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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

“There’s no time to lose”, I heard her say
Catch your dreams before they slip away
Dying all the time
Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind
Ain’t life unkind?

— The Rolling Stones, from Ruby Tuesday

When I was a youth in the little land-locked German state of Bavaria I never left a radius of about 150 miles around my home town. I dreamed of getting a sailboat and living on my boat crisscrossing the Mediterranean, visiting all the Greek islands I read so much about in my Latin classes. I bought books about sailing. It was a life-long dream.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40ies, living in San Diego, that I started taking sailing lessons. But I really never ventured out much further than the San Diego Bay, sailing out to the “point” at Point Loma, where the bay opens into the Pacific. My dream of sailing the open ocean has faded over the years. I lost my dream, but I didn’t lose my mind…

The day after our wedding was Trisha’s 60th birthday. She hired the Aolani, a great catamaran, to take out all the out-of-town guests for a cruise on San Diego Bay. Here we are boarding:

Aolani

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

While on the cruise, our captain was “Captain Steve” and he told us many a sailing yarn and gave us a lot of history of the San Diego Bay, much of which I had never heard before. Here is Captain Steve. I am sitting on the right side in the middle.

 

Capt Steve

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

It turns out, Steve fulfilled the dream I had but never chased after. He has sailed alone around the world several times, once even achieving a speed record. I was in awe.

Then he recommended a book about sailing: Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. A few days later I picked up the book on my Kindle, and I had no idea what I was in for.

Melville’s Moby Dick was published in 1851. Two Years Before the Mast was first published in 1840, more than ten years earlier. Melville actually had made some jokes about Two Years Before the Mast, about the section of rounding Cape Horn having been written with an icicle. Two Years Before the Mast is known to be one of the first classics of American literature.

Richard Henry Dana was from the upper class of Boston society and an undergraduate at Harvard College. His father was a poet, his grandfather had been chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and his great-grandfather was one of the original Sons of Liberty in Boston. While at Harvard, Dana became ill with the measles which affected his vision. He could not read without great pain. He felt he needed a change, took a leave from college and hired on as a common sailor on the brig Pilgrim, a merchant ship which was ready to go on a journey to California. In those days, that meant the trip had to go around Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America. It took many months at sea and was fraught with danger. He eventually returned to Boston two years later on a different ship, the Alert, owned by the same company.

In the book, Dana tells the story of the two-year journey from the point of view of a sailor. Being a sailor on a ship was as close to slavery as one can get without actually being a slave. Sailors got paid $12 a month. While on ship, the captain was the ultimate authority. There was no law, no protection, no leisure, unless authorized by the captain. The sailors performed backbreaking labor, day and night, holiday and weekend. There was no healthcare, extremely poor nutrition, much brutalization of the men, no justice and no way out. Once you signed up for a journey, you were indentured for the duration of that journey. You didn’t know when you would come back, or, for that matter, if you would come back at all. Many sailors died, from falling overboard, being overworked, getting ill, or from malnutrition.

Dana tells the story of the common sailor, interwoven with elaborate sailing jargon I usually did not understand. Here is a sample:

By and by — bang, bang, bang, on the scuttle — “All ha-a-ands, aho-o-y!” We spring out of our berths, clap on a monkey-jacket and southwester, and tumble up the ladder. Mate up before us, and on the forecastle, singing out like a roaring bull; the captain singing out on the quarter-deck, and the second mate yelling, like a hyena, in the waist. The ship is lying over half upon her beam-ends; lee scuppers under water, and forecastle all in a smother of foam. Rigging all let go, and washing about decks; topsail yards down upon the caps, and sails flapping and beating against the masts; and starboard watch hauling out the reef-tackles of the main topsail. Our watch haul out the fore, and lay aloft and put two reefs into it, and reef the foresail, and race with the starboard watch to see which will mast-head its topsail first. All hands tally-on to the main tack, and while some are furling the jib and hoisting the staysail, we mizzen-top-men double-reef the mizzen topsail and hoist it up. All being made fast — “Go below, the watch!” and we turn-in to sleep out the rest of the time, which is perhaps an hour and a half. During all the middle, and for the first part of the morning watch, it blows as hard as ever, but toward daybreak it moderates considerably, and we shake a reef out of each topsail, and set the top-gallant-sails over them; and when the watch come up, at seven bells, for breakfast, shake the other reefs out, turn all hands to upon the halyards, get the watch-tackle upon the top-gallant sheets and halyards, set the flying-jib, and crack on to her again.

