FT212: “If liberals keep winning elections the United States will fall like the Roman Empire.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 7th, 2014

Fundamental Truth

The Roman Empire survived for about 1500 Years

The Roman Empire was one of the greatest empires of all time.  It lasted some 500 years in the West.  And another thousand years in the East.  Give or take.  As empires go they don’t come much bigger.  Or last longer.  The Romans ruled the world.  It stretched from Northern Africa to Britain.  And from Spain to the Middle East.  It was huge.

There have been bigger empires.  The British Empire.  The Mongol Empire.  The Russian Empire.  The Spanish Empire.  And others.  But none of them lasted as long as the 1500 years of the Roman Empire.  The British Empire lasted about 400 years.  The Mongol Empire lasted about 50 years.  The Russian Empire lasted about 200 years.  And the Spanish Empire lasted about 500 years.  Adolf Hitler said the Third Reich would last a thousand years.  But it lasted only 12.  Proving that empire building—and empire maintaining—are easier said than done.

Yet the Romans did it for 1500 years.  Give or take.  So they knew a thing or two about empire building.  And maintaining that empire.  Yet even this mighty empire fell.  Why?  Historians still debate this question today.  As do the laymen.  With a person’s political persuasion sometimes determining what they believe.

A Debased Coin and High Taxes made the Roman Citizenry very Unhappy

Empires are costly.  As Rome built her empire she paid for it by conquering new lands.  So as her borders pushed out treasure flowed back the other way to Rome.  Which paid for her massive military.  And her massive bureaucracy to govern that sprawling empire.  So the Roman people went about their business.  Shielded from the cost of empire.  Farming and taking their goods to market.  Safe within their empire.  For her enemies were outside the borders of the empire.  And those borders were pushed a very long way out.

But then something happened.  Those borders stopped moving.  They were not conquering new lands.  And there was no more treasure flowing back to Rome.  Which was a problem.  For the Roman Empire covered a lot of land that they had to govern.  And defend.  So the cost of the Roman Empire was never higher than when her borders stopped pushing out.  While her revenue to pay for that empire was never smaller.  So they had to do something.  And that something was taxes.  Lots of them.  All of a sudden the Roman citizenry was feeling the cost of their bloated bureaucratic state.  And the cost of that massive military that defended the frontier.

So taxes soared.  Making the Roman citizenry unhappy.  But the tax revenue proved to be insufficient.  So they started debasing their currency.  Adding more and more lead to their silver coins.  But not their gold coins.  For they used gold to pay the military and to pay the government bureaucrats.  So they only debased the silver coin.  The coin of the Roman citizenry.  Which, of course, resulted in inflation.  As the coins had less and less silver in them they bought less and less.  So prices soared.  As did taxes.  Making the Roman citizenry very unhappy.

The Cost of Mercenaries and the Roman Bureaucracy and Welfare State bankrupted the Roman Empire

So the Romans started building things to entertain the people.  And they grew a welfare state to help feed those who could not afford to buy food.  Public works and the new welfare state may have eased some of the animosity towards the state.  But it only increased the costs of the state.  Requiring higher taxes.  So high that people lost money on their farms and businesses.  So they quit.  Causing food and goods shortages.  So the Romans passed laws forcing them to stay in their jobs.  And forcing their children to do the same work their parents did.  Which eventually evolved into feudalism.

Eventually the Roman citizenry no longer wanted to serve the empire.  Leading to the use of mercenary armies.  Which were costly.  And only increased the cost of empire.  With the silver coin so debased the Roman government would not even accept it in payment of taxes.  So the government took a portion of the food grown and goods made.  Making it more difficult to pay for the welfare state (just imagine your employer paying you in food, toilet paper, soap, etc.).  And the mercenary armies guarding the frontier.  Which could prove troublesome.  As they had no loyalties to the Roman Empire.  They were just hired muscle.  Their blood loyalties were often to people on the other side of the border they were guarding.  Having come from those people.

So the massive cost of hired mercenaries and the massive cost of the Roman bureaucracy and welfare state basically bankrupted the Roman Empire.  Of course the American left prefers not to think about this.  As they are very fond of their large welfare state.  So some on the left often cite the decadence of the Roman Empire that caused her fall.  They talk about the feasts, the drink, the gladiators, the orgies and other acts of debauchery that caused a societal decay that eroded the empire from within.  Even while they are in the business of societal decay themselves.  Free birth control, abortion on demand, the decriminalization of marijuana, the rejection of virtue and morality, their extreme secularism to remove any vestige of restraint from their lives of excess, etc.  The kind of things a debauched Roman citizenry no doubt would have enjoyed.  So either way the Roman Empire fell because of principles the American left embraces.  Which means if liberals keep winning elections the United States will fall like the Roman Empire.

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How Christianity gave us the United States and made the World a Better Place

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 31st, 2013

History 101

The Pope kept European Rulers from Oppressing their People lest they get Excommunicated from the Church

In 39 AD the Romans crucified Jesus of Nazareth.  Because they said he called himself the King of the Jews.  Or rather those with political power who felt threatened by Jesus’ popularity said this.  His death was to protect power and privilege of those who had it.  Ultimately, though, His death would do more to destroy power and privilege.  For the Golden Rule allowed people to live together in peace.  To build communities.  And to help one another.

Emperor Diocletian split up the vast Roman Empire into four parts.  The tetrarchy.  The rulership by four.  Each of the four parts had its own emperor.  When Diocletian stepped down from power those emperors began vying for power.  By 312 two emperors were in open war with each other.  Constantine.  And Maxentius.  On October 28, 312, they met in battle near the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber.  On the eve of battle Constantine had a vision.  The Christian God would help him win the upcoming battle if he placed the Christian symbol on his soldiers’ shields (accounts differ it was either the Chi-Rho sign or the Latin cross).  He did.  He won.  And became Constantine the Great.  Sole ruler of the Roman Empire.  And because of his victory in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge he began his conversion to Christianity.  Making the Roman Empire Christian.

Christianity spread throughout and united Europe.  And the Pope kept European rulers from oppressing their people.  Lest they get excommunicated from the Church.  In time, though, some resented rule from Rome.  In particular when Pope Leo X sold indulgences (a way to help purify one from sin) to fund the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  This was one of many problems that had many calling for a reform of the Church.  One in particular, Martin Luther, published his The Ninety-Five Theses in 1517.  Kicking off the Protestant Reformation.

Plymouth Colony succeeded when Communal Property became Private Property

Henry VIII, King of England, was a good Catholic.  But his wife wasn’t giving him any sons.  And he wanted a male heir.  So he asked the Pope for an annulment from his wife.  Catherine.  So he could marry Anne Boleyn.  The Pope refused.  So Henry left the Catholic Church.  And initiated the English Reformation.  Making England Protestant.  England would swing back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism without being either but something in between.  Making a group of Protestants very unhappy.  As they felt the English Reformation did not go far enough.  A group referred to derisively as Puritans.  They were so hated that they were being persecuted along with the Catholics.  So they left England.  Landing in the Netherlands first.  Then they sailed across the Atlantic.  They sighted land on November 9, 1620.  They eventually came ashore and established Plymouth Colony.

