Archive for July 2006

My Pirate Treasure

July 30, 2006

PirateWhen I was on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands a couple of years ago to visit my daughter, Jen, I picked up something I’ve always wanted to have: a real, Spanish ‘pieces of eight’ silver coin. (The eight reales coin was often cut into eight pieces to pay for smaller items, hence its name.)

Mine was minted in Peru from plundered Inca silver in 1679. That’s cool enough, but the rest of the story is just plain pulse-pounding real-world adventure-story magic:

Bartholomew Sharp (born c.1650 – 1690?) was an English buccaneer whose pirate career lasted only three years (1679-82). His flagship was the Trinidad.

Sharp had been with renowned pirate captain Henry Morgan when he attacked Porto Bello in 1679. He commanded a barque that was one of the lead ships in the expedition. His men were in the forefront of the land battles which took the Spanish city.

In 1680-1682 Sharp led a buccaneering expedition which plundered several Spanish settlements along the Western coast of South America.

Sharp’s career as a pirate captain began when the buccaneers with whom he was sailing round South America needed a new commander, but only “on Condition, that they [the pirates] may be Captain over him; they separate to his Use the great Cabin, and sometimes vote him small Parcels of Plate and China… but then every Man, as the Humour takes him, will use the Plate and China, intrude into his Apartment, swear at him, seize a Part of his Victuals and Drink, if they like it, without his offering to find Fault or contest it.”

He quickly proved himself a natural leader and a capable seaman. These qualities did not prevent being deposed as captain in January 1681, however, after storms and setbacks provoked a mutiny. His successor was killed three weeks later and Sharp resumed command.

Under him the buccaneers continued around South America and up to the Caribbean, taking 25 Spanish ships and plundering numerous Spanish towns.

Because England and Spain were not at war the Spaniards demanded Sharp’s prosecution for piracy. Sharp, however, presented the authorities with a book of maps taken from the Spanish ship El Santo Rosario in July 1681; their value to English seafarers was such that Sharp received a full pardon from Charles II.

Sharp wrote about his exploits as a buccaneer and the attack on Panama. These chronicles were incorporated into Esquemeling’s “Buccaneers of America”.

Very nice, you say, but what does this have to do with my Spanish silver? Patience is a virtue; read on:

In 1681, the Spanish treasure ship Santa Maria de la Consolacion sailed from Peru for Panama, bloated with Inca silver, gold, and gems. The captain had not wanted to go, having heard of pirates operating off the coast of Ecuador. But the governor insisted – the ship had to reach Panama in time for its passengers and cargo to catch the Spanish fleet before it left on its annual journey across the Atlantic and home to Spain.

Sure enough, six pirate ships were soon in hot pursuit. Capt. Sharpe led the group at the helm of the Trinidad.

What happened when the Santa Maria crossed paths with Sharpe was so bloody that to this day Ecuadorians call the tiny island of Santa Clara “El Muerto” — “The Dead Man”. The official record says this:

“In the year 1681 Captain Sharpe gave chase to a ship in this sea and thee was lost on fowle ground near S. Clara, in her 100,000 pieces of eight besides Plate and other goods of value.”

Captain Lerma of the Colsolation had tried to reach safe harbor but the “Devil Pirates,” as the beleaguered skipper referred to them, gained on his ship.

The Santa Maria struck a reef. It couldn’t move and took on water. The crew and passengers scrambled into small boats and headed to Santa Clara island. Lerma, not wanting the treasure to fall into the hands of the British, ordered his ship set on fire.

It burned and sank with its treasure, infuriating the pirates. They retaliated by beheading the crew and passengers — an estimated 350 people.

The pirates forced some of the local natives to dive for the treasure, but they refused after one of them was eaten by a shark.

The ship was found and salvage operations were begun in 2001. So after 320 years at the bottom of the sea, a bit of pirate treasure found its way into my pocket.



Magic in the Brown Family History

July 28, 2006

PearDoing a little geneaological research on my family, I found the following citation:

The Brouns of Colstoun also claim descent from George Broun who in 1543 married Jean Hay second daughter of Lord Yester, ancestor of the Marquess of Tweeddale. The dowry consisted of the “Colstoun Pear” which was said to have been invested with wondrous powers by the 13th Century wizard and necromancer Hugo de Gifford of Yester. This pear was meant to ensure unfailing prosperity on the family which possessd it. The pear was said to have been as fresh as the day it was picked until in the 17th Century a pregnant descendant, longing for the fruit which was out of season, took a bite of it, whereupon it became as hard as rock.

