Sunday, January 31, 2010

Demostehenes Vs. Phocion

Time: c. 330 B.C.
Place: Athens, Greece
Picture: Accropolis

Someday you will drive the Athenians out of their minds and they will kill you.

And if they are ever in their right minds, they will kill you.

These were great orators and political opponents during the rise of Macedon to power in Greece.

More information: Demostehenes, Phocion, Ancient Athens.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Green Sahara

Time: 7,000 – 5,000 B.C.
Place: Sahara, North Africa
Top Picture: Landsat satellite picture of the Sahara Desert
Bottom Picture: Rock layer underneath, revealing black channels cut by the meandering of an ancient river. Taken by Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour on April 16, 1994.

It is rainy, kind of – 3 times the amount of today. The Sahara Desert is no more. Since the rains came, it is a savannah. Fish swim in the rivers. In the thousands of miles of grasslands, Buffalo, Elephants, and other large animals graze. And humans follow and they thrive.

The total world population is around 5 million; a significant part of it lives here. Small towns begin. Small farms lay beyond. With pottery, people can dine on soup, fish, and porridge. Cows lo on the farms; dogs wander the streets of the towns. If we could time-machine the Plains Indians of the American Mid-West from the days of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to these times and this region, they would fit right in.

To the east, the lower Nile River rages from flood waters from the mountains far to the south. The settlements struggle against the floods.

Times change; climate changes. The rains slow down; the rivers dry up; the grass disappears; the desert returns. To the east, the Nile’s floods moderate. People begin to leave. In Egypt, one of the world’s first civilizations begins.

The desert sands blow over a way of life.

More information: National Geographic, Wikipedia.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Great White Fleet (Battleships 2)

Time: December 16, 1907
Place: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Picture: 4 Connecticutt Class Battleships, USS Kansas in lead, clear port on the first day of their cruise around the world.

After the Spanish-American War the battleship building program began delivering in earnest. 1900 saw 3 ships commissioned: the first of the Illinois Class and two Kearsarge Class. This increased the total battleships in service from 5 to 8.

In 1901, 2 ships completed the Illinois Class. Total battleships: 10.

After that, there was a slow period. From 1902 to 1905 one ship was commissioned per year, including the USS Maryland in 1905. The Maryland was so weak that it was really a heavy cruiser. Total battleships 13.

In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt's naval building program hit big. 6 ships were commissioned that year: 2 of the Connecticutt Class and 4 of the Virginia Class. Total battleships: 19.

It is now 1907. 3 Connecticutts and 1 Virginia are commissioned. Total battleships: 24. 16 battleships comprised the Great White Fleet that Roosevelt dispatched on a voyage around the world.

Then the British launched the HMS Dreadnought which rendered all of these ships obsolete.

More information: US Battleship Classes, Great White Fleet, HMS Dreadnought.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Dinosaur True Colors Revealed

Time: 122 million years ago
Place: NE China
Picture: This dinosaur's size.

This is Sinosauropteryx. This is because scientists have analyzed a million year old feather and found the organic materials that tell them the color of it. For the first time, a scientifically accurate color picture of a dinosaur can be produced.

I got this story from the National Geographic Magazine. Since the pictures are copyrighted, you'll have to click here to see it. The public domain pictures of this fascinating creature are now obsolete.

This story reminds me of an interesting facet of the Age of the Dinosaurs: the birds lived then and survived. Indeed, Sinosauropteryx was a feathered dinosaur, himself!

More information: Time Line, Sinosauropteryx.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Haiti's Revolution - 2