About half of Plymouth Colony died within the first few years.  From disease.  And hunger.  The economic system they were using was killing them.  Communal property.  Everything the colonists produced belonged to everyone.  People produced according to their ability and took from the common store according to their needs.  A sort of Marxism.  Before there was even a Karl Marx.  To save the colony Governor William Bradford abandoned the idea of communal property in 1623.  Communal property became private property.  And the colony was saved.  As people worked twice as hard to produce more on their land than they did on communal land.  And because they did they replaced famines with bumper crops.  So instead of dying off the American colonies became the prosperous New World.

The Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) came to the New World.  By the time it ended Catholic France lost its North American possessions to Protestant Great Britain.  To pay off the enormous debt of that war Parliament decided to tax their British American colonists.  Who made out very well in the conflict without the costs the British incurred.  But they did this without discussing it with the colonists.  Treating them as second-class citizens in the British Empire.  Who had no representation in Parliament.  Which led to anger over taxation without representation.  Leading to the Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773).  Which led to the Intolerable Acts and the Quebec Act (1774-1775).  Which led to the shot heard ’round the world.  The Battles of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775).  Which ultimately led to July 2, 1776.  When the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence.  After a few revisions it was formally passed 2 days later.  On July 4, 1776.  Known forever after as Independence Day in the United States.

In the United States your Last Name does not Determine the Quality of your Life

The American Revolutionary War did not start out well.  As the British pushed them back with little effort.  Until Benedict Arnold (future traitor) did some superb soldiering.  Impeding the advance of General Burgoyne.  The Americans met him in battle for the last time on October 7, 1777.  On the second day of fighting in the Battle of Saratoga.  And won.  Forcing an army in the mightiest empire in the world to surrender.  Shocking the world.  And getting the French to take notice.  Who then entered the American War of Independence.  The turning point of the war.  And world history.  For France was anxious to get back what they had lost to the British.  As was Spain.  Who joined the conflict as France’s ally.  Turning the American War of Independence into a world war.  And a war of attrition.  As their new foes forced them to send British forces all around the globe.  Leaving fewer to fight in North America.  With a British public growing weary of the war in North America.

America won.  Eventually.  Taking 8 years until the Treaty of Paris officially ended the conflict (September 3, 1783).  And peace and prosperity followed.  Thanks in large part to Jay’s Treaty (ratified by the Senate in November 1794).  Which improved relations between Great Britain and the new United States of America.  And began a Special Relationship between two nations of a common people, culture, religion and tradition.  When the treaty expired there was a minor hiccup in that Special Relationship that resulted in war.  The War of 1812 (1812-1815).  But peace and prosperity soon resumed.  With the South having a larger say in the national direction thanks to the Three-Fifths Compromise in the United States Constitution (1787).  Giving the South greater representation in the House of Representatives as they counted 3/5 of each slave to determine their number of representatives.  As the North industrialized and immigration filled their factories and swelled her population the South was losing that larger say.  One thing led to another that eventually resulted in the American Civil War (1861-1865).

The agrarian South had more in common with feudal England than they did with the industrial North.  Rich landowners (the planter elite) comprised an aristocracy that controlled politics.  While peasants/slaves worked the land.  The South was holding onto the Old World.  Where there was power and privilege.  While the North was building the New World.  Though the South talked about states’ rights they used the power of the federal government wherever they could.  Such as the Fugitive Slave Act (1850).  When war broke out the South won most battles.  Until General Grant started his great advance down the Mississippi River.  With the Vicksburg Campaign (May 18 – July 4, 1863) culminating in the capture of Vicksburg.  And control of the Mississippi River.  Severing the Confederacy into two.  Pretty much guaranteeing a Union victory.  It was just a matter of time.  In the east the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863) also ended in a Union victory.  President Lincoln went to the Gettysburg battlefield for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery there.  Where he gave his Gettysburg’s Address (November 19, 1863).  Which ended with “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  And so far it hasn’t.  Remaining that shining city upon a hill.  The destination of people everywhere yearning liberty.  And a better life.  Where all men are created equal.  And your last name does not determine the quality of your life.

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Greek and Latin Books, the Printing Press, the Gutenberg Bible, Newspapers, Desktop Publishing, the Blogosphere and the Internet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 16th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published December 28th, 2011)

Monks worked by Candlelight Painstakingly Copying by Hand the Great Books of Greek Knowledge

Alexander the Great spread Greek thinking and the Greek language throughout much of the known world.  From the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley.  Everywhere Alexander went he built new cities. Where that Greek thinking took hold.  Astronomy.  Geometry.  Architecture.  Engineering.  Philosophy.  Etc.  The Greeks impressed the Romans.  Even though they conquered them.  But the empire they built used that Greek thinking they so admired as its foundation.  They studied the Greeks.  Mastered their language.  Read their books.  And translated the Greek books into Latin.  The new universal language.

The Roman world was an advanced world.  And a Latin world.  The great minds throughout the Empire spoke and studied in Latin.  Which helped to diffuse this knowledge throughout the known world.  For you were never outside the Latin world.  The common people may not have spoken Latin.  Instead speaking the common language of their people (French, German, English, etc.).  But in their universities they all spoke Latin.  For educated men everywhere spoke Latin as their second language.  The language of knowledge.  Education.  And of the Church.  Where the masses were in Latin.  Until the Great Schism in 1054, that is.  When Greek replaced Latin in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  But Latin remained the language of the Catholic Church in the West.

It was the Church and their medieval monks that brought this knowledge forward through the Dark Ages.  For it wasn’t dark in their monasteries.  Where monks, the few people who could read and write, worked by candlelight painstakingly copying by hand the great books of Greek knowledge.  Making this knowledge available for the select few who could afford these works of art.  Which they were.  For each one was one of a kind.  Which made them rather costly.  And unavailable for the common people.  Including the Bible.  No, these belonged to the wealthy.  The universities.  And the Church.  Until a German goldsmith came along with a brilliant idea.

The Printing Press gave us Inexpensive Books, Newspapers, Censorship and Revolution

That idea was moveable typesetting.  Individual letters arranged to spell out lines of text.  Clamped together with other lines of text.  Placed into a press.  Smeared with ink.  Then pressed onto paper.  In this way Johannes Gutenberg published the first mass-produced book.  The Gutenberg Bible.  And knowledge would never be the same.

Printing spread.  As did the mass production of books.  Reading was no longer for the well-to-do or Church clerics.  Everyone was learning to read.  And they were reading books.  In their own language.  Which put an end to Latin.  Because the printing press made books so cheap they printed them in all sorts of languages.  Making knowledge more readily accessible to the common people.  Anyone who wished to learn to read could.  And did.  Thanks to Gutenberg.  And the printing press.

But not only books were printed.  Knowledge was taking shape in a new form.  Newspapers.  And this type of knowledge was powerful.  People throughout a kingdom knew what was happening in their kingdom.  And what was happening in other kingdoms.  And they more often questioned authority.  So much so that it ushered in a new government policy.  Censorship.  As governments tried to suppress unfavorable news.  Such as the British blockade of Boston Harbor.  Soon Boston’s problem was everyone’s problem as the news traveled throughout the American colonies.  Escalating what the British thought was a Boston problem into a revolution in America.  And later in France.  After the French read all about the American Revolution in their newspapers.

Desktop Publishing, the Blogosphere and the Internet has Revitalized the Free Press

With newspapers came newspaper advertising.  A great medium for advertisers to promote their goods.  And a cash cow for publishers.  Advertisers kept the price of newspapers low.  Making them affordable to the masses.  Giving publishers great power to control information.  Which they did.  Newspapers started out as tools of political parties.  Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson viciously attacked each other in print.  Through anonymous editorial content.  So using newspapers for political purposes is nothing new.  But in the age of advertising the stakes were much higher.

