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Somebody’s Gotta Go Back and Get a Sh*tload of Dimes

Well, now that you know how to run a Roman army, let’s figure out how you’re going to get that army where it’s going. Luckily, someone named Sasha Trubetskoy has made a subway-style map of all the major Roman roads, circa 125 anno domini. And it’s very, very cool:

You can click on it to embiggen it. I would. I did. It’s fascinating. It took a whole lot of work to assemble this. There’s lots of info about how he did it at the link. He makes some interesting deductions about the road network, too:

How long would it actually take to travel this network? That depends a lot on what method of transport you are using, which depends on how much money you have. Another big factor is the season – each time of year poses its own challenges. In the summer, it would take you about two months to walk on foot from Rome to Byzantium. If you had a horse, it would only take you a month.

Roman roads were no joke. Some of them are still in use. This is a very serious transportation network that indicates the the Roman Empire was worthy of its name. The Mediterranean was a Roman lake, and most of Europe was a Roman parking lot. And if you add in a recipe for pizza, they ended up conquering the world.

“Music With Dinner Is an Insult Both to the Cook and the Violinist”: G.K. Chesterton

Every once in a while, I wish we had some money. It’s usually when you encounter something so out-of-the-ordinary that you want to go see it or do it. I ain’t talking about going to Dizzyland or eating in a totally different Olive Garden in another time zone. I mean something rare and wonderful. Like this restaurant in Salzburg, Austria:

OK, so a Mozart dinner concert is pretty neat in and of itself. We love us some Mozart. The musicians and singers seem several cuts above your average house band. But maybe the most piquant detail about the joint is Wolfie himself ate there, or at least had a plate in front of him while he guzzled booze and nuzzled opera singers. Hell, Christopher Columbus ate there. The place has been in constant operation since, no fooling, 803. That is not a typo. Not 1803. Eight-hundred-and-three.

How do we know this? Because Charlemagne’s best buddy Alcuin of York mentioned St. Peter’s Stiftskeller in his notes. It’s named St. Peter’s because it’s inside the walls of St. Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg.

I’ve eaten in restaurants where it seemed like the french fries had been under a heat lamp for 1200 years before they served them to me, but I’ve never heard of a restaurant that old, still in operation, anywhere in the world.

The facility has been expanded since its inception. The hall where they try to saw all the way through the violas was added in 1903, for instance:

So, if we had ridiculous money, we jet off to Salzburg and order the most expensive thing on the menu, probably by accident because my German is very, very rusty. We’d listen to Mozart, maybe sitting in the same chair that Mozart did, although not in the same room, I’ll grant you. I’d look for lots of wine stains to be sure it was the right one. But for the life of me, I don’t know where my wife is going to get an outfit like Mina Harker in the picture there.

Welcome To Maine. Home of the Devil’s Paintbrush

Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim was an interesting fellow. He was born in Sangerville, Maine in 1840. He eventually moved to England, and eventually became a British citizen. During his fairly long life, he invented and perfected all sorts of things. A pocket menthol inhaler (he suffered from bronchitis a lot), a curling iron, a machine for placing eyelets in clothes and shoes and whatnot, a watch demagnetizer, some sort of thingamabob to keep ships from rolling at sea, a coffee substitute, and what was probably the first automatic fire sprinkler. He made a pretty cool amusement park ride, a kind of merry-go-round with tethered cars that simulated flight.  The ride is still in use at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and has been copied a zillion times, including by Disney. He tinkered around with actual flying machines, too. But just between you and me, I don’t think steam was the way to go, there, Hiram.

He also claimed to have invented the lightbulb, and got in a legal beef with Edison over it, and lost bigly. Eventually Edison invented the movie camera, and lucky for us, that allows us to see Hiram’s really big invention: The machine gun.

The video has been colorized, and someone has added some rat-a-tat sound effects, but that’s the man himself, demonstrating the first truly automatic weapon. Just spray and pray.

Then, at 0:48, he demonstrates something else with substantially more oomph. I’m not sure exactly what it is, or Hiram’s relationship to it. It looks like the deck gun on a military vessel. Whatever it is, I bet it could punch some holes in some things.

