Tag Archives: history

Jeremy Rosen Scott Birdseye

Lions, Tigers and Bears

The Effects of the Megafauna on the Fall and Restoration of the Monarchy in Oz

by Jared Diamond

In the majority of his written works, scientist and author Jared Diamond attempts to show how the natural environment has influenced history. Previously, he has, with some skill, shown how distribution of biological resources led to the cultural predominance of Eurasian civilization and also how environmental factors precipitated the downfall of societies ranging from the Mayans to the Norse. Lions, Tigers and Bears tells a similar story; that of the collapse and eventual restoration of the Ozma government and how large animals came to play a crucial role in the unfolding political drama.

Diamond begins by examining the history of the realm of Oz and how its unique and tenuous monarchy came to power. Initially four separate sovereign nations; Munchkin, Gillikin, Quadling and Winkie became united by a monarchy which ruled from the city-state of Emerald City. It is through this history that Diamond makes the first and most crucial of his points; that geography made the eventual toppling of the monarchy a near certainty. Emerald City, situated on the central plain of Oz was unable to consolidate complete control over the rough and mountainous terrains in the outlying region. Throughout the Outlands, small societies were able to prosper in isolation and were often ignorant of the very existence of the centralized monarchy.

Jared Diamond

Furthermore, the cultures which grew up around the central plain were able to travel from one place to another easily, allowing for a cultural fusion of ideas, inventions and economies while the outlying mountainous regions and those beyond the Deadly Desert gave rise to isolated civilizations which could not share in the central plains culture. While the Ozma government could technically claim to rule the Land of Ez or the Dominions of the Nome King, the inhabitants of those lands, due to geography, would continually assert their independence causing a great deal of external stress to the central government. These outlying cultures developed societies entirely alien to the central plains societies; including differing religious systems and different domestication strategies. Thus, it was via environmental factors that Ozma was never able to consolidate complete control over the continent of Nonestica.

This would prove the monarchy’s undoing. Cultural fears of the desert and mountain regions made Ozma unwilling to expand. Without a coastline, and surrounded by alien cultures, the central plain became isolated, surrounded by hostile peoples. Continual attacks by the Nome King as well as by the Wicked Witches, a theocratic sect found in isolated mountainous regions of the West, weakened the power of the monarchy. The Wicked Witches were able to domesticate only one species; a flying monkey, found only in the mountains. The central plains societies were ill-adapted to fighting the soaring simians that would occasionally raid the central plains, further destabilizing the monarchy.

The flying monkeys (Brachyteles ecaudata) allow Diamond to introduce his thesis; the influence of the Megafauna on the collapse of Ozma’s government. The inhabitants of the central plains never domesticated any fauna, and were unable to cope with attacks by the flying monkeys. Thus, the Wicked Witches, with the help of the related sect of Wicked Wizards were able to expel King Pastoria of Oz and send his daughter Princess Ozma into exile. While Ozma was able to return to the throne for a short time, she was nevertheless unable to establish true governmental supremacy over the Land of Oz. After she was captured by the Nome King, the central government collapsed. With the central government non-existent, individual fiefdoms grew up and the influence of the trade unions, such as the Lollipop Guild, grew to fill the void of power in the lands.

Diamond then explores the issue of Megafauna, including central plains societies’ cultural aversion to large, predatory animals. Though the people of the plains feared lions, tigers and bears, it would be a lion, a rare form of forest-dwelling lion, that eventually helped secure a new dynasty in the Emerald City. Following the interregnum, the Scarecrow took control of the throne, though he was a weak monarch who ruled over a society near collapse. Trade had nearly broken down, infrastructure was ill-maintained and despite the numerous enemies on the borders, the army consisted of only one poorly built mechanical soldier. Though the Ozma monarchy was eventually restored, the problems inherent in Oz’s social, political and economic systems remain.