Newspapers soon assumed an air of neutrality.  They weren’t tabloid news anymore.  But journalism.  Reporting the facts so their readers can make their own conclusions.  And they were neutral for awhile.  But the captive audience of a large daily was just too much to pass up.  Papers could influence and shape opinion.  And many did.  With clear biases even though they denied it.  Frustrating their readers.  Who began to look for other sources of news.  And they found a big one.  So big that it is destroying the giants of print media.  Shrinking these newspapers’ circulation numbers.  And with them their advertising revenue.  So what was driving people away from the once storied titans of news?  The Internet.

The Internet has revolutionized the way we get information.  And has revitalized the free press.  We can get news from anywhere without it going through the editorial filter of a politically connected publisher.  Desktop publishing and the blogosphere allow anyone to write and publish at little to no cost.  Some blogging platforms are free thanks to online advertisers.  Now anyone can report, think, opine and publish.  Technology has made the costs of electronic publishing almost free.  Gone are the days when you needed mammoth printing presses, typesetters, copy editors, delivery trucks etc.  Today all you need is a computer.  Or a cellular device.  And an Internet connection.

People in the Middle of the News can Report the News in Real Time thanks to Micro-Blogging

Few newspapers today can afford to stay in business with their low circulation numbers and lost advertising revenue.  But people have never been more informed.  Sources of news and opinion are electronically everywhere.  For a fraction of the cost.   With some of that news being published within seconds of the news event happening.  From anywhere in the world.  Thanks to the Internet.  And micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter.  Even if the news arrives to us in a foreign language we can use an online translator to read it.  With some simple copy and paste commands.  News has never been more convenient.

People in the middle of the news can report the news in real time.  A process that started with the Greeks and the Romans.  Who diffused all that Greek knowledge.  That a lot of monks brought through the Dark Ages to the age of print.  Feeding our insatiable hunger for knowledge.  The printing press gave us inexpensive books.  In our common languages.  And the newspaper.  That eventually gave us desktop publishing.  The Internet.  And instantaneous knowledge.  All of this without having to learn Latin to boot.  Good for us because that is one thing the Internet can’t do well.  Translate Latin.  For that you need a person.  Or years of education.  And who has the time these days for that?  I mean, we can’t even wait for a daily newspaper these days to get our news.

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Coin Debasement, Currency Inflation and the Loss of Purchasing Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 16th, 2013

History 101

The Roman Citizens welcomed the Barbarian Invaders as Liberators from the Oppressive Roman Regime

The Roman Empire pushed its borders out for centuries.  And when they did their legions conquered new territories.  And other civilizations.  Allowing them to send a lot of spoils back to Rome.  Providing the necessary funds for the empire.  With this lucrative stream of wealth flowing back to Rome they could leave the economy alone.  And did.  Economic activity was pretty much laissez-faire.  Then something happened.  The Romans had conquered pretty much all of the known civilized world.  And they stopped pushing their borders out.  Putting an end to that lucrative stream of wealth flowing back to Rome.

This created a problem.  For the empire was never larger.  With a greater border to protect than ever before.  And more territory to administer.  Which meant more soldiers.  And more civil servants.  Neither of which worked for free.  Which changed how the Romans handled the private sector economy.  They began to tax and regulate the hell out of it.  To raise the funds to pay the costs of empire.

Things got so bad that some people just started disappearing.  So the Romans introduced something that would evolve into European feudalism.  They forbade people from leaving their jobs.  Ever.  They even forbade the children from leaving their father’s profession.  While they were doing this they were debasing their coins.  The gold a little.  As it paid the soldiers and the civil servants.  And the silver a lot.  The money of the common people.  Who weren’t as important as the soldiers and the civil servants.  Until their silver was nothing but worthless slugs.  Causing prices to soar.  And the economy to collapse back into the barter system.  Hastening the fall of the Roman Empire.  As the Roman citizens welcomed the barbarian invaders as liberators from the oppressive Roman regime.

The Spanish brought back so much Gold and Silver from the New World that it actually Depreciated the Money Supply

Europe met Asia on the Bosporus.  The straits that connected the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.  And it was where the Silk Road brought the exotic goods of the Far East into Europe.  Which the Europeans just couldn’t get enough of.  Making the Mediterranean powers the dominant powers.  For they controlled this lucrative trade.  Until, that is, the European nations made better ships.  Ships that could cross oceans.  And were bigger than the ships that plied the Mediterranean.  So they could bypass the Mediterranean powers.  And sail directly to the Far East.  Fill their large holds with those goods the Europeans couldn’t get enough of.  Getting rich and powerful.  And shifting the balance of power to these European nations.

But the Europeans just didn’t go east.  They also went west.  And bumped into the New World.  The Dutch, the French, the British, the Portuguese and the Spanish all had colonies in the New World.  It was the age of mercantilism.  Colonies sent raw materials to their mother country.  Who manufactured these raw materials into finished goods.  And shipped them from the mother country on the mother country’s ships through the mother country’s ports.  For the name of the game was balance of trade.  Which meant you imported lower-valued raw materials and you exported higher-valued finished goods.  And because the value of their exports was greater than the value of their imports there was also a net in-flow of gold and silver.  Which was what mercantilism was all about.  Trying to accumulate more gold and silver than your trading partners.

And the Spanish hit mercantile pay-dirt in the New World.  Gold and silver.  Lots of it.  So they loaded it up on their ships.  And sent it back to Spain.  Where it entered the European money supply.  And none too soon as the Europeans were cash-starved.  Because of all those exotic goods the Europeans couldn’t get enough of.  While those in the Far East had no interest whatsoever in European goods.  Which meant that European gold and silver went to the Far East to pay for those exotic goods.  Leaving the Europeans starving for gold and silver.  But thanks to the New World, they were able to reverse that net outflow of gold and silver.  In fact, so much gold and silver arrived from the New World that it actually inflated the money supply.  Which actually devalued the currency.  And because the currency lost purchasing power prices rose.  Making food more costly.  And life more difficult.

President Andrew Jackson joined the Hard-Money People and refused to renew the Charter of the BUS

Responsible nations have chosen gold and silver as their currency as it is difficult to increase the money supply and cause inflation.  Because mining these precious metals, refining them and minting coins is very costly.  Unless you discovered a New World with gold and silver paving the streets.  But that didn’t happen every day.  The irresponsible government, though, figured out a way to make that happen every day.  By just getting rid of the responsible gold and silver.  And replacing it with paper notes.  Fiat money.

Fiat money dates back to 11th century China.  To the Song Dynasty.  Which allowed the government to spend more money than their taxes raised.  Especially during war time.  But printing money devalued the currency.  And when you make the currency worth less it takes more of it to buy the things it once did.  Reducing purchasing power.  And unleashing price inflation.  Making food more costly.  And life more difficult.  During the American Revolutionary War there was so little gold and silver available that the Continental Congress turned to printing money.  And they printed so much that they unleashed a punishing inflation.  Causing prices to soar because the money became so worthless.  People wouldn’t accept it for payment.  So the Continental Army had to take the provisions they needed.  Leaving behind IOUs for the Continental Congress to make good on.  Later.