Is that cool, or what? And I’m sure it’s all true, because the family sure is a heckuva lot less prosperous these days, if my bank account is any indicator.

Another search found this alternative telling of the tale. (Ain’t the web wonderful?)

George Broun of Colstoun, who lived in the beginning of the seventeenth century, married Jean Hay, second daughter of Lord Yester, ancestor of the Marquis of Tweeddale. The dowry of this lady consisted of the famous “Colstoun pear,” which Hugo de Gifford of Yester, her remote ancestor, famed for his necromantic powers, described in Marmion, and who died in 1267, was supposed to have invested with the extraordinary virtue of conferring unfailing prosperity on the family which possessed it. Lord Yester, in giving away his daughter, is said to have informed his son-in-law that good as the lass might be her dowry was much better, because while she could only have value in her own generation, the pear, so long as it continued in the family, would cause it to flourish to the end of time. Accordingly, the pear has been carefully preserved in a silver box, as a sacred palladium. About the seventeenth century, the lady of one of the lairds of Colstoun, on becoming pregnant, felt a longing for the forbidden fruit, and took a bite of it. Another version of the story says that it was a maiden lady of the family who, out of curiosity chose to try her teeth upon it. Very soon after, two of the best farms on the estate were lost in some litigation, while the pear itself straightway became stone-hard, and so remains to this day, with the marks of the lady’s teeth indelibly imprinted on it. The origin of this wondrous pear is, by another tradition, said to have been thus: – One of the ancestors of the Colstoun family married a daughter of the above-named Hugo of Yester, the renowned warlock of Gifford, and as the bridal party were proceeding to the church, the wizard lord stopped beneath a pear tree, and plucking one of the pears, handed it to his daughter, telling her that he had no dowry to give her, but that as long as that gift was kept. good fortune would never desert her or her descendants. Apart from the superstition attached to it, this curious heirloom is certainly a most wonderful vegetable curiosity, having existed for nearly six centuries.

Dividing the 20th Century Into Decades

July 28, 2006

20th CenturyThe 20th Century arguably saw more social and scientific changes than the ten preceding centuries combined. That being the case, it seems to me more convenient to divide the 20th Century into decades for the purposes of discussion, than to try to take it all into consideration at once.

But decades are, by definition, a sort of artificial division. The standard length of ten years to a decade doesn’t take into account the tides of change that actually define a particular decade. Since our purpose is to discuss change, it makes more sense to separate decades by the events that define them.

With this guide in mind, here’s my particular method of slicing the 20th Century into decades:

1900-1913: The ‘Zeros’ (14 years)
1914-1919: The Teens (6 years)
1920-1928: The Twenties (9 years)
1929-1938: The Thirties (10 years)
1939-1948: The Forties (10 years)
1949-1959: The Fifties (11 years)
1960-1974: The Sixties (15 years)
1975-1978: The Seventies (4 years)
1979-1989: The Eighties (11 years)
1990-1999: The Nineties (10 years)

Here’s Why:

The ‘Zeros’: The beginning of the century defines the start date of 1900, of course. But why extend the ‘Zeros’ all the way to 1913? Because that’s the last year of peace before the first great ‘World War’.

The Teens: 1914 marked the beginning of ‘The Great War’ in Europe. 1919 marked its end.

The Twenties: 1920 was the first year of peace. 1928 was the last year of the Roaring Twenties.

The Thirties: The ‘Great Depression’ began with the stock market crash of 1929, which defined world history until 1938.

The Forties: In 1939, Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland and fired off WWII. The war ended in 1945, but it defined the rest of the decade through 1948.

The Fifties: In 1949, Russia got ‘the bomb’, which began the era of the Cold War. Though this period extends through the 80’s, other social changes defined the following decades.

The Sixties: In 1960, John F. Kennedy became President of the United States. This marked the beginning of the domination of America, and the world, by the culture of youth. I extend the 60’s all the way to 1974, the year Nixon resigned.

The Seventies: The post-Vietnam, post-Nixon era began in 1975, and ran until 1978. Only four years? Yes, because in the following year we recognized a new threat to the world.

The Eighties: In 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned as the leader of Iran, and held Americans hostage while our nation seemed impotent to do anything about it. Gas prices soared. Desert war in the Middle East followed. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, marking the effective end of the Cold War.

