Saturday, November 12, 2016

You Are The Dreamchild Of The 19th Century

           The ponies run, the girls are young
           The odds are there to beat
           You win a while and then it's done
           Your little winning streak...

-- Leonard Cohen, A Thousand Kisses Deep
On advice from my editor, before I figure out whether it's even worth it to take apart Mr. David Brooks' Friday column in the New York Times (Spoiler:  It's chock full of that sweet, sweet Both Siderist goodness that builds strong Beltway bank accounts 12 ways!) I am going to post something I wrote 11 years ago that hasn't seen the light of day since.

Which is ironic since the hook on which I hung this post was a bottle of whiskey that had been hidden away for 193 years.

So here's hoping that storing my posts in oak casks for over a decade has increased their peatieness and resale value ...

We were once The Unimaginable Future.

Science and the wondrous inventions and perils knowledge and creativity produce blaze around us with such profligacy that I sometimes just don’t notice. I forget how staggeringly lucky I am to live in this miraculous age – at this moment in history. I perhaps forget to laugh at the sheer dumbass irony of the fact that Aurora-Borealis-haired Fundy rodents who slicker the Great Wad (thanks Harlan) out of their sofa change by bashing modernity and intellectualism... so through a network of satellites and cable-stations, cell-phones and Blackberrys (Remember those? Ed.), using wireless laptops to crunch their numbers and spam their flock while jetting hither and thither to drive home the message that Science is the Devil.

Of course it is desperately sad that there are so many people in our rich, dumb nation who are so hysterically frightened of The Future and The Other that they can be gulled into making war with both based on a tissue of lies, but c’mon; it’s also a goddamned funny, these dimwit refugees from Green Acres being conned out of their votes, their socks and their cousins by the Travlin’ Preacher Man over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

In the heat of today I might forget that while our nation is temporarily in the hands of slugdumb human gravy-boats like Senator’s Coleman and Santorum and Allen and human melanoma like DeLay -- he of the Jughead face and the Helter-Skelter eyes – that we’ll get it back, and we’ll make it better. That things have been worse – far worse – than they are now. That we have a past that is equal parts monstrous and bloody and inspiring, and, I believe, a glorious future.

Our particular allotment or days – and the measure of any generations -- is a skirmish in a much, much longer war...a war of centuries and one that, despite detours and false-starts, has always slowly marched in the direction of enlightenment and tolerance.

So consider this, fresh from the AP:
Workers Find 193-Year-Old Whiskey Bottle

Wed May 18, 7:17 PM ET

HOLLISTON, Mass. - Workers restoring a chimney in an old house here found what they believe to be a 193-year-old bottle of whiskey on a hidden shelf just above the fireplace.

Chuck Clapham, owner of Masonry Restoration, said he thinks the masonry crew probably left the half-full bottle behind when they built the chimney nearly two centuries ago.

The label was tattered, he told the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, but Clapham's son Michael could still make out a date on it: 1812. A broken cork was lodged in the top, and dark liquid sloshed around inside.

Kristin Foster, who has lived in the house on Fiske Street with her family since 1996, said she could not make out the name of the whiskey bottling company on the faded label. But below the address the label clearly reads "opposite Faneuil Hall Market," a reference to the historic meeting house in downtown Boston. The bottle also has a stamp on the back that reads "full pint."
So when I read this, three things occurred to me:

First, fuck your Laphroaig and your Tullemore and your cask-strength Abelour and your 75-year-old special reserve Ardbeg. For a dram of 193-Year-Old whiskey, I’ll catch rats with my teeth and play naked Twister with Karen Hughes (don’t worry, I’ll bring her over to the Side of the Angels...James Bond-style.)

Second, people are people, always. Can’t you just see a couple of bricklayers getting hammered (pun intended) after a hard week, tucking the bottle away and forgetting where they left it?

Third, once upon a time, we were the future. During the peak of Antebellum Slave Culture, in an age of cutlasses and death by simple infection, we were the dim and distant and all but incomprehensible future. And yes, I mean you, in your Jar Jar Binks Underoos, on the computer with the sound turned waaaay down, jerking off to free 60-second porn preview downloads in your mommy’s basement.

Yes, you are the dreamchild of the 19th century; the hope of their long-ago future.

Is this a completely bad thing? Eh, on my better days I tend to think not. We certainly have our fucking work cut out for us, but ask any ten people you meet in the street if slavery and lynching and the mass rape and murder of indigenous peoples is cool with them and on most streets in most places all ten of them will look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

This was not the case in this country when the whiskey in the story was bottled and corked, and as slow and frustrating as it is, and as bloody as the journey has been, that really is genuine, measurable progress

(However I’m no Pollyanna, so here’s a friendly Traveler’s Tip for our foreign friends:
the more hedging and “iffy” the answers to questions about discrimination, the literality of the Bible and the superiority of the White race become...the closer you are to Bush Country. And I take some measure of consolation in knowing that a century from now the legacy of the Frists and Santorums of the age will be something that their own descendants will look back on in shame.)

