Tag: History

The Best We Can Hope For (The Hitler's Mustache Problem)

Scissors Beat Paper (Original creator unknown)
The ephemera that remains visible in popular culture sometimes seems haphazard and nonsensical.

Consider: I’ve played World War II inspired video games in which it’s a perfectly feasible option to play as a Nazi soldier. I have, on certain evenings, taken great enjoyment in cutting swathes through squads of Allied troops. If it were a matter of political allegiance I’d be weeping, but, instead, I enjoy it. The mechanics of the game are engaging enough, and the interface is cartoonish enough, that I’m willing to ignore the unpleasant truth that I’m playing as a representative of a group responsible for killing millions of people – including those who fought and died for my own freedom.

On Hitler Politics (from PunditKitchen.com)Also consider: No one can wear a Hitler mustache. The details of his face may be fuzzy in the minds of many, but all know his mustache, and even people with the fortitude to digitally sling a digital German rifle cringe at the idea of shaving down to the facial hair of a mass-murderer.

Did I mention that this is a post regarding the phrase, “the birds and the bees”?

Cole Porter, in 1928, wrote a song called “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)”, which goes a little something like this:


We think of this style of song largely as camp these days; we don’t consider the era in which they were created, or the effect that they may have had. Porter remains beloved in the types of circles that collect fat and dusty records, but is mostly forgotten by the rest of the world – and yet he may have left us with one of the most recognizable idioms in the English language.

Several sources give credit to Cole Porter for coining the phrase[, the birds and the bees]. One of the legendary musician’s more famous songs was “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love.” The 1928 standard contains the lyrics:

And that’s why birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love


We don’t consider the social revolution that was “Love For Sale”, forcing upper-society to deal with the fact that streetwalkers were a prevalent, and human, underbelly to the city of New York, (and all over America.)

“Love for Sale” was originally considered in bad taste, even scandalous. In the initial Broadway production, it was performed by Kathryn Crawford, portraying a streetwalker, with three girlfriends […] in front of Reuben’s, a popular restaurant of the time. As a response to the criticism, the song was transferred from the white Crawford to the African American singer Elisabeth Welch, who sang with back-up singers in a scene set in front of Harlem’s Cotton Club.

Despite the fact the song was banned from radio airplay, or perhaps because of it, it became a hit[.]



Appetising young love for sale.
If you want to buy my wares.
Follow me and climb the stairs

I’d find even MIA or Gaga hard pressed to put out those lines – yet the closest we can get to retaining anything from Porter’s career is the baby talk we use to discuss intimate matters with children, inspired by a song as directly about sexual intercourse as we probably had till the release of Afternoon Delight.

Electric eels, I might add, do it
Though it shocks em I know
Why ask if shad do it – Waiter bring me
“shad roe”

In shallow shoals English soles do it
Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

The legacy we intend is rarely the one we receive, and often the shorthand we use socially (crazy mustache = crazy war monger, naughty song = sexy time,) can carry on even after its origin has begun to fade from public memory.

Our Previously Terrifying Future

XB-70 in flightThere’s always a lot of nostalgia floating around regarding “the way things were”, and not always undeservedly so, but there are things we’ve had a hand in that leave me blinking at the possibilities for awe and disaster.

In the 1950s, nuclear power was all the rage – so much so that the American Government undertook to develop a nuclear-powered bomber aircraft that it could use to to deploy atomic weaponry from high altitudes, and at high velocity.

Not only would a nuclear-plane be able to maintain supersonic speeds, it could do so nearly indefinitely.

Imagine a sky full of planes that only need to land when their wings start to peel off.

Of course, reality came down heavy on the designers, and the radioactive aspects of the engine were pulled out of the contract.

This beast was the first proposal for an alternate. As the wikipedia notes, “the “floating panels” are large fuel tanks the size of a B-47″ – and they were intended to peel off once empty.

Like the atomic aspect, the extra tanks were also eventually left in the design-room’s trash, and two prototypes were built, with a third canceled mid-production. Technology had simply outpaced their need.

What happened to the orphaned birds that once dreamed of being nuclear?

On 8 June 1966, XB-70A #2 was in close formation with four other aircraft (an F-4, F-5, T-38, and F-104) for a photoshoot […] the F-104 drifted into contact with the XB-70’s right wing, flipped over, and rolling inverted, passed over the top of the Valkyrie, struck the vertical stabilizers and left wing and exploded, destroying the Valkyrie’s rudders and damaging its left wing […] the Valkyrie entered an uncontrollable spin and crashed into the ground north of Barstow, California. – wikipedia

A simple accident that could have happened in any, or to any, aircraft; nothing mechanical, just pilot error – still, in an alternate history of ever-flying planes, it would have been anything but a simple clean up.

The remaining prototype is in a museum, where it probably belongs.

