Posts filed under “History”


On this day in 1919, the newly formed German republic adopted the Verfassung des Deutschen Reichs, the Weimar Constitution, placing Germany among the modern parliamentary democracies of the world, and putting an end forever to autocracy and militarism, with one trivial temporary interruption. Happy 100th anniversary, modern Germany!


On this day in 1593, Henry IV decided that Paris was worth a Mass. He insisted on drawing the line, however, at “Here I Am, Lord.” “Not for all the empires in the world,” he was heard to grumble as he knelt before the Archbishop.


On this day in 1911, Pittsburgh officially resumed possession of its H, having been spelled “Pittsburg” in federal documents for some years before that. You might think there would not be much of a celebration a hundred eight years later, but you would be wrong. And the fact that Pittsburgh has a holiday celebrating the last letter of its name tells you more than you could learn from whole books of essays about the character of the city. (And if you follow this link, you will find a recipe for Pittsburgh Chocolate Stout “H” Cake, which celebrates the letter in tangible and edible form.)


Nero at the burning of Rome, from an illustration by Howard Pyle for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Codex.

On this day in 64, Rome burned. The heroic emperor Nero, in an attempt to calm the panicked crowds, played a medley of popular song hits on his lyre; but curiously his performance had the opposite effect. The lingering unease in the Roman population made it necessary to torture a large number of Christians to death. Nero thus deserves credit for discovering the principle that torturing Christians has a sedative effect on angry mobs.


Rare Daguerreotype of a Hessian aircraft captured near Trenton by General Washington.

In June of 1775, the Continental Congress created a unified Army out of the Revolutionary Forces encamped around Boston and New York, and named after the great George Washington, commander in chief. The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown.

Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rocket’s red glare it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their star-spangled banner waved defiant.

——Speech by President Trump.

Of course the Enemies of the People, the paid professional journalists, are calling in their pet experts this morning to explain to the American public that the British did not have airports during the Revolutionary War, which is the kind of valuable service that makes us recall why we need paid professional journalists.

Dr. Boli was born just after that war came to a successful conclusion (from the American point of view; from the British point of view it was not all that could have been hoped for), so he does not personally remember it; but he does remember the War of 1812 vividly, and he is quite sure that air power played at best a trivial role in that conflict. He is also sure that there was no Fort McHenry in the Revolutionary War; that was built when Dr. Boli was a strapping young lad of fifteen or so, which makes it quite modern in his eyes.

Dr. Boli was imagining the scene among the speechwriters on July 3. “He’ll never say that,” one of them is saying. The other says, “I’ll bet you a pizza he will.” “You’re on,” says the first.

But now that we have had our fun, if we examine the speech closely, we find that it is not an example of monumental historical ignorance. It is an example of why you treat your speechwriters well: because if you make their lives twenty-four hours a day of terror, all the good ones will quit, and you will be left with the ones who struggle to make a connected narrative out of the simplest facts. The speech was supposed to be about America’s victories in all its wars; it was simply mixed up and incoherent. A good writer would not have that problem, but the good writers have all found better jobs.



The telescope is the moral cannon that has lain in ruins all those superstitions and phantoms that tormented the human race. It seems as if our reason has been enlarged in proportion to the immeasurable space that has been discovered and traversed by the sight. (A note by W. Hooper, M.D., from his translation of Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred, by Louis-Sébastien Mercier. Vol. I., p. 126. Printed in Dublin in 1772.)

Is it not delightful to know that the last of our tormenting superstitions and phantoms had been set aside by the year of our Lord 1772? Dr. Boli is happy to have lived his whole life in a world governed only by our immeasurably enlarged reason. The religious prejudice, the fanatical ignorance, and the tribal nastiness of the world must have been well nigh unbearable in those gloomy pre-telescopic days.

Of course, once again (he really should see somebody about this problem), Dr. Boli is caught up in a fit of sarcasm. The simple fact is that, whenever Reason arms herself with a moral cannon, she will find that Fanaticism has been lying in wait for her with a moral hydrogen bomb.


On this day one hundred years ago, the War to End War came to an end, officially speaking, ushering in an era of universal peace and prosperity, and rendering it necessary to fight the War to End Sarcasm twenty years later.


For any student, especially of linguistics or history, in need of a thesis topic, here are two ideas that Dr. Boli had thought might make fascinating treatises, but which he has no time to address among all the other long treatises he intends to write.

  1. The fact that French has a first-person plural imperative form explains the French Revolution.
  2. The fact that Latin has third-person imperative forms explains the entire Roman theory of government.


ON THIS DAY in 1971, the United States indicted the Harrisburg Seven for conspiracy to kidnap Henry Kissinger. The defendants were not convicted, however, after a defense that consisted entirely of attorney Ramsey Clark reading O. Henry’s “Ransom of the Red Chief” to the jury.