Of course, not everyone suffered during times of inflation.  Speculators did very well.  For their friends in the government’s central bank could print money and loan it to them on very favorable terms.  The speculators then used this cheap money and bought and sold assets.  Pocketing handsome profits in large part because of that inflation.  As the currency depreciation raised prices.  Including the prices of the assets they were selling.  So the rich got richer during periods of inflation.  While the working class just lost purchasing power.  Which is why President Andrew Jackson joined the hard-money people.  Those who favored gold and silver over paper currency.  And refused to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS).  Being one of the first world leaders not to choose destructive inflationary policies.  Instead choosing policies that favored the people.  Not the state.

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Hannibal, Fabian Strategy, Battle of the Monongahela, Battle of Long Island, General Charles Lee, General Prescott, Battle of Monmouth

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 19th, 2012

Politics 101

Quintus Fabius Maximus showed How to Win by Simply not Losing

How do you win a war where you can’t defeat your enemy?  Simple.  You don’t put yourself into a position where your enemy can defeat you.  You avoid major engagements with the enemy.  Making, instead, hit and run raids.  You disrupt their supply lines.  You pin your enemy down as they go on the defensive to fend off these small attacks.  Your objective in all these small actions is not to gain victories.  But time.  If time is on your side.  Which it usually is when a distant foreign power invades you.

In the Second Punic War Hannibal was winning every military engagement he entered.  The Carthaginians even crossed the Alps into Italy.  It appeared that no one could stop him.  So the Romans tapped Quintus Fabius Maximus to see if he could stop Hannibal.  Fabius quickly saw the futility in engaging Hannibal in open combat.  He was too good.  But he was fighting under a couple of disadvantages.  The first being that Carthage was a long way away.  On the far side of the Mediterranean Sea.  The second was directly related to the first.  Because of the difficulty of maintaining a large army in the field of a distant land Hannibal used hired mercenaries.  From Gaul (roughly modern day France) and Spain.  Who though they hated the Romans, they were in it for the money.  And that meant plunder.  Which you got from sacking cities.  The more cities you sack the more plunder you got.  So time was not on the Carthaginian’s side.  They needed a quick victory.  For they could not afford a long, drawn out war on Italian soil.  Which gave the advantage of time to the Romans.  Which Fabius used.  He avoided major engagements.  Absorbed small losses.  And gave up ground.  But he made each victory Hannibal got a costly one.  Where his losses were very hard to replace.  Because of those long supply lines and operating in unfriendly country.

Though a prudent military strategy it was not without political risks.  For people lose faith in you if you can’t show any victories on the battlefield.  And so it was the case with Fabius.  The Roman Senate relieved him of command.  His replacement went on the offensive.  And suffered terrible and costly defeats at the hands of Hannibal.  The Romans eventually returned to the Fabian strategy of Quintus Fabius Maximus.  And eventually drove Hannibal out of Italy.

The Americans proved they had the Skill and Fortitude to be Quite the Irritant with their Daring Capture of General Prescott 

George Washington had no intention of adopting a Fabian strategy during the Revolutionary War.  For he was a brave soldier who wanted to engage the enemy.  During the French and Indian War he accompanied General Braddock into the Ohio Country.  The plan was for the British to push the French out.  What happened was a massacre.  Battle of the Monongahela.  When General Braddock was mortally wounded the British broke and ran.  Washington rode through the chaos to rally the British and fought an orderly retreat.  He had two horses shot out from underneath him.  And 4 musket balls made holes in his jacket.  But he survived unscathed.  And well educated.  For the British force was a superior force.  In men.  And arms.  But it was big and cumbersome.  Designed for Napoleonic tactics in open field engagements.  Which proved useless in the frontier of North America.  A lesson Washington would not forget.

Well, one that he would remember.  Then never forget.  After some years had passed and he found himself in another war.  Only this time instead of fighting alongside the British he was fighting against them.  As commander in chief of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War.  And early on he wanted to engage the British on the field of battle.  Where he could hand the British a staggering defeat.  And bring the war to a swift conclusion.  In the second year of war he chose to do just that.  On Long Island.  In August of 1776.  And was lucky to escape the Battle of Long Island with much of the army.  For the British onslaught was overwhelming.  The British Army advanced with little opposition.  Washington quickly changed his strategy to one of survival.  The Fabian strategy.  And fought an orderly retreat.  Through Manhattan and New Jersey.  Until he crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.  He kept the Army together.  And gained time.  Of course, the downside to all of this was that the British advanced.  Seemingly unopposed.  Taking ground.  Causing the people to wonder if they picked the wrong man to lead America’s army.  In Congress.  And inside the Army itself.  Where a war veteran of the British Army, General Charles Lee, wrote to members of Congress critical of Washington, asking them to replace Washington with him as commander in chief.  He was in the rear of the American retreat through New Jersey.  Inexplicitly, taking his time.  Where he and his staff (away from the main body of his army) stopped for the night in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.  While the British were in pursuit.  And a British patrol surprised him in the morning.  At about 10 AM.  Over breakfast.  In his dressing gown writing a letter to his good friend Horatio Gates.  Another critic of General Washington.  Writing “a certain great man [George Washington] is most damnably deficient.”  He signed this letter as the British surrounded him.  And he became their prisoner.  Shortly thereafter that “damnably deficient” Washington crossed the Delaware and won the battles of Trenton and Princeton.

Washington kept to his Fabian strategy throughout 1777.  Avoiding major engagements.  Favoring hit and run skirmishes that proved a great irritation to the British.  Capturing their supplies.  Even capturing some prominent prisoners.  Like British General Prescott.  Commander of all British troops in Rhode Island.  Where a small force led by Lieutenant Colonel William Barton captured him in Providence, Rhode Island.  In bed.  Naked.  Entertaining a lady.  In a city surrounded by a British Army.  And the Royal Navy.  Showing that the Americans had the skill and fortitude to be quite the irritant.  Key to any Fabian strategy.  Such a high ranking officer would prove valuable in a prisoner swap.  He could get a high ranking and highly valuable American in exchange.  But, instead, they traded him for General Charles Lee.

Lee’s Actions at Monmouth forced General Washington to Fall Back to a Fabian Strategy

While prisoner Lee got pretty chummy with the British.  He was, after all, a former British officer himself.  So he talked.  Saying the Americans were foolish if they thought they could beat the British.  He said George Washington was ignorant and indecisive.  He attacked his character.  He even wrote a letter to General Henry Clinton who succeeded General Howe.  Congratulating him on his promotion.  He may even have drawn up a plan for the British to defeat the Americans.  Perhaps under the threat of being tried for desertion from the British Army.  Or simply for his hatred of Washington.  And the Congress that denied him supreme command of all American forces.  Washington knew nothing of this at the time of the exchange.  And welcomed him back as a brother.  Taking him back to his quarters where his wife, Martha, entertained him with a fine dinner with musical accompaniment.  Even gave him a room for the night behind her sitting room.  They held breakfast the following morning as Lee was late getting up.  It turned out that he brought a woman in through the back door and slept with her.  The wife of a British sergeant.

