The History of Syphilis

Yesterday I was watching the move 1492: Conquest of Paradise, a movie about Columbus discovering the Amercas, by director Ridley Scott.  I didn’t expect the movie to be historically accurate, I just wanted to see what Scott did with it, as his movies always have some element that makes them worth watching.

While reading about the movie I stumbled upon the fact that it is most likely that syphilis was transported to Europe by the men returning from the Columbus expeditions. (Remember that on Columbus Day!)  Think about that possibility; the raping, enslaving, and massacring of indigenous people was rewarded with a sexual plague.  Almost makes you believe in divine retribution for a moment!

So after that I hopped over to the history of syphilis at wikipedia.  (I know wikipedia isn’t always 100% accurate, but it’s a good place to start.  We’re not writing a peer reviewed article here, just trying to get people thinking.)  There is some fun stuff there.  For instance, until the 1500’s the Italians called syphilis “the French disease” and in France it was called “the Italian disease”.  The Dutch called it “the Spanish disease”, the Russians called it the “the Polish disease”, and so on.  The best is that the Turks called it “the Christian disease”!  People have been blaming things on “the other” since the beginning of time.  I bet if syphilis were new that the Republicans would say that it was coming across the Mexican border.  I’m still not completely sure that won’t come up in a debate.

There is an even more detailed history of syphilis, where some of the wikipedia article was taken from, here.  

I find these kinds of things interesting.  When reading this kind of stuff one realizes how in the dark humanity has been for much of the time.  Also, it’s not too hard to see connections to present human behavior and realize how in the dark we are now.

More Posts On History and Syphilis Include:  Powdered Wigs, Syphilis, and Tradition

 

 

People Know Next to Nothing About Reconstruction

Eric Foner

People Know Next to Nothing About Reconstruction

There is a really interesting article over at Salon that deals with the misconceptions about Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War, and what really went wrong.  The article is an interview with esteemed historian Eric Foner.  A sample:

Among other things, it’s a story of attempts at interracial cooperation from below, which ultimately failed by 1900. It’s sometimes argued that the political failure of Reconstruction in the South was due to the fact that Republican support among Unionist whites, which was significant at the beginning, seemed to have disappeared or diminished by 1877. Why do you think that happened?

That’s one of the reasons for the failure of Reconstruction — it’s one reason. Of course, there were some states where they never had any white support, like South Carolina and maybe a couple of other places. Louisiana had very, very little.

The problem of getting poor white support was very difficult and was exacerbated by the difference between the Northern Republican Party and the Southern Republican Party. In some of these states, like North Carolina or Georgia, there were poor whites, Unionists, and so on, who were interested in supporting the Republicans for economic advantages like debtor’s relief.

But the Northern Republican Party was not interested in supporting them. They rejected Georgia’s Constitution because it suspended the collection of debts, and they said, “Hey, I’m sorry, you guys have got to pay your debts.” It’s like Greece, they were acting like Angela Merkel.

I actually think the failure of Reconstruction was not solely or even primarily on that basis. Rather, you have to go to the federal level and look at what was basically a failure to enforce the law. There were these constitutional amendments — the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth — but you get a withdrawal from enforcement after a while, and that reflected changes in Northern society — political, economic, and intellectual. And without a willingness to enforce the law, the power structure in the South — the economic power structure — is going to take over eventually.

It’s possible to imagine continued federal intervention — not, you know, military intervention for forty years, but enough to make it clear that these laws will be enforced. Like what happened in the Civil Rights Movement. There was a social movement, but there was also the National Guard, federal courts, other things just making it clear to people, not that they have to love each other, but that they have to act in certain ways and they can’t act in other ways. That if people act in ways that are in violation of federal law, they will be punished. And if that becomes clear, then people eventually abide by the law.

