Constantinople, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, the New World, Tobacco and Slavery

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 16th, 2013

History 101

With the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 Islam spread Unchecked into Christian Lands

Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire to a place on the Bosporus.  Where the ancient city of Byzantium once sat.  Where Asia met Europe.  Where the Mediterranean Sea met the Black Sea.  And the great rivers beyond.  The Danube.  Dnieper.  And the Don.  Constantine named his new city Constantinople.  And made it a jewel.  With great Christian churches.  To celebrate his new conversion to Christianity.  Which started following the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.  Where on the eve of battle Constantine and his soldiers had a vision of the Christian God.  Promising them victory if they placed His symbol on their shields.  Which they did.  And they won.

Constantine spared no expense in his new city.  Which was easy to do because it was a very wealthy city.  For the greatest trade routes went through the Bosporus.  Which is why when the western half of the Roman Empire fell the eastern half, or the Byzantine Empire, carried on for another thousand years.  Give or take.  As it thrived on that trade pouring through it.  Especially from the Far East.  Along the Silk Road.  Which peaked during the Byzantine Empire.  Bringing the exotic goods of the Far East west.  From silk to porcelain to spices.  Which flowed unhindered to Christian Europe while the Christians still controlled the Byzantine Empire.

But all good things must come to an end.  Thanks to the Seljuk Turks.  And the rise of the Ottoman Empire.  Islam had united the Arab people.  And with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 Islam spread unchecked into Christian lands.  Up through the Balkans into southern Europe.  Lands they would contest for time and again.  Making for some bitter Christian-Muslim animosity that continues into modern times.  But more crucially at the time was the loss of control over that trade from the Far East.  Making those goods not as reasonably priced as they once were.  Which proved to be quite the problem.  As the European Christians had grown quite fond of them.  Luckily for them, they could do something about that.  Thanks to all of those wars they fought with the Muslims.  The Crusades.  Which brought back a lot of Greek books of science that were collecting dust in some of the old great Greek cities all around the Mediterranean.  Founded during the Hellenistic period.  Which came before the Roman Empire.  Thanks to a fellow by the name of Alexander the Great.  Who spread Greek learning throughout the known world after he conquered it.

Christopher Columbus sailed West to establish Far East Trade without going through Muslim-Controlled Constantinople

From those books the Europeans were able to become better sailors.  On ships that could catch the wind and navigate their way great distances.  Portugal and Spain led the way.  Prince Henry (1394-1460), the Navigator, trained navigators in Portugal.  His students pushed further and further down the African coast until Bartholomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope (1486).  Vasco de Gama would round the Cape of Good Hope and sail up the eastern coast of Africa all the way to India (1498).  Pedro Álvares Cabral was heading south to round the Cape of Good Hope in (1500).  Swung out too far west.  And ran into Brazil in South America.

Spain then financed the voyages of Christopher Columbus.  Who had read that the earth was round.  And wanted to prove it.  As well as spread Christianity.  Columbus wanted to find a way west to the Far East.  Sure it was just beyond the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean.  After a voyage longer than his near mutinous crew expected they finally landed on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas (1492).  Thinking he found an ocean passage to the Far East.  Around the Muslim controlled land route.  He would later understand that he had found the New World.  Which we would be calling Columbia.  Had his dispatches beat a Florentine passenger’s on a Portuguese ship who wrote about what he saw.  Amerigo Vespucci.  Which is why there is not a North Columbia, a Central Columbia and a South Columbia.  Instead, there is a North America, a Central America and a South America.

With Columbus’ success Spain financed others.  Vasco Núñez Balboa.  Who crossed the Isthmus of Panama and reached the Pacific Ocean (1513).  Ferdinand Magellan.  Who sailed around South America through the Straits of Magellan and into the Pacific Ocean.  Sailing on to the Far East.  And back home.  Being the first to circumnavigate the globe (1519-1522).  Hernán Cortés.  Who conquered the brutal Aztec regime in Mexico (1521).  Eventually the Spanish would bring great riches of gold and silver back to the Old World.  Meanwhile France financed Jacques Cartier in his attempt to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific.  Who sailed up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal (1534).  Then Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec (1608).  Where they established a lucrative fur trade with the native Indians.

