Archive for January, 2021

On January 25, 41 AD in Hammered History Claudius is named Emperor of Rome

Proclaiming Claudius Emperor by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (note the curtain), courtesy of Wikipedia

If you have read or watched anything about Ancient Rome, you have learned this lesson: don’t get attached to anyone. With all of the assassinations, murders, plots, coups, bloody betrayals, and executions, political, public, or at the paws of a lion, liking a particular character from Ancient Rome will invariably end in blood, tears, and togas.

And such is the case of Caligula, who is assassinated on January 24, 41 AD. Caligula is a bit intense. He’s well-known for his debauchery. Also, he cruelly mocks his senate, makes them chase after his litter, forces them to fight for his amusement, and otherwise revels in their utter humiliation. Also, he thinks he’s an immortal god. After having enough of his humiliation, the Praetorian guard decides to test out Caligula’s immortality theory by stabbing him 30 times with knives and swords.

Spoiler alert: Caligula is not immortal.   

His uncle Claudius is found literally hiding behind a curtain and someone points out the obvious by stating that he should be emperor. And the next day, it is done.

So, why is this history hammered?

Because Claudius almost certainly was.

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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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