Quotulatiousness

September 23, 2017

The Very First Troop Trials SMLE Rifles

Filed under: Africa, Britain, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Apr 2017

1902 A Pattern: Sold for $31,625 – http://jamesdjulia.com/item/1647-396/
1902 B Pattern: Sold for $31,625 – http://jamesdjulia.com/item/1648-396/

One of the British lessons from the Boer War was that the distinction between infantry rifles and cavalry carbines was becoming obsolete. In 1902, they would initiate troop trials on a new short rifle pattern, intermediate in length between the old rifles and carbines, and intended to be issued universally to all troops. This would become the much-loved SMLE – Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield rifle – but first a few choices had to be made.

The 1902 trials rifles were a bit remarkable in being widely liked by the different troops that used them – only a few changes were to be made before formal adoption took place. However, there were two different patterns of the trials rifles, with different models of rear sight. The B pattern used a friction-locked range adjuster, which was found to migrate during firing (not good). The A pattern had a much more secure set of spring loaded locking notched, and would be chosen as the better of the two.

Despite a thousand of these rifles being produced for the trials, these two are the only known surviving examples. The remainder were converted to .22 caliber training guns around 1907, as their non-standard nature made them unsuitable for issue after the formal adoption of the SMLE MkI (later to be retroactively redesignated the Rifle No1 MkI.

September 10, 2017

In search of silphium, the lost herb of the Roman empire

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

Zaria Gorvett recounts the story of a Roman-era herb that was at one point literally worth its weight in gold:

Long ago, in the ancient city of Cyrene, there was a herb called silphium. It didn’t look like much – with stout roots, stumpy leaves and bunches of small yellow flowers – but it oozed with an odiferous sap that was so delicious and useful, the plant was eventually worth its weight in gold.

To list its uses would be an endless task. Its crunchable stalks were roasted, sauteed or boiled and eaten as a vegetable. Its roots were eaten fresh, dipped in vinegar. It was an excellent preservative for lentils and when it was fed to sheep, their flesh became delectably tender.

Perfume was coaxed from its delicate blooms, while its sap was dried and grated liberally over dishes from brains to braised flamingo. Known as “laser”, the condiment was as fundamental to Roman haute cuisine as eating your food horizontally in a toga.

[…]

A coin of Cyrene depicting the stalk of a Silphium plant. (Source: 1889 edition of Principal Coins of the Ancients, plate 35, via Wikimedia)

Indeed, the Romans loved it so much, they referenced their darling herb in poems and songs, and wrote it into great works of literature. For centuries, local kings held a monopoly on the plant, which made the city of Cyrene, at modern Shahhat, Libya, the richest in Africa. Before they gave it away to the Romans, the Greek inhabitants even put it on their money. Julius Caesar went so far as to store a cache (1,500lbs or 680kg) in the official treasury.

But today, silphium has vanished – possibly just from the region, possibly from our planet altogether. Pliny wrote that within his lifetime, only a single stalk was discovered. It was plucked and sent to the emperor Nero as a curiosity sometime around 54-68AD.
With just a handful of stylised images and the accounts of ancient naturalists to go on, the true identity of the Romans’ favourite herb is a mystery. Some think it was driven to extinction, others that it’s still hiding in plain sight as a Mediterranean weed. How did this happen? And could we bring it back?

June 25, 2017

South Africa’s new hate speech laws may carry Apartheid-era legacies

Filed under: Africa, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Martin van Staden reports on post-Apartheid South Africa’s drift back toward repressive rules, veiled by political correctness:

After the end of Apartheid in 1994, nobody would have guessed that South Africa would be making many of the same mistakes as the Apartheid regime only two decades later, from censoring speech to violating agricultural property rights.

In our process of transformation, we were supposed to move away from the Apartheid mentality. Instead, we have doubled down on many of the same policies: the so-called Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill of 2016 is perhaps the gravest threat to freedom of expression which South Africans have ever faced; at least since the Suppression of Communism Act was repealed.

The Hate Speech Bill of 2016

The bill, which is still being debated in Parliament, provides that someone guilty of hate speech can be imprisoned for up to three years, and, if they are convicted of it again, up to 10 years. Given the serious punitive nature of this sanction, you would imagine the bill has a strict definition of “hate speech.” But you would be wrong.

Hate speech is defined as any communication which is insulting toward any person or group, and which demonstrates a clear intention to bring contempt or ridicule based on 17 protected grounds. Such grounds include race, gender, sex, belief, culture, language, gender identity, and occupation or trade. But insult is an extremely low threshold of offense, especially if it is considered with protected characteristics like belief and occupation. In other words, someone can theoretically be imprisoned for saying, “Politicians are thieving liars!”

