The Incredible Story of Elizebeth Friedman, One of America’s Best Codebreakers

Elizebeth Smith Friedman (spelled that way by her mother, who reportedly disliked the name ‘Eliza’) was born the youngest of 9 children in 1892. From a young age it was clear the girl was bright, displaying an impressive talent for languages. She wanted to go to college, so badly that she borrowed the money from her father at a 6% interest rate when he refused to pay for her schooling outright.

She finished school at Hillsdale College in Michigan, earning a degree in English Literature while also studying German, Greek, and Latin and discovering a love for Shakespeare that would last the rest of her life. It turned out that a career in education wasn’t for Elizebeth, who grew bored and quit her job as a principal before traveling to Chicago in 1916.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

While there, she visited the Newberry Library, where Shakespeare’s First Folio was on display, and she ended up with a job at a nearby research facility, Riverbank. It was run by eccentric George Fabyan and already employed Shakespeare scholar Elizabeth Wells Gallup, who was working to prove that Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

Gallup was in need of a research assistant, and our Elizebeth was happy to take the job. She worked on a cipher that Gallup claimed was hidden in Shakespeare’s sonnets that proved they were written by Bacon, but perhaps more auspiciously, she met, fell in love with, and married geneticist William Friedman while there. A month later, the United States entered World War I.

Riverbank was one of the first institutes in the country to focus on codebreaking, or cryptology, and was essential in the early days of the war. It would transform both of the Friedman’s lives, with William becoming one of the biggest names in cryptanalysis (a word he coined himself) while his equally-as-talented wife was often deliberately kept from the spotlight.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

“So little was known in this country of codes and ciphers when the United States entered World War I, that we ourselves had to be the learners, the workers, and the teachers all at the same time,” wrote Elizebeth in her memoir.

One of their more famous wartime accomplishments actually involved cracking a code for Scotland Yard – a trunk of mysterious, coded messages turned out to contain the secrets behind the Hindu-German Conspiracy, in which Hindu activists living in the United States were shipping weapons to India with German assistance.

The resulting trial was one of the largest in U.S. history (at the time) and ended sensationally as a gunman who believed one of the defendants had snitched opened fire in the courtroom.

After the war, the Friedmans moved to Washington D.C. and continued working for the military full-time. Elizebeth stayed home for a time to focus on raising the couple’s two children, but she returned to work for the Coast Guard in 1925 when they asked for help on Prohibition-related cases. There, she proved to be an invaluable asset, and was called to testify in a 1933 trial following the bust of a million-dollar rum running operation in the Gulf of Mexico and on the West coast.

Photo Credit: Marshall Foundation

During the trial, attorneys asked her to prove how a jumble of letters could possibly be determined to mean “anchored in harbor where and when are you sending fuel?” Elizebeth asked for a chalkboard and proceeded to give the court a lesson on simple cipher charts, mono-alphabetic ciphers, and polysyllabic ciphers, then reviewed how she had spent two years intercepting and deciphering the radio broadcasts of four illicit New Orleans distilleries.

Special Assistant to the Attorney General Colonel Amos W. Woodcock wrote that Elizebeth’s proficiency “made an unusual impression.”

A year later, Elizebeth used her skills to avert a court case between Canada and the United States when her codebreaking abilities proved that a “Canadian” ship sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard was actually a ship owned by an American bootlegger and simply flew the Canadian flag to avert suspicion. The Canadians were so impressed with her that they hired her to help catch a ring of Chinese opium smugglers, and her testimony in that case led to five convictions.

When WWII began, Elizebeth was recruited by the Coordinator of Information, an intelligence service that preceded both the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) and the CIA. While her husband, William, was lauded for leading the team that cracked Japan’s Purple Encryption Machine, Elizebeth’s accomplishments breaking German codes and working closely with British intelligence to disrupt Axis spy rings all across Europe. For years, researchers hit brick wall after brick wall trying to uncover her contributions, largely because J. Edgar Hoover wrote her out of history (or tried to) by classifying her files as top-secret and taking the credit for himself.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

We do know, however, that she was instrumental in solving the “Doll Woman Case” in 1944, in which Velvalee Dickinson, a New York City antique doll dealer, was found guilty of spying on behalf of the Japanese government. Her work helped prove that the letters the woman had written about the condition of antique dolls were actually describing the positions of U.S. ships and other war-related matters. In the newspaper accounts of the day, however, Elizebeth’s name was never mentioned.

