May 30, 2017

Croatia in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 29 May 2017

Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War 1 and Croats were just one of the many ethnicities within the Habsburg Empire that went to to war in 1914. Croats served in Galicia, on the Isonzo Front or in the Navy and it was a Croat who built up the Austro-Hungarian Air Force. Still towards the end of the war, more and more Croats thought about independence.

The unfriendly border

Filed under: Cancon, Government, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 04:00

I’ve generally had little trouble crossing the US/Canadian border, but I’ve perhaps been quite lucky. An old friend of mine recently was turned back from the border crossing at Port Huron and had an exceptionally unpleasant time dealing with US officials:

On Wednesday May 10, I was denied entry into the USA.
I was attempting to travel to the International Congress for Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo MI.
I have attended this conference, presenting at organized sessions, since (at least) 2012.
One of these sessions was to be a combination demonstration / hands on. I had undertaken similar sessions there in 2013 and 2015.
I had booked a vendor’s table, selling objects made in Ontario at my studio, either by myself as the Wareham Forge, or by my partner as Elfworks Studio. I have done this since 2014.

At ICMS 2017 I was intending to undertake the following:
– travel straight to and straight back from the event, a total of 5 days.
– setting up a vendor’s table to sell products made in Canada (all at my home studio), at a total combined value of $2450 US
– participate in an panel discussion session (#41)
– participate in a hands on workshop session (#224)

I can not remain dispassionate about this whole episode.

Through this entire event, I made a deliberate attempt to keep my body language calm and unassertive. My hands folded in front of me, on steering wheel or visible on the desk. I attempted to keep my voice casual, calm and relaxed.
I do appreciate that some questions, some actions, are part of standard operations policy. I did attempt to make allowances for all this, never refusing to answer or follow instructions – as they were given.
I consider it extremely important to remember that I have decades of experience communicating to the general public. My spoken language skills are excellent.


The Officer returns. I overhear a comment about ‘all his tools’. (12)
Over this conversation, I finally get asked ‘What all are you doing at this conference.’
I state that along with the vendor table, I will be participating in two academic sessions. One a panel discussion, one a workshop session where participants will be able to make cast pewter badges they can keep. I stress that I am not being paid for any of this.
Eventually, I get told that the goods will be released with no duties and allowed to pass importation.
But there is something else I can’t determine, so you will have to go to Immigration.’
Just what the potential problem may be is not given.

Another, heavily equipped (tactical) Officer arrives.
I don’t think I need to put you in handcuffs for this, but I am required to put you under restraint’
Please put you hands behind your back, fingers interlaced.

He holds my hands with one of his, pushing up and forward so my weight is off balance on my toes. He is supporting me with his other hand on my upper arm.
This officer is polite and professional. I get escorted in this manner across an open parking area, through a public area at the front of the separate Immigration building. (13)
The Commercial Officer is accompanying as well, with my original invoice document in hand. He still has my car keys.

Dealing with customs at the border tends to be a tense moment for many travellers, even if they’re not in violation of any rule or regulation. Darrell’s account shows that the tension can be more than matched on the other side of the booth. It’s certainly soured him on the idea of visiting the US again.

The Belisarius fixation in SF&F

Filed under: Books, History, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jo Walton wonders why an otherwise obscure general of an otherwise obscure empire appears so often in fantasy and science fiction:

I once wrote jokingly here that there are only three plots, and they are Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and Belisarius, because those are the ones everyone keeps on reusing.

There is a conference in Uppsala in Sweden the weekend before the Helsinki Worldcon called “Reception Histories of the Future” which is about the use of Byzantium in science fiction. The moment I heard of it, I immediately started thinking about our obsessive reuse of the story of Belisarius. (I’m going. Lots of other writers are going. If you’re heading to Helsinki, it’s on your way, and you should come too!)

It’s strange that science fiction and fantasy are obsessed with retelling the story of Belisarius, when the mainstream world isn’t particularly interested. Robert Graves wrote a historical novel about him in 1938, Count Belisarius, and there’s Gillian Bradshaw’s The Bearkeeper’s Daughter (1987), but not much else. Whereas in genre, we’ve had the story of Belisarius retold by Guy Gavriel Kay, David Drake (twice) and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and used by L. Sprague de Camp, John M. Ford, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Silverberg, and Isaac Asimov. So what is it about this bit of history that makes everyone from Asimov to Yarbro use it? And how is it that the only place you’re likely to have come across it is SF?