As an afterthought, Diamond presents a warning that societies such as the Land of Oz face important issues in their handling of the natural environment. Geographic pressures created a situation where the central plains people considered themselves invulnerable, while the outlying societies considered Oz ripe for the plucking. Had the denizens of Oz, Diamond asserts, taken a clear look at environmental and geographic factors, their society might not have been driven to near collapse.

While Lions, Tigers and Bears, is a good read, Diamond characteristically meanders through his ideas, stopping for several chapters to explore the evolutionary and agricultural history of meat trees. Indeed, the book presents a new and interesting take on the history of Oz, but generally only explores Megafauna in a few small sections, focusing instead on geology, weather and tectonics as an explanation of the political events in question while completely ignoring the fact that Megafauna in the lands in and around Oz would be apparently normal by Earthen standards. There have been several major scholarly works on political and economic life in the Land of Oz, but none have explored the bio-history of the region. Though Diamond’s writing has its faults, the issues he presents allow a new understanding of a troubled area’s past and possible futures.

Jeremy Rosen

Land: A Concise History of Civilization

A Concise History of Civilization

Historians spend years, sometimes decades, sifting through primary documents in their attempts to uncover the reasoning behind events in the past; both grand and trite. They’ll offer a host of explanations, descriptions, and analyses to explain why a war started, or how a people disappeared. They’re wasting their time. It all comes down to land. Just patches of dirt; patches of dirt with flora and fauna, and if you’re lucky, some iron ore.

To begin our exploration, let me tell you about the early history of a people, a well-documented history, which while it may be a little faulty in the details, still seems to get the larger view correct according to archaeological and historic study. Let’s talk about the Hebrews.

Their origin and actions are detailed in The Testament. Not the Old Testament. After all, they wrote the thing and so we’ll ignore those “New Testament” shenanigans. To them it was just The Testament; a testament of their activities. After a quick reword of the Sumerian creation myth, it starts when Abraham is spirited out of his home city of Ur, a city of alleged idolaters. What brought him out of Ur? That’s right, the promise that God was going to give him some really special land. Abraham was really into dirt, and after dividing up the dirt with his cousin Lot, he settled down and started the Hebrews.

Abraham wasn’t so bad on his own, but those progeny sure were. Throughout The Testament we’re shown the same, short dialog over and over again.

“You see those people over there?”

“Well, yeah?”

“Go kill them and take their land.”

Which of course the Israelites (as they’re known by this point) were quite happy to do. Whether the people were Ammonite or Canaanite, they each suffered the same destructive fate. Abraham’s great-grandson, Simeon, was particularly ingenious. When his sister Dinah was raped by inhabitants of Shechem, Simeon and his brothers forced them to convert to Judaism and circumcise themselves to make up for it. As if that would do anything for poor Dinah.

And the next day, while the Sichemites were lolling around in pain from their bloody genitals, Simeon and his brothers, in a show of filial strength, marched into town, killed all the men, enslaved all the women and children, and took the land. That’s right. In order to get some land they made some other men slice off parts of their penises, then killed them all when, lo and behold, slicing off part of their penises really hurt. All over a parcel of land smaller than Manhattan.

Of course, the Hebrews cum Israelites weren’t the only people interested in land. You’ve got your various Empires throughout history, too, and most people would put their expansion down to trading and taxes, or the like. But how do you get more trading and more taxes? Well, you kind of amble over to the people in another place, kill them, and take their land. Farmland was especially coveted, but Empires were also perfectly happy to just get some dirt, even if they couldn’t grow anything on it. Really it was just about getting land, useful or not. Everyone wanted land and would do anything or kill anyone to get it.

One of the most interesting ways to get land in history was devised by the Assyrians and improved upon greatly by the Mongols. Basically, you show up, threaten the most bloody murder imaginable, do that when people resist, and take their land. Then you hang around for a generation or two and get assimilated because, frankly, your own culture just isn’t that impressive. A bunch of guys who drink horse blood and fermented mare’s milk don’t have much on China or the Abbasids.