The following June the Army emerged from Valley Forge.  A much better army than the one that entered Valley Forge.  For it was during that horrible winter that Baron von Steuben whipped the Continental Army into shape.  They were now as well-trained and well-disciplined as any European army.  And Washington was eager to put it to the test.  General Clinton was evacuating Philadelphia and heading to New York.  Washington convened a council of war for advice.  He wanted to engage the British during their retreat.  General Lee said bringing on a full-scale engagement would be “criminal.”  Thanks to the American victory at Saratoga the previous October the French joined the Americans in alliance and were sending over troops and support.  Lee wanted to wait for the French.  And let the British return to New York unopposed.  Avoiding any large scale engagements until the French got there.  He persuaded the other officers to go along with him.  So Washington strengthened his flanks.  And sent out an advanced guard to establish contact with the enemy.  Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s aid-de-camp, was frustrated by this timid response.  He wrote that these deliberations “would have done honor to the most honorable society of midwives, and to them only.”  General Nathanael Greene shared Hamilton’s frustration.  And wrote in a letter to Washington “people expect something from us and our strength demands it.”

Washington placed the Marquis de Lafayette in command of this advanced guard.  But when the Army made contact with the British Lee took command.  Washington learned the British were leaving Monmouth Courthouse and ordered the attack.  To fall on the British rear.  But Lee hesitated.  Then ordered a retreat.  Without giving any specific orders of where to retreat.  Or a new plan of attack.  Or a plan of retreat.  Troops just started to walk back from the front.  Without any exchange of fire.  When Washington saw the retreat it infuriated him.  He rode up and found Lee and demanded the general explain himself.  Apparently he did not have a good answer for Washington yelled at Lee until the “leaves shook.”  By this time the British learned of Washington’s intent and wheeled about and were attacking the Americans.  Washington took command and organized the Americans in a defensive line.  In a day of pitched battles Washington held the line.  Fought the British to a draw.  Thanks to von Steuben.  Whose work made the American Army as good as the British Army.  And Washington.  Who could turn around and rally a retreating army.  He wanted to continue the attack that night but his men were spent.  The heat and fatigue of the long day beating them in the end.  By morning the British were gone.  As was a great opportunity to win a major engagement.  And to greatly weaken Clinton’s army.  Which made it safely back to New York.  Where it stayed for the rest of the war.

Had the Americans attacked the British first.  Had they taken the initiative.  Had Lee not wavered with indecision at the Battle of Monmouth the Americans could have shattered Clinton’s army.  When they were in the open.  Leaving British-occupied New York open to attack with no effective British Army between the Americans and that British occupation.   Which would have had no choice but to evacuate the city while the Royal Navy could still get them out.  And without the safe harbor of New York the Royal Navy would have had to evacuate, too.  Following Saratoga this could have very well ended the war.  Even before the French arrived.  Had the Americans attacked first who knows what might have happened.  That draw could have very well been a victory.  John Laurens (on Washington’s staff with Hamilton) wrote his father Henry in Congress.  He said that Lee was paralyzed by indecision.  And that he should be tried for misconduct.  Which they ultimately did.  They court-marshaled Lee for his actions at the Battle of Monmouth.  Which proved to be his last actions in the war.  With a large army entrenched in New York protected by overwhelming naval power there wasn’t anything Washington could do now.  Forcing him to fall back to a Fabian strategy.  Watching Clinton in New York.  While making hit and run raids.  To annoy the British.  And buy time.  Much like Fabius.  Wearing down the British.  Making the price of victory too great.  And after another 4 years or so of war, that’s what the British would conclude.  That the price of victory in that far distant land was too great.  Instead they would negotiate peace.  With the United States of America.  A sovereign and independent nation.

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Greece, Rome, Western Civilization, Alexandria, Londinium, Enlightenment, Adam Smith, Free Market Capitalism and Gender Equality

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 17th, 2012

History 101

Greece gave Western Civilization Math, Science, Engineering and Philosophy

History has been a political struggle over power.  Kings and emperors and priests and nobles had it.  While other kings and emperors and priests and nobles wanted it.  They fought wars.  They oppressed their people.  They’ve committed acts of genocide on their enemies.  And on their people.  To get that power.  To keep that power.  And that’s the way it was for a long time.  The ruling class at the top battling it out.  While the people suffer abject poverty, famine and genocide at the bottom.  Until something came along to change that.  An advanced civilization.  That could produce a food surplus.  Freeing up people to become artisans.  Specialists.  Who could invent and make things.  To make life better.  Especially for a large group of people called the middle class.

The Greeks and Romans took civilization to new heights.  When Edgar Allen Poe wrote To Helen (1845) he chose Greece and Rome to describe his most beautiful Helen.  Because Greece and Rome were that beautiful.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Western Civilization began in Greece.  Food surpluses freed the great thinkers.  Math, science, engineering and philosophy took roots in Athens and spread through the Greek world.  The Hellenistic civilization.  That Alexander the Great spread east all the way to Iran and the Indus Valley.  And south into Egypt.  Where he founded the great city of Alexandria.  Repository of some of the greatest Greek books of knowledge.  When Rome conquered Greece they spread that great Hellenistic civilization east to Spain.  North to France and Germany.  Even to England.  London itself was once a Roman city.  Londinium.  And everywhere the Romans went they brought with them Greek math, science, engineering and philosophy.  Building engineering marvels.  And creating a very high standard of living.

Where the Romans went they also built roads.  Primarily to move their legions throughout their empire.  But they also used them for trade.  Where they traded the goods made by that rising middle class of artisans.  Economic activity was bustling.  Until the government grew.  To pay for an ever larger government bureaucracy and military they started taxing that economic activity.  And regulating it.  Rather harshly.  Restricting freedoms.  Eventually tying farm workers to the land.  Even their children.  Turning that once bustling economy into feudalism.  Serfdom.  Until the growth of government expenditures made the Western Empire so weak that the Germanic barbarians sacked Rome.

Enlightened Thinking and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations helped make Great Britain the Leading European Power

While Europe went through the Dark Ages the Eastern Roman Empire continued on.  Centered on Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) on the Bosporus, she was smack-dab in the middle of the trade crossroads between Europe and Asia.  And continued to prosper economically.  Until the Arabs began attacking her.  And the Christian Crusaders.  Who came down to reclaim the holy land for the Catholic Church.  Where they fought Muslim Arabs.  As well as Orthodox Christians.  While in the area they visited the sights.  Including that great repository of books in Alexandria.  Which they packed up and brought back to Europe.  And changed the world.

As the Christian monks translated these books all of Europe read them.  Math, science, engineering and philosophy.  Kicking off the Enlightenment.  Advanced economies appeared in the Italian city-states as they controlled trade in the Mediterranean.  But with all that Greek knowledge Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands built bigger ships and learned to navigate across the oceans.  Moving the center of trade from the Mediterranean to northern Europe.  The Europeans established colonies in the Old World.  And the New World.  France and England soon followed.  Trade exploded.  And fortunes were made.  But something really special was happening in England. 

Thanks to all that enlightened thinking the English took the lead in Europe.  And the world.  Modern farming practices improved yields and created great food surpluses.  She had representative government in her Parliament.  The rule of law.  Banking institutions.  Joint-stock companies to raise large amounts of capital.  An insurance industry to manage the great risks of transoceanic trade.  And an economist up in Scotland who wrote a book about new ideas in economic thought.  Adam Smith.  Who wrote The Wealth of Nations.  Championing something he called the Invisible Hand in free market capitalism.  Taking away the economic decisions making from the kings and emperors and priests and nobles.  And giving it to the people.  Which Great Britain embraced.  Kicking off the Industrial Revolution.  Other European nations followed her lead.  As did one young upstart nation.  The United States.