More Posts On History Include:  Death, Mortality, Abraham Lincoln, and His Secretary Of War

“This is a Night for Americans!” – Republican Version 2015

billthebutcher flag

I was reading the article over at Huffpo about how certain Republicans want to repeal the 14th Amendment, ending birthright citizenship.  I started thinking about the film Gangs of New York, where Daniel Day Lewis’s character, Bill the Butcher, represents nativist sentiment in America at that time.  Only at that time Hispanics weren’t the target, but Irish Roman Catholics.  Here is a brief history of nativism in the United States over at wikipedia.  My family, going back, was partially Irish Roman Catholic.  The groups that are deemed outsiders change, but the story remains the same.  Certain groups think that they have more of a right to America than others.  Sure, there needs to be some kind of fair and sane way to bring new groups into America, to make them part of the social fabric of the country, but that is far different than what shenanigans the Republicans constantly seem up to.  Not only is the Republican strategy a losing one over the longterm, but don’t those at the base level realize they are part of a long line of people that lost out in the end, only to see the group they demonize enter the American mainstream? I’m sure once it becomes politically untenable to demonize Hispanics there will be some new group to suit their need to divide.

This is a long serving and predictable political tactic, to divide and conquer, bait and switch.  A group in economic power will make groups with less economic power fight it out, so that those groups don’t unite and take a larger slice of the pie.  Income inequality goes up, and poor whites, many that are of Irish, German, and Italian descent, all of which are groups that were scapgoated in the past, are lead to believe that it is poor Hispanics that are destroying their way of life.

Republicans will scream some version of Bill the Butcher’s line in Gangs of New York, “This is a night for Americans!”  But which Americans are the ones really winning out by such a thing?

Is Our Environmental Past Prophecy of a Dark Future?

In reading about whaling in the book In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, a great example is made of what happens when human beings destroy nature for economic pursuit.  I’m not talking about the whaleship Essex being sunk by a sperm whale, which is what the book is largely about, the true story that Moby Dick was based on.  I’m talking about how Nantucketers, in their ever increasing greed for more whale oil and their stubbornness in following tradition, built an entire economy that was doomed to eventually collapse.  The real story, which if you are interested in you should read the book, is more complex, but basically Nantucketers over-hunted whales and had to keep going further and further to find them.  Also, because they had such a closed off culture, when it did become apparent to others to seek even new hunting grounds, the Nantucketers could not adapt fast enough.

This is a story that has been seen again and again.  The fur-trade wore itself out from overhunting of beavers.  Almost any American school child knows about how the Buffalo almost became extinct from overhunting.  On a different note, with something like mountaintop removal in places like West Virginia one can see how whole economies rise and fall around something environmentally destructive, leaving a populace with nothing left to show for something other than a small few making a lasting fortune.

I don’t see how one can look at something like the oil industry and climate change and not expect the same to happen on a much larger scale.  This time it will be more than a single species almost driven to extinction, a single region driven through a boom and bust cycle.  While it is true that those species mentioned did manage to rebound somewhat, the ways of life they were based on never did.

As the old quote goes, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  Humans, now more technologically advanced than ever, also have greater destructive powers than ever before.  The game we are playing is much bigger now, but the story is old.  Are we, as a species, truly capable of learning from our past?  Or is the past merely a series of small prophecies of what is to come of our future?

More Posts On the Environment Include: Entertainment Shows Growing Environmental Concerns

9 Old Movies That Put Modern Horror To Shame

9 Old Movies That Put Modern Horror To Shame

The link above is to a Cracked article that has clips from old horror movies from early in movie history.  The title is theirs.  However, I think the clips are interesting.  They are visually striking and some of them are quite artistic.  Plus, in looking at them you realize that there is this whole world of lost history out there, things that many people saw that you aren’t even aware of.  It’s like looking through a portal into another time and place.

A Lie Agreed Upon

A Lie Agreed Upon – David Milch’s Deadwood

The other day I mentioned that I was watching the David Milch created Luck.  While reading more interviews with Milch I came upon this fascinating article.  There is a mini-documntary here that you can watch about Milch’s Deadwood, one of the greatest shows of all time.  You can also read the script for the documentary below if you don’t feel like watching it.  It’s truly fascinating not only for the information about the show, but the ideas inherent in the show and therefore the documentary as well dealing with our country.  The title above has to do with the idea that history is a, “lie agreed upon.”  I found the following passage really interesting and a good sample of the kind of ideas inherent in the show and article:

He said, “An agreement that creates a community is an agreement upon an illusion, an agreement upon an intoxicant.  Our founding document jumps off from, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ which to me means a frank agreement upon illusion – not that these are self-evident truths, but that we agree upon an illusion that these are fucking truths.”