193 years ago.

For those of you doing the math, the year was 1812.

What was it like?

It was the age of Imperial wind-and-wood navies ruling the oceans. Half a century before the Civil War, before the first ironclad, before the first telegraph, when global communications traveled at the speed of sail or a man on horseback and yet in startling ways 1812 was not so very different from 2005.


…The Earth still smacked us around.

…Arrogant men, drunk on their own sense of omnipotence, still invaded foreign lands...and thought they were winning until they got their asses handed to them when the locals stubbornly refused to fight the kind of war the occupiers wanted to fight.

…Bastards and geniuses and bastard-geniuses were born, lived, changed things a little, and died.

…Politics was politics.

…Pop culture was still considered degenerate and immoral by people that couldn’t follow the new music or master the moves.

…War hawks were war hawks (the term was actually coined in that year) and pro-war mobs who couldn’t bear having their favorite military adventure challenged mindlessly attacked those that spoke out...and the genuine war heroes who rose to defend free speech..

…Lack of proper equipment dearly cost a great army.

…The US Army fell vastly short of its recruitment targets.

…Science was uncovering things for which the Church had no damned explanation.

And for extra-special-fun at no additional charge, as you look down the list, see how it reads when you substitute “Bush” for “Napoleon” and “Iraq” for “Russia”

So when you’re feeling maybe a little under-siege and a little like hope is waning and all of our tomorrows are growing dark, take a look this short catalog of events from 193 years ago (courtesy the Timelines website) and see just how amazingly similar those days were to our age.

And remember that they got through it. The nation survived. Shock after shock, war after war, setback after tragic setback, we continue on.

We fight.
We improve.
And we prevail.

So welcome to 1812. Enjoy the view;
Feb 7, A 3rd major earthquake shook New Madrid, Missouri, and for a few hours reversed the course of the Mississippi River.

Feb 7, Charles Dickens, English novelist, was born in Portsmouth, England. His stories reflected life in Victorian England. Some of his more famous novels include "Oliver Twist," "A Christmas Carol" and "A Tale of Two Cities."

Feb 11, Alexander Hamilton Stephens (d.1883), Vice Pres (Confederacy), was born near Crawfordville, Georgia. Stephens, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1843 to 1859, was a delegate at the Montgomery meeting that formed a new union of the seceded states. He was elected vice president to Jefferson Davis on February 9, 1861. Stephens was later elected governor of Georgia in 1882 but died after serving just a few months.

Feb 11, Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a redistricting law that favored his party -- giving rise to the term "gerrymandering."

Mar 14, The US Congress authorized war bonds to finance War of 1812.

Mar 19, Spanish Cortes passed a liberal constitution under a hereditary monarch.

Mar 26, Earthquake destroyed 90% of Caracas; about 20,000 died.

Apr 4, The territory of Orleans became the 18th state and later became known as Louisiana.

May 7, Poet Robert Browning was born in London. His works include "The Piper of Hamelin" and "The Ring and the Book."

May 11, The Waltz was introduced into English ballrooms. Most observers considered it disgusting and immoral.

May 25, A series of coal mine explosions took place around the Felling Colliery in Durhamshire, England. 92 miners were killed. This prompted local clergymen to organize the Society for Preventing Accidents in Coal Mines.

Jun 12, Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army invaded Russia.

Jun 18, The War of 1812 began as the United States declared war against Great Britain and Ireland. The term "war hawk" was first used by John Randolph in reference to those Republicans who were pro-war in the years leading up to the War of 1812. These new types of Republicans, who espoused nationalism and expansionism, included Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. Most of them came from the agrarian areas of the South and West. In 2004 Walter R. Borneman authored “1812: The War That Forged a Nation.”

Jun 22, A pro-war mob destroyed Hanson's newspaper office, four days after America’s declaration of war against Great Britain. Revered American Revolutionary cavalry hero Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee was nearly beaten to death by a mob in Baltimore. Lee came to the aide of an anti-war newspaper publisher in Baltimore, Alexander Contee Hanson, defending his right to freedom of speech. When Hanson returned to Baltimore five weeks later to resume publication, his office was again besieged by vigilantes. After a tense standoff through the night of July 27, Hanson and his supporters, including Lee, were taken to a local jail. Later the mob stormed the jail, severely beating those being held. Lee, father of Robert E. Lee, never fully recovered from injuries sustained in the beating and died in 1818.