She retired in 1946, a year after the war ended, and her husband followed suit a decade later. Their relationship was uniquely bonded by their shared fascination for codes and codebreaking, which they brought into their person life as well – they used ciphers playing family games with their children and would even encode menus at dinner parties, encouraging their guests to solve them in order to earn the next course.

Together, they published The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined, a masterwork that won awards from several Shakespeare research facilities, and believed that they disproved the theory that Sir Francis Bacon was the real author of the plays.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

William passed away in 1969 and Elizebeth spent her remaining years compiling and documenting her husband’s work in cryptology instead of going back over her own extraordinary achievements. Her writings are now part of the George C. Marshall Research Library.

Elizebeth died in 1980 and is buried next to her husband. On their double gravestone is a quote commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.”

Photo Credit: Find A Grave

The quote is, of course, a cipher that, when decrypted, reads “WFF,” William’s initials.

There’s no doubt that the field of codebreaking wouldn’t have come as far as fast as it did without William’s efforts, but Elizebeth’s deserve equal, if not more, credit.

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Big Apple Goes Green: New York State Just Banned Plastic Bags

Consumers have had the option of getting their groceries in resuable grocery bags for some time now, but sadly, plastic bags still reign supreme. A lot of folks are just forgetful, and buy the reusable bags but keep forgetting to bring them along when they go out.

Residents of New York state may not be able to use that excuse for long, however: New York State is officially banning plastic bags, and some counties will impose a fee on paper bags too.

New York is the second U.S. state to ban plastic bags after California.

Photo Credit: iStock

Governor Andrew Cuomo first proposed the plan last year, and it goes into effect in March 2020. Goodbye, single-use plastic bags! Mostly, anyway. Some types of plastic bags – like newspaper bags or trash bags – will be exempted from the ban.

Instead, customers will have to use either paper bags or reusable bags. Individual counties can opt into a 5-cent fee on paper bags, though it’s not a mandatory part of the new law. The idea, it seems, is to encourage people to use reusable bags as much as possible, rather than paper or plastic.

Photo Credit: iStock

Environmentally speaking, this new law definitely marks progress. Plastic bags are basically the bane of the planet’s existence. They’re hugely wasteful, non-biodegradable, harmful to wildlife, environmentally costly to produce…the list goes on and on.

“These bags have blighted our environment and clogged our waterways,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. He said the new plan will be a way to “protect our natural resources for future generations of New Yorkers.”

And the rest of us benefit, too.

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9 Common Phrases That Are Actually Racist

It may come as a surprise that a lot of the everyday terms in our lexicon have racist origins.

So maybe the next time you’re about to use one of these words or phrases, you’ll think twice because you’ll recognize they have some serious connotations.

Here’s a little history lesson for all of us:

1. Shuck and Jive

This term is a throwback to the days of slavery and refers to “the fact that black slaves sang and shouted gleefully during corn-shucking season, and this behavior, along with lying and teasing, became a part of the protective and evasive behavior normally adopted towards white people in ‘ traditional’ race relations.”

Obviously, using that term to describe President Obama was not a smart move.

2. Long Time No See

This term was first used to make fun of Native Americans, mocking a traditional greeting.

3. The Peanut Gallery

4. Uppity

5. Sold Down the River

A literal reference to slaves being sold down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

6. Thug

A thug is a violent criminal, so referring to protesters by that term is way off base and offensive.

7. Grandfather Clause

From the Encyclopedia Britannica: “Grandfather clause, statutory or constitutional device enacted by seven Southern states between 1895 and 1910 to deny suffrage to African Americans. It provided that those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867, or their lineal descendants, would be exempt from educational, property, or tax requirements for voting. Because the former slaves had not been granted the franchise until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, those clauses worked effectively to exclude black people from the vote but assured the franchise to many impoverished and illiterate whites.”

8. Gypsy or “Gyp”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Gypsy” is a slur referring to the Roma people, who have been outcasts throughout much of history. The word “Gypsy” and the term “gyp” or “to get gypped” means to get conned or ripped off because of the stereotype of Roma as thieves.

9. Welfare Queen

This term was first popularized during Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign and was used to portray people on welfare as taking advantage of the system.

Think twice before you use any of these terms again.

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The “Windy City” name has nothing…

The “Windy City” name has nothing to do with Chicago weather. Chicago’s nickname was coined by 19th-century journalists who were referring to the fact that its politicians were “windbags” and “full of hot air.”