Time: 1791 - 1803
Place: Haiti

[describes disorders and shortages in France] ... not so much as Sugar can be had; for good reasons ... With factions, suspicions, want of bread and sugar, it is verily what they call déchiré, torn asunder this poor country: France and all that is French. For, over seas too come bad news. In black Saint-Domingo, before that variegated Glitter in the Champs Elysées was lit for an Accepted Constitution, there had risen, and was burning contemporary with it, quite another variegated Glitter and nocturnal Fulgor, had we known it: of molasses and ardent-spirits; of sugar-boileries, plantations, furniture, cattle and men: skyhigh; the Plain of Cap Français one huge whirl of smoke and flame! What a change here, in these two years; since that first 'Box of Tricolor Cockades' got through the Custom-house, and atrabiliar Creoles too rejoiced that there was a levelling of Bastilles! Levelling is comfortable, as we often say: levelling, yet only down to oneself. Your pale-white Creoles, have their grievances: — and your yellow Quarteroons? And your dark-yellow Mulattoes? And your Slaves soot-black? Quarteroon Ogé, Friend of our Parisian Brissotin Friends of the Blacks, felt, for his share too, that Insurrection was the most sacred of duties. So the tricolor Cockades had fluttered and swashed only some three months on the Creole hat, when Ogé's signal-conflagrations went aloft; with the voice of rage and terror. Repressed, doomed to die, he took black powder or seedgrains in the hollow of his hand, this Ogé; sprinkled a film of white ones on the top, and said to his Judges, "Behold they are white;" — then shook his hand, and said "Where are the Whites, Ou sont les Blancs?" ... Before the fire was an insurrection by the oppressed mixed-race minority. So now, in the Autumn of 1791, looking from the sky-windows of Cap Français, thick clouds of smoke girdle our horizon, smoke in the day, in the night fire; preceded by fugitive shrieking white women, by Terror and Rumour. ..."

- Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, A History. Chapter 2.5.IV "No Sugar"

Pictured: Battle at San Domingo.

More information: Haitian Revolution, Bob Corbett's Essay.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haiti's Revolution - I

Time: 1960
Place: Haiti

This is the aftermath of the revolution, 1.5 centuries later. Haiti is a failed nation but why did it fail?

As a CPA in Atlanta, I had occasion to work on an American enterprise in Haiti. The American company started a rice processing plant in Haiti. The idea was to bring in rice from elsewhere, have Haitian workers at the plant process it into various foods for sale. The products could be used to earn foreign exchange for Haiti and jobs for Haitian workers, not to mention food for both Haitians and sales in the US and elsewhere.

It did not work for 2 principle reasons: 1) government corruption made the whole project unfeasable and 2) the workers hired did not work. My own dealings with the office staff via phone and e-mail was frustrating in the extreme. The US company closed the plant down.

More information: Haitian Revolution, Bob Corbett's Essay.

Monday, January 25, 2010

U.S. Navy's Earliest Battleships - I

Time: January, 1898.
Place: Havana, Cuba

After the Civil War, the U.S. Navy had deteriorated. For 20 years, its strength was negligible. The few remaining Civil War era ironclads did not have the range to project power beyond the coast. The Virginius Affair in 1873, showed that the navy couldn’t even defend New York Harbor!

In 1883, Congress authorized 3 modern warships. These were small Cruisers.

Name of ShipYear Commissioned

The U.S. Navy remained essentially helpless. Not until 1895 did the first “Battleships” join the fleet. These were the Texas and the Maine. These very odd ships had their main turrets on the sides of the ships. Neither ship could turret their all their main guns around to fire a broadside. They were first designated as Cruisers and only later “Second Class Battleships”. At least they were larger than the Cruisers.

That year saw the first true Battleship, the Indiana. This was also procured as a class, thus saving the cost of designing and building from the drawing boards on of subsequent vessels. The Massachusetts and the Oregon followed in 1896. These ships carried four 13 inch guns and two turrets (two guns per turret, one turret in front and one in back). The still primitive design lacked counter-weights, so that when the guns were swung to one side or the other, the ship listed on that side. The ships also carried smaller guns which were mounted on the side like the sailing Ships of the Line of old. The bow was reinforced to use as a battering ram. Also, the ships were under-powered with the idea that they would be used for coast defense, only.

To remedy some of these defects, the Iowa was commissioned in 1897. The engines were improved, the hull size was increased, armor improved, and four turrets added with two 8 inch guns per turret. With the additions to the secondary armament, the size of the four primary guns was reduced an inch to twelve.

So, by 1898, the start of the year the Spanish-American War began, the U.S. Navy had two weak Battleships (Texas and Maine), three slow short-range Battleships (Indiana, Massachusetts, and Oregon) and one decent Battleship (Iowa). The Maine blew up and sunk in Havana Harbor, precipitating the war. Of the remaining five, all but the Massachusetts fought in the main Atlantic battle, the Battle of Santiago later that year. The Massachusetts was patrolling the area but missed the battle.

Picture: USS Maine steams into Havana Harbor, January, 1898. It will blow up 3 weeks later, instigating the Spanish-American War.

