Monday, August 29, 2016

History: The Year is 1859

I've uploaded year 1859 to the TSP Wiki...

Here are some one liners...

Darwin: "On the Origin of Species" -- I mention that Darwin's theory, while a good first pass, has flaws. Watch the heads explode.

John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry -- Like Uncle Tom, he seems to be trying to save the souls of the slave-owners.

Port Sa'id and the Suez Canal -- I talk about Stalin, Mao and Elvis... the deadly trio.

In Other News -- Vaseline, the Planet Vulcan, and a massive solar storm.

Darwin: "On the Origin of Species"

Since the 1830s, scientists have been toying with the idea of the origin of species. In nature, you can see minor differences in animals and plants. Gregor Mendel is currently crossbreeding pea plants and creating the science of genetics. Crossbreeding of dogs has been ongoing for centuries, so there must be a natural mechanism at work too. An extremely popular book came out in 1844 entitled, "Vestiges of Creation." Its scientific basis was weak, but it created a public interest in the origin of animals, plants and perhaps... humankind. Charles Darwin has been searching for a theory that will explain the natural process of creating a species when he reads a paper on the Malthusian theory that human population growth reaches its limit when war, poverty, disease take its human toll. Something clicks and Darwin see a war in the animal and plant kingdoms where survival of the fittest and sometimes blind chance is the rule. He publishes "On the Origin of Species" at just the right time. His theory has flaws, but it pulls existing ideas together into a comprehensive whole and the public picks it up and runs with it... much to the dismay of many of the clergy and the joy of eugenicists. [1] [2] [3] [4]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
Every time I try to have an adult conversation on this subject, people's heads explode, so adjust your cranial pressure value. Here we go. Darwin did a good first pass on the origin of species, but his theory has flaws. The most glaring is that it takes too long for all of this stuff to happen naturally. Just look at how long it took to breed the wolf out of dogs... and we were doing that ON PURPOSE! This doesn't make Darwin's theory wrong, but it creates an opening for "Intelligent Design", which is the idea that an intelligent force (oh... I don't know... someone like GOD, maybe) is pushing things along. Without the God-idea, the explanations become complex... and sound a lot like a carnival barker's patter on how I could win that big teddy bear for my girl by tossing a ping-pong ball into a glass bowl. On the TV science show "Cosmos," Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson attempted a slight-of-hand by explaining that life began somewhere else, and Earth ran into a cloud of it. Then the Earth blew up when it was hit by the Moon, but then life reestablished itself... from space! It could happen.... when pigs fly! I am really pulling for pigs to fly, but the Doctor's explanation was so unlikely that it actually made the God-idea scientifically reasonable. (In calculus, as x approaches infinitely unlikely, God becomes definitely reasonable.) I am willing to wait for scientists to figure it out, but quit treating me like I'm a five-year-old asking why the sky is blue. [5] [6]

John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry

The US Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia is under attack by men led by the militant abolitionist, John Brown. Brown is attempting to instigate a slave revolt, but as with any revolt, guns come in handy. His plan calls for renting a house and living in the area to become familiar with the armory and with the people of the area. The people of the area are mostly armorers. Oddly enough, the armorers are not armed because raids seem unlikely. (Oops!) A single guard is on hand to call for help in case of a fire. At 10 PM, Brown and his men subdue the guard and take over the armory. They have a list of critical hostages to take so they go into town and arrest them. As dawn breaks, the plan breaks down. The townspeople realize something is wrong, but they can only look on helplessly. Finally, one of the armorers remembers that they had moved some guns above the flood line when recent rains threatened. They use the guns against Brown and his men and chase them into the engine room. They call upon Colonel Robert E. Lee and the US Marines to take the engine room. John Brown is taken prisoner. One Marine is killed and another injured. Brown is unrepentant. He is given a trial and hanged. [7] [8] [9]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
I read the official report on the Raid. The US government clearly looked upon John Brown as a nut and they were glad to hang him. One less thing to do. You know? That was a mistake. It seems unclear what John Brown expected to accomplish once he took the armory. He had made no provision to load up the guns and carry them away. So what was he expecting? Would the revolutionaries simply show up and ask for a musket or rifle? Was he expecting to die? He certainly accomplished martyrdom. His death became a rallying point. Brown said he was acting on behalf of God, and the helpless poor. When I read the transcript my sense was that Brown was not crazy at all. He took the words of the Bible seriously, and he feared a just God. That requires some explanation: if God is a just God, that means we all get punished exactly for what we deserve. In the case of slavery, John Brown feared that the just punishment would be paid in blood. With his impending hanging he saw clearly that there was no way for the slave-owners to avoid God's justice. They were gong to bleed. Apparently, like Uncle Tom, John Brown was fighting for the slave-owner's soul, and like Uncle Tom, he was willing to die for it. [10]

Port Sa'id and the Suez Canal

Work on the Suez canal begins this year. The actual work is to establish Port Sa'id as a starting point. There are no local resources, per se. It isn't even a good location for a port, but a rock outcropping is found off shore and a wooden pier is constructed. We are talking about a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Suez which is about 120 miles. Everything will have to be shipped in. Napoleon had originally commissioned a feasibility study to see if it could be done economically, but some mistakes were made in the study, so it came back negative. Napoleon dropped the project. Now the French have returned and reevaluated. There is only a 4 foot difference in sea levels. (The Gulf of Suez is higher.) If they go through the Bitter Lakes, that should balance out. The French make a deal with the current ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Sa'id Pasha, for 22% ownership. The rest of the shares are sold mainly to French citizens. One of the first things they build is the Sweet Water Canal to provide fresh water to Port Sa'id. The Suez Canal will be open for business in 10 years. [11]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
I recall the Suez Canal being a major point of contention over the years. A war in the Middle East always seemed to begin with a blockade of the Suez Canal. President Eisenhower was really torqued off when Egypt, under President Abdel Nasser, nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 and then refused Israel passage through the canal. This led to the Suez Crisis. Israel invaded and then Britain and France. While this was happening, Mao Zedong was siding with Egypt in competition with the Soviet Union. (Mao was not getting along with Stalin. Stalin actually thought Mao was crazy... which was fairly frightening in itself.) Mao offered 250,000 Chinese soldiers to help Nasser. Nasser refused which was a good thing because China had no way to get them to Egypt. (Mao was like that.) This was also the time of Russia's invasion of Hungary, so as you can see... it was busy times and it was easy for smaller things to slip through the cracks... like... Elvis Presley entering the music charts with "Heartbreak Hotel". Nuke 'em. Nuke 'em all. [12] [13]

In Other News

  • The Planet Vulcan is discovered. An amateur astronomer finds a planet closer to the Sun than Mercury. It is called "Vulcan", but it is all a big mistake. Vulcan lives on today as the home planet of Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series. [14]
  • Vaseline is discovered. Oil workers have been using "rod wax" to heal wounds and burns. After collecting samples and extracting the petroleum jelly, a Brooklyn manufacturer starts selling it as a medicinal cure under the name "Vaseline". [15]
  • One of the largest solar coronal mass ejections hits Earth. Telegraph operators receive shocks, the aurora's light can be seen in Cuba and some people wake up believing it is dawn. In modern times this event would cause a major disruption to electronics and to the electrical grid. [16] [17] [18]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1859, Wikipedia.

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