— Dana, Richard Henry. Two Years Before the Mast (Kindle Locations 5843-5855). Houghton Mifflin. Kindle Edition.

However, I must admit that now I am looking for a book on sailing ship diagrams and descriptions of the rigging, so I understand what the various types of sails are. If I were 40 years younger, I’d hire on a sailing ship like the Star of India and “learn the ropes.”

Speaking of the Star of India – this is the oldest still operating steel hull sailing ship in the world, and it is permanently parked in San Diego on the waterfront as a maritime museum.

 

Star of India

Picture Credit: Lothar Frosch

Some of the most fascinating parts about Two Years Before the Mast are Dana’s descriptions of California. In 1935, they visited many places in California that are there today, including San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. The missions in California had been there for centuries even then, and towns had grown around those missions, but those towns were just a few shacks or adobe buildings with hard dirt floors. San Francisco was two shacks down by the water a few miles in from the bay entrance. San Diego consisted of a little “harbor” where the Navy fuel yards are today. The ships docked there and the sailors came to the shore by boats. Since the California trade with the United States at the time was mostly hides, there were four hide houses there. Those were storage facilities for tens of thousands of hides, which the ships brought to San Diego from all over the California coast for curing, drying and treating before they were loaded on ships to be taken to the east coast. Then, a few miles inland from the harbor, where we now have “Old Town,” were a few homes, some merchant buildings, and that was San Diego. The Presidio was up the hill from there. Dana’s descriptions of the California locations I now know so well, having lived here for more than 30 years, are priceless historical references.

But that’s not a modern phenomenon. Dana’s book, published in 1840, was the unequivocal reference book for California used by the San Francisco 49ers (the visitors to the area due to the Gold Rush). Even then the book was a bestseller.

There was a cliff on the coast of what is Orange County today, where Dana and crew, when they collected hides, just threw them down like Frisbees rather than carrying them down the steep cliffs. They did this for a number of visits. He called this spot one of the most romantic spots in California. Well, there is a town called Dana Point on the California coast today, and it was named after the author. I had no idea! I even know a person named Dana, and I will not disclose his last name here, who once told me that his name was Dana because he was conceived at Dana Point on the beach. I wonder if he knows the book Two Years Before the Mast?

Eventually, Dana became a lawyer and was quite active defending sailors and working on making their lives less brutal.

Dana’s trip from Boston to San Diego, California, picking up a load of 40,000 hides, and then returning to Boston, took over two years. That was his two years before the mast. I have traveled from San Diego to Boston and back in 6-hour one-way airline trips many times. The whole journey would sometimes have me away from home no more than 48 hours.

What a fascinating world we live in!

And what an amazing book Two Years Before the Mast is!

 

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Richard Nixon with John McCain [picture credit: unknown]

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We are mired in wars that seem to never end. When our children think of war, they think of Iraq and Afghanistan. For the majority of our population, Vietnam is ancient history. Vietnam veterans are now all in their mid to late sixties or seventies. They know their combat stories, and their politics, and they remember the days of their young selves, when they were asked to give up their youths to fight in a brutal and bloody war far away from the American reality. They all have friends they lost, whose names are now on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. And they all still grieve for their comrades, their friends, every day of their lives.

