Tuesday, July 28, 2020

History of Alcohol

History Book Club
History of Alcohol
Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Bacchus at a Bacchanalia

Wednesday, July 29, 2020. A History of Alcohol. Men have been fermenting fruit and grain and honey for many thousands of years.  The Babylonians, Greeks and Romans had gods and goddesses and there have been marvelous Bacchanalian feasts and tales of the dreadful effects of too much alcohol.  There have been anti-alcohol drives, temperance marches, Prohibition. Cultural and health effects of alcohol usage. [Proposed by Janos Posfai] 

Iain Gately, Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol, New York; Gotham Books, 2008.
            Iain Gately gives us a tour of alcohol, from drunken orgies of kings and pharaohs 10,000 years ago to bar room drunken disasters during Prohibition.  From elegant, world famous artists drinking absinthe in Paris, and some dying from it, to the crusading figure of Carry Nation, at the turn of the Twentieth century. 
            It’s been a quest for the pleasure of drinking alcoholic beverages, the conviviality, the fun, the wildness, the hangovers, the deaths, and it has been the stories of fighters to abolish the sale and consumption of alcohol.   
            Ten thousand years ago Chinese people were fermenting rice, honey, grapes, and berries to make beverages that delighted their customers.
            In Uruk, Sumer, on the banks the Euphrates, was the largest city in the world, in 2500 BCE. This city of some 80,000 was in what is now southern Iraq. They brewed eight styles of beer, which they called kash. The Sumerians designated the goddess Ninkasi as the goddess of brewing, and associated women with production and distribution of beer.
            Sumerians had formal drinking sessions, drinking the kash through yard-long straws, out of a keg-like container. Archeologists have found some of these straws, made of gold and silver, buried with their owners.  A Sumerian poem, Gilgamesh, ca. 2000 BCE, shows that Sumerians knew about drunkenness. In the poem the wild man, Enkidu, meets a harlot who explains the ways of men: “He had never drunken beer.  He drank the beer—seven jugs—and became very expansive and sang with joy.”
            In ancient Egypt, beer was called “hqt” and the workers building the pyramids were given generous amounts, so it appears the pyramids were built by an army of drunks.
            The French and Indian War (1754-1763) ended with severe restriction on wine and rum shipped to the colonies, and created more grievances leading up to America’s revolution, beginning in 1775. Most of the meetings to plot against the British were held in pubs, and a lot of drinking was going on. John Hancock, the richest man in the colonies, had made his fortune shipping alcohol, and Sam Adams was a malt merchant. The men dressed as Indians to conduct the “Boston Tea Party” fortified themselves with quaffs from a huge silver punch bowl.  When Paul Revere made his historic ride on April 19, 1775, the captain of the Medford Minutemen gave him a drink of rum that “would have made a rabbit bite a bulldog.”
            Both sides fought in the American revolution with the aid of alcohol. Washington’s first victory, at Trenton, in 1776 was assisted by the drunken condition of the Hessians when the Americans attacked. In a skirmish later at Eutaw Springs, SC rebel troops captured a British camp and began to consume their rum ration when the British counterattacked. The battle ended with 500 rebels killed and 700 British.
            A few years later the British began sending thousands of prisoners to Australia, along with a Royal Marine regiment and its band.  And thousands of gallons of liquor and wine.  The voyage took eight months, and the Marines acquired more liquor in South America enroute so that the new colony, established in what became Sydney, NSW, was in no danger of thirst. After the Marines and the male prisoners were offloaded, and a rough camp established, the female prisoners were delivered ashore. Drinks were delivered and a night of wild, drunken celebration followed. That led to the start of native-born non aborigine Aussies.
            In the mid-1800s, phylloxera wiped out French vineyards. Then it turned out that the “fix” was to take cuttings from American vines and graft them to French vines.  That hurt French pride, but it worked.  At the same time, with French wines slowly disappearing, some drinkers took to absinthe, a super bitter liquor made from wormwood. This became a real hit in the Paris literary and artistic community.  Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Edouard Manet, to name a few, did some serious damage to themselves drinking huge quantities of the Green Fairy, as they called it. Some exceptionally talented artists ended up in insane asylums or died early.
            During most of the nineteenth century temperance movements took on many supporters.  Most Rockporters know the story of Hannah Jumper, a seamstress and a spinster, who gathered up local preachers and angry housewives and marched through town on July 8th, 1856, smashing kegs and ripping small pubs and bars apart in a reign of terror that sent scores of men running for cover. Soon after, the Town passed an ordinance that forbade the selling and serving of alcoholic beverages, which lasted until 2005.
            Author Gately writes about a more famous character who terrorized Kansas some forty years later. Carry Nation had a hard life. Daughter of a Kentucky slave owner and a mother on the edge of insanity, she was born in 1846. She developed a debilitating bowel ailment in childhood. She spent her teen years caring for her mother who thought she was Queen Victoria.  Carry married a man who became a drunkard. Shortly after the birth of their only child, her husband died of delirium tremens. Her child, a daughter, was born with a disfiguring abscess—her cheek fell off.
            Carry remarried, this time to a preacher and ardent temperance leader. Carry began her temperance career in 1899 when she gathered WCTU women and stormed a saloon in Medicine Lodge, KS on a quiet Sunday afternoon.  She smashed up the saloon and went on to smash others in town during the next few days.  Kansas was supposedly dry, and so all the saloons she was raiding technically weren’t in existence. She moved to other Kansas towns, and then on to other states and eventually her fame took her to England. On the steamship taking her to England, she demolished the saloon onboard.
            Carry must have been a sight—six feet tall, weighing 180 pounds, she had a face like a bulldog and a shrill voice, and false teeth. She was arrested over 25 times, was attacked, pistol whipped and beaten, had her false teeth knocked down her throat.  Carry died in 1911 at age 64.
            The object of Carry’s life-long dream, and that of many others, prohibition, crept up on America. When soldiers returned from World War I they found that half the states had gone “dry” and in January 1919 the 18th Amendment was passed.  Accompanied by the Volstead Act later that year, Prohibition began in the whole country in 1920.  What a bad idea that turned out to be!  Law-abiding people began to figure all kinds of ways to break the law to drink, and it became the Golden Age for criminals. Bootlegging was everywhere and moonshine production, adding all manner of often poisonous substances to alcohol, went into high gear. The amendment was repealed in December 1933, nearly 14 years after it became law.
            World War II was started by a teetotaler named Hitler. When Nazi troops overran France and occupied it, they began confiscating French wine, 900,000 bottles a day, to send back to the Reich. Stalin said that his generals did better when they were drunk on vodka, and Russian troops were well supplied.
            As the Soviet Union edged toward capitalism, Premier Gorbachev sought to control widespread drunkenness by tightening control over vodka sales.  This helped end communism, and created a wild distribution of samogon,  moonshine, high-alcohol-content with all kinds of other ingredients, killing tens of thousands of Russians each year.
            Next in Russia came Boris Yeltsin, who stayed drunk much of the time, and the breakup of the USSR. President Clinton said of him, “at least he’s not a mean drunk.”
            Gately ends his book with discussion of studies that state that some moderate drinking can promote good health and longevity, as well as continuing efforts to limit or eliminate drinking.  He ends with: Salud, kan pei, chin-chin, prost, yum sing, skål, slainte, a votre santé, na zdrowie, or cheers!