The Party of Jackson vs. The Party of Obama

The Party of Jackson vs. the Party of Obama – NYMag

The above article is an interesting read about the history of the Democratic party.  It also deals with recent events and the friction between different elements of the party.  The other day I saw this map, which shows which areas of the country have the most racist tweets.  I was surprised, maybe not totally surprised having grown up around that region, but at least slightly surprised that the region that looked the worst on that map was Appalachia.  (I grew up in central Pennsylvania and went to college in West Virginia.)  Now there may be reasons that this map is slightly misleading, though I have no proof of that.  The fact that it is Twitter and not some kind of more scientific poll may change results.  There are also less blacks in that region than in other parts of the country that are more traditionally thought of as racist, so maybe people feel they have less reason to hide what they are saying?  Anyhow, anyway you cut it, it is deeply troubling for that region.  (I should also add that as someone that travels a lot, no one should be stereotyped just because of the region they come from.  There are great people in the South and Appalachia, just as there are terrible people in regions that are not as negatively stereotyped for racial issues.)

One of the things that the right has been so good at doing is dividing and conquering.  Economically minorities and white working class voters would both benefit from a less conservative agenda.  Having better access to good jobs, good education, and having more regulations, especially in areas of pollution, leads to a higher quality of life.  However, these social issues have always been used to divide our country.  United we stand, divided we fall, is now as true as ever.  If we can’t overcome our differences in this age, when jobs can move anywhere in the world and environmental issues require a united front, we are truly doomed.

Ta-Nehisi Coates On Why the Confederate Flag Should Be Taken Down In South Carolina

Take Down the Confederate Flag Now

I would never argue to ban a flag.  Not because there are any flags that I’m expecting to wave anytime soon, but because I believe in freedom of expression, even the freedom to express views that are misguided.  However, there is a big difference between giving people the choice to wave their own flag and putting it up over a statehouse, where it carries the weight of law with it.  I know there are some that say the Confederate Flag carries history and heritage with it, but if you look at that history it is troubling to say the least.  Up above Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the argument that the Confederate Flag should be taken down, with the weight of history on his side.  I picked Coates because I know that he has done a great deal of time studying the history of slavery, The Civil War, and the legacy of those times.  I’ve read him long enough to know that he has done the heavy lifting, the research, on these questions.  Anyone can spout their opinion, but Coates has long been interested in these very things.  I’ve read enough history myself that, while I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on such things, Coates words ring true to me in that they stack up with the things that I have read.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t like culture wars for the sake of them and I don’t like acts of symbolism.  I’d much rather know that racism was stamped out than to see a flag taken down.  However, again the fact that this flag is hung up on a public building is what I find troubling.  Taking the flag down in no way means that issues of institutional racism are stamped out.  But at the same time flying a flag that has stood for institutional racism over an institution is a little strange, especially if you are one of those that claims there is no institutional racism.  Taking it down is a symbol and a gesture and no more.  It doesn’t solve anything in and of itself, but it at least says, “we’re working on it,” doesn’t it?

If you want to hang that flag on your house or put it as a bumper-sticker on your car, as they say in Deadwood, “That is between you and your god.”  But I think, given what that flag has represented over the years, taking it down from government buildings is a pretty damn good idea.

Genocide in a Theme Restaurant

When I was in Oklahoma a couple weeks ago I noticed, while we were driving through a commercial zone, that there was a car wash named after an Indian tribe.   I don’t remember what tribe, but it struck me as both tragic and comic at the same time.  Oklahoma was once the home of many tribes, including the Kiowa, Pawnee, and Shawnee.  (There are obviously still Native Americans in Oklahoma, but not as they once were of course.) The white man came into Oklahoma, killed or displaced its indigenous people, and now uses their images and names to promote cheap commerce.  It would be like Germans deciding to paint the faces of Jews on the inside of beer halls, just to provide some quaint atmosphere.  Oklahoma is not alone, by any means, in this kind of behavior, it is just where the idea crystalized itself in my mind.  People commit genocide and then name some tacky businesses after the victims.  If that’s not insult to injury I don’t know what is.  Next time you go to a family restaurant with your kids, make sure to tell them that the Indian on the wall was probably killed right there!  That will add some interesting vibes to an otherwise drab family occasion!