Every soldier of the 58,220 who lost their lives in Vietnam had loved ones at home, girlfriends, wives, children, parents, neighbors, buddies. Thousands of those lives of those loved ones were changed forever the moment two or three soldiers in uniform walked up to the front doors of their houses to bring the impossible and unbearable news.

In Backtracking in Brown Water, the author, Rolland E. Kidder, a Lieutenant Junior Grade in the U.S. Navy, tells his own story of his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969. He saw many soldiers die, but three of them were close friends. Chief Eldon Tozer, Captain Bob Olson and Lieutenant Jim Rost all lost their lives while serving alongside the author.

While he tells his own story of how he ended up in Vietnam in the war, he recounts the lives of his three fallen friends. Then, forty years later, between 2010 and 2014, he visits their families back home, interviews them, shares stories with them, and goes to see their graves. While it does not bring closure – nothing ever seems to do that – it honors the men who gave their lives for their country, even now, 40 years later.

He also went back to the brown waters in the Mekong Delta and visited the places where he had served, and where his friends had fallen, so many decades ago.

When I read Backtracking in Brown Water, I was first with the author right there in Vietnam, in 1969, and experienced the horrors of that war. Then I was there again with him when he returned to Vietnam. I saw the country through his eyes by reading his words. And I got to know the fallen heroes almost like they were my own friends.

And above all, I came to abhor war even more than I already do, this vicious thing our so-called “leaders” initiate to make themselves large, by sending other people’s children into foreign lands to suffer and to die – for illegitimate causes.

When will we ever learn that war does not work, that war never works?

Ask Eldon Tozer, Bob Olson and Jim Rost. You can’t. Because they lost it all so abruptly in 1969, while the rest of us got to live on. Every one of us should read Backtracking in Brown Water to remind us of the horror of war.

Check out the author’s website and blog.

He now lives in Stow, New York, in the heart of Chautauqua County.

***

But wait, there is more. It turns out I know author. Here he is on the left, in a picture taken in March 1975 in Albany, New York.

left to right: Assemblyman Rolland Kidder, unknown student of Jamestown High School, myself, Senator Jess Present

I was a foreign exchange student with AFS at Southwestern Central High School in Lakewood, New York, in the year 1974/75. My history teacher, Mrs. Tarbrake, chose me (of all the students in her classes) to go on a visit to the New York State government. There was just one student per high school. It was such an honor.

Senator Present picked me up at my house in Lakewood, New York and I rode with him the seven hours to Albany, while we chatted about the life of an exchange student and world politics. When we arrived in Albany, he passed me on to Assemblyman Kidder, who, with the help of his staff, hosted my visit and allowed me to sit with him in the chamber while legislative votes were taking place. I saw state government in action with his personal commentary.

In the picture above, I am the one that looks the least like the other three. Nobody had told this poor foreign exchange student that there was a dress code in the New York Assembly Chamber. You needed coat and tie to enter. I had not brought any. For me to get in, Assemblyman Kidder let me use one of his jackets, and one of his staffers gave me a white shirt and a tie. Along with my blue corduroy pants, I am sure I was not much of a fashion statement in the assembly chamber, but I was honored to be there wearing the Assemblyman’s jacket.

At that time, I didn’t have much of a perspective on Assemblyman Kidder’s role there. I just found out when I read this book that he had only been in office for a few months at that time, in his first term. To me, he looked like a seasoned and distinguished politician.

The picture above was published in the Jamestown Post Journal, the local paper in Chautauqua County, during the following week, telling the story of two local students from the two local high schools in the Jamestown area, visiting the State Legislature. I was famous.

And of course, I had no idea that Assemblyman Kidder was a Vietnam veteran, and that I would stumble upon his book 42 years later.

It’s been an honor – twice.

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What were they thinking?

Why would a presidential campaign, just because two southerners were running, use a symbol of oppression, hate and treason as one of the campaign icons? Or were we less sensitive then?

Here is more of what I think about the confederate flag.