More information: US Naval History, List of Battleships.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An Arab Looks at US Politics

Time: June 2, 1807
Place: New York City

from Mustapha Rub-A-Dub Keli Khan,
captain of a ketch,
To Asem Haccem,
principle slave-driver to his Highness the Bashaw of Tripoli

Oh, Asem! I almost shrink at the recollection of the scenes of confusion, of licentious disorganization, which I have witnessed during the last three days. I have beheld this whole city, nay this whole state, given up to the tongue and the pen, to the puffers, the bawlers, the babblers and the slang-whangers. I have beheld the community convulsed with a civil war, (or civil talk) individuals verbally massacred, families annihilated by whole sheets full, and slang-whangers coolly bathing their pens in ink, and rioting in the slaughter of their thousands. I have seen, in short, that awful despot, the people,in the moment of unlimited power, wielding newspapers in one hand, and with the other scattering mud and filth about, like some desperate lunatic relieved from the restraints of his strait waistcoat.
I have seen beggers on horseback, ragamuffins riding in coaches, and swing seated in places of honor – I have seen liberty, I have seen equality, I have seen fraternity! – I have seen that great political puppet show – AN ELECTION.

The above was a satire written by Washington Irving in Salmungdi Magazine.

Portrait of Irving, 1809.

More information: Washington Irving, Salmagundi Magazine, Other Writings.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Poland Wants In

Time: September 29, 1938
Place: Warsaw, Poland

In the aftermath of the Munich Agreement, Poland sends a note to Czechoslovakia, demanding they cede them the land of Teschen. The Western Powers (France and Great Britain) had agreed to Hitler's demands, and had given him the Sudetenland. Having lost the Sudetenland and having been abandoned by the West, the Czechs had no choice but to give in to Poland.

The enemy did not expect my great determination. Our enemies are little worms, I saw them at Munich.

- Adolf Hitler

...the settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine (waves paper to the crowd - receiving loud cheers and "Hear Hears"). . .
My good friends, for the second time in our history a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.

- Neville Chamberlain

We have suffered a total and unmitigated will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi régime. We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude...we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road...we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting". And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

- Winston Churchill

Within a year, Poland would face Hitler's Germany.

Pictured: Leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy about to sign the Munich Agreement. (CC) Deutsches Bundesarchiv‎.

More Information: Munich Agreement, Chronology of the Crisis.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Babylon's Two Queens

Previously in Herodotus

184. Of this Babylon, besides many other rulers, of whom I shall make mention in the Assyrian history, and who added improvement to the walls and temples, there were also two who were women. Of these, the one who ruled first, named Semiramis, who lived five generations before the other, produced banks of earth in the plain which are a sight worth seeing; and before this the river used to flood like a sea over the whole plain.

185. The queen who lived after her time, named Nitocris, was wiser than she who had reigned before; and in the first place she left behind her monuments which I shall tell of; then secondly, seeing that the monarchy of the Medes was great and not apt to remain still, but that besides other cities even Nineveh had been captured by it, she made provision against it in so far as she was able. First, as regards the river Euphrates which flows through the midst of their city, whereas before this it flowed straight, she by digging channels above made it so winding that it actually comes three times in its course to one of the villages in Assyria; and the name of the village to which the Euphrates comes is Ardericca; and at this day those who travel from this Sea of ours to Babylon, in their voyage down the river Euphrates arrive three times at this same village and on three separate days.

- Herodotus, Book 1

More Information: Babylon, Herodotus's Book.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Baghdad Railway Goes to Germans

Time: November 25, 1899
Place: Istanbul, Ottoman Empire

The Germans already had built the Turks a rail line from Istanbul east across Turkey to Ankora in the middle of the Aetolian Peninsula. But the Turks needed to cement their hold on their empire to the south: Syria, Palestine, and Iraq. The Germans wanted to bind the Turks closer to Germany with a Berlin to Baghdad Railway.

The French already connected Istanbul to Paris and London with their Orient Express. But their line ended at Istanbul. The Baghdad Railway would connect the major cities in Europe to the Middle East.

On this date, The Ottoman Emperor awarded the railway to the Germans.

The railroad did get built and despite everything it survives intact to this present day. Most of the train stations are the same ones originally built a century ago.

Photo: Baghdad Train, sometime between 1900 and 1910. From the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection in the Library of Congress.

More information: Berlin-Baghdad Railway, Trains of Turkey, The Orient Express.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Medieval Age, 1000 - 1500

Ah, yes! Knights, castles, monasteries and crusades. And that's just in Europe!

This age saw the Mongols conquer much of the Middle East and all of China. The Turks destroyed the Byzantine Empire, forcing Gibbon to end his long book "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire".

