January 17, 1912 in Hammered History – R.F Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition reached the South Pole (about 32 days too late)

Scott, Bowers, Wilson, and PO Evans at Polheim, Amundsen’s base at the South Pole. General mood: abject disappointment and probably hunger.

For many of us, adventurous exploration comes when trying to find a shoe store for the first time or when you’re heading to a bar that isn’t next to your house. And since we all carry around a global mapping system and a GPS in our pocket, it’s pretty hard to get lost. Still, if you’re like me and somehow manage this feat of disorientation, you can just google map it back to a main road or use your phone to call your mommy for help. It’s hard to imagine a time when people took trips without the aid of some technology, let alone explored the uninhabited and unexplored reaches of the world.    

Amazingly, the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration was only 100 years ago. It’s generally agreed that it lasted from 1897 to 1922 and saw 17 expeditions from 10 countries. The explorers undertook expeditions in hideous conditions, with basic equipment, and with virtually no technology. The men of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration sought the poles for national honor, for drama, and for the romance of freezing to death while an emperor penguin pecked at their liver.

One such man was British naval officer R.F. Scott, who led the Discovery expedition to the Antarctic in 1901-1904. Scott, evidently killing time waiting for World War I to start, decided to put together another expedition in 1910 – the Terra Nova Expedition.

Right out of the gate, things did not go well. In the first place, they were beset by storms in New Zealand and lost time, supplies, motorized sledges, and even a man (who drowned off New Zealand). Their ponies began dying off at a rate only matched by red-shirted ensigns in Star Trek 50 years later. One doesn’t want to encounter bad luck, especially in Antarctica where it could be argued you wouldn’t be unless you had already encountered some bad luck in your life. But such was the case for Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. And the bad juju was exacerbated by urgency caused by one man.

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This Day in Hammered History

Hogarth, William; Gin Lane; https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/O24059 Credit line: (c) (c) Royal Academy of Arts /

January 11 1788 in Hammered History

William Thomas Brande is born and ruins everyone’s good time

Georgian society (1714 – 1837) is well-noted for its relationship to alcohol. The upper classes spent their days drinking spirits and wine, and probably wondering how they’d ended up in an era so clad in tights. Laborers and artisans drank beer or cider, and even kids and servants drank small (lower alcohol) beer.

Huge alcohol intake was part of daily life. Men boasted of how many bottles of wine and beer they could drink. Dinner parties and social events of the upper crust resembled Led Zeppelin’s hotel parties. The joys of alcohol were reason enough to drink, but the poor water quality in England also played a part. The water was full of contaminants which led to cholera, typhus, and dysentery. So while drinking massive quantities of alcohol led to the gout, drinking water led to shitting yourself to death. Most people chose gout.

Hard alcohol such as brandy, rum, and gin were all staples of English daily drinking. Rum was given as a daily ration to sailors. Brandy was made from any fruit that happen to fall in any garden on the island. But they both took a back seat to gin. “Gin madness” had swept across England in the 1700s. Gin was often part of city workers’ wages and was used as a medication against stomach ailments, gallstones, and being an asshole. By the early 1800s England had been dehydrated and shitfaced for a good two hundred years.    

But Georgian society saw attitudes to alcohol change. Hard daily drinking was judged as bad rather than just how people lived. Constant drunkenness, especially among the lower classes, was looked down upon as something morally inferior and which “debauched their minds.” In particular, the drinking of spirits (read: gin) got a bad rap. Taxes were levied to keep gin and other spirits out of the hands of the poor. William Hogarth’s 1751 painting “Gin Lane” depicted the vile effects of alcohol in much the way Reefer Madness would alarmingly warn (and excite) people about marijuana a couple hundred years later. It depicts a street scene replete with people high on gin, babies falling off buildings, a gruesome hanging suicide, violence, evictions, aggressive mobs, and, for some reason, a bear. Imagine post Superbowl carnage in the losing city, but add a bear.   

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What Kind of Jerk Are You?

These days we live in are magnificent. We have phones that can do everything for us but cook out morning omelets (hint, hint tech guys). We can see what any address in the world looks like from a map view. And we have grand lists of our friends for perusal and harsh judgment. Amazing.

One oft-overlooked benefit of these current times is that we can spring the bounds of jerk-dom to be the exact kind of asshole we want to be. In sad times past, any former school kid will tell you, your limits on jerkiness was pretty well pared down. You could be a dick, a jerk, an asshole, a dork, a prick, a nerd. You could, naturally add modifying adjectives to these to focus them a bit. A fucking dick, a condescending asshole, a pretentious jerk. And they certainly have a ring to them, but as you can surely note, they are not so efficient.

These days, this is not so. Should you have faults in your personality, as we all do, you will find out exactly what kind of jerk you are.