Cultivating Tobacco took Large Tracts of Farmland which required more Laborers that they had in the Colonies

Queen Elizabeth of England financed Walter Raleigh.  Who explored the coast of North America (1584).  Looking for a place to settle a colony.  On a subsequent voyage he brought 100 settlers with him.  And settled a colony at Roanoke, North Carolina (1585).  Which became the Lost Colony of Roanoke (1591).  The Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company, would have better luck.  They raised financing by selling stock shares to investors who would share in any profits of the colony.  Christopher Newport led a voyage that established the first permanent English settlement in the New World.  At Jamestown (1607).

Though the Americas were not the Far East it was a vast landmass with inexhaustible resources.  And endless tracts of fertile soil.  The possibilities were endless.  The marriage of John Rolfe to Pocahontas (1614) provided an uneasy peace between the settlers and their Indian neighbors.  Then Rolfe figured out how to cure tobacco (1612).  Something the English began smoking after Columbus observed the Cubans sticking burning rolls of tobacco in a nostril.  The English refined smoking with a pipe.  And they really enjoyed it.  Importing vast quantities from the Spanish colonies in America.  Thanks to Rolfe, though, the English could produce their own tobacco.  Once they worked out a few problems.

Cultivating tobacco took large tracts of farmland.  But to put large tracts of farmland into production you needed laborers.  And in 1612 Virginia there just weren’t a lot of colonists living there yet.  The demand for labor far outstripped the supply.  So they tried to satisfy that demand with indentured servants.  Preferably from Europe.  Even criminals from English jails.  As well as from Africa.  Who worked in bondage during their indentures.  Then went free.  Until around the 1660s.  When things changed.  Starting in the southern colonies.  Where slavery became hereditary.  For Africans, at least.  Like it was in the Old World.  Where peasants and serfs were bonded to the land.  Once a slave.  Always a slave.  And if your parent was a slave so were you.  Like it was in ancient Athens.  At the end of the Western Roman Empire.  And in the Muslim world.

Muslim didn’t only enslave Christians.  They also established slave markets with African slave traders.  Who opened their markets to the Portuguese, the Spanish, the French and the English.  To help them meet that soaring demand for labor during the early days of the New World colonies.  When there were so few colonists.  Who found their way to the New World in the first place because of the Muslim conquest of Constantinople.  Which sent the Europeans to the seas to find a western way to the Far East.  And when they did they discovered the New World.  Creating the largest market ever for African slaves.  And the greatest convulsions in the New World as they struggled to end slavery in the Americas.

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Spice Trade, Arab Traders, Italian City-States, European Colonialism, Dutch East India Company and Dutch Banking

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 10th, 2012

History 101

Venice and Genoa became the Ultimate Middlemen for those Delicious Asian Spices

The next time you cook a meal don’t use any spices.  Note how less delicious your meal is.  How much less you enjoy eating it.  And how little you eat.  Keep doing this and you’ll probably lose a lot of weight.  And be healthier.  Because your food will taste so terrible that you’ll eat less.  Which can be a good thing.  As eating less can cure cardiovascular disease and diabetes in many people.  But your food will be so bland that life itself will become bland.  And less enjoyable.  Then go out with some friends and eat some buffalo wings and nachos.  Note the difference.  Then go pay homage to the spice aisle at your grocery store.

Variety is the spice of life.  And a variety of spices to make your food taste better makes that life even better.  The ancient Egyptians knew this.  And they developed some of the earliest trade routes to Indian spice markets.  The Greeks and Romans knew it, too.  Who continued this spice trade.  Buying the spices that travelled along the Silk Road from China and the Spice Islands.  Into Constantinople.  Capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Which became the great Byzantine Empire.  Until this overland trade was interrupted by the Arabs.  Who took over the spice trade.  Especially those coveted spices from the Spice Islands.

Meanwhile in the West the Roman Empire fell.  And ushered in the European Dark Ages.  Where life became rather bland.  Until the Italian Renaissance.  Sparked by the rise of the great Italian city-states.  Such as Venice.  And Genoa.  Who developed international banking.  And merchant trade in the Mediterranean.  Based largely on that lucrative spice trade.  Where the mighty trade empires of Venice and Genoa became the ultimate middlemen for those delicious Asian spices.  A trade now dominated by the Arabs.  Who brought it to Mediterranean ports.  Where it boarded ships bound for the great Italian city-states.  The gateway to Europe.

The Quest for Asian Spices ushered in the Era of European Colonialism

Europeans tasted their food spiced with pepper.  Nutmeg.  And other spices.  They discovered a new word.  Delicious.  There was no going back to the bland days of the Middle Ages.  They wanted more.  And did not like the stranglehold the Arabs and the Italian city-states had on this trade.  They decided to do something about it.  And set their minds to finding the source of these great spices themselves.  And find a sea route directly to that source.