S.W. Coulbourn


Wednesday, August 26, 2020. China from 1900 to today. China has traveled a long way from the Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1901 when western nations felt free to wander all over the vast country. Sun-Yat-Sen and the last Qing emperor…Military wardlordism ..Chiang Kai-Shek…War against Japan… Mao Zedong and the Communist Revolution, founding of the People’s Republic…”Great Leap Forward” and The Cultural Revolution…World’s No. 2 Economy, on the verge of becoming No. 1. [Proposed by Jason Shaw] 

Spanish Flu Victim, St. Louis, 1918
Wednesday, September 30, 2020. History of Pandemics.  pandemic (from Greek πᾶν, pan, "all" and δῆμος, demos, "people") is an epidemic of an infectious disease that has spread across a large region, for instance multiple continents or worldwide, affecting a substantial number of people. Throughout human history, there have been a number of pandemics of diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis. The most fatal pandemic in recorded history was the Black Death (also known as The Plague), which killed an estimated 75–200 million people in the 14th century. Other notable pandemics include the 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu). Current pandemics include COVID-19 and HIV/AIDs. [Proposed by Sam Coulbourn].
Truman holds "fake" news in Chicago Tribune
Wednesday, October 28, 2020. Unique Elections in American History. The forthcoming election may seem the most unique, but this month we will look back at past elections.  Select any that you find interesting.  For instance: Election of 1828: Andrew Jackson vs. John Quincy Adams; Election of 1840: William Henry Harrison vs. Martin Van Buren; Election of 1860: Abraham Lincoln vs. Stephen Douglas vs. John C. Breckinridge vs. John Bell; Election of 1864 : Abraham Lincoln vs. George B. McClellan; Election of 1884: Grover Cleveland vs. James G. Blaine; Election of 1912: Woodrow Wilson vs. William Howard Taft vs. Theodore Roosevelt vs. Eugene V. Debs; Election of 1948Harry Truman vs. Thomas E. Dewey vs. Strom Thurmond vs. Henry Wallace. [Proposed by Sam Coulbourn]
Gloucester Dorymen
Wednesday, November 25, 2020. Gloucester and the Sea.  euser]
Gloucester has throughout four centuries cast its lot with the North Atlantic, remaining a maritime port for better or worse. The maritime culture of Cape Ann is the mix of a noble maritime heritage; ubiquitous sea influences that reach as far as the quarries behind Rockport and into the haunted tracks of Dogtown Common; seductive but capricious natural splendors; and untidy independence that repels some but converts other visitors into lifetime devotees. Read any book about the maritime history of Gloucester and Cape Ann. [Suggested by Richard Verrengia] 

There will be no meeting in December