Hiram smiles, and takes a bow at the end. It’s easy to see why he’s so cheerful. He was stone deaf by that point. He was married at least twice, maybe without a divorce in between, and various women sued him for bigamy and child support for out-of-wedlock kids he supposedly sired. A man with good hearing usually limits himself to a single woman. A deaf fellow can handle almost any number of them.

News You Can Use: How To Run a Roman Army

I read a lot of history when I was a kid. I can’t remember most of it at this point. I’m pretty sure that William the Conqueror invaded Australia in 1923, but was driven back by the kangaroos, but I might be misremembering the details. And I couldn’t tell you the exact date when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor. So I appreciate an opportunity to brush up on non-current events.

I’ve been reading a biography of Hannibal recently for some reason. It’s kinda interesting to wonder what would have happened if he had finished off the Romans when he had the chance. He kicked their ass plenty, but the Roman Empire was one of those societies that only had to win once. You could beat them ten straight times, but Jove help you if they won the eleventh bout. Just ask anyone from Carthage, Hannibal’s hometown, how that worked out. Bring a shovel.

Anyway, I’ve read lots about the Romans. This video has more information in it than any ten books I’ve read. And the video game illustrations are wonderful.

The Nine Principles of Policing

The police as an institution are so thoroughly ingrained in the public’s mind that it’s easy to overlook the fact that a professional police force is a fairly recent development. Before professional policing, there were many ad-hoc assemblies of people with varying amounts of authority, organized and paid for by this or that individual or organization, and ultimately relying on nothing more than overwhelming force to perform their duties.

Sir Robert Peel came up with the idea of an official police force in England in the early 19th century. The nickname “Bobbies” is a riff on Peel’s first name. So an official, organized police force is only about two-hundred years old. America more or less followed along with the organization of police in the same way as Merry Olde.

There were ancient laws in England that instructed every freeman to have certain weapons on hand and use them when called upon to serve king and country. That goes back to Henry II. Constables were appointed to call out the citizenry when required to restore order, and watchmen have been looking out for crooks, fires, stolen property, lost dogs, and various other breaches of public security for a millennium. Eventually sheriffs were sworn in to keep jails, collect taxes, and generally keep order over larger areas of the country. This office caught on in the American west, as well, giving birth to lots of good movies, and to Jamaica, where Reggae confessions eventually became popular.

The old ways led to mobs of criminals or disgruntled citizens clashing with loosely and quickly organized mobs of authorities. Civil disorder, whether due to outright criminality or not, was crushed with extreme prejudice, as they say, and only rarely with a detour to any judge when a tree was handier. Peel thought things could be improved if the general public thought that a policeman was just like them, only professionally interested in keeping order continuously. In other words, a policeman is just supposed to do what any good citizen would do in his place, but pay attention to nothing else while the general public got on with their lives.

Robert Peel came up with what he called “General Instructions” given to all policeman in London starting in 1829. Here they are:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour, and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

That sounds pretty good to me. However, it doesn’t sound even 1% like the approach to policing of any current police force I know of in the United States.

Why Does Hollywood Hate the American Revolution?

That’s a bit of a rhetorical question, but it’s not an exaggeration. Hollywood obviously doesn’t like the American Revolution, and has signaled its disdain for the whole affair by studiously avoiding the topic for 110 years or so.

Let’s examine the statistics. In the 1910s, there were six movies made about the American Revolution. They had to interrupt the revolution to hold up cards explaining what everyone was saying, of course. But those six movies are the most for any decade since then, with the exception of the 1950s, who tied the score.

After the teens:

1920s: 4

1930s: 4, including Daniel Boone, which is about Indian fighting, not killing Britishers

1940s: 1. No, really; one. With Cary Grant, of all people, in a sort of Peyton Revolutionary Place

1950s: 6 again, none notable really. Daniel Boone is back, with Lon Chaney of all people busting Daniel’s balls with feathers in his hair. Leon Trotsky’s Bessarabian nephew (I’m not making this up, I swear) Samuel Bronston filmed John Paul Jones in Spain of all places, starring Robert Stack of all people, and lost his shirt. Andrew Loog Oldham liked the movie poster, though, and told the bass player in Led Zeppelin, John Baldwin, he’d be hipper if he changed his name to John Paul Jones for some reason.