The Portuguese were first.  Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa and into the Indian Ocean in 1497.  Opening the first direct sea route from Europe to India for the Portuguese Crown.  While trying to find a western sea route for the Spanish Crown Christopher Columbus discovered The Bahamas in 1492.  In 1500, Portuguese Pedro Álvares Cabral accidentally discovered Brazil trying to follow the Vasco da Gama route.  He sailed a little too far west.  Which is why they speak Portuguese in Brazil today.  Ferdinand Magellan succeeded for the Spanish where Columbus failed.  He found that western route to the Spice Islands after sailing around that new continent that Columbus and Cabral bumped into.  South America.  Through the Straits of Magellan.  And back to Spain in 1522.  Well, not Magellan.  Or 4 of his 5 ships that originally sailed.  But one ship survived this voyage.  And it was full of spices.

The quest for Asian spices ushered in the era of European colonialism.  For there was big money in this spice trade.  So much that others wanted in, too.  Two of which came up with novel ways to fund this trade.  By selling stock in trading companies.  The two big ones were the British East India Company.  And the Dutch East India Company.  And it was the Dutch who showed the world what real banking was all about.  They blew away those great Italian city-states.  They were able to put greater fleets to sea.  And finance far greater trade than the Genoese or the Venetians ever dreamed.

Dutch Banking helped the Americans gain Legitimacy in the World of Nations

These trading companies did more than trade.  They settled colonies.  Negotiated international treaties.  Coined money.  Even waged war.  The Dutch and the British went to war in many places over their new colonies and the wealthy trade they produced.  In the Spice Islands.  China.  India.  Africa.  Even in the New World.  Where the Dutch traded Manhattan to the British for Run, another of the Spice Islands so the Dutch could corner the nutmeg market.

An interesting turn of events goes back to that Dutch banking.  After the United States won their independence from Britain one of the first loans the Americans secured to help pay their massive war debt was the one John Adams negotiated with the Dutch.  So Manhattan went from the Dutch to the British to the Americans.  And thanks to the Dutch it would stay American.  As the Americans were able to get their finances in order.  And gain legitimacy in the world of nations.  Not to mention becoming home of some of the finest restaurants in the world.  Serving some of the tastiest foods ever to grace a palate.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #26: “If we need Big Government to protect us from ourselves, then our public schools can’t be the best place to learn.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 10th, 2010

IT’S A PARADOX.  You can’t have both.  Great public schools.  And a Big Government nanny state.  The public schools can’t be the best place to learn if we graduate hopelessly incapable of taking care of ourselves.  You cannot reconcile the two.  It is impossible.  The need of Big Government is an indictment on public education.  It sucks.  It sucks so bad that our only hope to survive is by a dependence on government.

The Founding Fathers did NOT want a Big Government nanny state.  So they tried to limit its money and power.  The nation’s capital ended up in a swamp because Thomas Jefferson wanted to keep it out of the big cities (such as New York and Philadelphia).  History has shown that wealth (the big cities) and power (sovereign authority) combine to make the worst of governments. 

And they believed in the importance of education.  A real education.  History.  Math.  Science.  Architecture.  Engineering.  Economics.  For they believed an educated constituency was the greatest protection against Big Government.  They knew it.  Just as well as the proponents of Big Government knew it.  Know it.

So is it a coincidence?  That the rise of Big Government corresponded with a fall in the quality of public education?  If we need Big Government to be our nanny, we obviously are not well educated.  Otherwise, we could take care of ourselves.  Like we did for the first century or so of our existence.  So, did our poor public school system give life to Big Government?  Or is it the other way around?  Did a growing Big Government protect itself from the danger of a well educated constituency?

STUDENTS GRADUATE TODAY without being able to do the most simple of tasks.  To point to Australia on a map.  To identify the three branches of government.  To name a current member of the U.S. Supreme court.  The current Speaker of the House.  To identify the allies during World War II.  Or even tell us who’s buried in Grant’s tomb.

Few can define compound interest.  Or calculate it.  Few can make important investment decisions for their retirement.  But they can tell you how Christopher Columbus raped the indigenous people in the New World.  How America ruthlessly expanded westward, stealing land from the North American Indians.  How we cruelly enslaved a race to build a nation predicated on liberty.  You’ll find these in the curriculum.  And in the schools’ libraries.  But you won’t learn much about how Martin Van Buren created the Democrat Party to prosper on political spoils and patronage.  Or that the Democratic Party was the party of slavery.  The party of the KKK.  The party of Jim Crowe laws (the legal segregation of blacks after the Republicans ended slavery).  That it was the Democrats who enacted Prohibition because they knew what was best for us.

