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"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The White Gold


 

"Mom is so gonna kill you two when she gets home."


Unless your head has been in a hole recently, you've certainly heard of the brave patriots weathering harsh, winter conditions with insufficient socks and snacks. Said brave action being in aid of preventing government overreach.
Apparently this tyranny thing is getting pretty bad.

Vanilla ISIS, you don't know you're born regarding  what you consider an intrusive state.

"The Lord Coke, his Speech and Charge, with a Discoverie of the Abuses and Corruptions of Officers. 8vo. Lond. N.Butter, 1607."
The following officer is unknown in the present day, I give his character in extenso:
"There is also a Salt-peter-man, whose commission is not to break up any man's house or ground without leave. And not to deale with any house, but such as is unused for any necessarie imployment by the owner. And not to digge in any place without leaving it smooth and levell: in such case as he found it. This Salt-peter-man under shew of his authoritie, though being no more than is specified, will make plaine and simple people beleeve, that hee will without their leave breake up the floore of their dwelling house, unlesse they will compound with him to the contrary. Any such fellow, if you can meete with all, let his misdemenor be presented, that he may be taught better to understand his office: For by their abuse the country is oftentimes troubled."

Whoa, this "Salt-peter man" sounds like a real dick. What was his deal?
Well, as in so many cases, an authoritarian government barged-in and started digging up the floors of people's houses, churches, their yards, barns and so on - all under the King's authority:

Proclamation of King Charles I (1625):
"For the Maintaining and Increasing of the Salt-petre Mines of England, for the Necessary and Important Manufacture of Gunpowder."
"That our realm naturally yields sufficient mines of saltpetre without depending on foreign parts; wherefore, for the future, no dovehouse shall be paved with stones, bricks, nor boards, lime, sand, nor gravel, nor any other thing whereby the growth and increase of the mine and saltpetre may be hindered or impaired; but the proprietors shall suffer the ground floors thereof, as also all stables where horses stand, to lie open with good and mellow earth, apt to breed increase of the said mine. And that none deny or hinder any saltpetre-man, lawfully deputed thereto, from digging, taking, or working any ground which by commission may be taken and wrought for saltpetre. Neither shall any constable, or other officer, neglect to furnish any such saltpetre-man with convenient carriages, that the King's service suffer not. Non shall bribe any saltpetre-man for the sparing or forbearing of any ground fit to be wrought for saltpetre," 
Hello...
"... the Necessary and Important Manufacture of Gunpowder"

Now we're getting somewhere. It's all about firepower.
Saltpeter has been around a long time and it's everywhere - and it was especially prevalent on King Chuck's island, what with centuries of various people and animals living and moving - having their being - specifically pooping and peeing everywhere.