Recently, the former leader of the opposition tweeted that “not all” of the legacies of colonialism have had detrimental results in South Africa. The ruling party subsequently called on Parliament to fast-track the Hate Speech Bill so instances like that can be dealt with. This signifies that political persecution is not off the table, and that the ruling party has shown its interest in using the proposed law against opponents.

[…]

Apartheid was fundamentally an anti-property rights system masquerading as a Western democracy fighting against Soviet communism. American economist Walter Williams wrote in 1990 that “South Africa’s history has been a centuries-long war on capitalism, private property, and individual rights.”

Duncan Reekie of the University of the Witwatersrand agreed that “Protestations from Pretoria notwithstanding, the South African regime has been one of national socialism.” Indeed, wage boards, price control boards, and spatial planning boards were commonplace in the effort to suppress black South Africans’ desire to engage in the economy on the same terms as whites.

The Suppression of Communism Act was used exclusively for political persecution by the previous regime. Anyone of significance who opposed racist policies in public could be branded as “communists” who wanted to overthrow the government. The Hate Speech Bill will have the same effect, but it will be shielded by the veneer of political correctness. With the new Bill, the government claims to give effect to a democratic mandate – a privilege the Apartheid regime did not enjoy – but the consequences will be substantially the same: a chilling effect throughout the country for anyone who dares to oppose the political class.

June 2, 2017

Ethiopia goes offline

Filed under: Africa, Education, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Cory Doctorow on Ethiopia’s decision to shut down access to the internet “to prevent exam cheating”:

The entire nation of Ethiopia — a corrupt, oligarchic state with the distinction of being “the world’s first turnkey surveillance state” where spy technology from the “free world” is used to spy on the whole country — just dropped off the internet.

The ruling clique says it turned off the country’s internet to prevent Ethiopian students from accessing final exam questions via Facebook groups run by the global Ethiopian diaspora, and indeed, last year’s exams were spoiled by early-circulated exam questions.

But Ethiopia routinely disappears from the world’s internet in response to dissent and protest, and these are never far from the surface in Ethiopia, so the exams might just be a convenient excuse.

It’s an interesting counter to the idea that even authoritarian regimes struggle to turn off their national internet systems, because these are vital to maintaining the elites’ business interests, as well as extractive industries like oil, or other industries like tourism. In Burma and Egypt, totalitarian regimes have wrestled with the question of when and whether to shut down the internet, often pulling the switch after it was too late (for them).

May 15, 2017

Geography and Economic Growth

Filed under: Africa, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 9 Feb 2016

If you look at the African continent, perhaps the first word to come to mind is “enormous.” And that’s true. You could fit most of the United States, China, India, and a lot of Europe, into Africa. But if you compare Africa to Europe, Europe has two to three times the length of coastline that Africa has.

But what does coastline length have to do with anything?

Well, coasts mean access to water.

As benign as water might seem, it’s a major driver of economic growth. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, argued that access to water reduced the cost of trade, and gave merchants access to larger markets. These larger markets incentivized specialization and innovation.

These twin processes ultimately spurred trade activity, and consequently, economic growth.

As an end result, civilization tended to grow wherever trade was easiest.

If you want proof of this, think of a few major cities.

Look at Istanbul, New York, Venice, Hong Kong, London, and similar areas. What do they all have in common? They all sit near a major coast or a major river. In contrast, look at some of the poorest areas in the world—places like Kampala, or Pointe-Noire. These places are all landlocked. Since goods are easier to transport over water than over land, trade in landlocked areas is more expensive.

And what happens when trade is more expensive?

It becomes harder to spark economic growth.

What this all means is economic growth is not only affected by a country’s rules and institutions, but by a country’s natural blessings, or natural hindrances, too. The effects of geography on growth cannot be discounted.

May 7, 2017

Deadly Africa

Filed under: Africa, Environment, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Kim du Toit reposted something he wrote back in 2002 about the dangers to life and limb people face in Africa before you factor in dysfunctional governments, terrorists, and continuing ethnic disputes from hundreds of years ago:

When it comes to any analysis of the problems facing Africa, Western society, and particularly people from the United States, encounter a logical disconnect that makes clear analysis impossible. That disconnect is the way life is regarded in the West (it’s precious, must be protected at all costs etc.), compared to the way life, and death, are regarded in Africa. Let me try to quantify this statement.