Ancient Greek historian Polybius…

Ancient Greek historian Polybius came up with a cyclical theory of government (anacyclosis), where governments start off as monarchies, the final stage is ochlocracy, when a democracy degenerates into chaos and mob-rule. Then the cycle resets itself.

Group of Engineers Proposed a Wall on the U.S./Mexico Border That’ll Pay for Itself

The US/Mexico border has been the subject of some pretty hotly contested debates recently. However, that debate could potentially be settled by a group of 28 engineers from a dozen universities, who came together to propose a wall that they believe would make those who desire a wall happy while also emphasizing alternative energy.

The plan calls for a 2,000-mile industrial park along the border that would contain natural gas pipelines, solar energy panels, wind turbines, and desalination facilities.

The group believes this could be a win-win situation: “Given that most of the southern border lies in arid or semi-arid regions having high solar irradiation and wind, an energy park along the border is both feasible and desirable.”

The engineers estimate that a solar energy park along the whole border would produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear power plant. The wall would also create scores of jobs and help to assist a positive relationship between the U.S. and Mexico based on mutual interests.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Luciano Castillo of Purdue University, the group leader, said, “Democrats want a Green New Deal. Republicans want border security. Both parties could win. It could be a win–win for the U.S. and Mexico, too. This idea could spark a completely new conversation about the border. And we need that.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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This Man’s ER Experience in Taiwan Shows How Truly Messed up American Health Care Really Is

No matter what side of the political aisle you belong to, chances are most of you would agree that America’s healthcare system, as it currently stands, is pretty broken. Even if we can’t all agree about what the right solution may be, we definitely agree that it could certainly be better.

The fact is that, when it comes to healthcare, America actually lags behind the rest of the civilized world. We spend more exponentially more money to get significantly less coverage.

Most other first world countries offer government-funded universal healthcare – and that is also true in Taiwan, where one Kevin Bozeat has been living as an ex-pat. But unfortunately, he didn’t qualify for their healthcare and had no American health insurance, either, when he found himself super sick and in need of a trip to the emergency room.

He sucked it up and let his roommate call him a taxi, figuring he’d work out the payment when it came due (the way most of us regular people do here in the States).

Here’s what happened.

Image Credit: Facebook

tl;dr: His experience was awesome and even with no insurance, it cost him $80.

Of course, since this is the internet in America, people had to try to find every which way to prove that his experience was singular, or reasons why it wouldn’t work in the States, or to insinuate that Taiwan is somehow a poor, third world country (it’s not; their GDP is higher than Denmark’s).

So, Kevin did some legwork for us in the form of arguments against all of the “good points” people made about his original post.

Image Credit: Facebook

To sum up:

  1. The cost of living in Taiwan is about 50% of the cost of living in the U.S. Good luck going to any emergency room here for any reason and getting out of there for less than $160.
  2. Doctors do make less, but they’re still solidly middle class (and there are plenty of people willing to go into the field).
  3. The taxes in Taiwan do pay for healthcare but they’re not high – if you have their national healthcare it works out to about $70.53/month for a person who makes $60k/year.

He acknowledges that no system is perfect, but quotes the Ministry of Health in saying that “…the Taiwanese government believes that healthcare is a right for all of its citizens, rather than a privilege for those who can afford it.”

Everyone in Taiwan is covered (along with foreign permanent resident) is entitled to coverage regardless of employment status, and no citizen goes bankrupt due to medical bills.

It sounds like a utopia, but it’s not – most of the world has figured out how to make it happen. And according to Kevin, it’s time for his home country to stop making excuses.

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China Had to Close their Everest Base Camp Because It’s Basically Just a Pile of Garbage

That’s gotta be humiliating!

China recently had to tell tourists that their Mount Everest base camp is closed… because it is too full of trash.

Photo Credit: Twitter/PretoriaRecord

According to Xinhua Net, that not only are tourists prevented from entering the zone, but climbing permits will be limited to only 300 per year. That’s a third fewer than normal.

So, is this China’s fault?

Nope.

This has been a problem that has been happening for YEARS.

According to South China Morning Post, Nepal has implemented a $4,000 trash deposit cost per team due to all the trash that climbers leave behind.

Only problem with that are climbers are usually rich, so they don’t care about the deposit. Only half the climbers in recent years have been bringing down the required amount of garbage.

And that doesn’t even take into account the fecal matter. Because, yes, people go to the bathroom on the mountain. 12,000 lbs. worth every year.

Here’s hoping that China can figure out how to get their camp clean, and then help work on the rest of this mess.

Yuck.

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