Famine has been Rare in Western Civilization since the 18th Century

Western Civilization dominated the world in every measurable way.  Economic output.  Living standards.  Public health standards.  Gender equality.  You name it and the free market capitalism of Western Civilization made it better.  The general path of emigration of great minds traveled in one general direction.  From eastern/southern Europe to Germany, France and Great Britain.  Then on to the United States.  Or directly to the United States.  Where free market capitalism was the freest.  Making the Untied States the new world superpower.  Following the Industrial Revolution with even greater innovation.  Providing ever greater living standards.  And individual liberty.  For everyone.

The freedom in free market capitalism brought women into the workforce.  Take the automobile.  When Henry Ford first mass produced the car it was not people-friendly.  Men started our first cars by turning a hand crank.  Sometimes losing a finger or breaking a wrist in the process.  Once started he adjusted his goggles and gloves and took the wheel.  His face being the bug screen.  His muscles being his ‘powered’ steering.  Clutching through the gears.  Gearing down and stomping down on the breaks to stop.  It was man’s work driving our first cars.  Dirty, filthy man’s work.  The automatic starter, automatic transmission, power steering and breaks, though, changed all of that.  All American developments.  Allowing women in heels and a short dress to start and drive a car as well as any man without losing any of her dignity.  And she could sip a latte on her drive to work.  While listening to music.  And on those hot days she didn’t sweat through her clothes before getting to work.  Thanks to air conditioning.  Another American invention for the car.  And she’s able to enjoy this freedom because of some other inventions.  Two in particular that let her pursue a career.  And enjoy any activity whenever she chooses.  The birth control pill.  And the tampon.  Again, products of Western Civilization. 

Women in Western Civilization have it pretty good these days.  Where for the most part their standard of living has caught up to men.  There are some earning disparities.  But a lot of that is due to women leaving the workforce to raise children.  And then reentering at a later time.  Having to play catch-up with those who didn’t leave the workforce to raise a family.  Not too bad when you consider what women are going through where they don’t embrace free market capitalism.  For not only do they have none of these everyday comforts we take for granted but they often go without food.  Up until the 18th century famines were pretty common.  But with the advances we’ve made in farming and our other institutions we have that give us a modern and bustling economy (and our high living standards) there really haven’t been any famines in Western Civilization since the 18th century.  There may have been a few but they were very rare.  Unlike the famines in the 20th century that killed tens of millions in Russia, the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa.  But famine is not the only thing killing people in these countries.  They have also suffered the greatest acts of genocides.  As rival groups battle each other for political power.  With the innocent masses stuck in the crossfire.  Something a prosperous middle class has put an end to in Western Civilization.

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Classical Greece, Persian Empire, Hellenistic Period, Roman Empire, Italian Renaissance, Venice, Florence and Government Bonds

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 17th, 2012

History 101

The High Cost of Mercenary Soldiers and a Bloated Bureaucracy brought down the Western Roman Empire

Classical Greece dates back to the 5th century BC.  Lasted about 200 years.  And was the seed for Western Civilization.  Classical Greece was a collection of Greek city-states.  There was no Greek nation-state like the nation of Greece today.  The city-states were independent.  And often waged war against each other.  Especially Sparta and Athens.  Athens is where we see the beginnings of Western Civilization.  Sparta was a city-state of warriors.  While Athens kicked off science, math and democracy, Sparta bred warriors.  And boys trained from an early age.  Or were abandoned to die in the wilderness.

Adjacent to Classical Greece was the great Achaemenid Empire.  The First Persian Empire.  The empire of Cyrus the Great.  Which extended from the eastern Mediterranean all the way to India.  Some of those Greek city-states were on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.  Did not like Persian rule.  And the Ionians revolted.  Supported by Athens.  The Ionian Revolt (499 BC) was the first in a series of Greco-Persian Wars.  Persia’s Darius the Great was tiring of the Greek’s insolence.  And set out to conquer the Greek mainland.  Only to get turned back at the Battle of Marathon.  His son Xerxes returned to Greece to complete the work his dad started.  King Leonidas of Sparta delayed him at the Battle of Thermopylae for three days.  But he defeated the vastly outnumbered Spartans and marched on to Athens.  Where he sacked the abandoned city.  But he would lose the subsequent Battle of Salamis naval engagement.  Losing his navy.  Forcing Xerxes to retreat.

The Greek city-states united to fight their common enemy.  And won.  With the common enemy defeated, Sparta and Athens returned to fighting each other.  In the Peloponnesian War.  Where Sparta emerged the dominant power.  But the constant fighting weakened and impoverished the region.  Making it ripe for conquest.  And that’s exactly what Phillip of Macedon did.  He conquered the great Greek city-states.  And Phillip’s son, Alexander the Great, succeeded his father and went on to conquer the Persian Empire.  Creating the great Hellenistic Period.  Where the known world became Greek.  Then Alexander died.  And his empire broke up.  Then the Romans rose and pretty much conquered everyone.  And the known world became Romanized.  Built upon a Greek foundation.  Until the western part of that empire fell in 476 AD.  Due in large part to the high cost of mercenary soldiers.  And a bloated bureaucracy.  That was so costly the Romans began to debase their silver coin with lead.  To inflate their currency to help them pay their staggering bills.

In Exchange for these Forced Loans the City-States Promised to Pay Interest

The history of the world is a history of its wars.  People fought to conquer new territory so they could bring riches back to their capital.  Or to defend against someone trying to conquer their territory.  And take their riches.  Taking riches through conquest proved to be a reliable system of public finance.  For the spoils of war financed many a growing empire.  It financed the Roman Empire.  And when they stopped pushing out their borders they lost a huge source of revenue.  Which is when they turned to other means of financing.  Higher taxes.  And inflation.  Which didn’t end well for them.

With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire the world took a step backwards.  And Europe went through the Dark Ages.  To subsistence farming on small manors.  The age of feudalism.  Serfs.  Wealthy landowners.  And, of course, war.  As the Dark Ages drew to a close something happened in Italy.  At the end of the 13th century.  The Italian Renaissance.  And the rise of independent Italian city-states.  Florence.  Siena.  Venice.  Genoa.  Pisa.  Much like the Greek city-states, these Italian city-states were in a state of near constant war with each other.  Expensive wars.  That they farmed out to mercenaries.  To expand their territory.  And, of course, to collect the resulting spoils of war.  These constant wars cost a pretty penny, though.  And built mountains of debt.  Which they turned to an ingenious way of financing.

These Italian city-states could not pay for these wars with taxes alone.  For the cost of these wars was greater than their tax revenue.  Leading to some very large deficits.  Which they financed in a new way.  They forced wealthy people to loan them money.  In exchange for these loans these city-states promised to pay interest.

Renaissance Italy gave us Government Bonds and a new way for a State to Live Beyond its Means

The vehicle they used for these forced loans was the government bond.  Used first by the Italian city-states of Venice and Florence.  Which were very similar to today’s government bonds.  Other than the being forced to buy them part.  The bond had a face value.  An interest payment.  And the bondholders could then buy and sell them on a secondary market.   The market set interest rates then as they do now.  The market determined the likelihood of the city-state being able to pay the interest.  And whether they would be able to redeem their bonds.

