History’s A Scream!

FIRST AN EXPLANATION

History’s A Scream! is a blog that I started back in 2013. Shortly after getting it off the ground, a very dear friend of mine was in a devastating automobile accident that left her bedridden for over a year. Since she had no family available to care for her, I stepped in to fill the void.
 
I’m happy to say that my friend made an excellent recovery, and I can now state unequivocally, that you will find out who your friends are when it’s time to empty the bedpan.
 
I never did return to History’s A Scream!, but I liked the concept: teaching bits of history with a good bit of humor, and I genuinely enjoyed producing these posts. Some day, I may revive this blog, but for now, I simply present them here for people, like me, who are tickled by the trials, tribulations and antics of our all-too-human and less than perfect ancestors.
 

I hope you enjoy,

Jay Cole

And now, History’s A Scream!
 
A Benevolent What?
Our Lady of Smog
Haven’t Seen You in a Bronze Age
I Love Interviewing Dead Presidents
Okay, It’s Crap!
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A Benevolent What?

If I were not an emperor, I should like to be a school teacher. I know of no calling greater or nobler than that of directing young minds and of training the men of the future.
Emperor Pedro II of Brazil

After Columbus, North and South America were settled by some very rugged individualists. Europe had a long tradition of monarchies, but the settlers of the Americas generally sent kings and emperors packing. Having lived under the European kings, the immigrants coming to the New World knew the dangers:

  • Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
  • A rigid class system meant that brilliant, extremely talented peasants could be governed by a hapless moron with aristocratic bloodlines.
  • Coronation ceremonies cause traffic congestion.
  • There’s always an argument over which ugly queen’s picture to put on the paper money.

There were also significant holes in the Divine Right of Kings doctrine, which states that a king’s authority comes from God. Most of our ancestors came from Christian countries and they knew that the Ten Commandments have several “Thou shalt not’s”, but not a single, “I pick this guy”.

BUT…

What happens when an emperor is a benevolent ruler, who works diligently for the advancement of his people and understands that governing is leadership and not oppression? The answer is obvious: We kick him out, too.

Emperor Pedro II of Brazil came to power through war and political blunders. When Napoleon conquered Portugal in 1807, King John VI (Pedro II’s grandfather) fled with the royal family to their colony in Brazil. Now, King John running away and leaving his citizens at the mercy of an invader may appear to be an act of unmitigated cowardice, but that’s only because it is.

In 1821, King John returned to Portugal. His son, Pedro, would rule Brazil as his viceroy. It was a good plan. However, the following year, Pedro declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal on September 7, 1822. Loving son Pedro was crowned Emperor Pedro I, and his daddy was less than pleased. Even California parents agree that borrowing a whole country from dad without permission deserves a spanking.

In 1831, less than ten years later, Emperor Pedro I wore out his welcome. He’d lost a war with Argentina. He’d lost the support of Brazil’s politically powerful and inspired popular uprisings among the general population. His only good fortune was that the telephone was not invented until much later in 1876:

Hello, Mom, it’s Pedro. Brazil asked me to leave, today.

Since the Brazilian populace that hated him was fairly well armed and his father, King John, had previously established a family tradition of running like hell before the shooting starts, Emperor Pedro I left quietly. Fortunately, the aristocrats of Brazil did not have far to look for a replacement.

Emperor Pedro II was only five years old when he ascended to the throne to replace his father. Brazil’s populace liked his qualifications: He wasn’t his father and he was potty trained.

Young Pedro II was officially crowned emperor, at age 14, on July 18, 1841. He would be the last monarch to rule in the Americas.

The new emperor was a scholar in his private life. In his public life, he worked towards political and social change. During his reign, Brazil’s economy stabilized with the growth of agriculture, industry and communications (telegraph and rail). European immigration was encouraged. Government administration became competent, and health and welfare programs were instituted. Schools were built even at the expense of repairs to the emperor’s palace.

To think of a palace for me when we have not enough schools…

Brazil opened good relations with European nations and the United States. The emperor’s daughter, Princess Isabel, ruled as regent when her father traveled abroad. Princess Isabel implemented her father’s policies and politics with a strong will. Upon his return, the emperor publicly proclaimed his faith and pride in his daughter, as well he should have. Rio had great shoe stores, but Isabel left the state treasury in the vault.