1960s: Basically none. For a decade where about twenty-zillion movies were made. There was one French-Italian production called La Fayette. I don’t think George Washington was that fond of spaghetti and meatballs, however, or snails for that matter, so I don’t get the connection

1970s: 3, I guess, but only technically. The first, Paths of War, is an Italian comedy of all things. The plot summary shows just how confused Italians can be about any topic you could name:

In 1858 in Italy, in Sicily, Franco and Ciccio defend the Bourbon army to prevent the unification of Italy built by Giuseppe Garibaldi. However, when the troops of Garibaldi defeated the Bourbons, Franco and Ciccio escape, taking refuge in a box, which is delivered in America. In the Far West, Franco and Ciccio find themselves involved in the American War of Independence against the Apache Indians. They, camouflage, disguise themselves first by warlike Americans, and then by Indian holy men, being able to save their skin.

Franco and Ciccio sound like they went to American public schools, with a timeline like that. Anyway, the decade wasn’t done with messin’ with us. There was 1776, a musical comedy about the Revolution, if you can wrap your head around that. In his review, Vincent Canby of the New York Times, said that “the lyrics sound as if they’d been written by someone high on root beer…” I don’t quite know how to approach that observation, so we’ll move on. The only other Revolution movies listed is a videotaped adaptation of a Broadway play shown as a Hallmark Hall of Fame special, so not really a movie. But Christopher Walken is listed as a Hessian in it, which must have been a trip.

1980s: 2. Revolution, starring Al Pacino, is chockablock full of unintentional comedy. Not since Tony Curtis was saying things like Yonder is duh cassel ov my faddah had we been treated to Bronx accents in such unBronxy settings. The only other movie about the Revolution was made by the Brigham Young University School of Fine Arts. Not exactly a David O. Selznick production, there.

1990s: Zero, unless you call The Little Patriot one. I’m not sure if I do, because I can’t find anything about it online, except notes about the director in Danish, which I’m allergic to.

2000s: 3. Mel Gibson starred in a slasher film about the Revolution, The Patriot, and proved there was at least a quarter of a billion dollars in the topic, as long as you brained enough Britishers with a hatchet during the festivities.  The other two are so obscure that they might well be slides of someone’s vacation in Maryland.

2010s: 4, I guess. The only one with a link on the Wikiup is listed as an “American Christian historical action-adventure film.” I don’t know how to break it to the Wikiup editors, but everything to do with the United States up until a few years ago was American Christian history.  Maybe that’s why Hollywood isn’t interested. The other three movies don’t merit links on the Wiki, but I found a screen cap from one. Enjoy:

These stalwart ’76ers appear to be trying to figure out which end the shooty bits come out of, and what time lunch is served. We’ll leave it at that.

2020s: 1. I think. There’s one listed, called The Battle of Camden, but I can’t find it much about it. Its IMDB file says the Top Cast includes Jezibell Anat, who seems to be a belly dancer. I’m not sure how that would tie in with the Battle of Camden, but it’s no stranger than casting Tony Curtis in The Vikings, is it?

OK, maybe it is.

So let’s compare that with movies about the Civil War. Back to the Wikiup. Hmm. I count 355.  That’s a lot. Hell, they list 16 currently being produced.

Let’s try World War I movies to cleanse our palates. Believe me, I’m not going to try to count World War II movies. I don’t have that kind of stamina and an abacus with that many beads. But The Great War? Nobody born after Nixon got de-selected can even tell you what that one was about. I doubt most of the combatants could. But still, I count 202 entries on the Wikiup for WWI.

So Hollywood is very, very interested in wars. It’s interested in every sort of war involving Americans, and plenty that didn’t. But ipso facto they don’t care about the revolutionary war. My opinion might not be science, but it sure is at least some sort of arithmetic.

Perhaps I know why. I was in a used bookstore last year. We buy old hardcover versions of classics, mostly. Not much after the 1930s. Anyway, we were standing at the checkout and the heavy-set woman behind the counter with the owlish glasses and the tats was looking askance at our selections, and picked up one of our Graham Greene books about the Caribbean.

“My daughter just came back from vacation down near there. She said to me, ‘Mom, the money is so much more colorful down there, and has more interesting people on it’.” Then the clerk said to us, “Our money just has boring old dead white guys on it, amirite?”