When there was excessive outstanding debt and/or war threatening a city-state’s ability to service their debt interest rates rose.  And the face value of existing bonds fell.  Because if the state fell these bonds would become worthless.  When state coffers were full and peace rang out interest rates fell.  And bond prices rose.  Because with a stable state their existing bonds would still be good.  Just like today.  So if you’re into government bonds you can thank Renaissance Italy.  And their wars.  Which gave birth to a whole new way for a state to live beyond its means.

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Manorialism and Serfdom

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 29th, 2011

Politics 101

High Taxes and a Declining Birthrate marked the Beginning of the End of the Roman Empire

Serfdom dates back to European Manorialism.  But it was born in the decline of the Roman Empire.  When the Romans stopped pushing their borders out they lost a key source of revenue for their empire.  The spoils of war.  This coincided with the rise of their welfare state.  An ever larger bureaucracy to manage the breadth of empire.  And a loss of Roman identity and pride.  Taxes were rising.  And they were debasing their coin.  To monetize their debt.  People tried their best to evade taxes.  And had no desire to serve in the mighty Roman Legions securing the empire’s borders.  Which turned out to be quite the problem for the Romans.

The Romans had to hire soldiers to defend their borders.  A very costly endeavor.  Which added greatly to the cost of empire.  Hence the high taxes.  And debasing of their silver coins with lead.  But only the silver coins.  Not their gold.  Because they needed those to have value.  As they used them to pay for their hired soldiers.  And that’s one thing you don’t want to do to a hired army.  Anger them by paying them with worthless lead.  Because they could attack you as easily as protect you.

Soon being a Roman wasn’t fun anymore.  Taxes were so high people were working more for the Roman government than their families.  And inflation was making daily life difficult.  The people’s money was becoming worthless.  Which raised prices.  Soon the Romans were taking tax payments in kind.  Instead of money they took wheat, wine, clothing, etc.  Whatever a person made a large portion of what they made went to the Roman government.  It became so bad people were quitting to do something else.  A lot of them.  So many that it was cutting into what the Romans were collecting.  That and a declining birthrate marked the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire.  Large armies.  A growing bureaucracy.  And a declining tax base.  Not a formula for fiscal stability.  So they said enough.  No more quitting and moving on.  Whatever your father was you’ll be.  You have no choice.  You’ll do as he did until the day you die.

The Lord of the Manor owned Great Tracts of Land that Needed Laborers, Peasants had Labor to Offer but no Land

It was the rural part of this Roman directive that shaped future history.  Especially in Europe.  When the Roman Empire collapsed civilization went backwards.  To a rural, agrarian way of life.  A rural self-sufficiency.  Where people either owned land.  Or worked on land owned by others.  And that Roman idea to prevent people from quitting and moving on?  That became serfdom.  Where people who worked the land were bound to the land.  And not allowed to leave or look for a new job.  And if the lord sold the land the people bound to the land went with the land.  Not the lord.

This is Manorialism.  As the Roman Empire disintegrated power shifted from a central government to manors.  The Lord of the Manor owned great tracts of land that needed laborers.  Peasants had labor to offer but no land.  So they made an agreement.  The Lord of the Manor would permit the peasant to live and work a small piece of his land.  In return the peasant would join other peasants and work the large landholdings of their lord.

A serf was little more than a slave.  But with a home and land to work to provide for his family.  Which was a lot in Medieval Europe and often meant the difference between life and death.  And he had something more.  Protection.  A set of laws to live by among his fellow serfs administrated by his lord and the manorial court.  And protection from outside threats.  Which was also part of the agreement.  The serfs agreed to fight alongside their fellow serfs in defense of their lord’s land.  Which was also their home.  And the source of all provision for their family.  So it was a very beneficial agreement for both lord and serf.

Serfdom was a Life of Subsistence and Prayer

The Lord of the Manor lived in a mansion.  The peasants lived in a little village.  Between the two was often a church.  Also in or near the village was the lord’s mill.  Operated by the serfs for both the lord’s harvest and their own.  Maybe even a bakery.  Surrounding these were the great tracts of land the serfs worked.  And forests where wild game was available to hunt.  And wood to burn.  But the forests were typically for the lord’s sole use.

So after the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome this was what civilization came to.  A life of subsistence.  Back-breaking work in the fields.  Eat what you grow.  Pray.  And try not to starve or freeze to death during the winter.  Not a life we would dream about today.  But one that worked for centuries.  And held Europe together during the Middle Ages.

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Greek and Latin Books, the Printing Press, the Gutenberg Bible, Newspapers, Desktop Publishing, the Blogosphere and the Internet

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 28th, 2011

Technology 101

Monks worked by Candlelight Painstakingly Copying by Hand the Great Books of Greek Knowledge

Alexander the Great spread Greek thinking and the Greek language throughout much of the known world.  From the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley.  Everywhere Alexander went he built new cities. Where that Greek thinking took hold.  Astronomy.  Geometry.  Architecture.  Engineering.  Philosophy.  Etc.  The Greeks impressed the Romans.  Even though they conquered them.  But the empire they built used that Greek thinking they so admired as its foundation.  They studied the Greeks.  Mastered their language.  Read their books.  And translated the Greek books into Latin.  The new universal language.

The Roman world was an advanced world.  And a Latin world.  The great minds throughout the Empire spoke and studied in Latin.  Which helped to diffuse this knowledge throughout the known world.  For you were never outside the Latin world.  The common people may not have spoken Latin.  Instead speaking the common language of their people (French, German, English, etc.).  But in their universities they all spoke Latin.  For educated men everywhere spoke Latin as their second language.  The language of knowledge.  Education.  And of the Church.  Where the masses were in Latin.  Until the Great Schism in 1054, that is.  When Greek replaced Latin in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  But Latin remained the language of the Catholic Church in the West.

It was the Church and their medieval monks that brought this knowledge forward through the Dark Ages.  For it wasn’t dark in their monasteries.  Where monks, the few people who could read and write, worked by candlelight painstakingly copying by hand the great books of Greek knowledge.  Making this knowledge available for the select few who could afford these works of art.  Which they were.  For each one was one of a kind.  Which made them rather costly.  And unavailable for the common people.  Including the Bible.  No, these belonged to the wealthy.  The universities.  And the Church.  Until a German goldsmith came along with a brilliant idea.

The Printing Press gave us Inexpensive Books, Newspapers, Censorship and Revolution

That idea was moveable typesetting.  Individual letters arranged to spell out lines of text.  Clamped together with other lines of text.  Placed into a press.  Smeared with ink.  Then pressed onto paper.  In this way Johannes Gutenberg published the first mass-produced book.  The Gutenberg Bible.  And knowledge would never be the same.

Printing spread.  As did the mass production of books.  Reading was no longer for the well-to-do or Church clerics.  Everyone was learning to read.  And they were reading books.  In their own language.  Which put an end to Latin.  Because the printing press made books so cheap they printed them in all sorts of languages.  Making knowledge more readily accessible to the common people.  Anyone who wished to learn to read could.  And did.  Thanks to Gutenberg.  And the printing press.

But not only books were printed.  Knowledge was taking shape in a new form.  Newspapers.  And this type of knowledge was powerful.  People throughout a kingdom knew what was happening in their kingdom.  And what was happening in other kingdoms.  And they more often questioned authority.  So much so that it ushered in a new government policy.  Censorship.  As governments tried to suppress unfavorable news.  Such as the British blockade of Boston Harbor.  Soon Boston’s problem was everyone’s problem as the news traveled throughout the American colonies.  Escalating what the British thought was a Boston problem into a revolution in America.  And later in France.  After the French read all about the American Revolution in their newspapers.