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All I Think I Wanted for Christmas

When I was a kid, I found that the only good aspect of Christmas having happened rather than Christmas going to happen was the presentation, comparison, and discussion about loot with my comrades. This took place as soon as possible after Christmas morning, which, in the kid interpretation meant about 7:13 a.m.

By 7:14 am, I was chomping at the bit to go show Eddie my toys. My parents would usually draw me back to our house with the offer of breakfast foods topped with maple syrup. However, at 10ish all bets were off and I’d be storming across the street with my booty.

Perhaps the best part was that when you have a best friend, your loot becomes his and vice versa. I wasn’t jealous of his toys, because they became my toys by extension. It falls under the Latin legal precedent, de buticus est mea buticus. And so as I ran the thirty yards between our houses with my baseball glove and a platoon of military toys, I knew that they would only be enhanced by what he had.

At some point in our teens, our thirst for toys waned and we looked for things of use, and like most kids in our neighborhood, things to use outside. Running across the street for a booty conference didn’t happen on Christmas morning, but rather later that week. And when we showed off our gifts, it was clothing, bows and arrows, pen-flashlights, pocket warmers, jeans, stereos and tape players, eventually CD players, and enough Drakkar to win the Battle of the Somme. Nevertheless, the question of the week was “So, what’d you get?”

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A Zoom Family Christmas

My brother floated the idea yesterday.

“Hey, I think I’m going to set up a Zoom meeting for the family on Christmas.”

“Great idea!” I said as if I had mentioned in the previous text, which I had.

“Almost everyone is in. Even Danny.”

This was big. My Uncle Danny has long been famous within the family for his iffy views on family get togethers. Sometimes he comes, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he comes and disappears without a trace.

At this time of year, I am usually heartened by the traditions that involve my visit home to my parents’ house. At this point, I would have travelled through the airports with their Christmassy atmospheres and picked up a gift or two on the way if my layovers allowed. My parents would have picked me up at Philadelphia International a couple of days ago. My mom would have taken my cheesesteak order in the car on the way home and my dad and I would have played our countdown my trip game.

“Well, you have two more weeks.” We count down like this until the day I leave. On the day I leave, tinged with mourning we count down the hours, supplanting it with “Oh, listen, we’ll see you in the summer.”    

I’d spend my time relaxing and watching football with my dad. We’d go to Barnes and Noble the day before Christmas Eve, as per tradition, and buy books and sip 12,000-calorie coffee drinks. I’d visit my brother for a night of tipsy debauchery; my liver would sue for separation. When Larry (my liver’s name) had (partially) recovered, we’d visit the Langhorne Hotel – my home away from home away from home. And I’d be gearing up for a night of food and fun with my wild and zany family.

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Tis the Season for Bad TV

Photo Very Courtesy of Hallmark

For some reason, my tolerance for a movie’s quality goes up about 40 points if it features an evergreen conifer or a wreath. Nevertheless, Christmas movies are a good way to have little blasts of Christmas without all the additional weight gain. While we usually save the big guns for just before or on Christmas (looking at you, Clark), here are some we have watched that will bring the ho ho to your ho.

Office Christmas Party

Watch it. Without your kids. This is a surprisingly funny movie with snappy dialogue, a clear goal, and enough nudity to thrill you while not making you feel guilty. TJ Miller tries to jump a bridge in a Prius, Jason Bateman fellates eggnog out of a statue’s willy, and Kate McKinnon farts herself nervous. Just like any great comedy, the story builds into a crescendo and ends crazy into an appropriate Christmassy(ish) finish. For eighteen-year-olds. It had never occurred to me how lacking Christmas movies were in psychopathic hookers and eggnog blowjobs.  

A Bad Moms Christmas

I know, I know. I made the same face you’re making now when A Bad Moms Christmas was suggested last Saturday as our evening entertainment. But this movie is not bad. In fact, it’s pretty funny. Three moms have bad moms and those moms come to visit at Christmas. Hence – bad moms. If nothing else, it’s a great way to enjoy schadenfreude at the expense of someone else’s insane family over the Christmas holidays. Again, a bit off the wall and raunchy (sensing a theme here?) but still delivering a good theme and even a few little tearjerker moments. Also, who can miss with Susan Sarandon and strippers?

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Hector

Hector helping us keep out the coronavirus blues

Well it’s almost Christmas. Normally, I’d be preparing for a holiday visit home. I’d be buying gifts and stressing about a flight. I’d be stressing about the layover times and reading up on airline disasters each morning.

Ho Ho Ho.

Prague is usually quite charming in this season as well. Markets and music in squares, done-up trees, stands with ginger bread and hotdogs, and pools of carp awaiting a serious bludgeoning.    