In order to get that land, the Mongols did some pretty interesting things, including killing every living thing from people to birds in a city and stacking their skulls in pyramids. It was supposed to be some sort of example to the next city they tried to attack, but really, when tens of thousands of smelly guys with bows and swords show up, it’s almost a given that you’re going to let them pass on. Of course the Mongols still had their obsession with skulls. During The Crusades, they put a ring of skulls around an entire city. You might think they wanted money, but they weren’t going to get that without land. So, of course, all the little birdies and kitties had to suffer for that.

The Crusades were an especially interesting case, because they weren’t just fought over regular dirt, they were fought over holy dirt. Of course, the Crusades were an incredible failure, but that failure was fortuitous because it cut off the European’s route to the Asian lands which were full of spices. As they had to subsist on gruel and oatmeal, the Europeans were really interested in spices; after all, gruel was pretty darn bland.

So, after a while, the Europeans tried to sail across the Atlantic to spice-laden Asia, but instead bumped right into America. When the Europeans discovered America, they basically had a continental orgasm; it was free land and tonnes of it. Sure, they had to kill some natives to get it, but that wasn’t too big a deal since the Europeans were rather well practiced in the fine art of killing people and taking their land. Everyone got into the game: the Spanish, the French, the English, and even the Dutch.

Speaking of the Dutch you’ve probably heard the story that the Dutch purchased Manhattan from a local tribe for the equivalent in beads of $26. That story gets it about as much as smashing your thumb with a hammer when you’re trying to nail something. The Dutch actually purchased Manhattan from several local tribes for various prices. Wouldn’t look too bad if the Dutch had, y’know, paid attention to the fact that a much more powerful nation had its sights set on North America (England of of course). In essence, the Dutch made complete fools of themselves to get 33 square miles of land. Which they lost. Nice going Nederlanders!

Of course the English had their own interesting ways of getting land. For instance, just showing up. If no one happened to be around at the time, well, it must just belong to England. That wasn’t enough for them though. When you need some forest, mountains, and rivers, you of course take some blankets from people infected with a really nasty disease and give them to a group of people proven to be not resistant to the disease. In some cases, the English did this for bits of land no bigger than a couple of acre because, well, there were beavers on those acres and those damn French traders might get there first.

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Complete Guide to History

The modern era isn’t fraught with such examples though, mostly because we’ve all just learned not to take blankets from strangers. But you’d be wrong to think that just because we’ve developed modern life, people have stopped trying to get land. There’s only one example of modern history that rests on something other than land, and that’s World War I, which rests entirely on stupidity, but ended up being a major land grab anyway.

Its aftermath, what I like to call World War II, rests almost entirely on the subject of getting land. Germany, the country which started the ill-fated endeavour because they couldn’t compare the number of factories they had relative to the United States, expressly stated this in their policy of Lebensraum. The Germans didn’t want a living room with nice sofas and such, they wanted room to expand their population. Because their citizens couldn’t put on a rubber, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Then Poland. At that point, why not try on Russia for size.

And of course let us not forget cleaning out the land they already had. Germany built death factories so they could cleanse what was already in their possession of the undesirable: Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Retards, and assorted others. Then they built an economy on that so they could sell lampshades made of human skin and soap made from human fat. That’s German efficiency: take the land and make stuff out of the people you kill. The early Hebrews could have learned something from that if they had a time machine and their descendants weren’t being slaughtered by the millions. Hey, Abraham, they will number more than the stars, but they’re all going to get killed in really nasty ways.

These are just a few examples, but most of human history follows the same pattern. Whether it be Homo sapiens killing off Homo neanderthalensis, Hebrews taking a sliver of land by the sea, Normans snuffing out Britons, Maori shooting the hell out of the Chatham islanders, or Nazi Germany putting Europe to the flame, it all comes down to land. You might hear various things about Vietnam, or “no blood for oil,” but none of those things happen without the lust for land from one party or another. It all comes down to dirt, and the to the people who live on that dirt and the resources thriving on or buried under that dirt.