The most troublesome issue of Emperor Pedro II’s reign was slavery. While he personally despised it, coffee plantations were the major economic force in Brazil’s economy. Still, he gradually attacked the institution of slavery over his nearly 50-year reign. Slowly and progressively, he weakened it. Those who opposed his policies called him the “Emperor of the Negroes and Indians”. When Emperor Pedro II fell ill near the end of his reign, Princess Isabel, as regent, followed her father’s wishes and presided over the final abolition of slavery in 1888. While this decision was morally correct, it cost Emperor Pedro II the support of the major landowners. He was forced to abdicate in 1889 and took his family to Europe. He died in Paris in 1891.

(NOTE: To research other morally correct political decisions, I recommend the Vatican Library’s files on miracles and other unexplained phenomena.)

Brazil’s peaceful transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic was largely due to Emperor Pedro II’s influence. He brought Brazil to maturity as a nation. I wonder if anyone wrote “Thank You” on his pink slip.

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Next Up:

Our Lady of Smog

In the beginning, sunny downtown Los Angeles was not gridlocked. It had no movie stars and modern transportation meant that you had a new horse. There is also solid, well-documented evidence that both the people and the trees could safely breathe without filtering the air through a cigarette.

California is one of America’s most schizophrenic states. It has vast agricultural and major industrial communities filled with conservative farmers and businessmen. It also has urban pockets of liberals who could not possibly swing any further left without treading water in the Pacific. There are some politicians who appear to be moderate, but they don’t usually last very long. The constituency for calm and rational government just isn’t large enough.

As you’d suspect, big money is entrenched in California politics, and big ideas can be easily defeated by big money’s multi-million dollar advertising campaigns under such clever pseudonyms as Californians Who Take Way Too Many Prescription Drugs.

Still, California has a long history of progressive legislation that permeates daily life. State regulations force the residents to file an environmental impact statement before making morning coffee. They then drive their electric car to the beach, and take a dip in their flame-retardant bikinis, made from recycled materials and certified not to be sewn together in a Third World sweatshop. In a pending backlash, ultra-conservative elements in California are trying to pass legislation allowing every liberal in the state to swim without any restrictions due to the upswing in shark attacks.

Small children in California also have strong political beliefs, mostly communistic. They believe anyone with a Hershey bar should share.

Warning: The State of California has determined that the feeding of small children may cause big children and eventual adulthood.

San Francisco and Los Angeles are most noted for their liberal thinkers. Today, I’ll confine myself to taking a few cheap, below the belt shots at Los Angeles. The exception will be the San Fernando Valley, home of the US porn industry, where I can’t work below the belt without paying union dues.

Downtown Los Angeles was once the Indian village of Yang-na, with a population of about three hundred. It was a beautiful, quiet and peaceful place until:

Yang-na, California – October, 1542
João Rodrigues Cabrilho (AKA, Juan Rodrìguez Cabrillo), a Portuguese explorer working for the Spanish, trudged along, trying not to curse the inventor of woolen underwear. His men walked in ranks behind Cabrilho, wondering if the great explorer was lost again. Cabrilho’s thoughts were interrupted by his aide, “Look, Indians!”

“Do not worry,” said Cabrilho. “Most Indians are peaceful people.”

“They look nervous,” said his aide.

“No problem.” Cabrilho turned to face the Indians and shouted, “Relax! We’re not white men!”

After Cabrilho set sail for home, the Spanish did not return until 1769 with Gaspar de Portola, a Spanish soldier and explorer. He was named governor of the new, unsettled province of California and led an expedition of about 67 men on an overland march from San Diego north to find Monterey Bay. He missed Monterey Bay on the first try and ended up in San Francisco. The expedition was still considered a success since reports to the Spanish king were forbidden to contain the word ‘oops’.

Portola continued his exploration and made contact with the Indians at Yang-na on August 2, 1769. The Greater Los Angeles Area looked a little different at the time.

As soon as we arrived, about eight heathen from a good village came to visit us; they live in this delightful place among the trees on the river. – Father Juan Crespi

Portola promised the Indians that the Spanish would not kill them and steal their land the way white men always did. The Spanish explorers were honorable men. They would convert the Indians to Christianity before killing them and stealing their land.