Marco Polo made his epoch journey across from Italy across the Mediterranean to the Levant and then across Asia to China. He met Kublai Khan and governed a province. But even more significantly, he made it back to Italy and wrote a book of his experiences.

Will Durant calls this period "The Age of Faith" but I think that this term is a stretch. This period saw the Cluny Reforms but also the Great Schism in the Catholic Church. The rest of the world seemed to be just as faithful and unfaithful as they were before and since.

This period did differ significantly from the prior 500 years in one major respect: the general decline in learning, culture, and commerce was arrested in this period. While civilization did not advance as much in this age as it did in the Classical and Roman Ages, certainly not as much as in the Renaissance (The European Age), it did stop declining. All in all, a good middle period, a Medieval Age.

Previous AgeMaster ListNext Age

This is a reprint from Jack Le Moine's Blog.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Battle of the Marne

Time: September 5, 1914
Place: Marne River, France

The Germans attacked through Belgium and then down through France. The Kaiser said the boys would be home by Christmas. It was to be another war-winning, shattering offensive like just 40 years ago in 1870. And now, the Germans were on the outskirts of Paris.

Attrition and withdrawels to the Eastern Front had thinned the German spearhead. To solidify his front, the German commander ordered his army group to wheel south, in order to trap the French army defending the border with Germany.

The French commander saw a chance. As the Germans drove south, he could hit the Germans from the west.

The British commander is opposed. His army had been too mangled in the fighting and he wanted to retreat to the Channel ports. The French appealed to London. The reluctant British commander was ordered to cooperate. To make this work, the French needed every man they could get. The French Paris garrison had to climb aboard taxi cabs to make it into position.

Then the Germans got a copy of the French plan. The General wheeled his army to meet the French.

The French General tells his staff, "Gentlemen, we will fight on the Marne."

Pictured: German 17 mm. naval gun in action at the Marne. (CC)Deutsches Bundesarchiv‎.

More information: Summary, Chronology.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Day, 2010

This is MLK Day. See my main blog for my take on his record.

I summed up:
this great man was like most other great men: his good qualities were larger than life; his bad qualities were, too.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Persians Conquer Babylon

Time: 539 BC
Place: Babylon

178. Cyrus, so soon as he had made subject to himself all other parts of the mainland, proceeded to attack the Assyrians. Now Assyria has doubtless many other great cities, but the most famous and the strongest, and the place where the seat of their monarchy had been established after Nineveh was destroyed, was Babylon; which was a city such as I shall say.--It lies in a great plain, and in size it is such that each face measures one hundred and twenty furlongs, the shape of the whole being square; thus the furlongs of the circuit of the city amount in all to four hundred and eighty. Such is the size of the city of Babylon, and it had magnificence greater than all other cities of which we have knowledge. First there runs round it a trench deep and broad and full of water; then a wall fifty royal cubits in thickness and two hundred cubits in height: now the royal cubit is larger by three fingers than the common cubit.

- Herodotus, Book 1

Pictured: panoramic view of ruins of city. Larger picture.

Furlong = 1/8 of a mile. 120 furlongs = 15 miles.
Royal Cubit = 20.6 inches. Wall was 86 feet thick and 343 feet high. (A football field is 300 feet goal to goal.)

More Information: Babylon, Herodotus's Book.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Early Milan

View Milan in a larger map

Milan is on the great plain north of the Po River and south of the great passes through the Alps. It was first settled by the Celts, then taken over by the Romans. Diocletion made it the capital of the Roman Empire. Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, declaring Christianity the official religion of the empire. Then the barbarians came.

The Lombards invaded last. They were a small tribe, only big enough to conquer the Po Valley. Charlemagne destroyed them in 800.

During the Dark Ages, Milan was a haven in a violent world. Under Archbishop Heribert (1018-1045) carroccio (municipal patriotism) was the policy. Milan took control of neighboring towns: Lodi, Como, Pavia.

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I razed the town in 1162 but the Milan people rebuilt it. Within 20 years, it was again a major metropolis in the West. It’s chief industries were armor manufacture and the wool trade.

By 1200 the city already had a 1,000 year history as a major city.