Jun 24, Napoleon crossed the Nieman River [in Lithuania] and invaded Russia.

(driftglass shout’s at the screen: “Don’t go in there Napoleon! It’s a trap!”)

Jul 12, United States forces led by General William Hull entered Canada during the War of 1812 against Britain. However, Hull retreated shortly thereafter to Detroit. Madison had called for 50,000 volunteers to invade Canada but only 5,000 signed up.

Jul 22, English troops under the Duke of Wellington defeated the French at the Battle of Salamanca in Spain.

Aug 16, American General William Hull surrendered Detroit without resistance to a smaller British and Indian forces under General Isaac Brock.

Aug 17, Napoleon Bonaparte’s army defeated the Russians at the Battle of Smolensk during the Russian retreat to Moscow.

Aug 19, The USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, got its name when it defeated the British warship Guerriere off Nova Scotia in a slugfest of broadsides, when cannonballs were said to have bounced off her sides. The USS Constitution won more than 30 battles against the Barbary pirates off Africa’s coast in the War of 1812.

Sep 7, On the road to Moscow, Napoleon won a costly victory over the Russians under Kutuzov at Borodino. This was the greatest mass slaughter in the history of warfare until the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Sep 12, Richard March Hoe was born in NYC. He built the first successful rotary printing press.

Sep 14, Napoleon's invasion of Russia reached its climax as his Grande Armee entered Moscow--only to find the enemy capital deserted and burning, set afire by the few Russians who remained. The fires were extinguished by Sep 19.

(In France as Napoleon’s army proceeded to invade Russia it numbered 442,000 troops. In Sept. it reached Moscow with 100,000 men. The remains of the Grandee Armee struggled out of Russia in 1813 with 10,000 men.)

Oct 19, French forces under Napoleon Bonaparte began their retreat from Moscow.

Oct 22, The Duke of Wellington abandoned his 1st siege of Burgos, Spain.

Nov 14, As Napoleon Bonaparte's army retreated form Moscow, temperatures dropped to 20 degrees below zero. Michel Ney defended the Napoleon‘s rear during the retreat from Moscow and was called by Napoleon "The bravest of the brave." He rejoined Napoleon during the Hundred Days and the Waterloo campaign. After Napoleon‘s defeat, he was found guilty of treason and shot. It was later suggested that many soldiers died because their tin coat buttons deteriorated in the extreme cold.

Nov 27, One of the two bridges being used by Napoleon Bonaparte's army across the Beresina River in Russia collapsed during a Russian artillery barrage.

Dec 6, The majority of Napoleon Bonaparte's Grand Armeé staggers into Vilna, Lithuania, ending the failed Russian campaign

Dec 18, Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in Paris after his disastrous campaign in Russia.

-- The small Bank of America was founded in NYC.

-- The steamboat New Orleans was built in Pittsburgh and steamed to New Orleans but lacked sufficient power to return upstream.

-- Mary Anning of Lyme Regis in Dorcetshire, England, excavated a 17-foot-long skeleton and sold it to Henry Hoste Henley, Lord of the Manor of Colway for £23. The fossil was later named Icthyosaurus.

See, that wasn't so painful now, was it? 
As a reward, go pour yourself a shot of that 15-year-old Bowmore you've been saving. And pour one for me too; this is thirsty work.

Two cubes, water back.


bill said...

And the bowl of petunias thought, "Oh no, Not again."

godhatesyeast said...

FYI Scotch stops aging when it's bottled.

ZaftigAmazon said...


I live close to Portland, and would like to talk to someone about proper protesting (looking serious and avoiding property damage) . Steve Gilliiard had a post where he stated that student protests did not stop the Vietnam war. Rather actions by enlisted men (that caused the Army to quit working) is what shortened the Vietnam war: sick-outs, not reporting AWOLs, on base riots, fragging, etc. I can't locate it. Can you work this into one of your posts?

Dr.BDH said...

I have on my desk a half pint bottle, cork intact, scant brown sludge at the bottom, found behind a wall when remodeling a third floor bathroom used by servants from circa 1893 until sometime in the 50's. In a shadow box upstairs is an Indianhead penny also from 1893, the year our home was constructed, that my son found under a radiator in his bedroom in 2009. In other rooms, under layers of wallpaper and paint, the signatures of the plasterers who finished the walls. On the back of a built-in dresser drawer, the signature of the owner/builder. Between the pipes in the plumbing of another bath, a local newspaper with he news of Hitlar's invasion of Russia. People ask if the house has ghosts and I answer, "Yes, yes it does, I find them all the time."

keith gargus said...