 

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The crane that lasted 400 years! I came across a 9-year-old post about the crane on the Cologne cathedral. Check this out and marvel about the crane. That crane was on top of the cathedral for longer than the United States has existed as a nation, for much longer….

Norbert Haupt

In 1977 I lived in Cologne for about a year. I was a 21 year old soldier. Many a Saturday afternoon I would walk from my apartment, across the river, into downtown, and on my way I would walk past the awe-inspiring cathedral.

cologne-cathedral-facade-60.jpg

Yes, I looked up. Yes, I was awed, but what I was looking at didn’t really faze my youthful mind much.

After reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, I studied up on cathedral construction, and I was fascinated with what I found out.

Check this link for a nice snapshot.

I didn’t know that for some time, the building was the highest building in the world, until the Washington Monument was constructed.

Construction began in 1248, but by 1560, political changes had taken place, and funds dried up. So all construction stopped until 1842.

There was a massive wooden crane on top of the south tower…

View original post 306 more words

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Norbert at Sunset on Maui — Picture Credit: Trisha

One of the best things about Hawai’i is that it puts me in my place. I love the islands, and I love even more marveling about them.

The islands are one of the most remote places on earth. It takes six hours by plane from the nearest mainland, California, to get here. There is no land in between. And once here, there is no other land in any direction closer than that. We’re in the middle of the Pacific, as far away from any land as you can get.

As the islands formed, only one new species of animal was added every 10,000 years, since it was so difficult for life to get here. Driftwood carried insects and seeds, and occasional storms carried birds. Of course, that all changed when humans started coming here a thousand years ago.

Whenever I am here, I am struck by how young these islands are compared to geological ages. I can see the youngness in the land, and still, compared to human history, it is ancient.

The Hawaiian islands were formed by a single hot spot under the Pacific that has been spewing lava for tens of millions of years, while the Pacific plate is moving from east to west. The oldest of the islands are toward the east, the biggest one remaining is Kauai. There are older islands west of Kauai, or remainders of islands, all washed back to the sea. Kauai is 5.1 million years old. That’s all. Oahu is 3 million years old. Maui is 1.32 million years old. The Big Island is only 400,000 years old. Proto humans already walked the earth and came out into the savannahs in Africa when the Big Island was formed.

And now, Lo’ihi is an active submarine volcano located about 22 miles off the southeast coast of the Big Island. Its top is now about 3,000 feet below sea level. When it finally reaches the surface, it will be the next Hawaiian island as the other ones slide northeast.  

Maui is called the Valley Isle. There are really two major volcanoes on Maui,  the western side is 5,700 feet high, and Haleakala is 10,000 feet high. The valley between the two mountains is pronounced and very obvious when looking down from either mountain. Driving from ocean to ocean from the north end of the valley to the south end takes only about 20 minutes. Looking at the water lapping at the edge makes me think how the ocean is biting into the land, foot by foot. Every time I drive that stretch I am aware that this land will be under water in the not too distant future. It won’t take many feet of sea level rise before this valley ocean, and Maui becomes two islands. Our descendants will see two islands where I only see one. The only question is, will it be my grandchildren, or will it be another 50,000 years?

To think that all of Haleakala will be washed into the sea, completely gone, in another 10 million years boggles my mind. Ten million years is nothing in geological terms. To wash a 10,000 foot mountain completely into the sea in 10 million years, the rain and wind only has to erode it by 1 foot every 1,000 years. Quite possible.

In my entire lifetime I just got to catch a small glimpse of land being formed in Hawaii, and being washed away. A blink of an eye only. This puts my human lifespan into perspective and lets me understand how long a span of 10 million  years actually is.

Watching time shape Hawaii reminds me of a quote in a John Denver song:  I have to say it now, it’s been good life all in all, it’s really fine to have a chance to hang around.

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Trump Quotes

trump-quote-2

There is a “make your own pizza” restaurant chain in California called Pieology. As you go through the line, you pick your ingredients. The wall is filled with notable quotes. Long before Trump ran for president, there was his quote that says:

As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.

