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Speak of the Devil: Moby Dick and the Wrath of Khan

In the 1820s, two sailors were found adrift in a small whaler. They were delirious with thirst, covered in salt, sores and blood as they gnawed on the bones of their dead. They told a story of the sinking of the Essex after it was attacked by a mighty sperm whale. From this tragedy comes Herman Melville's magnificent novel: Moby Dick. Captain Ahab has lost his leg to the white whale, Moby Dick. He sets out with his crew from Nantucket to seek out sperm whales to produce clean-burning lamp oil world-wide. (Kerosene is not yet practical.) However, Ahab has an additional purpose. He promises a gold piece to the first man to put three harpoons into the white whale that took his leg. The crew cheers but Mr. Starbuck is worried. This is more than simple revenge. It has become a religious obsession. Ahab shall smite the devil and seek out Satan in his lair. If his chest was a cannon he would have fired the shell of his heart against the white whale. I am paraphrasing a line out of the novel, but here is a direct quote that will be familiar...[1]

...to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.
-- Captain Ahab as he confronts Moby Dick. [2]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
This is a great novel, even today. You can download it for free from Gutenberg ([Click here]). But if your preference is film, the 1957 movie starring Gregory Peck and a very young Richard Basehart is excellent. The original story of the Essex came out as a movie in 2015 entitled In the Heart of the Sea, directed by Ron Howard. I haven't seen the movie, but the trailer looks terrific. And for Star Trek fans, no doubt you have recognized the quote from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan ([Click here]). In a lot of ways The Wrath of Khan is a rewrite of Moby Dick with a direct quote from the novel as Khan sets off the "Genesis Device." The Genesis Device looks suspiciously like a harpoon and apparently, the USS Enterprise substitutes for the "white whale". Good stories never die. They are simply remade into science fiction classics. BTW, David Weber has used the Horatio Hornblower novels as a loose framework for his Honor Harrington science fiction series. You can download the first book in the series for free from Amazon. ([Click here]) Great stuff. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

Support Your Australian Gold Rush

The United Kingdom has been using Australia as a dumping ground for criminals and ne'er-do-wells. Gold has been discovered in Australia before but the information has been suppressed out of fear that the criminal element would be difficult to control. To quote the governor, "We shall have our throats cut". (Well... yeah!) But the California Gold Rush has sparked a get-rich-quick interest in any gold find, so when Edward Hargraves finds a few grains of gold in Lewis Ponds Creek he writes to the Sydney Morning Herald. The secret is out, and frankly everyone is ready for the Australian Gold Rush. [9]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Today my mind in on films. I was watching an old comedy starring James Garner entitled Support Your Local Sheriff. Gold is found in California and everyone gets gold fever. A stranger comes to town looking for gold. He makes it clear that he is on his way to Australia, but he is willing to take the job of Sheriff on a temporary basis. A fine jail has been constructed but the bars for the cells have not arrived, so the new Sheriff draws a chalk line on the floor where the bars should be. He tells the murderer in the cell that the jail is working on "the honor system". Of course, I still remember those slogans of the John Birch Society: "Support Your Local Police" and "Support Your Local Sheriff." The campaign was meant to encourage the police to remain independent and not allow themselves to be absorbed into a Federal police force. Traditionally, Sheriffs have exercised local authority over the agents of the King and by extension local authority over agents of the Federal government. That is why there are appeals to the Sheriff when the Feds appear on a farmer's land to shoot the hogs or other such incursions of the Federal government. [10] [11] [12]

Record Rain in Iowa

74.5 inches of rain has fallen in Iowa and produces a flood that practically wipes out Des Moines. There are no levees. This flood marks the unbroken record for rainfall in Iowa. Just about everything else in Iowa is broken this year. The flooding is followed by mud and outbreaks of disease.

Roads were rendered impassable-bridges swept away-the mails stopped, and traveling by land to any distance utterly vetoed. Houses were carried away, mills damaged, timber floated off, and all manner of mischief done by the flood.
-- J. M. Dixon. [13]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
As a younger man I recall news reports of flooding in the Midwest. Pictures of houses and people floating away were commonplace. Emergency services would arrive, favorable loans would be made and people would rebuild. Then it would flood again and I wondered why anyone was bothering to rebuild. Temporary sheds, sure. Some moveable farming equipment seemed reasonable, but the levees kept collapsing no matter how many sandbags they piled up. I don't know what the solution is except to move further away from flood areas. I have some advice for people carrying sandbags, though. Often these levees have temporary roads that run parallel. When the rain really comes down, heavy trucks filled with sandbags appear. The temporary roads get chewed up and produce soft spots next to the levee. I was watching the TV when someone pointed out such a soft spot. The tire marks were obvious. When the soil is wet and a heavy truck goes by, the shaking pumps the water to the surface. (The same thing can happen during an earthquake.) The soil can lose its ability to take a load such as the load of a levee filled with water. If you must move sandbags, use smaller, lighter trucks and avoid choke points where vehicles travel over a single spot in the road near the levee.