So the next time you read a history book, keep in mind that it’s all just an effort to grab land. When it all comes down to it, people are a lot like earthworms; we’re both just obsessed with dirt.

Jeremy Rosen Scott Birdseye

The Dim Ages

Pre-Raphaelite Art

Children’s stories are chock full of knights, squires, castles with moats, and damsels who require a healthy amount of rescuing. Of course, these elements have about as much basis in historical fact as the wizards, witches and dragons that also populate the same stories. That is to say that there were real witches, real dragons, real knights and real castles, but the real ones have little in common with their romantic, faerie-tale counterparts.

This is the true story of the Dark Ages, as some call it. Yes, there was a period of time from 500—1000 AD, but what we’ve been told about it is based in 19th Century Romanticism, Roman propaganda and other fictional generalizations. The Dark Ages, while certainly dark, weren’t any less well-lit than any other period in history. No matter what was going on, the lives of the vast majority of people didn’t change a bit, despite the varying empires and cultures which rose and fell. For Jimmy, the peasant with leprosy and his fellow diseased, poverty-ridden ilk, it didn’t matter if you had a consul, an emperor or a lord oppressing you. You were still being oppressed.

The schoolmarm’s old yarn is that the Roman Empire, grand as it were, collapsed and that Barbarism spread throughout Europe. Knowledge was lost, learning stopped, and poverty and superstition reigned for a thousand years until some enterprising artists decided to start painting with perspective and to make really big versions of Greek
statuary. Here we hit the Renaissance and have a happy ending for Jimmy the Leper. As always, the truth is just a bit more complicated.

First there’s one major fallacy to dispel: the classical glory and grandeur of the intellectual paradise of Greece and Rome. Despite what Mrs. Rowland taught you in middle school, the Roman Empire was full of squalor, filth, disease and hunger. In the Greco-Roman world, as in the Dark Ages, practically everyone lived in filth and poverty. Which is better: the cramped, dark tenement or the cramped, dark hovel?

They were poor people, they were diseased and they were oppressed by people who, while not being particularly healthier or cleaner, were certainly richer. If you want to know how truly grand life was in Rome, don’t ask Pliny the Elder, ask Jimmus the Galley Slave.

To put this in perspective, let’s say you put all the people who ever existed into a large bag and pull out a million at a time. Your chances of retrieving one rich, healthy and clean person are about the same as those of procuring a bag large enough to hold every person who ever existed.

The Greeks’ main claims to fame, though, are their culture, learning and art. Well, not all of the Greeks. Only a handful excelled at this and for the most part they weren’t highly paid or not killed. Some weren’t both (look up Socrates some time). They did invent geometry. But then they made it a religion and refused to allow any practical applications of geometry. You know, it would cheapen rectangles and whatnot if everyone knew about them. Some people were so upset with the Pythagoreans for hiding the wonders of the perfect solids that they lynched them upon discovering these great truths were being kept from them. How enlightened.

Also, they invented democracy. Well, they invented something sort of like democracy. That is to say they invented something close enough to democracy that we took their name and used it to describe the idealized version of our current system. No slaves, women, or people busy finding food, please.

The people who made up the bulk of the population? They didn’t care. Rectangles, perfect forms and democracy didn’t help get the dung smell out of a tunic. And you were in real trouble if you lived near the city’s sewage system, if your city was lucky enough to have one. Nope Jimexanos the Leper didn’t get an iota of relief from The Republic. It’s ever so slightly difficult for your people to appreciate your culture’s great literary works when the vast majority of your people are illiterate wretches.

The Romans, however, were the real masters of culture and learning, which they mastered by ripping off other people’s ideas. The Romans’ ideas were “adopted” from the Greeks, Phoenicians Carthaginians, and Etruscans. The Romans were famous for their roads, many of which they found intact after the Persians had forgotten to take
them when they left. Those famous Roman roads were a great benefit to the common people, who were able to utilize them as they were forcemarched in chains down the roads so that they could be whipped as they built the next section of road.