In Africa, life is cheap. There are so many ways to die in Africa that death is far more commonplace than in the West. You can die from so many things: snakebite, insect bite, wild animal attack, disease, starvation, food poisoning… the list goes on and on. At one time, crocodiles accounted for more deaths in sub-Saharan Africa than gunfire, for example. Now add the usual human tragedy (murder, assault, warfare and the rest), and you can begin to understand why the life expectancy for an African is low — in fact, horrifyingly low, if you remove White Africans from the statistics (they tend to be more urbanized, and more Western in behavior and outlook). Finally, if you add the horrifying spread of AIDS into the equation, anyone born in sub-Saharan Africa this century will be lucky to reach age forty.

I lived in Africa for over thirty years. Growing up there, I was infused with several African traits — traits which are not common in Western civilization. The almost-casual attitude towards death was one. (Another is a morbid fear of snakes.)

So because of my African background, I am seldom moved at the sight of death, unless it’s accidental, or it affects someone close to me. (Death which strikes at total strangers, of course, is mostly ignored.) Of my circle of about eighteen or so friends with whom I grew up, and whom I would consider “close”, only about eight survive today — and not one of the survivors is over the age of fifty. Two friends died from stepping on landmines while on Army duty in Namibia. Three died in horrific car accidents (and lest one thinks that this is not confined to Africa, one was caused by a kudu flying through a windshield and impaling the guy through the chest with its hoof — not your everyday traffic accident in, say, Florida). One was bitten by a snake, and died from heart failure. Another two also died of heart failure, but they were hopeless drunkards. Two were shot by muggers. The last went out on his surfboard one day and was never seen again (did I mention that sharks are plentiful off the African coasts and in the major rivers?). My experience is not uncommon in South Africa — and north of the Limpopo River (the border with Zimbabwe), I suspect that others would show worse statistics.

The death toll wasn’t just confined to my friends. When I was still living in Johannesburg, the newspaper carried daily stories of people mauled by lions, or attacked by rival tribesmen, or dying from some unspeakable disease (and this was pre-AIDS Africa too) and in general, succumbing to some of Africa’s many answers to the population explosion. Add to that the normal death toll from rampant crime, illness, poverty, flood, famine, traffic, and the police, and you’ll begin to get the idea.

My favorite African story actually happened after I left the country. An American executive took a job over there, and on his very first day, the newspaper headlines read:
“Three Headless Bodies Found”.
The next day: “Three Heads Found”.
The third day: “Heads Don’t Match Bodies”.

You can’t make this stuff up.

April 12, 2017

QotD: Different interpretations of cause and effect

Filed under: Africa, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On December 8, 1979 two Zairean air-force jets approached the airport in Kinshasa, the capital what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The tower radioed the pilots, telling them they couldn’t land; the air-traffic controllers were concerned about low visibility.

But when the pilots were told that they “couldn’t land,” they didn’t think, “I can’t land right now,” they thought, “I can’t land, ever.” So they ejected from their planes, letting two perfectly good Mirage jets crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

These men weren’t fools. Idiots don’t fly jets. It’s just that, for an instant, they were thinking according to an entirely different set of rules about how life works. “Can’t” means “never, ever, possible” according to these rules — not “wait an hour,” or “find a different runway.” And so they hit the eject button.

Longtime readers may recall I got this story from a great book, David Lamb’s The Africans. Lamb went on to observe that many Africans have a slightly different interpretation of cause and effect. In the West, the lesson the average person would take from a near-fatal car crash at high speeds on a hairpin turn would be “Man, that was close. I better not try that again.” But in Africa, Lamb writes, “if an oncoming car has to swerve off the road to avoid his vehicle, and there are no collisions or injuries, the African does not say, ‘Next time I’d better not do that.’”

I’ve heard similar stories about drivers throughout the developing world, particularly in Latin America, where traffic accidents and fatalities are much higher than in more advanced nations — even though the rate of car ownership is much lower.

Jonah Goldberg, “Is Trump Really the Anti-PC Warrior His Fans Make Him Out to Be?”, National Review, 2015-08-15.

March 15, 2017

Sensible reasons to reject a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Africa

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ted Campbell explains why it would not be a good thing for Canada to send a peacekeeping force to Mali (or to anywhere else in Africa right now):

The Globe and Mail, in an editorial, asks the key question:

“Is there a Canadian national interest in sending troops to Mali?”