More information: Wikipedia, About Milan.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lincoln Tells Them Off

Time: Civil War
Place: White House, Washington, DC
Subject: Cables from the White House

To Governor John A. Andrew
Please say to these gentlemen that if they do not work quickly I will make quick work with them. In the name of all that is reasonable, how long does it take to pay a couple of regiments?
A. Lincoln

To General Daniel Tyler
If you are besieged how do you dispatch me? Why do you not leave before being besieged?
A. Lincoln

To Hon. J.K. Dubois, Hon O.M. Hatch
What nation do you desire General Allen to be made quarter-master general of? This nation already has a quarter-master general.
A. Lincoln

To Major General McClellan
I have just read your dispatch about sore-tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?
A. Lincoln

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Elizabeth, Empress of Russia

Times: 1709 - 1762
Place: Russia

During much of the 18th. century, Russia was ruled by women. Elizabeth and her successor Catherine II solidified Russia’s position in Europe.

Fifteen years after her father, Peter the Great died, her cousin Anna took over the government. She was hated for her policy of high taxes and appointments of Germans to head the government departments. After Anna passed from the scene, Elizabeth rammed through a coup and took over.

She reversed Anna’s policies. Her most noteworthy achievements were in foreign affairs. She settled the long disputes with the Scandinavian powers on the Baltic. In the 7 Years War (1754 – 1763) she was on the verge of breaking Prussia’s power but she died.

Her successor was a big fan of Prussia’s ruler, Frederick the Great. He pulled out of Elizabeth’s alliance and even joined Frederick. The foundation was laid for the German-Russian conflicts that were to last to World War II.

More information: Elizabeth, Catherine the Great.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pope Launches Crusade

Time: November 27, 1095
Place: Clerrmont, France

He did not forsee that one effort would not be enough, or even eight. Nor did he know that in the end, the Muslems would keep Palestine or that nine centuries later, Muslim extremists would still be using this speech as a pretext for attacks on nations that did not yet exist and on continents then unknown.

The below extract is from Robert the Monk's version of it, written 25 years later.

But if you are hindered by love of children, parents and wives, remember what the Lord says in the Gospel, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me." "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name's sake shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life." Let none of your possessions detain you, no solicitude for your family affairs, since this land which you inhabit, shut in on all sides by the seas and surrounded by the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; nor does it abound in wealth; and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder one another, that you wage war, and that frequently you perish by mutual wounds. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre; wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves. That land which as the Scripture says "floweth with milk and honey," was given by God into the possession of the children of Israel Jerusalem is the navel of the world; the land is fruitful above others, like another paradise of delights. This the Redeemer of the human race has made illustrious by His advent, has beautified by residence, has consecrated by suffering, has redeemed by death, has glorified by burial. This royal city, therefore, situated at the centre of the world, is now held captive by His enemies, and is in subjection to those who do not know God, to the worship of the heathens. She seeks therefore and desires to be liberated, and does not cease to implore you to come to her aid. From you especially she asks succor, because, as we have already said, God has conferred upon you above all nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the kingdom of heaven.
"When Pope Urban had said these and very many similar things in his urbane discourse, he so influenced to one purpose the desires of all who were present, that they cried out, "It is the will of God! It is the will of God!" When the venerable Roman pontiff heard that, with eyes uplifted to heaven he gave thanks to God and, with his hand commanding silence, said:

Most beloved brethren, today is manifest in you what the Lord says in the Gospel, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them." Unless the Lord God had been present in your spirits, all of you would not have uttered the same cry. For, although the cry issued from numerous mouths, yet the origin of the cry was one. Therefore I say to you that God, who implanted this in your breasts, has drawn it forth from you. Let this then be your war-cry in combats, because this word is given to you by God. When an armed attack is made upon the enemy, let this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God: It is the will of God! It is the will of God!
Right or wrong, I still think that 900 years is a long time to carry a grudge. Moreover, the USA did not yet even exist, so why blame us?

Pictured: Urban preaches the Crusade to the assembled clergy at Clermont.

More information: Council of Clermont, The Speech.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Religeon of Persia

Time: 550 BC to 350 BC
Place: Persian Empire

131. These are the customs, so far as I know, which the Persians practise:--Images and temples and altars they do not account it lawful to erect, nay they even charge with folly those who do these things; and this, as it seems to me, because they do not account the gods to be in the likeness of men, as do the Hellenes. But it is their wont to perform sacrifices to Zeus going up to the most lofty of the mountains, and the whole circle of the heavens they call Zeus: and they sacrifice to the Sun and the Moon and the Earth, to Fire and to Water and to the Winds: these are the only gods to whom they have sacrificed ever from the first; but they have learnt also to sacrifice to Aphrodite Urania, having learnt it both from the Assyrians and the Arabians; and the Assyrians call Aphrodite Mylitta, the Arabians Alitta, and the Persians Mitra.