— Donald Trump

This quote was attributed to Trump in Forbes Magazine as early as 2013, as far as I can tell. I actually thought it was an old Napoleon Hill quote, but I cannot find any reference to that now. I read The Art of the Deal many years ago, and I must have misattributed it then. The quote is on the wall of Pieology along with Ronald Reagan, Napoleon Hill, Thomas Jefferson and dozens of other luminaries.

There are a lot of Trump quotes circulating and now magnified by his own tweets. Here is one from May 2, 2015 that is ominous:

trump-quote-1

Anyone who thinks my story is anywhere near over is sadly mistaken.

— Donald Trump

You have to give Trump credit. He thinks big, he thinks against all odds, and he has bombastic confidence. And then he pulls it off and becomes president of the United States.

Now let’s see how he governs.

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The Big Lie

Make your lie big, and bold, and repeat it often, and people will believe it, because they can’t fathom that you might just make it all up.

The above is my paraphrasing of “Die Große Lüge” in Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler. Read more about it here.

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Hitler is often credited with the saying that if you say a big enough lie, and you repeat it frequently, it will be believed.

Die Große Lüge ist eine Propagandatechnik, die in der Propagierung einer Lüge besteht, die aufgrund ihrer Größe und Unverschämtheit von vielen geglaubt wird, da „an die Möglichkeit einer so ungeheuren Frechheit der infamsten Verdrehung“[ nicht geglaubt werden kann.

— Metapedia

Here is the original source of this statement from Mein Kampf. For those of you that can’t read German, it’s rambling and convoluted.

„[…] daß in der Größe der Lüge immer ein gewisser Faktor des Geglaubtwerdens liegt, da die breite Masse eines Volkes im tiefsten Grunde ihres Herzens leichter verdorben als bewußt und absichtlich schlecht sein wird, mithin bei der primitiven Einfalt ihres Gemütes einer großen Lüge leichter zum Opfer fällt als einer kleinen, da sie selber ja wohl manchmal im kleinen lügt, jedoch vor zu großen Lügen sich doch zu sehr schämen würde. Eine solche Unwahrheit wird ihr gar nicht in den Kopf kommen, und sie wird an die Möglichkeit einer so ungeheuren Frechheit der infamsten Verdrehung auch bei anderen nicht glauben können, ja selbst bei Aufklärung darüber noch lange zweifeln und schwanken und wenigstens irgendeine Ursache doch noch als wahr annehmen; daher denn auch von der frechsten Lüge immer noch etwas übrig und hängen bleiben wird – eine Tatsache, die alle großen Lügenkünstler und Lügenvereine dieser Welt nur zu genau kennen und deshalb auch niederträchtig zur Anwendung bringen.“

— Metapedia

It says: Make your lie big, and bold, and repeat it often, and people will believe it, because they can’t fathom that you might just make it all up.

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To a Russian soldier the Austrians, as well as all non-Russian speakers, were all “Germans.” The word German (Немецкий – pron. nimietzki) in Russian means a “dumb man” — one who cannot speak so that we can understand him.

— translation note by Aylmer Maude in Tolstoy’s War and Peace

War and Peace takes place in Europe in 1805 through 1810. Much has changed in the years since then in Europe. But it makes me think of what so many Americans, xenophobic as we often are, think of foreigners that don’t speak “our language.” The bigotry of people who view those who speak other languages as “dumb” and inferior goes back through the centuries, the times when imperial Russia was a superpower during the Napoleonic wars, and of course far back into the distant reaches of history to the ancient Egyptians.

It reminds me of the quote often attributed to Miriam Ferguson, the first governor of Texas:

“If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.”

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Napoleon3

I knew very little about Napoleon. I had never read about that period of European history. Yet, now, after reading this masterful biography of over 800 pages, I feel truly enriched.