First, let’s briefly review the story. First Rome was a huge unstoppable powerful indivisible empire. Then Rome divided into East and West, with the Eastern capital at Constantinople. Then the Western half fell to barbarians, while the Eastern half limped on for another millennium before falling to the Ottoman conqueror Mehmed II in 1453. We call the eastern half Byzantium, but they went right on calling themselves the Roman Empire, right up to the last minute. But long before that, in the sixth century, at the exact same time as the historical Arthur (if there was an Arthur) was trying to save something from the shreds of Roman civilization in Britain, Justinian (482-565) became emperor in Constantinople and tried to reunite the Roman Empire. He put his uncle on the throne, then followed him. He married an actress, the daughter of an animal trainer, some say a prostitute, called Theodora. He has a loyal general called Belisarius. He built the great church of Hagia Sophia. He withstood a giant city riot in the hippodrome, the great chariot-racing stadium, by having Belisarius’s soldiers massacre a huge number of people. He wrote a law code that remained the standard law code everywhere in Europe until Napoleon. And Belisarius reconquered really quite large chunks of the Roman Empire for him, including Rome itself. At the height of his success he was recalled to Rome and fired because Justinian was jealous. Belisarius had a huge army and could have taken the throne for himself, which was typical of both the Roman and the Byzantine empires, but he was loyal and let Justinian fire him. This is all happening at a time of Christian schism and squabbling about heresy between different sects.

While I’d quibble about her thumbnail sketch a bit, there’s more than enough there to fuel dozens of alt-history, fantasy, or science fiction novels … the fiction couldn’t be much more difficult to swallow than the reality. My first contact with the story of Belisarius was indeed the Robert Graves novel (which I still heartily recommend). I imagine that was true for most of the authors listed above.

The Disgusting Contents of Worcestershire Sauce (and Why It s Called That)

Filed under: Britain, Business, History, India — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 27 Mar 2017

In this video:

Worcestershire sauce, sometimes known as “Worcester sauce” is a savoury sauce that is often added to meat and fish dishes or, if you like your alcoholic beverages, the Bloody Mary cocktail. It may (or may not depending on how much you research your sauce choices) surprise you to learn that it’s literally made from fermented fish and spices.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/10/worcestershire-sauce-called/

QotD: The uses of IQ

Filed under: Books, Health, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Suppose that the question at issue regards individuals: “Given two 11 year olds, one with an IQ of 110 and one with an IQ of 90, what can you tell us about the differences between those two children?” The answer must be phrased very tentatively. On many important topics, the answer must be, “We can tell you nothing with any confidence.” It is well worth a guidance counselor’s time to know what these individual scores are, but only in combination with a variety of other information about the child’s personality, talents, and background. The individual’s IQ score all by itself is a useful tool but a limited one.

Suppose instead that the question at issue is: “Given two sixth-grade classes, one for which the average IQ is 110 and the other for which it is 90, what can you tell us about the difference between those two classes and their average prospects for the future?” Now there is a great deal to be said, and it can be said with considerable confidence — not about any one person in either class but about average outcomes that are important to the school, educational policy in general, and society writ large. The data accumulated under the classical tradition are extremely rich in this regard, as will become evident in subsequent chapters.


We agree emphatically with Howard Gardner, however, that the concept of intelligence has taken on a much higher place in the pantheon of human virtues than it deserves. One of the most insidious but also widespread errors regarding IQ, especially among people who have high IQs, is the assumption that another person’s intelligence can be inferred from casual interactions. Many people conclude that if they see someone who is sensitive, humorous, and talks fluently, the person must surely have an above-average IQ.

This identification of IQ with attractive human qualities in general is unfortunate and wrong. Statistically, there is often a modest correlation with such qualities. But modest correlations are of little use in sizing up other individuals one by one. For example, a person can have a terrific sense of humor without giving you a clue about where he is within thirty points on the IQ scale. Or a plumber with a measured IQ of 100 — only an average IQ — can know a great deal about the functioning of plumbing systems. He may be able to diagnose problems, discuss them articulately, make shrewd decisions about how to fix them, and, while he is working, make some pithy remarks about the president’s recent speech.

At the same time, high intelligence has earmarks that correspond to a first approximation to the commonly understood meaning of smart. In our experience, people do not use smart to mean (necessarily) that a person is prudent or knowledgeable but rather to refer to qualities of mental quickness and complexity that do in fact show up in high test scores. To return to our examples: Many witty people do not have unusually high test scores, but someone who regularly tosses off impromptu complex puns probably does (which does not necessarily mean that such puns are very funny, we hasten to add). If the plumber runs into a problem he has never seen before and diagnoses its source through inferences from what he does know, he probably has an IQ of more than 100 after all. In this, language tends to reflect real differences: In everyday language, people who are called very smart tend to have high IQs.

All of this is another way of making a point so important that we will italicize it now and repeat elsewhere: Measures of intelligence have reliable statistical relationships with important social phenomena, but they are a limited tool for deciding what to make of any given individual. Repeat it we must, for one of the problems of writing about intelligence is how to remind readers often enough how little an IQ score tells about whether the human being next to you is someone whom you will admire or cherish. This thing we know as IQ is important but not a synonym for human excellence.

Charles Murray, “The Bell Curve Explained”, American Enterprise Institute, 2017-05-20.

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