A handy recap of the last thousand years or so


© 1999
, 2010
by John Scalzi

This electronic edition of this collection was made available for free and can be shared on a non-commercial basis. Don’t sell it! Don’t buy it! Just enjoy it.

These essays originally published on Whatever, John Scalzi’s blog:

INTRODUCTION (from 1999)

Oh, look. Another Millennium thing. Just what we need -- and I am well aware, thank you very much, that the Millennium doesn't truly occur until 2001. However, when there are 6 billion people on a planet, 5,999,900,000 of whom maintain that the year 2000 is The Millennium, the wee, small, logical voices of the remaining 100,000 count for exactly diddly. People like their major historical events to coincide with nice big round numbers, and there's little value arguing that point any more. 2000 it is.

Now, I originally wasn't planning to do anything regarding the millennium, because, really -- who
doing something on the millennium? However, the thought then occurred to me: When will be the next time I'll be able to wrap up an entire thousand years? (Yes, I know, 2001. Shut up.) Everybody's doing their millennial thing, but that doesn't mean it's automatically a bad thing. After all, everyone breathes oxygen, and that doesn't stop me from following the crowd. 

And so, beginning November 1 and going through the remainder of 1999, I will present daily my selections for the Best of the Millennium. But not just any selections -- I'll b cataloguing the things people
care about (or should, in any event). Like: Best Lopsided War. Best Vision of Hell. Best Condiment. And how could we omit: Best Plague. No one else is going to get around to these categories, and, damn it, they deserve comment as well. So
gonna do it. Each day, for the rest of this millennium (or, more accurately, for the rest of the popular perception of this millennium). 

INTRODUCTION (from 2010)

Not too much to add here; I was just playing with making electronic tests and thought this would be a fun little package to put together. Beyond that it’s an interesting historical document in its way – it’s
interesting to look back down through eleven years and see which things are still relevant after more than a decade, and which seem, well,

Technical notes: This little electronic book is only very lightly edited, and may have a few spelling/grammar/factual errors in it. I wrote each of these entries in just a few hours, using information I could find online (in 1999! Before Wikipedia!). While I’m pretty sure most of what you read here is factually correct, there may be slipups here or there. Try to enjoy it anyway.

The entries are presented in the order they were written and posted, between November 1, 1999 and December 31, 1999.

Some of these entries have appear in edited form elsewhere, including in my essay collection Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998 – 2008.
If you enjoy this, consider picking up that or other of my books. My mortgage thanks you.

This book is dedicated to my dog Kodi, who was with me in the last millennium and who just passed on. She was a good dog.

-- John Scalzi,

July 18, 2010


Best Beverage of The Millennium.

Coffee. Hands down (and shaky). Discovered in 850 by an Arab goat herd, who watched his goats gobble some beans and then perform the world's first poetry slam, coffee finally hit the big time in the 16th and 17th centuries, when coffeehouses (almost none of them Starbucks!) were the rage in London, Paris and other European capitals. Nowadays it's the planet's favorite beverage; some 2 billion people suck down java every day. 

Who is your average coffee drinker? Look in the mirror. Most serious coffee drinking begins in college, when the realization that your parents are now actually
for your education inspires a student's very first all-night study session. This first true exposure to coffee generally ends in catastrophe as the student sucks down about six cups too many and spends several hours shaking
a Kobe earthquake survivor. But eventually the correct daily dosage is found, and a lifetime "friendship" with the brown stuff begins.

More than a beverage to keep people awake, coffee is a symbol of the American century, its jittery charms indelibly tied to an industrious people who rebuilt the world, from the days of Henry Ford to these days of Bill Gates, fueled by
jolts that helped exaggerate America's already overly-developed "can-do" spirit. Take a look at the Empire State Building sometime, or a Dodge Viper, or the demo of the Quake Arena videogame. You can almost smell the bitter tang of that 7th cup that inspired that one guy to say, "Of course, you know what would be

Coffee is tied to the US like tea is tied to the British, the former rulers of the world, and of course that fact is illustrated in who in the world drinks tea and who drinks coffee. Tea gets the nod in places like India, China (who, of course, got there first, but even so) and all those other places where the British empire oh so kindly shouldered its white man's burden, until the natives asked, if it was quite all right, old chap, if they could kindly have their own countries back. Coffee is everywhere else, except Russia, where the role of coffee is played by vodka. 

You could even say that what you drink is what you are, at least when it comes to tea and coffee. Tea is refined; coffee, for all its success, is
. Tea is old money going back to the 13th century or so; coffee earned its money selling tires, or collecting trash, or making television shows about babes fighting crime. Tea doesn't soil its hands; coffee is elbow-deep in motor oil and transmission fluid. Tea is in a cup; coffee is in a mug. Tea is
; coffee is egalitarian (why do you think they call it "joe"?). At one point everyone who drank coffee aspired to be the sort of person to drink tea; nowadays, of course, these people realize that they don't actually
people who drink tea. People who drink tea don't

The bad news is that coffee is
tea. Tea has its Earl Greys and Orange Pekoes; coffee has lattes and half-caf double mochas. Used to be that these unholy brews were confined to the dark recesses of college town
coffee shops
, to be sucked down by scraggly-bearded graduate students who were reading yet another book on to bolster their thesis that Abelard and Heloise were precursors to the gender politics typified on the Jerry Springer show (or something), i.e., people who weren't doing anything. Now you can't throw a rock without hitting some overbred stock-option jockey with Starbucks coffee in one hand and a cellular phone in the other (try it. Throw hard). 

coffee, the bitter engine of progress, is being tamed into a polite, froo-froo brew. Meanwhile, the coders and geeks who are constructing the framework of the 21st century are sucking down their Surges and Mountain Dews and that old carbonated friend, Cola-Cola (no serious coder drinks Pepsi).
will survive into the next millennium, but it's unclear if coffee will.