Napoleon was born in Corsica in 1769 to an average family. His father died when he was very young. He was interested in history and was a voracious reader, even as a boy. His heroes were Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. As a teenager, he enrolled in a military school and eventually received a commission as a lieutenant in the French artillery. Through extremely hard work, relentless ambition, charm and charisma, he worked through the ranks and became a general at age 27. Soon he was the most popular general in the French military. Due to the power vacuum and incompetence of the government after the French Revolution, he managed a military coup before we was 30 years old, ending up as the head of government as a First Consul. A few years later he crowned himself Emperor.

Now, that was a self-made man if there has ever been one.

There may be more books written about Napoleon than any other figure in history. Roberts’ book presents new material based on the 33,000 letters Napoleon wrote over the course of his life, sometimes as many as 30 a day. But I am not a historian, so to me, this biography was a first introduction to a great man of history.

Well – great in some measures – and frightening in others. Napoleon was a killing machine. During the 15 years he was in power, he conscripted millions of young French men away from their farms, shops, factories and schools into the military, just to lead them into endless battles to be brutally killed. Many battles “only” had 4,000 killed or wounded. Others 30,000 or more. Of the 600,000 men he took into Russia, eventually reaching Moscow, less than 50,000 or so came back home. Most of the men died of Typhus and other diseases, fatigue, starvation, and on the way home in the winter, the brutal, relentless cold of the Russian winter.

We know about “great battles” in history, names like Austerlitz and Waterloo. What actually is “great” about battles, places where tens of thousands of men lost their lives because of the megalomania of their leaders, all monarchs with grandiose egos and destiny on their minds? Was the greatness in the interest of the people?

Reading about one of the greatest statesmen and leaders in history, I found that there are many lessons to be learned for success and leadership, even now, almost 200 years after his death. Whether I agree with Napoleon’s tactics or not, he was definitely a remarkable man, and one worth reading a huge and long book about. Napoleon set out to be listed among the greats, and nobody will doubt that he achieved just that. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, George Washington, Napoleon, they go together.

Roberts did a great job telling the story of Napoleon, the man, and his life, from the beginning to his last days.

As I worked through this biography, I realized that War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, widely acclaimed as the greatest novel of all time, actually plays during the Napoleonic Wars from 1805 to 1810. So I picked up War and Peace, and I am ready to embark now on this huge novel, with keen interest kindled by Napoleon: a Life.

Rating - Four Stars

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Maria CarolinaMaria Carolina (13 August 1752 – 8 September 1814) was queen of Naples and Sicily as the wife of King Ferdinand.

She was the sister of Marie Antoinette, the French Queen who was later assassinated in the course of the French Revolution.

Maria Carolina was apparently a very remarkable woman, effectively running the kingdoms of her husband. She also bore 18 children, most of which died of smallpox. But seven of them survived.

After bearing 18 children, she found time to have an affair with her favorite diplomat, the Englishman John Acton, whom she elevated to Prime Minister of Naples.

A woman prolific.

 

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Fugger

Jacob Fugger was born in 1459 in Augsburg, Germany and died 1525, at the age of 66. He single-handedly created a banking and trade empire that reached to all ends of the globe. His company was the largest commercial concern the world had ever seen. He was essentially the father of modern banking and finance, and the methods that he applied still are used in business today, including double-entry bookkeeping.

Most Americans have never heard of Jacob Fugger. He was a contemporary of Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528), Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), and Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519). He was most active at the time when Magellan circumnavigated the globe, and when Columbus first arrived in America. I, too, had never heard of Jacob Fugger.

Fugger made his money initially as a trader of textiles. He then got into mining of copper, silver and mercury, and basically cornered the market on metals. He was a trader and a banker. And here is where it gets interesting: At a time when the Catholic Church forbid money lending for interest, calling the sin “usury,” he made a huge amount of his money by lending. Eventually he convinced the Pope to allow lending. He was also instrumental for funding the emperors of his day. The Habsburg emperor Maximilian I might never have been emperor without Fugger’s money. His grandson and successor, Charles V relied exclusively on Fugger to finance his election and then many of his wars. Charles was emperor (and king of Spain) during the time when gold from the Americas started flooding into Europe. Fugger had his hands on the gold by controlling the purses of the emperors.

