Sunday, February 09, 2014

Dead Horses and fun with the Internet

I won't kid you; the Snowpocalypse has transitioned to the Icepocalypse but the effect is the same. We're pretty much trapped inside with little hope of release until some time Monday. So I've been reading, and puttering about the house, and goofing around on the Internet.

And from there I was reminded about why I enjoy living in the Internet Era. It began with this post over at Lawyers, Guns & Money, captioned "Man sitting on dead horse, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1880":

From there one of the comments in the thread lead me to this post, where the investigators use various clues from the photograph to pinpoint two dates that the photograph could have been taken: "Since the tree looks like it is in full foliage, the picture must have been taken on either August 10, 1873, or August 10, 1879."

To pursue all this through pre-digital means would have taken days at the very least, pulling through almanacs and historic mapping and things like building records and old photographs.

And that's assuming that I would have come across this fascinatingly bizarre photo in the first place - it's easy to forget that the pre-Industrial ages were brutally hard on domesticated working animals like horses and mules. When you see beater vehicles on the road today (and I don't know where you live but Oregon, which lacks a state regulation requiring vehicle inspections, has tons of them) think of what would happen if these people drove a horse like they drive their cars and trucks. Only instead of going without oil changes and replacement brakes these poor animals would go hungry and cold and get driven far beyond their strength.

The death rate for urban horses must have been horrific.

And then think about the number of abandoned vehicles you roll past parked in side streets or down dead-end alleys. Translate that into the corpse of a 1,500-pound drayhorse; something that's too big to move with anything smaller than a large mechanical hoist, the Victorian or early 20th Century equivalent of a tow truck.

We tend to think of our times as The Most Awful Ever, and I agree that the Automotive Age has brought with it some fairly awful side-effects. But the advent of the automobile also brought with it the solution to some fairly awful problems, and the carnage of these animals was one of them.

Still doesn't explain why some joker was photographed sitting on a dead horse in the middle of a Sheboygan street in August 1873 (or 1879).

But some mysteries will and probably always should remain mysteries.


Leon said...

I would say you can't eat a dead Chevette...

Lisa said...

Fascinating photo.

Leon brings up the interesting behavior of cannibalism, a tried-and-true method of getting by, whether you're at Donner's Pass or the local landfill, proving one CAN eat a dead Chevette.

The pix does remind us of the ubiquity of street urchins and general poor sanitation in the recent past. We're not that far from being really grubby.

Funny that we're not more humble and appreciative.

FDChief said...

Leon: I wouldn't have wanted to eat one of these dead drayhorses, either, although I suspect that the urban poor did their share of foraging from the gutters back in the day.

Lisa: All troubles and expectations are relative. For example, here in the PNW we're all fussed about the problems presented by our hydroelectric dams. And there ARE real problems, among the worst the complete and utter environmental devastation they've done to the once-great anadromous fish runs and the ecosystems that depended on them.

But go back in time to 1930 and that problem isn't even a wisp of a thought. Instead you're living in an unheated shotgun shack with kerosene lamps and a wood stove. Electricity is like a miracle, and the dams provide an abundance of it...

So there really isn't a "simple answer" to any of this; every answer usually raises more questions.

Lisa said...

Yes, electricity IS a miracle! We just flip a switch and there it is -- illumination. Some things are lost while others, gained.

I s'ppose the key to a good life is in stopping short of rapaciousness, and leaving as light of a footprint as possible. However, as the population explodes we will hit a tipping point I'm sure at which the "taking" will far outpace the puny reparations we might attempt.

We have really been living high on the hog for a while now. Others want in, and sadly few herald what could be called true eco-consciousness.

Podunk Paul said...

One of the ironies is that Rudolf Diesel promoted his invention as the means of ending dead horses and manure in the gutters, i.e., the nasty byproducts of animal life.

Now we find that diesel exhaust is carcinogenic and mutagenic. Soot-coated particulates ejected from the exhaust attain velocities of several thousand miles per hour and, when inhaled, imbed themselves deeply and permanently into lung tissue. People waiting for buses in windswept cities are the primary victims. European auto makers minimize these particles with urea, the major component of mammal urine.

Lisa said...


Thanks for sharing a great example of the ironies which abound, and the relativities Chief mentions.

And it's the best of capitalism ... now we need mechanics, technicians, and doctors. Lots and lots of doctors. Oh, and lawyers to cover up the mishaps. And Big Pharma to make you feel you're living a life, even if you feel miserable.

Someone's got your back, right ... even as you feel the weight of that monkey.

FDChief said...

Don't get me wrong, Lisa; I loves me some electricity. Antibiotics. Indoor plumbing.

Etcetera, etcetera...

But I think we hairless monkeys still want to embrace simplistic explanations rather than look too hard at all the potential effects of the things we do. So whether we love "progress" and "capitalism" and "entrepreneurship"...or "tradition" and "simplicity" and "naturalism"...we try our damndest to hammer those things into little boxes containing only the good parts of each one without walking around to see when might be outside each box.

The notion that we might be trading one good for another, or that the likely evils might outweight the good, or that we might need to go further and work harder to ameliorate those evils...those notions seem very hard for us to accept.

Lisa said...


This has always been my contention, and frustration, with ALL groups of people:

The notion that we might be trading one good for another, or that the likely evils might outweigh the good, or that we might need to go further and work harder to ameliorate those evils...those notions seem very hard for us to accept.

People generally cleave to the easiest answer, and work hard to advocate and dance that view, to their detriment; only a holistic view will approximate the truth.

ISTM people are afraid of being branded as "Other" should they actually entertain another perspective which might clash with their chosen label. I do not fear it, and so am often branded a traitor, when actually I have fealty to a higher truth. (This reminds me of a commercial jingle, for some reason ...)

FDChief said...

I think the biggest problems come where there is no clearly obvious "truth", Lisa, or, worse, where there are several subjective ways of looking at the same physical facts.

I mean, clearly there are some issues where the good-choices-bad-choices are pretty obvious. But I suspect that even there it's hard for people to be completely objective, and even more so when (as I think Mark Twain said) "it's difficult to make a man see something when his livelihood depends on his not seeing it."

Throw in the issues where there are real questions about "what is truth". For some questions there really IS no "objective truth". One person's "freedom fighter" is another's "terrorist". One's "job creator" is another's "robber baron".

So where it seems to me like certain problems are fairly obvious - dumping toxic shit into streams is a bad idea, regardless of how costly it is to prevent. Shoving huge wads of cash to small groups is toxic to a democracy. Letting working-class jobs go overseas (or to machines) without some plan to find some valuable work for the people unemployed is not healthy for an industrial democracy - yet there's a pretty large group of Americans that would deny either that those ideas are "truth" or, if they are, that they are as bad for our nation as I think they are.

This isn't exactly news; we had that sort of division of opinion on slavery back in the 19th Century and the division was so huge we fought a war over it.

But the other divisions remain, and I increasingly despair of finding any sort of consensus on them.

Lisa said...

I think on the soluble problems facing our nation (or any system), a consensus may be reached as to the definition and solution(s). However, as you state, "it's difficult to make a man see something when his livelihood depends on his not seeing it."

There is only no "objective truth" (For some questions there really IS no "objective truth". One person's "freedom fighter" is another's "terrorist". One's "job creator" is another's "robber baron" ) because we cleave to our identities, or our sacred and/or cash cows.

If we dared to step outside of the affiliation, we could arrive at "the best" way. But we daren't give up those self-definitions and long-held beliefs, even in the face of change.