The Nineties: In 1990 Nelson Mandela was freed and Lech Walesa became President of Poland, and in 1992, the Soviet Union fell. It was a whole new world, with a whole, new set of problems. By definition, the 20th Century ended in 2000, but most people believed that 1999 was the end. Maybe 2000 would be better, not only because it’s technically correct, but because 2001 is when a New World Order was created with the destruction of the World Trade Center.

What do you think of my divisions?

Our Next President

July 25, 2006

John McCainWell, it’s early, but I’m willing to go out on a limb with this prediction. After all, it’s not like I’ve got any money riding on this: John McCain will be elected the next President of the United States. Here’s how it’s going to go down:

The Democrats (of which I am a card-carrying member, by the way) will make good gains in the House and Senate in 2006. Will they win a majority? Maybe a slim one in the House. But it won’t matter.

The war in Iraq and other trouble in the Middle East will make the country increasingly war-weary. Combine this with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, as well as more investigations and indictments of Republicans, and the country will be ripe for change.

Rudy Guiliani will campain well for the Republican nomination and will be the crowd favorite, but the religious right will never go for his liberal views on abortion and gay rights. Still, the Repubs will recognize that they won’t be able to elect another Bush. McCain will be the party compromise. The winning point will be his appeal to many mainstream Democrats. And with the years he spent in a ‘Nam prison camp, no one will dare criticize his war record or his ability to be a good ‘war president’. The McCain nomination will be made more palatable to the ruling Illuminati by adding a Bush-crowd insider as his running mate, much as they did with Bush, Jr., and Dick Cheney. (The implication will be that the VP will be McCain’s “handler”, though I think they might find this more challenging than it was with Cheney/Bush.) I am not willing to speculate on who this might be at this time, but it will be someone who has been on the inside for a long time, and is still relatively untainted by scandal.

But, of course, the Democrats will blow it. Hillary Clinton is the Dem’s hand-picked candidate for 2008. She has been at the forefront as the spokewoman for the party, and even this early on, it’s obvious she’s already “in”. Despite the fact that even lifelong liberal Democrats like me probably won’t vote for her. Nobody wants her in the White House but the Democratic leadership. She is unelectable, even if they were to add Barak Obama as VP. Which they won’t – not yet. The VP nominee might be Iowa’s own Governor Tom Vilsack, who is also President of the Democratic Leadership Council.

McCain will win by a handy margin in all but the bluest of blue states. And while I hate to see the Executive Branch run by the GOP for another four years, at least it should mean a more modate political climate, and that will be a welcome change.


July 14, 2006

EccentricOver on Merlin Mann’s blog 43 Folders, Merlin asked the world what our eccentricities are or were. This was a fun question. I posted my response (along with about 100 other people). I thought about things I’d done that I haven’t thought about in years. Turns out I really am weird. But that’s okay, because if the responses are any indicator, other people are, too. Gives me hope. Anyway, here’s my response:

“In the 4th grade, I had an imaginary friend, a leprechaun named ‘George’.

In junior high, before boxers were cool, I wore boxers. I quit when the football team shredded them underfoot in the locker room with their cleats.

The first year of high school, I got my hair cut like Mr. Spock. Yes, I was the only one.

Throughout high school, I walked the alleys of my city late at night, whistling improvised jazz riffs.

In college, I started smoking a pipe. This only lasted about one month.

Also in college, I would take my shirt off and walk around bare-chested outside when it was below zero. (This to impress girls, of course.)

When I worked in a factory, as the only ‘college boy’ there, I figured my piecework using a slide rule. I also played with a yo-yo while on downtime, earning the nickname ‘yo-yo’.

I wore an INFO pocket protector throughout most of the late 80’s and early 90’s.

For two years, I wore Ray-Bans and a black fedora and insisted on being called ‘Mr. Big’. (This was in Waterloo, when I hung with the girls in ‘Sister Moon’.)

Today, I always carry Altoids mints and obsessively save the tins, claiming how ‘useful’ they are. In actuality, I have a whole box full of the damn things sitting in my closet.

I make up strings of ‘facts’, making them more and more outrageous until I’m finally called on it, then act indignant. (Alas, Carol was my favorite victim, and she’s gone. Sorry, Sheryl, but you’re just not as gullible…)

I always insist on using my middle initial. Just a matter of practicality when you have a very common last name, really. (And I got really pissed when listed my middle name as ‘Robbin’ then wouldn’t fix it – my middle name is ‘Robert’, in honor of my Dad, and I’m proud of it.)

There are, of course, many, many more.”