- Herodotus, Book 1

Ancients worshipped the Sun, Moon and planets. Shortly after Cyrus' time, Persia converted to Zoroasterism.

Pictured is the Faravahar, one of the best known symbols of Zorasterism. After that became the official religeon of the Persian Empire, it became the national symbol of the Persians. Iran uses it as the Persian peoples' symbol to this day. This is a brass carving on a ruin in the ancient Persian's capital at Parsa. (Herodotus and the Greeks Greekified it to "Persepolis".)

More Information: Wikipedia, Herodotus's Book

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Rivers of War

Time: 1815
Place: New Orleans
Background: The War of 1812

This novel by Eric Flint is an alternate history. This means that this story changes one event from the actual and then imagines the consequences of that change.

Alternate histories are generally lumped as a section of science fiction. The best of them share the rule that the science/history in the story should be as accurate as possible. Events in the story should unfold according to the principles of the pertinent academic disciplines. Nothing in the story must be implausible.

This means to me that a good alternate history story is better lumped with historical fiction than science fiction. This novel is one such book.

The book's departure point is the Battle of Horse Shoe Bend between the US Army under Andrew Jackson and the Creek Indians. In the story, Sam Houston slips on top of the Creek's ramparts, so instead of being shot as actually did happen, he is only grazed.

With this departure point, he is able to participate in the fighting in the Washington, D.C. area later this year and in the Battle of New Orleans in January, 1815 instead of sidlined recuperating from his wounds.

The author has another agenda. In his imaginings, while trying to follow plausible outcomes, he aims to give the southern Indians an eventual, viable nation of their own. In order to do this, he gives them every lucky break, and endows their leaders with better decision-making then their leaders actually made.

This is an interesting speculation. What if the Indians had migrated west immediately after the War of 1812 and with a thought to setting up an independent nation that can stand the test of time?

Eric Flint's next book in the series is 1824 The Arkansas War which I'm reading now.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The European Age, 1500 - 2000

Both the name and the time period really fits. There is a coherence to this previous period of history. Starting with the decades just before 1500, the Europeans were embarking on voyages of discovery that eventually covered the whole world. No other civilization had ever conducted an effort that was as sustained and as far reaching as the Europeans did over the past 5 centuries.

This effort morphed into an imperialism that dominated the world. Entire continents (the Americas, Australia) became extensions of European civilization. The United States of America became dominant in the 20th. Century but its cultural roots were from Europe and its language came from England. European culture dominated world civilization long after defacto European power receded. The history of the third world in the last half of the 20th. century was largely reactions to the aftermath of European colonization.

Even figures from civilizations that sought to counter the European/American culture adopted philosophies that originated in Europe. For example, Mao Tse Tung of China, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Fidel Castro of Cuba all adopted Marxism, a philosophy that originated in Europe. While other cultures (The Middle East) clung to their roots, they featured reactions to the dominant European culture.

The last decades of the 20th. Century saw European power and influence wane. Demographic contraction opens questions as to whether the European culture will still be around, at least in Europe, by the end of the 21st. Century. The Europeans unified and dominated the history of the last 500 years.

Previous AgeMaster ListNext Age

This is a reprint from my personal blog.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First Advice Columnist

Time: 1723
Place: Boston, Mass.
Business: New-England Courant

Benjamin Franklin wrote a series of fake news for his paper. The below is from an advice column he did. BF wrote both the letter and the response. I extract quotes from both.

You must know I am a single Woman, and keep a Shop in this Town for a Livelyhood. There is a certain Neighbor of mine, who is really agreeable Company enough, and with whom I have had an Intimacy of some Time standing; But of late she makes her Visits so excessively often, and stays so very long every Visit, that I am tir’d out of all Patience. I have no Manner of time to my self; and you, who seem to be a wise Man, must needs be sensible that every Person has little Secrets and Privacies that are not proper to be expos’d even to the nearest Friend. Now, I cannot do the least Thing in the World, but she must know all about it; and it is a Wonder I have found an Opportunity to write you this Letter.
But I have twenty Things more to tell you besides all this; There is a handsome Gentleman that has a Mind (I don’t question) to make love to me, but he can’t get the least Opportunity to -: O dear, here she comes again; - I must conclude
Yours & c.