But you can do your part. Ditch the Starbucks 90% foam latte, go to the supermarket, and buy a can of, oh, Chock Full O' Nuts coffee. Go to the thrift store and buy a percolator. Put the coffee in and brew a pot. Then put some more coffee in and double brew it. Get a mug that's taller than it is wide, pour it in, and slam it down. As the bitter liquid sears your esophagus, swelling it to the size of a honeydew melon in your throat, you will undoubtedly be seized by the need to build the world's longest suspension bridge, or the highest clock tower, or the fastest
computer with the most bitchin' graphic cards. Go do it. That's what coffee's all about.

Best Lopsided War of The Millennium.

The Spanish-American War. Hey,
started it.

Actually, they did. A little-known fact about the Spanish-American was (as if any fact involving this war is perennially on the lips of Americans) is that Spain declared war on the United States first, on April 24th, 1898. The United States, furious at being caught napping on this issue, declared war the very next day -- and then
the declaration to April 21. Take
, you lousy Spaniards!

The Battle of the Declarations was, alas for our sadly incompetent Iberian antagonists, the very last thing that the Spaniards won. A week later, George Dewey and a fleet of American battleships steamed into Manilla's harbor and sunk the entire of Spain's Pacific fleet like they were shooting fish in a barrel. Which, considering the Spanish fleet was anchored and silent, was exactly what they were doing. A couple of months after that, Americans landed in Cuba (Teddy Roosevelt had resigned as Secretary of the Navy to lead his "Rough Riders" into battle -- proof that downward mobility isn't always a bad thing for one's career) and forced the Spanish fleet into a retreat that found it beached and burning up and down the Cuban shore line.

The whole war took less than four months, and at the end of it, we got Guam and Puerto Rico for free, and bought the Phillipines at a cut-rate price. Oh, and in all the hub-bub, we somehow managed to annex Hawaii. Apparently, some folks there are
sore about that.

Spain never had a chance. Oh, sure, Spain could kick around
, whose bid for independence, and Spain's brutal repression thereof, had started this whole sorry she-bang. But like the third-grade bully that terrorizes the kindergartners yet cowers under the pummeling, pre-pubescent fists of the sixth-grade bully, Spain got spanked by superior firepower -- and a country that was itchin' to use it. Yet another little-known fact about this war was that for years, the US had a contingency plan to kick Spanish butt up and down the entire western hemisphere. It was called "The Kimball Plan" -- the national equivalent of the sixth-grader waiting for that third-grader to rough up a younger kid, so he'd have a legitimate excuse to beat him up and take his lunch money. 

Americans loved the Spanish-American war, a fact that reflects on a salient feature about the American psyche. It is frequently said and written that Americans love an underdog, but that is a damnable lie. What Americans
love is watching a  good whuppin', particularly when we are the whupper and not the whuppee. This is why millions tune in every four years to watch the latest incarnation of the US Basketball "Dream Team," packed with towering millionaires from the NBA, crush the hopes of tiny poor white men from places like Macedonia and Ireland. Being an American is about winning with an unimaginably huge point spread. Close shaves are for second-raters.

The Spanish-American War was America's debut out of the ranks of the second-raters. All our other wars up to that point (those couple of wars with Britain, that nasty intramural squabble between the States) had been fairly even slug-fests. Even that war with Mexico wasn't entirely a blowout, though giving up two-thirds of their territory
to hurt 'em. The Spanish-American war, by contrast, was a slam-dunk. We lost more people fighting the Filipinos, who apparently didn't much cotton to the Americans buying their country for a lousy $20 mil, than we did fighting the Spanish (What? You don't
the Phillipine-American War, which lasted three years and cost 4,200 American lives? Funny about that). 

Since 1898, we've participated in other lopsided wars, of course, most recently that one in the Gulf, where the casualty ratio between Them and Us was something on the order of 100 to 1. But in those wars, we had help, and we didn't come away with any real estate to speak of -- real estate being, of course, the Gold Standard in war gains. 

We could beat up on Spain again -- they're even
vulnerable now, if that's possible -- but it wouldn't sit well with us. As much as Americans love a blowout, we also like at least the appearance of being provoked. These days, all Spain does is lie there in Europe and occasionally spit out a Pedro Almodovar film. It's not actionable. The Spanish-American war will have to remain as it is, our first, best example of how to win, and win really
big, against a massively inferior foe.

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