In Other News

  • Jesse Williams starts the first assembly-line cheese factory. Small-scale production has been around since 1815 but Jesse really cranks it up in Rome, New York. [14]
  • The New York Times is established. Brace yourselves. It is a conservative Whig newspaper that will transition to Republican. [15] [16]
  • Isaac Singer invents the continuous stitch sewing machine. The Singer's elegant design allows it to be mass produced and available for the home. No electricity required. It works on peddle power. (My grandmother had one of these!) [15] [17]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1851, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Nathaniel Philbrick. In the Heart of the Sea. Tandem Library. ISBN 9780613338202. “EVEN though it is little remembered today, the sinking of the whale-ship Essex by an enraged sperm whale was one of the most well-known marine disasters of the nineteenth century. Nearly every child in America read about it in school. It was the event that inspired the climactic scene of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.” 
  2. Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. “Diving beneath the settling ship, the whale ran quivering along its keel; but turning under water, swiftly shot to the surface again, far off the other bow, but within a few yards of Ahab's boat, where, for a time, he lay quiescent. "I turn my body from the sun. What ho, Tashtego! Let me hear thy hammer. Oh! ye three unsurrendered spires of mine; thou uncracked keel; and only god-bullied hull; thou firm deck, and haughty helm, and Pole-pointed prow,--death--glorious ship! must ye then perish, and without me? Am I cut off from the last fond pride of meanest shipwrecked captains? Oh, lonely death on lonely life! Oh, now I feel my topmost greatness lies in my topmost grief. Ho, ho! from all your furthest bounds, pour ye now in, ye bold billows of my whole foregone life, and top this one piled comber of my death! Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!"” 
  3. In the Heart of the Sea. IMDb.com (2015). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “A recounting of a New England whaling ship's sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby-Dick.”
  4. Moby Dick Trailer (1957). YouTube.com (1957). Retrieved on 17 August 2016.
  5. In the Heart of the Sea - 'The Myth of Moby-Dick' Featurette. YouTube.com (2015). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “Oscar winner Ron Howard ('A Beautiful Mind') directs the action adventure 'In the Heart of the Sea,' based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s best-selling book about the dramatic true journey of the Essex.”
  6. Khan's "Moby Dick" quote. YouTube.com (1982). Retrieved on 17 August 2016.
  7. On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington Book 1). amazon.com (2016). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “Her demoralized crew blames her for their ship's humiliating posting to an out-of-the-way picket station. The aborigines of the system's only habitable planet are smoking homicide-inducing hallucinogens. Parliament isn't sure it wants to keep the place; the major local industry is smuggling; the merchant cartels want her head; the star-conquering, so-called 'Republic' of Haven is Up To Something; and Honor Harrington has a single, over-age light cruiser with an armament that doesn't work to police the entire star system. But the people out to get her have made one mistake. They've made her mad.”
  8. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. IMDb.com (1982). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “With the assistance of the Enterprise crew, Admiral Kirk must stop an old nemesis, Khan Noonien Singh, from using the life-generating Genesis Device as the ultimate weapon.”
  9. New South Wales gold rush - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 13 August 2016. “New South Wales experienced the first gold rush in Australia, a period generally accepted to lie between 1851 and 1880. This period in the history of New South Wales resulted in a rapid growth in the population and significant boost to the economy of the colony of New South Wales. The California Gold Rush three years prior signaled the impacts on society that gold fever would produce, both positive and negative. The New South Wales colonial government concealed the early discoveries but various factors changed the policy.”
  10. The John Birch Society: 50 Years and Beyond. The New American (27 October 2008). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “Art Thompson: Much of what we have accomplished has been off the radar of most Americans. They can often see the results, but not our involvement. Consider the campaign we launched in the '60s to 'Support Your Local Police — And Keep Them Independent.' Almost everyone is familiar with the 'Support Your Local Police' part of our slogan — and the derivatives of it such as 'Support Your Local Sheriff' — but how many recall that the John Birch Society originated the slogan? Or that the campaign blocked the early efforts to centralize police powers under Washington, D.C.? One of the campaign's most important victories was the abolition of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in 1983.”
  11. Support Your Local Sheriff!. IMDb.com (1969). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “In the old west, a man becomes a sheriff just for the pay, figuring he can decamp if things get tough. In the end, he uses ingenuity instead.”
  12. Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969). TCM.com (2016). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “In Support Your Local Sheriff, Garner plays a man trying to make his way to Australia (a running gag throughout the story) who finds himself financially strapped in a small frontier town. He reluctantly accepts the job as sheriff and hires the town drunk as his deputy. Garner arrests a notorious outlaw and forces him to build a new jail, bringing down the wrath of the outlaw's grizzly old father.”
  13. Flood of 1851 - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “'The damage done to the farms in the river bottoms was immense. Some were stripped utterly of their fences; fields under cultivation were washed into ruts by the violence of the water; all hope of a crop for one season being destroyed, not only by what was carried away, but by the debris which was left by the subsiding of the river. It was almost impossible to estimate the losses. Roads were rendered impassable-bridges swept away-the mails stopped, and traveling by land to any distance utterly vetoed. Houses were carried away, mills damaged, timber floated off, and all manner of mischief done by the flood.'[9] J.M. Dixon blamed the flood for a temporary decrease in the population of the town.”
  14. Cheese - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 23 June 2016. “The first factory for the industrial production of cheese opened in Switzerland in 1815, but large-scale production first found real success in the United States. Credit usually goes to Jesse Williams, a dairy farmer from Rome, New York, who in 1851 started making cheese in an assembly-line fashion using the milk from neighboring farms.”
  15. 15.0 15.1 Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 416-417. 
  16. The New York Times - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 13 August 2016. “The New York Times was founded as the New-York Daily Times on September 18, 1851, by journalist and politician Henry Jarvis Raymond (1820–69), then a Whig Party member and later second chairman of the newly organized Republican Party National Committee, and former banker George Jones.”
  17. Isaac Singer - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 17 August 2016. “Many had patented sewing machines before Singer, but his success was based on the practicality of his machine, the ease with which it could be adapted to home use, and its availability on an installment payment basis.”

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