I suggest that unless and until the Trudeau government can say, “yes,” and can explain that vital interest to most Canadians that sending Canadian soldiers off to Africa on a United Nations operation is problematical. “The Canadian Armed Forces shed blood and lost lives during the decade-long mission in Afghanistan,” the Globe‘s editorial says, “Sending them into a similar campaign in Mali may further Liberal political interests. But does it serve the national interest?

Now, I believe that I can make a sensible, mid to long term case for Canada to be “engaged,” politically, economically and militarily in Africa:

  • Africa will be, after Asia, the “next big deal” for economic growth, trade and, therefore, profits;
  • Canada will want to be involved as a trusted friend when Africa is ready to “blossom” and have an economic “boom” of its own; and
  • Despite Chinese and French incursions there are still plenty of opportunities for Canadian engagement.

In other words, we have interests in Africa; even, perhaps, in the mid to long term, we have vital interests, at that.

I cannot make a case for getting involved in any United Nations mission in Africa. I cannot, even with rose coloured glasses, see one single United Nations mission in Africa that is working, much less succeeding and doing some good.

I’m not opposed to the UN. In fact, I’m one of those who says that if it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it. The current UN is better than the old League of Nations, and some UN agencies, like the International Telecommunications Union, for example, do good work for the whole world and are, alone, worth our entire UN contribution, but we ask too much of the UN and it is neither well enough designed or led or organized or funded to do even a small percentage of what is asked of it. Peacekeeping is one of the things that the UN cannot do well in the 21st century. Peacekeeping was fine when it was ‘invented’ (circa 1948, by Ralph Bunche, and American and Brian Urquhart, a Brit, not by Lester Pearson in 1957, no matter what your ill-educated professors may have told you) but it could not be adapted to situations in which there is:

  • No peace to be kept;
  • A plethora of non-state actors who are not amenable to UN sanctions.

A few days ago I wrote about the risks involved in sending soldiers to Africa. The Globe and Mail‘s editorial just adds some more fuel to that fire.

October 18, 2016

Mimi, Toutou and Fifi – The Utterly Bizarre Battle for Lake Tanganyika I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Africa, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 17 Oct 2016

Check out http://audible.com/thegreatwar for a free trial and a free audiobook from the great selection that Audible has to offer.

This episodes contains images that are orphaned works for which the copyright holder is not known.

The Battle for Lake Tanganyika in German East Africa was one of the most bizarre battles of World War 1. It only really started once the Royal Navy had carried two boats through the jungle and the mountains from Capetown. Their names: Mimi and Toutou. Their commander: Geoffrey Spicer-Simson, probably the weirdest high ranking officer in the entire war.

August 13, 2016

Harjit Sajjan: “Even using the terminology of peacekeeping is not valid at this time”

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Our minister of national defence is on a tour of several African countries, looking at potential deployments for Canadian troops in troubled areas. A positive sign that the government is moving away from their long-standing infatuation with 70s-style “blue beret” peacekeeping missions is the message the minister communicated at the first stop of his tour, as reported in the Globe and Mail by Steven Chase:

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says what Canada will ask its soldiers to do in Africa can no longer be called peacekeeping because the term doesn’t reflect modern demands of stabilizing a conflict zone – something experts say could run the gamut from training other countries’ troops to counterterrorism.

Mr. Sajjan spoke from Ethiopia, the first stop in an eight-day fact-finding mission to Africa, as Ottawa tries to narrow where to deploy soldiers in what it promises will be a return to a major peacekeeping role for Canada.

The Defence Minister acknowledges the job in conflict-ravaged countries is potentially more dangerous these days and said he prefers the phrase “peace support operations” to describe the task Canada is preparing to embrace in one or more places in Africa.

“I think we can definitely say what we used to have as peacekeeping, before, is no longer. We don’t have two parties that have agreed on peace and there’s a peacekeeping force in between,” he told The Globe and Mail in an interview.

“Even using the terminology of peacekeeping is not valid at this time,” he said. “Those peacekeeping days, those realities, do not exist now and we need to understand the reality of today.”

Mr. Sajjan has been directed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations peace operations” – a campaign pledge made by the Liberals, who had accused the Harper government of turning its back on peacekeeping.

I strongly suspect that the Canadian Forces do not currently have the ability to engage in a significant role in Africa, given existing commitments to our NATO allies and the long list of equipment that needs to be replaced to maintain the Forces’ current capabilities. Aside from the big-ticket items for the RCN (replacing the current frigates, destroyers, and logistical support ships), the RCAF (the CF-18 is coming to the end of its service life so a new fighter aircraft is needed soon and we are still flying 1960s-era Sea King helicopters on our ships), there is a long list of boring, everyday equipment that also needs to be budgeted and ordered. The federal government is looking for economies in the defence budget, rather than looking to spend more. Foreign expeditions are very expensive, and Canadians are particularly sensitive to the risk of casualties in distant lands. Minister Sajjan may find a role that Canada can fill that would satisfy the PM’s desire to be seen to be doing more, yet does not run the risk of higher military spending and disproportional danger to our troops, but I don’t expect it to happen.

