The Challenges of Fighting an Opossum

Fighting an opossum (which all right-minded people pronounce “possum”, but the name has stuck) is not as easy as it first appears. Opossums are intelligent, and build complex societies, or “kingdoms”, in the boughs of multiple trees. Each “kingdom” is ruled by an “absolute monarch” who violently quells any attempt to form a “democratically-elected parliament.” The opossum is incredibly fecund, giving birth to litters of one-half or more. Their fur hides a chitinous exoskeleton that wards off parasites. They are known for hanging by their tails from tree branches to shit down upon other animals, which is correct.

You would think that your size and intelligence would give you one-up on the opossum but you would think wrong. In the wild, humans are considered lumbering, bellowing fools, whose only advantage is their hated machines. But those machines will rise, someday, and then… then… where was I?

Oh, yes. The opossum is quick, nimble, and has those creepy pin-like teeth. It can crawl up your shirt and chew your face off in seconds, so always wear a ski mask when tackling an opossum. The small profile of an opossum means that guns are nearly useless against them. You might think a shotgun would work, but you should know that all the shotguns in the world are reserved in case of a demon invasion of Earth. Knives are good, but put you in reach of those damned teeth, so the obvious solution is to duct tape a knife to an aluminum bat. Swing that baby and hope for the best. Actually, “hope for the best” is the general strategy, as the opossum is more man than you’ll ever be.

If you land a hit or the opossum gets bored, it will appear to have died. Do not, repeat, do not assume this to be the case. The term “playing opossum” has become common, but in actuality the process is quite involved. The opossum will writhe, clutch its chest, and give a death rattle before lying still. Doctor opossums will take the opossum away to a secret opossum hospital, where it will be pronounced officially dead. The family of the opossum will perform an elaborate opossum funeral, crying softly as an opossum priest (or rabbi) recites opossum scripture. Do not be fooled! It is very likely that the opossum has sensed danger from you and is attempting to make you flee due to your innate fear of death. Poke it with a stick a few times, then try to touch it. If it bites you, it was playing opossum!

If your opossum in fact turns out to be dead, eat it raw and with your bare hands. To the victor go the spoils!

P.S. Beware of confusing the “opossum” with an actual “possum.” Possums are seven-foot-tall reptilians that have the ability to shape-shift, and which control all world governments.

Johannes Gutenberg

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg was born in Germany, 1398.  Before movable type, Gutenberg was involved in a scheme to sell magic mirrors that captured the light from holy relics.  It went bust.  He then borrowed money from Johann Fust to fund his movable type printing press project.  Products of Gutenberg’s printing press are hard to identify, as he didn’t include any publisher’s information.  It’s understandable; if you were the only person in the world, would you bother to name yourself?

The most famous product was a version of the Bible.  Gutenberg’s Bible lacked a few modern conveniences, such as page numbers, indentation, or paragraph breaks.  It cost three-years’ wages for an average clerk.  The market wasn’t competitive.  The Bibles didn’t sell particularly well; Gutenberg made more money on indulgences for the Catholic church.  That says something about the nature of religion but I don’t know what.

Fust was alarmed at the growing Biblical debt, and sued, receiving control of the press and half the Bibles.  From then on, Fust put a name and date on all products.  Gutenberg was given some recognition and some clothes by the court of Bishop von Nassau, which helped as von Nassau had exiled him.  Gutenberg still died relatively unknown, his grave later destroyed.  He would remain obscure until his inclusion in a book of famous Germans one hundred years later.

The life of Gutenberg shows us that when you invent a new medium of communication, you should mention your name with it as much as possible.  You can’t expect people to just remember.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton was born in England in 1642 or 1643, depending on your calendar.  His family tried to make him the best farmer he could be, but his head wasn’t in it.  He went to school, came up with a list of mathematical concepts that needed inventing, and went to it.

Newton hated Gottfried Leibniz over a bunch of numbers, and Leibniz hated him right back.  They both wanted credit for calculus, having both invented it at the same time.  Their egos were so big, they couldn’t stand for a tie until centuries after they’d both died.

Why Newton was so obsessed over the calculus issue, I don’t know, as he had a thousand other achievements to his name.  In addition to the math, he reconciled astronomical and earthbound physics, got the idea of universal gravitation from watching a falling apple, and built the first practical reflecting telescope.  He became Master of the Royal Mint and settled the country on the gold standard in his spare time.