Indeed, ‘tis well enough, as it happens, that she is come, to shorten this Complaint which I think is full long enough already, and probably would otherwise have been as long again.
For my own Part, I have taken such a Fancy to this Turkish Custom, that for the future I shall put something like it in Practice. I have provided a Bottle of right French Brandy for the Men and Citron-Water for the Ladies. After I have treated with a Dram, and presented a Pinch of my best Snuff, I expect all Company will retire, and leave me to pursue my Studies for the Good of the Publick.

He was 17 years old and was not allowed to write professionally. So he used a subterfuge and invented “Mrs. Silence Dogood”, a middle-aged widow. That's how Benjamin Franklin became the first “Dear Abby” in US history.

Pictured: Benjamin Franklin at his regular day job, working in the printing office.

More information: Wikipedia, Franklin's Autobiography

Friday, January 8, 2010

Treaty of Kiel

Time: January 14, 1814
Place: The land of the Vikings, Kiel on the Baltic Sea.

Denmark, Norway, and Sweden had long ago slipped from the front ranks of world power. Denmark was one of the loosers in the Napoleonic Wars. This treaty got them out of the wars. They ceded over Norway to Sweden but the decendents of the Vikings had other ideas. Norway declared independence and the Swedes weren't able to stop them.

As part of the deal, Sweden gave control of Pomerania on the south coast of the Baltic to Denmark but Prussia promptly grabbed that land for itself, leaving the Scandinavians with nothing.

Scandinavia remained a land of snow and forests. People sheltered in their wooden houses and looked to the seas for fishing and trade.

Pictured are ships during Kiel Week. (CC) VollwertBIT.

More information: Wikipedia, HistoryWorld.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Empire of the Medes Falls

Time: 550 BC
Place: Persia (the former Median Empire)

130. Astyages then, having been king for five-and-thirty years, was thus caused to cease from being king; and the Medes stooped under the yoke of the Persians because of his cruelty, after they had ruled Asia above the river Halys for one hundred and twenty-eight years, except during that period for which the Scythians had rule. Afterwards however it repented them that they had done this, and they revolted from Dareios, and having revolted they were subdued again, being conquered in a battle. At this time then, I say, in the reign of Astyages, the Persians with Cyrus rose up against the Medes and from that time forth were rulers of Asia: but as for Astyages, Cyrus did no harm to him besides, but kept him with himself until he died. Thus born and bred Cyrus became king; and after this he subdued Crœsus, who was the first to begin the quarrel, as I have before said; and having subdued him he then became ruler of all Asia.

- Herodotus, Book 1

Pictured is the Halys River, the longest river in Turkey, scene of much of the fighting.

More Information: Wikipedia , Herodotus's Book

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany, 2010

Time: 3 B.C.
Place: Bethlehem, Israel

This is the day commerating The Three Wisemen laying their gifts before Jesus. This day marks the end of the Christmas Season.

In our family, this is when we take down the Christmas decorations. In practice, we do the work on the next weekend after.

In culture, Christmas Carols refer to "the twelve days of Christmas". This is the twelfth day. In Latina culture, this is called Three Kings Day.

Ephiphany means to reveal. Theologically, this day is significant because the 3 Kings traveling and then paying homage to the baby Jesus revealed him as above all. Today Christian churches use the message to encourage people to "show" Jesus to the world by witnessing and by good deeds.

More information: The Voice.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Afganistan Crisis

Time: March 30, 1885
Place: Penjderh, Afghanistan

Russian forces crush Afghanistan army. Continue southward expansion. Great Britain fears Russian push into India.

April 26: British war preparations include occupation of port in Korea, threatening Russian Pacific port at Vladivostok. Pressure Turkey to allow Mediterranean Fleet permission to pass to Black Sea.

September 10: Compromise achieved.

Russian southward expansion in central Asia towards India and in west Asia towards Turkey was a major issue in the 19th. century. British fears for India's safety and of Russian world dominance was another. Under Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, aggressive imperial policies were followed. Liberal William Gladstone advocated a "little England" approach to world affairs but world affairs did not allow him to adhere to this. During this time (he was the Prime Minister but to June) the Liberal Administration fell and the Conservatives under Lord Salisbury took over. Practical considerations hindered Conservative aspirations, too. Thus the Liberal PM authorized warlike measures, then a Conservative PM authorized a compromise.