There were three earthquakes in the valley during the expedition’s overnight stay. Still, Father Crespi recorded a recommendation to build a settlement by the river. A later governor, Felipe Neve, acted on Crespi’s recommendation in 1781. With instruction from the viceroy of Mexico and King Carlos III of Spain, Governor Neve planned the entire settlement, including a plaza, pastures, farmland and royal lands set aside for the king. This is possibly the first and last time in the entire history of Los Angeles’ sprawling development that anyone paid attention to the zoning laws.

Governor Neve and several priests from the Mission San Gabriel accompanied the first settlers to the river on September 4, 1781. As the Indians of Yang-na watched, the Spanish prayed over the site. The governor then gave a speech proclaiming the new city, El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula, which translates to, The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula. This was duly recorded, and the Indian Chief’s reaction was immediate, “They’re not staying for dinner, are they?”

The city of Los Angeles grew slowly. By 1790, there were only twenty-eight households and a population 139. By 1800, there were seventy households and a population of 315. The first white settlers did not arrive until 1820, but history did not record their reaction when the Hispanics made them get a green card.

Mexico ceded all of California to the United States in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and Los Angeles was incorporated as a city in 1850.

Today, Los Angeles is one of the largest industrial cities in the US. And to be fair, they are actively taking steps to correct their smog problem. According to the 2010 US Census, LA’s air is currently being filtered by 3,792,621 noses.

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Next Up:

Haven’t Seen You in a Bronze Age

Metallurgy is perhaps the most significant science ever created by the human race. Granted, a fair number of people claim that honor for obstetrics, but I still believe that’s putting the proverbial cart before the proverbial horse. No one in their right mind should go near a woman in heavy labor unless she’s in metal restraints.

Early man first used metal for the two primary staples of civilization: weapons and jewelry. If you’re going to whack your enemy in the head with a copper ax, you and your wife should look chic during the process.

Who among our ancestors was the first to use metal is somewhat controversial. Every few years, someone digs up another dirt-encrusted lump of refined metal that was probably part of a Neolithic farm implement or the grillwork of a ’57 Chevy. If your dirt-encrusted lump of metal is reliably dated earlier than anyone else’s dirt-encrusted lump, you’ll get worldwide recognition as long as there’s nothing else in the news that day.

Copper was the first metal to be used by man. Between 7000 and 6000 BCE, copper was used in Anatolia (Asia Minor) where the ore was fairly common. Copper ore was also found in Cyprus and the Aegean islands. As the use of copper slowly spread, working with the metal evolved from hammering to casting (pouring molten metal into molds) and eventually to refining the metal into purer form. The men performing this hot, sweaty, dirty work cheered their discoveries; just as circa 200 CE, their wives cheered the invention of bath soap.

Gold was also worked very early in man’s history. It was too soft to use for tools or weapons, however gold’s ornamental use is blatantly obvious. According to one theory that I’m making up as I write this, gold was shiny and mollifying so Neolithic man used it to make jewelry to bribe his female mate into cleaning and cooking the filthy, rotting carcass of the unfortunate beast that he drug home for dinner. I base this theory on a well-known quirk of human nature: For all truly revolting jobs, get paid up front.

The first metal alloy was probably bronze, a mixture of tin and copper. As early as 3600 BCE, bronze can be found in northeastern Thailand. The development of alloys was a natural progression to the experimentation with metals. Improvements in the methods of refining ores and the working of the refined metals led some innovative prehistoric scientist to begin the careful mixing of molten metals. It was a brilliant innovation and one of the first examples of carefully planned, well thought out research and scientific advancement. Maybe.

Thailand, 3600 BCE

“You ill-bred lump of elephant dung!” The village metalworker was livid.
“What did I do now,” asked his apprentice.
“This stone is for copper and this one is for tin. You’ve got them mixed up! The whole batch is ruined!”
The apprentice cringed. “I’m sorry. I was in a hurry. My girlfriend is over by the rice paddy and she’s wearing that short little blue number that…”
“You think only of yourself! You ruin my work and now I’m stuck with this worthless… This worth… This…hmmmm!”
“Hmmm, what?”
The master began dancing around his forge. “I’ve invented bronze!”
“What?”
“Forget it! Go see your girlfriend! Have a good time. Marry her. Have lots of ugly children. Who cares? I don’t need you anymore.”
“If you say so.”