Desktop Publishing, the Blogosphere and the Internet has Revitalized the Free Press

With newspapers came newspaper advertising.  A great medium for advertisers to promote their goods.  And a cash cow for publishers.  Advertisers kept the price of newspapers low.  Making them affordable to the masses.  Giving publishers great power to control information.  Which they did.  Newspapers started out as tools of political parties.  Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson viciously attacked each other in print.  Through anonymous editorial content.  So using newspapers for political purposes is nothing new.  But in the age of advertising the stakes were much higher.

Newspapers soon assumed an air of neutrality.  They weren’t tabloid news anymore.  But journalism.  Reporting the facts so their readers can make their own conclusions.  And they were neutral for awhile.  But the captive audience of a large daily was just too much to pass up.  Papers could influence and shape opinion.  And many did.  With clear biases even though they denied it.  Frustrating their readers.  Who began to look for other sources of news.  And they found a big one.  So big that it is destroying the giants of print media.  Shrinking these newspapers’ circulation numbers.  And with them their advertising revenue.  So what was driving people away from the once storied titans of news?  The Internet.

The Internet has revolutionized the way we get information.  And has revitalized the free press.  We can get news from anywhere without it going through the editorial filter of a politically connected publisher.  Desktop publishing and the blogosphere allow anyone to write and publish at little to no cost.  Some blogging platforms are free thanks to online advertisers.  Now anyone can report, think, opine and publish.  Technology has made the costs of electronic publishing almost free.  Gone are the days when you needed mammoth printing presses, typesetters, copy editors, delivery trucks etc.  Today all you need is a computer.  Or a cellular device.  And an Internet connection.

People in the Middle of the News can Report the News in Real Time thanks to Micro-Blogging

Few newspapers today can afford to stay in business with their low circulation numbers and lost advertising revenue.  But people have never been more informed.  Sources of news and opinion are electronically everywhere.  For a fraction of the cost.   With some of that news being published within seconds of the news event happening.  From anywhere in the world.  Thanks to the Internet.  And micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter.  Even if the news arrives to us in a foreign language we can use an online translator to read it.  With some simple copy and paste commands.  News has never been more convenient.

People in the middle of the news can report the news in real time.  A process that started with the Greeks and the Romans.  Who diffused all that Greek knowledge.  That a lot of monks brought through the Dark Ages to the age of print.  Feeding our insatiable hunger for knowledge.  The printing press gave us inexpensive books.  In our common languages.  And the newspaper.  That eventually gave us desktop publishing.  The Internet.  And instantaneous knowledge.  All of this without having to learn Latin to boot.  Good for us because that is one thing the Internet can’t do well.  Translate Latin.  For that you need a person.  Or years of education.  And who has the time these days for that?  I mean, we can’t even wait for a daily newspaper these days to get our news.

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Religion allowed Sumer, Egypt and Europe to be Great

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 15th, 2011

History 101

Religion Allowed Sumerians and Egyptians to Work Together and Live in Crowded Urban Cities

The world’s first civilization was Sumer.  Which included a series of city-states in Mesopotamia.  That land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  Modern day Iraq.  And at the center of each city was a temple.  A ziggurat.  A multilevel structure that was broad at the base.  Narrow at the top.  Kind of like a pyramid.  But it wasn’t for entombing the dead.  Its height made it a ‘bridge’ to their gods.  It was at the top of these ziggurats where the priests performed their sacred rituals.  Ruled over the people.  Organized their large-scale farming.  Irrigation.  And their civilization.  Their food surpluses, the key to an advanced civilization, were stored at or near the ziggurat.  And the priest-king distributed the food to the people.

The world’s second civilization was Egypt.  Home of the pyramids.  That entombed their dead in elaborate rituals.  To help them enter the afterlife.  During the Old Kingdom one man ruled all of Egypt.  The pharaoh.  But he wasn’t just a king.  He was a god.  The people worshipped the pharaoh.  And worked at his direction.  The pharaoh directed the massive irrigation works.  The farming.  Managed the food surpluses.  And the people served their gods.  Possibly built the pyramids for them.  Out of love.  For some evidence suggests that slaves may not have built the pyramids as once thought.  But that they willingly joined together to build these tombs out of love and/or respect for their beloved pharaohs.

The first two great civilizations were theocracies.  Religion was the basis of their governments.  And the religious authority ruled.  Whether it be a priest-king.  Or a pharaoh.  A god to the people.  They organized and directed the people to do the things that made these civilizations great.  And the people did great things.  For their cities.  And their god(s).  For their religion was the great unifying factor that allowed a great number of people to live in crowded urban settings.  And work towards a common goal.

During the Dark Ages Charlemagne used Christianity to Unite Europe

Civilization advanced from these humble but great beginnings.  Religious thinking led to other thinking.  And everything great that followed.  Math.  Science.  History.  Physics.  And metaphysics.  We were thinking about our present.  And remembering our past.  The Greeks took thinking to great heights.  Figured out much of what we know today.  Alexander the Great took the glory that was Greece and spread it to the known world.  Then the Romans spread it to the parts of the world Alexander did not conquer.  The grandeur that was Rome was, in fact, Greek.

But the greatness peaked during the Roman Empire.  And then the Germanic tribes to the north sacked Rome.  And plunged Europe into the Dark Ages.  A world devoid of glory.  Where the hands of time were turned back a millennium or two.  Or three.  But all was not lost for Europe.  Because there was Christianity.  For the Roman Empire was a Christian empire.  And that’s something the people of Europe did not lose.  Their religion.  Which was the unifying force of the kingdoms that followed.  Including the great Charlemagne.  The unifier of Europe during the Dark Ages.  For Charlemagne was a devout Christian.  And even ascended to the throne as Holy Roman Emperor.

The rise of Islam in the holy Christian lands led to the Christian Crusades.  While in the ancient cities around the Mediterranean the Christians found a lot of lost Greek texts.  Brought them back to Europe.  To Christian monasteries.  And started that thinking all over again.  Leading to the Renaissance.  And the Enlightenment.  Picking up basically where the Greeks and Romans left off.  Making Europe the dominant region for centuries to come.

A lack of Religion and Spiritual Understanding Empowered Dictators to Kill their own People

Throughout history religion has made life better.  From its earliest days that simply allowed people to live and work together.  To developing a love for our fellow man.  Which restrained our most base instincts.  And calmed the savage breast.  Don’t believe this?  Just look at the worst genocides.

In sheer numbers it’s a tossup who killed more of their own people.  Joseph Stalin (the Soviet Union).  Or Mao Tse-Tung (the Peoples Republic of China).  In terms of a percentage of their population it’s no contest.  Pol Pot (Cambodia) wins that honor.  He killed some 20% of his own people.  And what do these three have in common?  They were all communists.  And their official religion?  None.  They were atheists.

Which is probably what let these dictators commit these cruel acts of barbarism against their own people.  Because they had no spiritual understanding of this life.  Or the afterlife.  So they had little to lose in their eyes.  Nothing to give them pause in unleashing all that repressed cruelty that advanced civilizations worked so hard to suppress.

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