No, instead, students today learn about the importance of being sensitive to other people’s feelings.  That we should be our brother’s keepers.  That Big Government is good.  Important.  And necessary.  We teach them that FDR’s New Deal programs ended the Great Depression.  That massive government spending on make-work government jobs restored the economy.  It didn’t.  They learn that LBJ’s Great Society ended racial discrimination and poverty.  It didn’t.  These programs failed.  As many Big Government programs of compassion do.  But that’s not in the curriculum. 

Worst, most students haven’t a clue about economics.  What makes economic activity.  What hinders it.  The consequences of monetary and fiscal policy.  So they haven’t a clue about how all those compassionate programs of Big Government often lead to unemployment and recession.  So when they are old enough to vote, they are compassionate.  They approve of expanding the nanny state without any idea of the economic impact.

WE SPEND A fortune on public education.  Per student expenditures are among the highest in the world.   But the money we spend is never enough.  They always ask for more.  For the children.  So, to help the children, they raise taxes (property, sales, etc.).  For the children, they get the poor to gamble away what little they have (the lotto).  More money than ever before is collected.  For the children.  But it’s still not enough.  Which begs the question, where is all that money going?  Clearly, it isn’t to the children.

And because the children are so precious, they’re good leverage.  There’s nothing like a good strike at the beginning of the school year to get a better contract.  Why, they even have our precious children carry picket signs.  Because it’s all about the children.  Of course, unions protect dues-paying members.  And the last I heard, children don’t pay union dues.

But the teachers are underpaid and overworked, aren’t they?  If they are, they are the only union workers that are.  It’s why you join a union.  For leverage.  For negotiating power to get better salary and benefit packages.  And they do.  Your typical public school teacher does better than your typical salaried worker.  And they work less to get it.  Oh, they talk about ‘non-compensated’ hours worked after school.  That means approximately anything more than an 8-hour day.  The real world typically pays a salaried worker for only a 40 hour week when they often work 50 hours or more.  And they often don’t get the Friday after Thanksgiving off.  Or a Christmas break.  Or a winter break.  Or an Easter break.  Or the 3 months of summer off.   When you factor in the actual time worked and the benefits, they do very well.  Far better than private school teachers.  And private school students outperform public school students.  Hell, some of the most stalwart defenders of public education send their kids to private school.  Because they can.  The poor do, too.  When they can.  When they have access to school vouchers.  Everyone, when given the choice, chooses private school over public school.  If that ain’t an indictment on the public school system, I don’t know what is.

So where does all that money go?  To the teachers.  Their unions.  And the public school bureaucracy.

WE SPEND MORE money on public education.  But private school students do better than public school students.  And private school teachers make less than public school teachers.  So when we pay more we get less.  A more poorly educated student.  So what conclusion can we draw?  We are spending more money than we need to on public education.  And if we’re spending too much right now, spending more money sure isn’t going to make anything better for the children.  The teachers, perhaps.  But not the children.  Because the truth is this.  It’s not about the children.

The public schools are not educating.  They’re indoctrinating.  They’re producing good liberal democrats.  Because Big Government knows that an educated constituency is the greatest threat against their power.  So they control education.  They take care of the union teachers who, in turn, teach the students to love Big Government.  It’s rather Orwellian, really.  Elites taking care of elites.  At the expense of the children.  And our future.

Conspiracy?  If it wasn’t so much in the open, perhaps.  But the Democratic Party hasn’t changed much since the days of Martin Van Buren.  It’s about getting power.  And keeping power.  And you do that with patronage.  And dependency.  Big Government has given us Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits and numerous welfare programs.  And now the holy grail of them all.  National health care.  The larger these programs, the greater the dependence.  The larger the dependency, the greater number of loyal Democrat voters. 

SO IS THERE a paradox?  It depends on your point of view.  From outside of the public school system, yes.  If you think it’s about the children, yes.  But from inside the public school system or from inside of Big Government, no.  Because, there, it is not about the children.  It’s about well paid teachers.  And an uninformed electorate.  And the systems in place work very well in achieving these goals.

So, no, our public schools are not the best place for children to learn.  But it’s a pretty good place to indoctrinate them into loving Big Government.

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