Bronze knives and axes held their edge longer than copper. It is also somewhat easier to cast. Bronze was the preferred metal for nearly every tool and weapon until it was widely replaced in many societies by iron sometime after 1000 BCE. The Hittites, a Near East empire about 1500 BCE, were one of the first to extensively use iron. Their iron weapons gave them a major military advantage over their neighbors who still used stone, copper, bronze and running like hell when they saw soldiers appear.

Iron came into common use only after the rise of the first civilizations. Prehistorians speak of an “Iron Age”, but iron use is not strictly prehistoric. It’s a technological keynote of modern civilization. The invention of steel, iron’s primary alloy, led to an explosion of innovation for modern societies. Steel provided the foundation for the Industrial Revolution, the framework for modern architecture and primary support for anyone with a hip replacement.

While there is no definitive proof, many scholars believe that advancements in metallurgy (mainly ore processing) were indeed the result of conscious scientific experimentation performed by early man. The first copper ax head was a critical scientific achievement, which led mankind to experiment further and further until we achieved today’s breathtaking technological miracles, like microwave ovens that make popcorn on demand.

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Next Up:

I Love Interviewing Dead Presidents

I realize it’s difficult to believe that I spent time interviewing a dead US President, but there’s a perfectly logical reason behind this. The Secret Service won’t let me anywhere near a live one.

George Washington (1732-1799) is perhaps more respected than any other US president. He’s first in war, first in peace. He’s known as “The Father of Our Country”, and from the slanderous guess-timates concerning the number of his illegitimate children, it’s entirely possible he was. Those little brass placards one occasionally finds on historic buildings that claim, “George Washington slept here”, never say with whom.

When he wasn’t sleeping, George was considered by some to be the best choice for King of the United States. (Yes, I said, “king”.) When the Revolutionary War ended, the majority of colonists were glad of their freedom, but some were still loyal to England. Colonial politics was horribly confused. Some colonists considered establishing a United States monarchy based on the British system, the type of government to which they were accustomed. The colonial paparazzi were drooling over the prospect of an American royal family and already chasing likely candidates with their quill pens and sketchpads.

Okay, I lied on that last one. Still, for King of the United States of America, I think George Washington was the most obvious choice. I asked why he turned it down:

Virginia, 1798

Cole: Mr. President, I’m honored that you would take the time to speak with me today and I want you to know that I have the utmost respect for your accomplishments in forming and leading this great nation of ours in a time of revolution and revolutionary change. You are a genuine hero to every American citizen.

George: Thank you.

Cole: Turning down an offer to be king, how could you be so freakin’ stupid?

George: What?!

Cole: You could have ordered your minions to chop down the cherry tree for you. Instead of a wife named Martha, you could have had a vineyard named Martha. George, you could have had gold teeth!

(At this point, I’m not certain whether the president simply adjusted his shirt sleeve or made a rude gesture in my direction.)

George: Very few people held the notion of a king in the United States. You have to understand that the United States was a newly formed nation. We were little more than a loose confederation of thirteen independent republics. A king would have ruled by decree. The colonists hated government without representation under England’s King George and the citizens would have eventually rebelled against a U.S. King George. It’s not a good idea to rule men by decree when all of those men own guns.

Cole: You were afraid a United States monarchy would not work?

George: Monarchy by its nature requires a separation of classes. Few wanted to create an American aristocracy. Human rights abuses can easily flourish under such a system and I firmly believe that all men are created equal.

Cole: Then, human rights were your first priority?

George: Establishing a working government that respected human rights was my first priority. I chaired the convention that wrote our constitution. There is no right to be king when men are viewed as equals.

Cole: But the Divine Right of Kings, the doctrine that a king’s authority came from God, was firmly held in Europe.

George: Only by those in power. The authority to rule should always come from the people. If the citizens of a country decide to depose their king, that king can only hold power by using force against his own people. It’s a messy business.

Cole: It sounds like you don’t respect the European kings.

George: I’m a farmer. I know what inbreeding does to good stock.

Cole: Have you ever regretted not accepting the crown?

George: At times, but that’s just daydreaming. Everyone has a little fantasy in their lives.

Cole: Fantasies about being the king must be a lot of fun? Think of the power, the majesty, the luxury…

George: …the milkmaids wearing nothing but red garters.

Cole: Pardon?

George: Nevermind.

Cole: Whose idea was the presidency?

George: A lot of people contributed, but James Madison (1751-1836) developed the basic plan for our government. After a lot of debate, we modified his plan to ensure the smaller states would be properly represented. The Constitution of the United States was fully ratified in 1788.