July 17, 2016

Peacekeeping today is not like the peacekeeping Canadians remember

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Ted Campbell is not in favour of the federal government’s nostalgic view of peacekeeping:

Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS wants us to follow France into the peacekeeping business because modern, 21st century UN peacekeeping can be, in some respects, seen as unwarranted Western interference in the internal affairs of Islamic states. Many Islamic leaders believe and teach that Islam is a complete socio-economic-political ‘package’: all that on needs to live a good life in this world and achieve paradise in the next is to obey the holy Quran. There is no need for laws or courts or institutions or banks or schools or anything else … just obedience, submission, to Islam.

[…]

Let us understand that the United Nations, as currently constituted and managed, is a failure at peacekeeping. It wasn’t always this way … there were times and places ~ Kashmir and Palestine in the 1940s, the Egypt-Israeli borders in 1956 when there was a peace to be kept between belligerents who actually wanted peace, albeit, in the case of Egypt’s Nasser, only until one felt ready for war again in 1967. It began to go wrong in 1960 … with the first UN mission to the Congo. There was no peace to be kept … a UN Force was inserted into a failed state and left to its own devices while a civil war raged around it. The UN used second rate troops (Irish, Malaysian and Swedish) where first rate ones might have done some good and the civil and military leadership, from Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld on down was somewhere between inept and ignored. In fact the UN peacekeeping effort was being used (misused) as a proxy for the larger Cold War. Canada and a few others became proxies for the Western allies; Poland a a few others stood in for the Warsaw Pact members and Sweden and India represented the non-aligned nations. It got worse in Cyprus, although a few lessons about the quality of troops were learned, as the mission devolved into a semi-permanent “holding action” that recognizes the de facto partition of the country. The UN has, literally, become a significant component of the (failing) Greek Cypriot state and the UN force because part of the status quo, making peace even more elusive.

Most UN peacekeeping missions since 1960s have been failures … some abject, others only relatively so. Mostly the UN “kept the peace” as an adjunct of the cold war. There is, in the 21st century, too often, no peace to be kept, especially not anywhere in Africa nor in the Islamic crescent that stretches from the Atlantic coast of North Africa all the way through to Indonesia and the Southern Philippines. and the UN does not want a mandate to make peace. The internal politics of the UN prohibit members from interfering in the “internal” affairs of others ~ notwithstanding what advocates of R2P (Responsibility To Project) (or even more ill considered doctrines like W2I (the Will To Intervene) propose ~ unless government almost totally breaks down. Then the UN may step in, under certain very controlled conditions: in Africa, for example, a robust, useful peacemaking force will not be tolerated, the force must be from the African Union and it must, first and foremost, protect the interests of the failed states neighbours. If the failed state is in “French Africa” then the French may send in the Foreign Legion to protect French interests. And this is the situation into which Justin Trudeau wants to send Canadian soldiers ~ preferably, he suggested during the 2015 election campaign, French speaking female police officers ~ to be UN peacekeepers.

As a quick rule of thumb, you only send in peacekeepers where there is already something resembling a peace to be kept. You don’t send in peacekeepers to create peace. That’s not their role: they’re not equipped or organized (or ever in sufficient strength) to do that.

July 3, 2016

Marines – Schutztruppe – Artillery Sound I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Africa, Europe, Germany, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 Jul 2016

Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1. This time we talk about the German Schutztruppe, the Marines and the sound of artillery shells.

May 23, 2016

History Buffs: Zulu

Filed under: Africa, Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Jul 2015

First ever episode of History Buffs. A film review show dedicated only to reviewing Historical movies

May 15, 2016

The Importance Of Oil – Ethiopian Empire I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Africa, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 14 May 2016

Chair of Wisdom Time again. And this week Indy talks about the importance of oil and that big battle in the Ethiopian Empire you never heard of.

March 15, 2016

German East Africa – World War 1 Colonial Warfare I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Africa, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 14 Mar 2016

The military campaign in German East Africa during World War 1 went on longer than the whole war and thanks to Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his guerilla warfare is now infamous among the theatres of the great war. But what was the history behind German East Africa and was it really a gentleman’s war and what role did the Askari play in it?

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