But of course, the world is not in an ideal state. There’s a pandemic raging and you know that unless you live under a rock in a cave on the dark side of Neptune. Or you’re a Republican. Who also believe that though Donald Trump recently got his ass kicked in an election, he’s claiming he won it. He has no proof. He has lost 48 court cases. He still won’t stop.

It would be kind of funny to imagine little Donny stamping his foot and crying about the election, threatening to take his veto stamp and go home so nobody else can play government. But thousands are dying from that pesky virus each day and instead of helping any of them, little Donny seems far more intent on saving a face that has long since sailed off to a historical level of pathetic while he literally poisons a democracy that had been around for two hundred and forty years before he waddled into the place. Also it’s not funny because lots of people believe little Donny, not because he has zero evidence, but because they’re in his cult. They have hats. A whopping 27 Republican politicians have relocated their balls to admit that Joe Biden won. That means than about 220 congressional Republicans won’t admit that Joe Biden won the presidential election, which he did by 7 million votes. The election was more than a month ago. It doesn’t bode well.

In order to steel ourselves against the negative influences this year, we got a tree. Or, as Burke suggested, a big tree.

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Three Days of the Urethra

It is a truth long known that when a man’s floor is covered in chick peas and he’s cradling a syringe of urine, he is compelled to take stock of where his life has gone.  

Tuesday, 4:20 pm

My day of teaching done, I was ready to celebrate with an early evening of not speaking at all and not looking at my computer. It’s at this time that I noticed that my cat was visiting her litter box more often than I will in about four decades.  

Though unlikely to pay off, I decided on the direct approach: “Hey, why do you keep going to the bathroom?”

She decided against answering just then and I was forced to look into her box and push around her sand. The presence of no clumps made me go “Huh.” But over the next hour, back she went every few minutes and posed herself in the urine-stance. To no avail. Nothing came out and she just stared at the wall with a blank-confused expression that I will probably mimic when I’m 86 years old and my prostate has its own gravitational pull.

We went to google. Cat’s constipated. Cat can’t pee. What is a blocked urethra? The first option I commiserated with. The second was probably a urinary tract infection. The third would kill her in a day. I called the vet.

The vet. When we moved in to this little neck of the Prague woods, I did the “walk around.” You know, when you mosey around your new neighborhood in search of pubs, but pretending you’re excited by other facilities, shops, and services you find there that don’t offer booze.

That is, of course, unless it’s a medical service, a grocery store, or a brothel. Medical services near your house are always welcome. Sometimes I leave my house holding my breath and try to make it to the vet without passing out, just to see if I choke on a chicken bone what my chances are. I figure a chicken bone’s a chicken bone whether it’s in the windpipe of a Doberman or an over-zealous ESL teacher. A local grocery store is wanted for obvious reasons. And brothels, well, there’s nothing more comforting that sitting on your couch with a good book and knowing hookers are delivering joy and gonorrhea somewhere nearby.

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The Thanksgiving Drinker

Normally at this time of year, we would be in the full swing of the holiday season. The lode from the Halloween candy would be down to chocolate raisons and jolly ranchers. The stores would be putting up Christmas decorations and people would be complaining heartily about that. And this week, we would all be looking forward to (or dreading) Thanksgiving.

Despite all of the factors surrounding Thanksgiving, what it really boils down to is this: it’s a day many of us spend with our extended family, a tableful of complex carbohydrates, football, and alcohol. And how you feel about Thanksgiving really depends on you and your situation. While one might spend the week before imagining a gravy pond in mashed potatoes, another might shudder about Uncle Jim in his red hat talking about how Venezuela and George Soros stole the election. One might be washing their eating pants, while another might worry that their college freshman daughter’s lecture on the idealization of the American tradition.

Ah, holidays.

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My Old Man Look

I have spent a lot of time recently considering what I’m going to look like in my declining years. These are questions not easily answered and they require an awful lot of thought.

They include questions such as: Am I going to employ a hat, do suspenders look good on a guy like me, what level of comfort in public can be maintained while still not wearing sweatpants to a bar?

Important.

There is, of course, the comfort level. Were there no rules in pubic, I would spend my late years visiting pubs and restaurants and even governmental offices in lounge wear, or clothing that I had on when I got out of bed that morning. And while I do employ a ‘who cares’ attitude in most things fashion, I want that to stop short of me being asked by police for contact numbers.

There is also a public trust level. Older people are often looked to for help by those on the street. A man in sweatpants is almost never chosen for help, unless that man is Evander Holyfield. Conversely, a man in a suit might also be overlooked for the trust of public help, because depending on the state of his hair and face, others in public might believe that he thinks it’s 1981. They might not be wrong.

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