital [in English], and it’s U-L-A-A-N-B-A-A-T-A-R.” Otherwise, he said, it’s akin to calling Beijing “Peking.”

Munkhdul, who goes by the nickname Mogi, edits an English-language newsletter about Mongolian business and politics. Earlier this year he started an online petition at to get the Times and other Western news outlets to begin spelling the capital’s name the same way Mongolians spell it. So far he has collected more than 700 signatures.

For some Mongolians, the Russian spelling touches a raw nerve, conjuring memories of purges ordered by Stalin that virtually eradicated Mongolia’s Buddhist clergy in the 1930s. But Mogi said there’s nothing political about his campaign. “It’s about respect,” he said. Besides, he added, the facts are on his side. “Anybody who spells it with two words,” he said, “is just wrong.”

Mogi has scored at least one victory since starting his petition: Bloomberg News, which recently opened a bureau in the Mongolian capital, has switched from “Ulan Bator” to “Ulaanbaatar.” It’s time for the New York Times to follow suit. As Mogi told me, “Every country has a right to decide what its capital should be called.” 

Monday, July 29, 2013

I love them!

Mom & Zaya, 2013
My mom has dementia. We first noticed it about ten years ago, but she declined rapidly after my dad—her husband of 57 years—died in 2008. Now she doesn’t recognize me anymore. I was her baby, the youngest of her seven children She used to call me “Precious.” Now I am just a friendly man who mysteriously appears to her once in a while while she watches TV in her room at the assisted-living facility.

My mom loved children. Still loves them, in fact. (My sister hates when I refer to Mom in the past tense.) Last March, when Zaya was just five weeks old, we took her to meet my mom—Zaya’s paternal grandmother. Mom had no idea who we were, but when we walked into her room with the baby in our arms, she blurted out:
”I love them!” Meaning all babies. She had no idea that this was her granddaughter, her 11th grandchild. But she still loves those babies!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Beatles in the Land of Khan

This is the trailer for a short documentary that I hope to produce some day...

The Beatles in the Land of Khan (trailer) from Matthew Algeo on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Talkin' Grover in Palm Beach on Sunday

The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, Palm Beach, Florida.
This Sunday (February 24) I will be giving a talk about Grover Cleveland's secret cancer operation at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Florida. The Flagler Museum is a Gilded Age mansion once owned by Henry Flagler, one of the founders of Standard Oil. I can't wait to see it.

The lecture is part of the museum's Whitehall Lecture Series. It begins at 3 PM ET. If you're in the area, please come; if you're not, don't worry: The lecture will be streamed live online; please watch! Click here for the link to the webcast and for more information about the Flagler.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Welcome to the world, Zaya Theresa Algeo!

Born January 31, 2013.
One week old today!
Mother and baby are well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter Styles for Gentlemen in 1867

(From Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 30, 1867.) 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Inauguration Day

President Obama will be sworn in for his second term in a private ceremony at noon tomorrow (Sunday, January 20). The public inauguration takes place on Monday. There's still something that bothers me from the president's first inaugural address: One of the very first things he said was, "Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath." This, of course, is incorrect. Grover Cleveland, who served two non-consecutive terms, counts as two presidents. So only 43 Americans have taken the oath. Don't make that mistake again, Mr. President!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ex-President News: Lifetime Secret Service Protection

President Obama signed a bill yesterday that restores lifetime Secret Service protection to former presidents. (Lifetime protection had been rescinded by a 1994 law. Politico has the full story.) This was a surprise to me; for one thing, providing lifetime protection is expensive. Given the country's dire finances, you'd think the bill would've received more attention. Besides, it's my understanding that the 1994 law still allowed presidents to request lifetime protection for themselves and their families if they deemed it necessary, so, in a way, the new law is superfluous.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Grade School Reunion

Row 1 (L to R): Tom, Joyce, Phyllis, Karen, Barbara
Row 2 (L to R): Steve, Tim, David, Matt, Sister Danielle
Row 3 (L to R): Brian, Robert
My grade school held a reunion in Pennsylvania over the weekend. I saw many old friends I hadn't seen in many, many years. It was fantastic, a chance to share memories (good, bad, and hazy), and a chance to catch up on our lives.

The picture at the top is our class photo from seventh grade (1978-79) at St. Agnes School in Sellersville, Pa. Of the eleven students in the photo, nine attended the reunion (as did two who missed picture day way back then). Pretty amazing! 
L to R: Karen, David, Phyllis, Colleen, Joyce,
Matt, Tom, Steve, Tim, Brian, Phil