Cole: Were the debates heated?

George: Adams and Jefferson were in the same room.

Cole: I understand. Mr. President, once again, I’d like to thank you for joining me and for not becoming our first king.

George: Thank you. Now, would you take your feet off my sofa?

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Next Up:

Okay, It’s Crap!

Manure is not a highly prized substance outside of the agricultural community. The backyard gardener excepted, most people rarely use manure in their day-to-day activities, and I fully realize that relating the history of manure must be approached with some tact. I will therefore use every euphemism that I can find. Hopefully, I will not make my readers gasp, become offended or unable to eat ever again.

First, let’s dispense with certain misconceptions. True manure is an agricultural product used as fertilizer. It is not the campaign speech of a politician you dislike, nor a defense attorney’s summation before a jury. Neither is it the uncounted, unnecessary and nearly useless government regulations that burden all of us. However, the latter is perhaps, stating the all too obvious. Most government bureaucrats have spent so much time isolated in air-conditioned offices that they no longer have a clue when something smells.

The United States Department of Agriculture is probably the best source of information if you wish to study manure. You will find informative articles under the headings of Beef Manure Management, Poultry Manure Management and Swine Manure Management. Don’t forget to take a look at the thrilling and popular sequel, Swine Manure Management II.

Replacements for manure, primarily chemical fertilizers, did not become widely used until after World War II. Manure and organic fertilizers were the only way to enrich the soil and increase crop yields for most of our history. It ain’t pretty and few people like the odor, but I’m at least comforted by knowing that vegetarians are eating more than I am.

The history of agriculture begins much earlier than the use of manure. In the Neolithic or New Stone Age period of man’s development, hunting and food gathering is gradually replaced with farming and animal husbandry. The earliest agricultural settlements were probably campsites used seasonally. Sites unearthed in Mesopotamia have been dated as early as 9000 BCE. Most frat houses keep a supply of fossilized Twinkies from this era.

The earliest plantings were probably accidental. Perhaps Neolithic man was cursed with a clumsy son-in-law who spilled some grain that germinated. However it happened, the idea of deliberately planting seed soon became popular. Shortly thereafter, planting large quantities of grain became necessity due to the invention of beer.

Farm communities began to appear in river valleys approximately 8000 BCE, although some texts date it later at 6500 BCE. Early man now grows vegetables, fruits and grains. His attention turns to keeping a little meat on the table. No one is certain how our ancestors domesticated the earliest farm animals, but the following test certainly explains why. Given a choice, would you:

A) Climb hill and dale, tracking a wild beast; then risk your neck cutting it out of the herd. Finally, you get close enough to use your primitive spear and join a life and death struggle. When the fight is over, if you’re not dead or maimed beyond repair, you cut off as much meat as you can carry. With predators chasing you, you haul it back over hill and dale so that your wife can tell you it’s not as tender as the meat you brought home yesterday and your children still want McDonald’s.

-OR-

B) Stroll leisurely out to the corral and kill something.

I vote for B.

Our farm now has crops, domesticated animals, and yes, large quantities of manure. This sets the stage for our next major advance in agricultural science. Let it fall where it may is replaced with a shovel.

Egypt, circa 3500 BCE
Adnan has worked a long day in his field. Trudging home, he sets down a basket of particularly large, succulent dates. His wife, Layla, picks one from the basket. “Look at these, they’re beautiful!”
“I know,” said Adnan. “I got them from the trees on the north side of the field.”
“How did they grow so big?”
“I dumped all the cow excrement there last winter. I guess the trees like it.”
Layla spits out a bite of date. “Cow pies! Flops! You grew them with crap!”
“Yeah. It worked so well, I shoveled the rest of it onto the wheat.”
Layla gags. “ON THE WHEAT!”
As tired as he is, Adnan still has the strength to duck the clay pot Layla throws at his head as he runs from the house. He knows that whenever Layla screams in a single breath, both the phrases, “excrement for brains” and “my mother warned me”, it’s good for at least two nights sleeping alone in the fields.

Adnan mutters to himself as he wipes the sweat from his shiny pate, “I wonder if it will grow hair, too?”

Manure’s long and malodorous history may date back even further than 3500 BCE, but there are few written records. Face it, if you were up to your ankles in manure, would you spread it around?

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