No, the truly unique cultural achievement of the Romans was murder. They loved murder; it was their favorite. While the slaves and Plebeians watched other slaves and Plebeians being murdered in the Coliseum, the Patricians were busy murdering each other to see who could win the right to be the next consul or emperor to get murdered.

Eventually the so-called Barbarians got into the game by murdering lots of Romans and the Empire collapsed. All the while, Jimmus the Galley Slave was still a leper living in filth who got to see an occasional sculpture and mighty temple on those few occasions when his galley would dock. But, in the end he was still a leper and a slave.

And then around 500 AD the Dark Ages began. Actually, it was 476, but it’s easier to just round up. So, the crux of the issue is this question: did the collapse of the Roman Empire cause regular folk roundabout Northern Europe any more problems than they already had?

Northern Europe hadn’t quite benefited from all this prosperity, enrichment and enlightening. Actually, it kept on doing its dirt-strewn, illiterate best throughout the
existence of Rome. It was cold, heavily forested and inhabited by bloodthirsty drunks. We call these people Celts. There were also some Goths involved who
eventually founded Austria. Good for them. No matter what was going on or which empire happened to be in ascendancy at the time, they remained bloodthirsty,
drunken farmers. Occasionally one of their leaders got the bright idea to ravage those enlightened softies to the South. You see, the real benefit bestowed upon Northern Europe by the Roman Empire was centuries of warfare and enslavement. The collapse of Rome actually improved these peoples’ lives slightly, as it meant they
could go south and bring more loot back home.

The Dark Ages

A good example of how the collapse of the Roman Empire affected Northern Europe might be the city of Aachen. From Neolithic times up to the era of Greece and Rome it was a minor, backwoods village where farming and stone quarrying happened. Then, a few centuries after Rome fell, Aachen became the capital of a large empire, home to massive palaces and cathedrals and, under Charlemagne, a center of learning and culture.

It doesn’t exactly seem to follow that the collapse of Rome caused a Dark Age in Aachen, especially since the so-called Dark Age turned it from a stone pit to a powerful cultural and political center.

The supposedly backwards people of Northern Europe in the Dark Ages turned out to be fairly skilled engineers and structural designers. During a period devoid of learning, they managed to go from building wooden forts called mot and baileys, to building huge walled cities, massive castles and ridiculously intricate and enormous cathedrals. Granted, they didn’t have 100,000 seat capacity coliseums, but they certainly knew how to stack their stones. Of course the person stacking the stones would have been Jimmy the Peasant, who besides having no rights or money, also had to grow food for everyone, give up a few months out of the year to be trampled by knights in battle and spend another few months hauling stones to build those mighty cathedrals. He probably had leprosy, too.

Speaking of cathedrals, the Dark Ages were known for theocracy and superstition. Though it’s not exactly fair to single them out in that respect. After all, the Romans believed in a pantheon of fickle gods (ooh, Janus god of doorways!) and the Pythagoreans actually believed that dodecahedrons were sacred (though they didn’t give a fig about parallelograms). Of course the Renaissance and “Age of Reason” mark the end of all this. Europe spent those couple of centuries celebrating Reason by fighting religious wars, burning suspected witches, and lynching smart guys.

As you can see, Jimmus, Jimexanos and Jimmy weren’t doing too well regardless of what period in history they lived or which culture happened to be waxing or waning. Whether they were forced to build a Parthenon, an aqueduct or a castle, they were still whipped if they didn’t go fast enough. Whether they were being marched off to war against the Persians, the Parthians or the Muslims, they were still put out in front and armed with farm equipment. Whether their home was Athens, Rome or Aachen, they were still living in filth, disease and squalor.