Newton was deeply religious, as well, but rejected the Christian Trinity as a blasphemy against the monotheistic “watchmaker” God that he believed designed all the parts and movements of the universe.  He still believed in miracles, because how else was God going to wind His watch?  Newton dodged every religious obligation he had as a man of his era, a stance which came to be called “Natural Religion”.  He just didn’t have the time.

After Newton died in his sleep at eighty-four, examinations showed that he had mercury poisoning, probably from dabbling a bit too much into alchemy.  There’s such a thing as over-extending yourself, and poisoning yourself in an attempt to turn lead into gold is probably one those lines.

Moctezuma II

Moctezuma II, bless him, was wonderfully trusting.  Born in 1466, his name (Moctezuma, Montezuma, Moteuczoma, or Motecuhzoma) means “he who frowns like a lord”, and why wouldn’t he? (Not much needs to be known about Moctezuma I except that he was better than II.  You had to be.)  He was the ninth tlatoani, or ruler of Tenochtitlan, which would change.  Before the coming of the Spanish, Moctezuma had expanded the Aztec Empire to its greatest, and that would change too.

Accounts vary concerning the life of Moctezuma, according to which conquistador tells the tale. (Bernal Díaz del Castillo praised Moctezuma, noting that he took a bath every afternoon and was “quite free from sodomy.”  Well la-ti-da!)  When asked after the fact, the Native population depicted him as weak-willed, superstitious, and indulgent.  That might just have been sour grapes, but then they were the ones who had stoned him to death, so they must have felt strongly about the matter.

In their first meeting, Moctezuma offered Cortés calendars of gold and silver, which Cortés melted down for their material value.  Undeterred, he invited Cortés to his palace.  Much has been made about Moctezuma welcoming Hernán Cortés as the second coming of the god Quetzalcoatl.  It’s argued that offering a stranger your throne may have meant different things in different cultures.  Could be, but I’m flummoxed as to what.  Finally, there were some harsh words between Spanish and Aztec, and Moctezuma became a prisoner in his own home to secure the Spaniards’ safety.

The Spanish forced Moctezuma to appear on the balcony of his palace and appeal to his countrymen to retreat.  He was then pelted with rocks and debris until he died.  Some argue against this, saying that Cortés himself had Moctezuma stabbed after it was clear he was no longer of use as a hostage.  If so, that Cortés later slept with Moctezuma’s daughter defines “adding insult to injury.”

The life of Moctezuma II shows us that the armoured, sword-wielding men that show up randomly on your doorstep may be up to no good.

Henry Hudson

Henry Hudson nobly sought out the Northwest Passage in exchange for money.  He didn’t do a great job but kept getting hired somehow.

In 1607 the Muscovy Company of the Kingdom of England gave Hudson the Hopewell and a mission: find the Northwest Passage around North America to China.  Hudson toured Greenland, giving all the landmarks new names that never really caught on amongst the Scandinavians.  The theorists had thought that, due the three months of the summer sun that shone in the northern latitudes, the sea would be free of ice for that time.  They were wrong, and Hudson had to go home.  He tried again the next year and all he found was more ice.

His roaring success at finding nothing made him top candidate for another mission to find the Northwest Passage, this time by the Dutch East India Company.  In 1609 they sent him northwest on the Halve Maen until he found his way blocked with ice (again) and, against instructions and logic, he went southwest instead.  He was working on second-hand rumors of a navigable passage to a great body of water that was probably the Great Lakes, which don’t have a navigable passage to them.

Travelling south, Hudson found the river that bears his name.  He wasn’t the first to find it.  He and his crew travelled upriver to present-day Albany, New York, which so impressed Hudson that, having done little trade on his voyage and having lost a man to the Natives, he decided to go home.  His bosses the Dutch got claims to New Netherland and any fur that might be found there, but no passage to China, which stuck in the craw.

The next year, the English funded the voyage of the Discovery for another stab at it.  This time he stayed northwest, mapping much of the northerly coasts of Labrador and Quebec until he found Hudson’s bay.  He liked it so much, he stayed there permanently, with the encouragement of the crew.  We don’t know when he died, but no one heard from him after that, so it might as well be then.

Henry Hudson’s quest looks foolish in hindsight.  By now we know that the Northwest Passage is impractical unless you heat up the Earth significantly, so we did.