As I read this with great enjoyment, I am drinking the national liquor of Nicaragua. A 18 year old dark rum called Flor de Cana. If and when I come back to the US I promise to bring a bottle and mail it to you. It's the least I can do for all the pleasure your blog has brought me.
History, like science, is so fucking awesome.

Robt said...

Bible Bastard; (unscriptualed and unscrupulous)

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?"

We are about to find out from the guy who forfeited his soul to gain the White House.

And believe me, This guy has been uncorked (in condensed time) for more than a measly 195 years.

Donald Walsh said...

Thanks DG for the historical long-view. I do wonder what will be written about the Baby Boom generation, that demanded the world's undivided attention from its infancy in 1945 until well into the 21st Century. Some version of "No one ever went broke overestimating the self-absorption of the Baby Boom generation, even GOP politicians and Medigap insurance peddlers."

bowtiejack said...

I live in NY City. Trump announced (or murmured or bellowed or tweeted) that while President, he thinks he'll spend his weekends in NY.
Maybe this gives his game away.
If you don't know, Trump was always known in Manhattan as a bridge-and-tunnel guy (i.e. someone from one of the less civilized, down scale outer boroughs. He was never accepted by the Manhattan establishment and was considered a faux nouveau riche boor or, if you will, a "short-fingered vulgarian").
There are lots of pictures online of Trump with various of his wives at tony social and charitable events in Manhattan. But that's not where the meaningful social action is in New York. It's at exclusive private dinner parties held by the creme de la creme for each other. Trump was frozen out of these, no matter how many pictures he got in the paper or how much he wanted to break bread with Jamie Diamond, Caroline Kennedy, Oscar de la Renta and the real establishment.
To take only one example, years ago he wanted to break into the action in Southampton, summer feeding ground of the WASP and hedge-fund elite. To really do that, you have to get into the Southampton Bathing Corp. aka "the beach club". They stiffed him, as they stiff most people who didn't come over on The Mayflower. And I think he had the same experience in Palm Beach with The Everglades and The Bath and Tennis which are the inner sanctums of the elite there.
His "fabulous, best apartment in the world" penthouse atop Trump Tower is considered (properly in my view) a baroque tasteless monstrosity, any discussion of which is accompanied by polite sniggering.

So here's what I think.
Delusional narcissistic personality disorder that he is, Trump wants more than anything else in the world to be accepted by what he views as the NY top tier. They have sneered, rejected and made fun of him all his life. Now he's coming back as "Mr. President" and we better see some goddamn respect! Sure he's still got that day job down in DC he's supposed to show up for, but this is really the prize, this is what it was really all about. Eternal teenager that he is, he doesn't just get even, he conquers, dominates, and destroys his enemies!

bowtiejack said...

My apologies. I was so focused on my own business (OMG! Just like Trump!) I forget to compliment you on your own excellent observations and augury. Very nice.

Mike Lumish said...

For those who have not seen it before, Mindard's map of Napoleon's march through Russia is a classic in the visual representation of quantitative information.

Anonymous said...

Once bottled whisky does not "AGE" it gets older yes but it is not "AGED" not that easy . To be sixty years old it must age in the barrel , it must be monitored under certain conditions temperature humidity ,etc the barrels are turned . It is not uncommon for very old bottles (indeed cases of bottles) to be found these do reach a decent sum but the value is for the curiosity value not flavour . It is only relatively recently that whisky is routinely aged . It does keep better than a wine but it will still at best be less drinkable than a new bottled whisky of the same "AGE"
Word to the wise and something i learnt at my grandads knee "Buy the guid stuff, aye right enough " ... "first twa maybe three halves " then drop onto the "Teachers yer tongue canoe tell " ( Teachers is Scotlands most popular blended whisky ) he kept his "Guid"stuff in the fridge , never ever add water .

Hutchman said...

Speaking of 1812 - wasn't that the last time American soldiers actually "defended the homeland?

jim said...

1812 was quite the trip - a war over a British injustice that was already corrected before it began. Any time a fellow Canuck crows about it I want to puke: there were years of border-zone "minor actions" very absent from the rote history wherein both sides acted a lot more like the Waffen-SS or the Contras than Disney heroes or John Wayne. The Natives learned how to take scalps from the British, lest we forget. Still ... Tecumseh was SUCH an epic badass.

Despite her veneer of invincible scale, Russia of course DID fall - to those frisky Mongols who cunningly opted to Go West, Young Khan.

tom said...

One of the masons needed to relieve himself, did so, and bricked in the evidence.

tom said...

One of the masons needed to relieve himself, did so, and bricked in the evidence.