Picture: Afghan soldiers of the era.
More information: Wikipedia.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Central America Union Disolves

Time: January 19, 1922
Place: Guatemala City

A year earlier the Pact of Union between Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Salvador had been signed at San Jose. This declared a perpetual and indissoluble union between the countries. V. Martinez of Guatemala was the first President but not even that persuaded the Guatemalans to accept the union. On December 8, 1921 revolution erupted. It's success brought down the government and the union dissolved.

Central America was united in other periods since independence. This revolution ended the federal movement in this part of the world.

More information: Wikipedia

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Birth of Persia

Time: 553 B.C.
Place: Median Empire

The Middle East just before Cyrus' Conquests.

127. So the Persians having obtained a leader willingly attempted to set themselves free, since they had already for a long time been indignant to be ruled by the Medes: but when Astyages heard that Cyrus was acting thus, he sent a messenger and summoned him; and Cyrus bade the messenger report to Astyages that he would be with him sooner than he would himself desire. So Astyages hearing this armed all the Medes, and blinded by divine providence he appointed Harpagos to be the leader of the army, forgetting what he had done to him. Then when the Medes had marched out and began to fight with the Persians, some of them continued the battle, namely those who had not been made partakers in the design, while others went over to the Persians; but the greater number were wilfully slack and fled.

128. So when the Median army had been shamefully dispersed, so soon as Astyages heard of it he said, threatening Cyrus: "But not even so shall Cyrus at least escape punishment." Thus having spoken he first impaled the Magian interpreters of dreams who had persuaded him to let Cyrus go, and then he armed those of the Medes, youths and old men, who had been left behind in the city. These he led out and having engaged battle with the Persians he was worsted, and Astyages himself was taken alive, and he lost also those of the Medes whom he had led forth.

- Herodotus, Book 1

More Information: Wikipedia , Herodotus's Book

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Moon Begins

Time: 4.5 billion years ago.
Place: Earth.

It is hot, thousands of degrees hot. We float on red, molten rock. The entire planet is an ocean of molten heat. We look up to a black sky. There is no atmosphere, hence no sound. We are about to be hit by a planet the size of Mars.

If we had been alive and if we had a history to this point, this would seem like the end of time. For eons, we had dwelled in a nebula of gas and dust. Lost in legend were stories of a super nova, which originated our nebula. The nebula was comfortable and seemingly eternal. But gradually it had grown smaller. Gravity pulled it together.

When the gas at the center had ignited, that had seemed the end of time. Other bits of the nebula had formed around the center, angular momentum carrying them into orbits around the new star.

So, we float on the surface of this new thing, a planet and ponder our lost sanctuary. Wham! A giant meteor crashes. It must have been only a 100 miles away. Then another, and yet another. The semi-liquid rock beneath us shifts violently. The sky above is filled with falling objects.

In one corner of the sky, one star-like object catches our attention. It seems to be much bigger, than the last time we saw it. It was just a prick of light, like any star. Now it is a small disk. It seems to grow, even as we watch.

Now, it is the biggest object in the sky. We see parts of it are dark and other parts light. Almost no time at all has passed. Now it fills a quarter of the sky. We see a dark surface that bubbles towards us. Things seem distorted. We realize that our planet’s gravity is creating tidal effects on it. The violence around us tells us that our planet’s surface is being gravitationally pulled, too.

Now it fills half of the sky. It slowly blots out the rest of it. We wonder how liquid rock can appear to have a hurricane for it is not like water. A volcano erupts. It appears like we can reach out and touch it. The plume does not fall but seems to keep coming as the Earth’s gravity now pulls on the smaller planet as much as the planet’s own gravity does.

It is but an instant as we see an entire planet just 100 miles above us. Then it crashes.

If we had been anything but literary devices, and if we could have lived through this, we would be experiencing the most violent event in the history of the Earth, save possibly for the planet’s end, eons in the future. We, ourselves fly into space as the Earth’s surface breaks up. Down below, the Earth’s innards remain intact, though the other, smaller planet has broken up, entirely. Pieces of it remain on the surface; pieces vaporize; pieces bounce into suborbital paths that then land again in faraway regions throughout the globe. Over there is the planet’s heavier iron core. It falls to the Earth and gets buried in the goo. Eventually, it will join the Earth’s own core. In a short time, Planet Earth is 10% more massive than before.*

The rest of the debris stays in orbit. Gravity causes the smaller chunks of rock to fall into the larger chunks. Before a century has passed, a moon has formed. Billions of years later, people - real people - us, will look up at it and wonder how it got there.

More Information: Wikipedia,

* My 10% number comes from the History Channel's episode "The Moon" from their series "The Universe", season 1.