None of this though, should be taken as an attempt to defend the Dark Ages as a wonderful period in human history. The point is that the Europe your teachers taught you about during the Dark Ages was rife with disease, poverty, oppression and superstition, just like every other time period for which we have records. Remember that the next time you see a story about the Middle Ages. Also, remember that everything your teacher told you was wrong. You don’t listen to that woman, you listen to me.

The Dark Ages

Scott Birdseye

An Editorial

From the Desk of Philip R. Dick

skirt

Pants: The Scourge of Humanity

Did you know that roughly seventy-nine percent of people throughout the world wear pants on a regular basis? This is a horrible fact when you think about it. In actuality pants are nothing more than exceptionally-loose tights or bifurcated skirts. There are those who claim pants are just long shorts, but this is a silly opinion as shorts are just short long pants.

Pants were invented by a Mr. Pants of the Seventeenth Century, who first donned what were then called pantaloons. Since that day men everywhere, and some women, have been forced to exist under the Tyranny of the Pants. This is most unfortunate as pants are an uncomfortable and unreliable garment.

Did you know that 78.5% of criminals wore pants while committing their crimes? It is true, most criminals are men; men who wear pants. A minority of crimes are committed by skirt-wearing people. Is the problem of crime in society caused by pants? It can’t be proven definitively, but the statistics seem to show that perhaps all ills in society find their foundation in the wearing of pants.

When the climate is hot, pants are uncomfortable. Pants are not quite acceptable. Everyone knows that skirts are far more comfortable. Skirts allow for free air flow and even freer movement.

In battle, pants are restrictive while skirts allow you to defeat your enemies in comfort, and in the latest fashions. Let us not forget that the brave Spartans at Thermopylae were wearing skirts while their insidious Persian foes were clad in leather trousers.

Pants come in only a few styles, fabrics and colors. Skirts come in brand new styles each season; from the monochrome mini to the long, patterned and flowing, to the dark and metal-adorned bondage style. Skirts allow each individual to choose their own style and fashion. Whether you prefer the thin pencil skirt or the flowing, flowery style, you can be certain that there will always be a skirt available to best suit your own particular mood or personality.

Pants represent nothing but structure, limits and death. Skirts are about freedom. Skirts are about comfort. Skirts are about individuality. So, next time you want to feel special, why not give the pants a miss and try a skirt instead. 83% of Scotsmen would agree with you.

Historigon Jeremy Rosen

Menagerie of Mini-Biographies

biography
Louis Tolwind Meyerson (1898 – 1967) – Louie Legs to his friends, Meyerson was only the second man to become a naturalized citizen of Canolia and the first man to weatherproof the interior of a home. This was a necessity as a result of Louie Legs’ inveterate pursuit of indoor cloud-seeding experiments. Also as a result he created his only useful contribution to society: 100% fire proofing, which protected his house from numerous lightning strikes.

Q. Eric Johnson (1948 – 2006) – Tall and ruddy, with dark sandy hair and all limbs intact, Q. Eric started his life as a middle class child growing up in suburban Mitchell, Elizabethia. Upon graduation from Muni-Tech College in 1968, he took on what would be the first of many managerial positions with Bangers ‘n’ Mash, the multinational English-themed fast food chain. A lifelong bachelor, Q. Eric died in his sleep on January 12, 2006.

Anna Peterson (1843) – Anna enjoyed breastfeeding and drooling, yet only occasionally laughed. Her most favored possession was a blue quilted blanket stitched together by her grandmother. She never learned to walk.

Maximus Felix Quintus Lotho (67 – 20 BC) – Quintus became famous for running around the entire circumference of Rome, as well as several cities in Gaul, Armenia and Pontus. He was granted the right to wear shoes within them temple of Jupiter and to ogle the ankles of the Vestal Virgins. His honor was taken away from him later in life, when he continued his practice of running; this time away from a force of outnumbering Parthians. His last words were reportedly “does anyone else smell eggs?”
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