I looked in my wallet. There was Alexander Hamilton. Ah yes. A bastard orphan born on the island of Nevis, taken in by a merchant who paid his way to New York for an education. He served as an artillery officer in the Revolutionary War, was the aide to General Washington, and was a delegate to the Continental Congress. On his days off from practicing law and writing 51 of the 85 installments of The Federalist Papers, he founded the Bank of New York, which currently has $45.7 trillion in assets somewhere around the place, I imagine it’s hard to remember where you put all that stuff. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury, which is only fair as it was his idea to have one. He helped abolish the international slave trade, and President Adams made him a major general in the army to keep him busy. Then he was shot to death in a duel with the third vice-president of the United States.

Yep. Boring.

The Middle Ages Version of Tank Battles

Suits of armor can seem kind of silly to the modern eye. We’ve been weaned on entertainment about the Middle Ages, not a lot of it very flattering, or based in historical fact. Every once in a while you see a fairly accurate depiction of a heavy cavalry charge with knights in armor, and you get a sense of how terrifying it must have been for the average soldier standing facing one, who couldn’t afford much, if any of that stuff.

If you weren’t heavily armed and armored and met up with one of these fellows, I wouldn’t like your chances. Watch the next video, and see what a direct blow from a broadsword does to an armored combatant. And if you’re planning on Jackie Channing them without armor and using light weapons, while they lumber around blind in their iron skinsuit, you might want to rethink it after they demonstrate their mobility in the stuff :

More interesting stuff at the Royal Armouries.

Who says there’s nothing good on YouTube? Oh right, I do. Oops.

Well, even Ivory Soap is only 99 44/100% pure. That ratio sounds about right for the internet as a whole, only reversed. I guess the Royal Armouries are part of the 0.56% remainder of the good parts of the internet.

[Update: Many thanks to Bob for his generous hit on the tip jar. Thanks for supporting Sippican Cottage!]

The Video Expects Every Viewer To Do His Duty

What a fascinating video.

There’s an enormous amount of information gathered and displayed. I’ve been to a lot of museums, and I’ve never seen this level of information presented in such an accessible way.

The HMS Victory was (is) a hell of a thing. It was Admiral Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar. Napoleon was planning on invading England and forcing the Anglos to eat frogs or something. That held no terrors for men who’d tasted haggis, so the British Navy went straight at the French and Spanish navies and sunk 20 ships, while losing none. Some people would call that running up the score. Of course all Nelson got out of it was a fatal wound and a square named after the battle instead of him.

The Victory is still above water. It’s docked in Portsmouth, and you can take a tour of it. Well, maybe you can. That’s Portsmouth England, not Portsmouth New Hampshire or Portsmouth Rhode Island, and I don’t swim so good, so I’ll never darken its poopdeck. Too bad. If you watch the video, you’ll understand it was the Starship Enterprise of its day, entirely whittled out of wood. No wonder there are only three trees left in England.

A Maine Barbecue

Back in the day, it would have been spelled barbeque, I think. Pretty soon the word will entirely pass through the alimentary canal of internet spelling and always be referred to as BBQ.

We’ll forgive the soprano for the caterwauling at the opening of the video. She’s performing in Monmouth, Maine, and in Maine, we’re all doing the best we can, and make allowances. She gets right back on track when she starts narrating the extravaganza of fun and frolic and painfully square activities. She’s got a great, subtle Katharine Hepburn twang. When she says “haff” at 3:18, I get a little thrill. It’s becoming rare in Maine, as the place gets increasingly populated with people “from away.” Southern Maine is increasingly northern Massachusetts.

The theater is still there in Monmouth, and banging away. They’re currently putting on a production of Richard II. It’s possible they wanted to put on Richard III, but didn’t have enough I’s for the marquee, and went with it. It’s Maine; we make do.

Bulletin, 2012: People Stockpiling Anxiety Medicine And Preparing To Call To Complain If Their Cable TV Is Out

As the philosopher Jagger once wrote: Things are different today. I hear every mother say. The pursuit of happiness just seems a bore…

You may think I’m joking in the headline, but if you read The Meteor, you’ll learn that there isn’t any joke you can dream up that doesn’t turn up true eventually. Sooner rather than later, usually.

Read The Rumford Meteor, or you won’t know what it says.

Tag: history

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