Günter Ogger wrote a biography about Fugger titled Kauf dir einen Kaiser (buy yourself an emperor), which is part of Steinmetz’s bibliography in the book.

How does one compare very rich people to one another when they live in very different times? Some people compiled lists of assets, converted them to gold, and then valued them. Others compared the assets to the GNP of the times. This was the method Steinmetz used to measure Fugger and list him as the richest man who ever lived. When he died, supposedly his net worth was about 2 percent of the GNP of Europe, indeed a vast amount of money.

During Fugger’s time, he mostly traded in florins, the currency used by Florence, Italy, based on gold, and generally referred to as “pieces of gold” in literature. When the fairy tale writers the Brothers Grimm spoke of pieces of gold, they referred to florins. This book is full of references of florins. For instance, Fugger lent Charles V 544,000 florins to buy his election for emperor. So what is a florin?

I did a little research and found some rough numbers. A weaver (a skilled worker) in the year 1500 would earn one florin every 4 to 6 weeks. A mercenary might earn one or two florins a month. So let’s just average that and say that a florin is pay for a month for an average worker. That would make 12 florins a year an annual normal income. Let’s compare that to $50,000 in today’s America. That would make one florin worth $4166. Ok, let’s say $4000.

Given that, Fugger lent Charles V $2 billion – just to bribe the electors. This reminds me of what it costs to run for U.S. president today. Obviously, Fugger was Charles’ SuperPAC. Incidentally, it took Fugger years to get his money back from the Emperor. It’s pretty tricky when you loan money to a guy who is above the law and can just kill you if he so chooses. The only thing protecting Fugger from demise, over and over again, was that the royals knew quite well that they’d need his money in the future.

So maybe he was not the richest man who ever lived, but he was one of them. Here are a few lists that I found for comparison:

He is number 6 on this list.

He is not at all on this list.

He is number 6 on this list.

He is number 7 on this list.

He is number 4 on this list.

I am glad I didn’t read the negative Amazon reviews of this book before I read it myself. Some reviewers blasted the author for bad and clumsy writing. I usually don’t like clumsy writing, but I noticed none of it. The writing is simple, succinct, informative and easy to read. The stories are not chronological, but rather topical, so there are overlaps in the way the chapters flow through history. It worked fine for me.

I was delighted by how much I learned about the Renaissance. The period came alive in front of my eyes. How do you do international business without telephones, fax machines, the Internet, and travel other than walking or by coach. How do you survive when the church can just accuse you of heresy and burn you at the stake if they so choose? How do you trade when the roads are infested with highway robbers?

I found The Richest Man Who Ever Lived a highly readable and informative book that inspired me to find more material about history during that time.

Rating - Four Stars

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Four score and seven years ago….

– Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln

 

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

– Inauguration of John F. Kennedy

 

I have dream…

– Martin Luther King

 

Amazing grace…

– Barack Obama, June 26, 2015

In my opinion, President Obama made history yesterday with this eulogy for pastor Clementa Pinckney and his fellow clergy in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 26, 2015. It will be called the “Amazing Grace Speech,” and school children fifty years and a hundred years hence will listen to it as one of the great speeches that shaped our country. It’s one of the events that Obama will be remembered for.

Amazing Grace.

Note that the video starts at 29 minutes, but you can choose to start at the beginning by rewinding.

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CanvasBoar is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmer, which came to denote the descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century. They were originally Dutch farmers that eventually escaped British rule in South Africa by trekking north into the unknown North, the frontier.