Siberian Chicken Counting, Pre-Hatching

In July of 1580, the Russian Tsar, feeling his backyard wasn’t large enough, decided to conquer Siberia. At the time, the territory was largely populated by a number of loosely-connected tribes under the taxation of Küçüm Khan. To retaliate at the intrusion, the Khan decided to force Islamic rule upon his people, and raised armies of Tartars to beat back the invasion.
[From Wikipedia] Laminar armour from hardened leather enforced by wood and bones worn by native siberians and Eskimo
The problem, however, was a fellow named Yermak. Nominally an explorer, he was much of the Spanish school of discovery which required any freshly encountered people to be hit with something heavy or sharp. His journeys went well, for him, and his expeditionary force of Cossacks and slaves quickly subdued everyone they happened upon.

The Tsar was quite pleased, and sent more men to help put down anyone who wasn’t fond of the new map. Everyone but the Khan was sure that Yermak had sealed Siberia’s fate, and it was just a matter of time before the last bits of resistance were stamped out. To reward the “explorer”, the Russian leader also gifted him a fine set of chain mail armour, an item that would make Yermak practically invincible to the weapons of the remaining Tartars.
Yushman Amour
It may have been the ease of his success, and the knowledge of his relative invincibility, that lead Yermak to folly.

From the wikipedia:

Küçüm Khan retreated into the steppes and over the next few years regrouped his forces. He suddenly attacked Yermak on August 6, 1584 in the dead of night and killed most of his army.

Now, to be fair, the army referenced in this snippet was just a portion of the total force that Yermak had spread over the Siberian countryside, and if he’d managed to survive the confrontation, he would have likely been able to rebound.

Unfortunately, for him, he did not.

Again, from the wikipedia

[…] Yermak was wounded and tried to escape by swimming across the Wagay river […] but drowned under the weight of his own chainmail.

Touched By A Drug Addled Angel

St James gives Charlemagne's soul a helping hand
Santiago, the capital of Chile, was founded by the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. The Spanish, not being particularly welcome in the neighbourhood, were met with some resistance from the natives.

The Inca ruler Manco Cápac II warned the new rulers that his Indigenous people would be hostile to the occupiers. – Wikipedia

This was a bit of an understatement, as the few hundred Spanish at the site were quickly inundated by thousands of natives who were annoyed with the land grab.

So why do we still have a city of Santiago at all? Was it the Spanish’s guns and armour that saved them? Gumption and technology?

Not according to the conquistadors.

Santiago Appearance

This is a footnote from The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History By Américo Castro, Willard F. King, Selma Margaretten, but the book I originally read about this incident in, Lost Explorers*, pointed out that, while it was a useful bit of propaganda for the Spanish to claim that St. James (Sant Yago) arrived on the scene on his spectral pony, wearing a crisp waistcoat and bearing a white lance and shield, it’s hard to understand why the heavily overwhelming native force apparently suffered a mass delusion and broke into retreat.

1657 St James The Great In The Battle Of Juan Carre o de Miranda

While I personally don’t believe that a martial phantasm came down to take up the Spanish cause, I do believe the practice of chewing coca leaves was common amongst the South American population of the time.

* I apologize for the lack of further attribution, I’m physically well away from the book at the moment, and can’t recall the author’s name.

The Trouble With History

John Cabot - Detail from "The departure of John and Sebastian Cabot from Bristol on their first voyage of discovery, 1497." Oil on canvas by Ernest Board, 1906.I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by these kinds of things, but sometimes you don’t realize something that you’ve been told all your life is wrong until you’ve pulled it out of the drawer and given it a good shaking out.

Imagine I built a time machine and traveled back to the 1480s to give John Cabot a handshake and a thumbs-up. I’ve been informed all of my life that this fellow was the man who discovered the nation of my birth, Canada, but if I were to walk up to him on the street and say “Hey, John, good one,” he’d likely have no idea who I was even talking to.

Zuan Chabotto, on the other hand, would have no problem giving me a fist bump.

In Italy he is known today as Giovanni Caboto, in Spain as Juan Caboto and in England as John Cabot.
As for the way he described himself, only one set of documents has been found bearing his signature. These are Venetian testamentary documents of 1484, on which he signed himself as “Zuan Chabotto”, Zuan being a form of John typical to Venice. – wikipedia

“What’s the big deal?” you may ask, but I tell you this: If, five hundred years from now, I’m largely remembered for being the second fellow to land on a planet outside of our solar system but everyone keeps referring to me as JRD Скинер, I’ll be pretty angry.


The British government, to keep the development of their new weapon a secret, told the North British Locomotive Company – the ladies who were doing the actual iron and grease work on the Allies’ new landships – that they were constructing water carriers intended for the middle east.

The women simply called the things “Tanks”, and for better or worse, that’s how we all know them today.

Landship development, originally conducted by the Royal Navy under the auspices of the Landships Committee, was sponsored by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and proceeded through a number of prototypes, importantly among them the Little Willie, designed byWilliam Ashbee Tritton and Walter Gordon Wilson, as the first-ever completed tracked tank prototype vehicle, culminating in the Mark I tankprototype, named Mother.

The descriptor “tank” is reputed to have evolved from the construction of the early batches by North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow. The order was coded as “special tanks”, and much of the work was undertaken in the NBLC Tank shops and the name stuck. – wikipedia