That's what his Sovereign Royal Highness was talking about when he mentioned "sufficient mines" of this strategic mineral.
To leave nicknames behind, the compound were talking about is potassium nitrate.
Mad, Swiss Chemist, Ulrich Bretscher (http://www.musketeer.ch/blackpowder/saltpeter.html) can get you up to speed on the formulation of black powder far more accurately than I can.
Saltpeter's been around a long time - millions of years being that it's a product of natural processes. Have you noticed tiny, white crystals under any random dog-turd, cow-flop or any other substantive pile of merde - of a certain age - that you may kick over?  That's the stuff.
Before those clever Chinese came up with gunpowder the uses for potassium nitrate were pretty much limited to meat preservation. Minus saltpeter there would be no corned beef, then life would lose all meaning.
Prior to the realization that we could get whatever we wanted - and whenever we wanted it - by simply blowing things and/or people up, the stuff was generally scraped off of cellar walls.
Let me set the scene: Imagine you're a tavern owner in the fifteenth century or so. It's a nice piece of property and even has a basement for you to store inventory in.
The quality of your drink ables is such that the place is packed with all sorts of folks enjoying the hospitality of the house - all the time.
Happy saltpeter makers at their labors.
At some point - and many subsequent points - all of your customers need to "see a man about a horse" and they'll do so just outside and wherever convenient. 
Ewww! 
Gross - but you don't have the wherewithal to finance a matching set of rest rooms with cutesy signs like "Pointers" and "Setters."
The end result will be: Most of your clientele will end up peeing outside, beside the same wall. This place will become a touchstone for any dog or tomcat within a quarter-mile and they'll all drop by as well. Not to worry, you're just one stop on the dog/cat tour. Everybody in your town does it al fresco except for the big man on the hill. He shits in a pot and has someone else take it out and throw it on the ground.
Over time you'll notice, in your basement, that the wall directly under the pissing wall is starting to grow little, white... cotton balls - kind of. That's what we're talking about.
That's what the industrious pair are doing in the fist picture.
You'll have to check out Ulrich"s website for him to explain how the marvel of shit and piss and soil bacteria can produce the wonder behind corned beef.
Anyway, what happened on our hypothetical cellar wall would also have happened had there been horses stabled outside, chickens, hogs, a slaughterhouse that dumped its guts, blood etc.
Okay, bucolic interlude is over. Gunpowder! Woo-Hoo! except - it's gonna be grim scraping all that white fuzzy stuff off the walls until it's all gone, then impatiently peeing and shitting to restart the magic. Obviously not workable for a would-be world power.
The great thinkers surmised that, if they could get hold of this magic dirt, they could fast-forward the whole, tedious wait-for-it-to-grow-out-of-the-wall process. Just find the appropriate dirt, dig it out, leach water through it and boil said water (Nasty) until the magic crystals precipitated out. Easy peasy.
Given the nasty mix of delectable soil components that produced the magic white powder, it's easy to see the logic behind the places that King Charles directed his duly-appointed representatives to dig.
One of the favored spots was - wait for it - under the floors of churches because "...the women pisseth in their seats". Okay, misogyny aside, it's a safe bet that all parishioners were draining the lizard indoors every now and again. Services were long and getting out was a hassle - and the place smelled like pee already.
Mother England had just about figured out this saltpeter-making trip except the urine component was a little hit-and-miss. Not only that, there was only so much pee-soaked soil... anywhere, so they started making it from scratch.
They built long beds of likely materials, blood, guts, manure, layered with soil for that sweet bacterial action. Then, they would apply the pee and wait for the magic.
Now please understand, this was a production operation and while I'm sure it was encouraged that the workers "do their little ones" onto the pile, it was but a mere drop (couldn't resist) on the disgusting slime. No, for an industrial operation you needed lots and lots of the stuff.
Making the "magic dirt"
This is where everyone had to pitch in and do their bit. Everyone in a household would take care of the first office of nature into an appropriate vessel. No biggie, they were doing that already - except for when Dad happened to be standing by an open door or the family was at church.
But with this emergent threat from abroad and the need to make potassium nitrate post-haste, there'd be no more days of freedom...  The simple freedom to take that chamber pot with all its fetid, morning broth and fling the contents thereof out into the street responsibly shouting "gardy-loo!" 
No extra credit for that. It's what anyone would do in a polite society.
So into this functional system - which had worked flawlessly for centuries - was thrown the dictate that henceforth pee was to be collected  on some sort of schedule for the use of His Majesty. In the meantime, you could bond with the family's past twenty-four kidney flushings and wait for the pee man to arrive. 
Would it have been that much worse? At least the stinky was being taken somewhere else and not being walked through constantly just outside the door.


If you've been following these links, it's easy to see that this was a subject which was brought up with some regularity and the outcome was always the same.

Citizens: "These guys get to dig up any place that suits their fancy and arcane notions of property have gone by the wayside."

Pee collectors and shit shovelers: "Make everything nice - just like you found it but by all means get the white gold!"

The madness only ended at the close  of the 19th century with the invention of smokeless powder (After which gun-powder would be called "black powder" because it was black).
The meat-curing industries along with makers of fertilizer lucked out as well and potassium nitrate was extracted chemically around the time of the Great War.
I think it's worth a paranoid thought that, from a prepper standpoint, there'd be no harm in creating your old "saltpeter mine" right at home!




















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Amery Barry said...
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