Canvas under the Sky is a historical novel that plays in the 1830s in South Africa. Rauch Beukes is a young Boer of 17. As the story opens, he travels with his father to Cape Town to purchase supplies for the homestead. The trip takes several weeks each way by horseback and wagon. When they come home, they find the farm plundered and burned by the Xhosa natives. Rauch’s mother and sisters are dead. His brothers and their servants and slaves had found refuge with a neighbor. The family starts rebuilding.

Eventually, the Boars decide to leave the English colony and trek north. The migration is eventually known as the Great Trek. Rauch narrates the story of the trek, the hardships the settlers go through, and the many battles they fight against hostile natives of the Xhosa, Zulu and many other tribes that outnumber them fifty to one. The leaders of the trekkers are Potgieter, Retief, Maritz, Trichardt and Cilliers, among others, and reading Canvas under the Sky, some of those leaders come to life for the reader.

Reminiscent of the conquest of the American western frontier around the same period, the treks of the Boars in South Africa are not as well-known or documented, at least not to the average American reader, like me. While I knew there was a violent and bloody period, reaching all the way to modern times and Apartheid, I had never had the opportunity to familiarize myself with South African history and the details of the colonization. This book opened my eyes.

But not sufficiently.

I got a sense of what the hardships of the settlers were, and how difficult it was to survive on the frontier. In America, we had the Indians. In South Africa, they had the Xhosa and Zulus, who didn’t appreciate the Europeans invading their lands and upsetting their customs. The book illustrates many bloody battles, where thousands of natives were mowed down by western guns and cannons, with casualties for the whites only in the dozens, if any. But I never really got the sense of where the wars were going. The whites are constantly portrayed as those with God on their side. They thank the Lord for the battles that they won, with thousands of black corpses surrounding them. No credit is given to the natives, who are portrayed as nothing but bloodthirsty wild animals that wanted to harm innocent God-fearing settlers.

The author loves to show battle after battle. The battles are always the same.  They do not really portray the underlying conflict. A naïve reader will put the book down and hate the blacks, who were really the ones that were violated in that period of history.

The author most also have been given bad advice about how to make a history book interesting. Rather than spending time and effort on painting an accurate and realistic historical background and environment, he decided to make the narrator a horny teenage boy who does most of his thinking with this genitals, and thus Canvas under the Sky is part historical novel, part soft porn for teenage audiences. The two just don’t work together.

In Rauch’s life there are three women: Amelia is the daughter of an English settler, who is fifteen when he and his father, at the beginning of the book, come home from Capetown to find the homestead devastated. Rauch falls in love with her, but inexplicably, she loves his father, who is around 40 years old at the time, and she marries him instead. Amelia’s character never really makes sense, all the way through the story.

Then there is Katrina, the mulatto former slave come prostitute, who likes to service Rauch and eventually bears him a son. She is actually the woman that is most thoroughly developed in this book, whose motivations make sense and who cares about Rauch. But for some reason we don’t understand, he casts her away.

Finally, there is the beautiful Marietjie who loves him – why I can’t figure out – but who is married to an abusive English officer named Roddy. She also gets pregnant by Rauch.

Rauch’s Pa is also an old lecher who cheats on his wife (when she is still alive) and then steals the girl of his son. Pa comes across as a 40-year-old teenager who is interested in nothing but getting laid.

The sex scenes are plentiful, explicit and unfortunately also awkward and repetitive. Rauch always “kisses tenderly.” There is no normal kiss, just a tender kiss. Whenever a woman looks at him “he feels himself getting aroused.” When he orgasms, it’s always “indescribable.”

The sex scenes do the book a disservice. The motivations of Rauch and his women don’t make any sense. They seem to be contrived and appear to exist only to make a historically shallow book spiced up so it would appeal to high school kids.

If I want soft porn, I read Fanny Hill. If I want to read historical novels, I read Jeff Shaara books. It’s a pity, because the author really does seem to have a passion for the history of his country. More history, more detail, perhaps a map or a chart, would have helped the book much more than the side plot of Rauch and his adolescent urges.

Rating - Two Stars

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