Published on 20 Apr 2015
Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about World War 1. This week, he is explaining the role of the religious leaders during the war and what role the South American countries played.
April 21, 2015
April 17, 2015
Charlotte Persson looks at what happened to the Viking settlers in Greenland as the Little Ice Age set in:
In the middle of the 13th century the Vikings who had settled in Greenland encountered no less than ten years of harsh and cold winters and summers. The Norsemen, who were living as farmers, bid farewell to many of their cattle during that period.
The Greenland Vikings were also prevented from setting sail to fetch supplies from their homelands in Europe because they didn’t have enough timber to build trading ships. So when Scandinavian traders didn’t happen to pass by they were left entirely on their own.
But this didn’t knock them out; on the contrary they lived with the worsening climate for almost 200 years during what we later would call the Little Ice Age. This is the conclusion of a new Ph.D. thesis.
“The stories we have heard so far about the climate getting worse and the Norsemen disappearing simply don’t hold water. They actually survived for a long time and were far better at adapting than we previously thought,” says the author of the new study, Christian Koch Madsen, Ph.D. student at the National Museum of Denmark.
April 8, 2015
March 31, 2015
Published on 30 Mar 2015
Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again and answers your questions. This time he explains the situation of Latin America during World War 1 and you get to know some of the people behind the camera of our channel.
March 11, 2015
Kevin D. Williamson looks to the not-too-distant past to see how Venezuela got into the economic disaster they’re currently facing:
Venezuela had a good run of it for about five minutes there, at least in public-relations terms. When petroleum prices were booming, all it took was a few gallons of heating oil from Hugo Chávez to buy the extravagant praise of House members, with Representative Chaka Fattah (D., Philadelphia) issuing statements praising Venezuela’s state-run oil company “and the Venezuelan people for their benevolence.” Lest anybody feel creeped out by running political errands for a brutal and repressive caudillo, Joseph Kennedy — son of Senator Robert Kennedy — proclaimed that refusing the strongman’s patronage would be “a crime against humanity.” Kennedy was at the time the director of Citizens Energy, which had a contract to help distribute that Venezuelan heating oil — Boss Hugo was a brute, but he understood American politics.
Celebrities came to sit at his feet, with Sean Penn calling him a “champion” of the world’s poor, Oliver Stone celebrating him as “a great hero,” Antonio Banderas citing his seizure of private businesses as a model to be emulated in the rest of the world, Michael Moore praising his use of oil for political purposes, Danny Glover celebrating him as a “champion of democracy.” His successor, Nicolás Maduro, continued in the Chávez vein, and even as basics such as food and toilet paper disappeared the American Left hailed him as a hero, with Jesse Myerson, Rolling Stone’s fashionable uptown communist, calling his economic program “basically terrific.” Some of the more old-fashioned liberals at The New Republic voiced concern about Venezuela’s sham democracy, its unlimited executive authority, political repression, the hunting down of government critics, the stacking of elections and the government’s perpetrating violence inside polling places — but Myerson insisted that Venezuela’s “electoral system’s integrity puts the U.S.’s to abject shame.” Never mind that opposition leaders there are hauled off to military prison after midnight raids.
Vice President Biden, who can always be counted on to cut straight to the heart of any political question, ran into Maduro in Brazil and, noting the potentate’s thick mane, commented: “If I had your hair, I’d be president of the United States.” Tragically for the Sage of Delaware, hair transplants don’t work that way.
That is all going down the memory hole. The Obama administration has announced economic sanctions on Venezuela’s rulers and its intelligence agents, citing the “erosion of human-rights guarantees” – erosion, as though this were something new, as though Hugo Chávez hadn’t been a tyrant back when President Obama’s ally Representative Fattah was carrying his political water all over the eastern seaboard. In the New York Times’ account of Venezuela’s woes and Maduro’s misrule, there is no mention at all of the critical role the American Left played in lending legitimacy to Chavismo, of the so-called liberals and progressives who denounced legitimate protests against Maduro’s brutality as nefarious U.S.-backed coup attempts, who remained — and remain — silent on the regime’s censorship, political repression, torture, and economic incompetence. William Neuman of the Times did find an economist — a leftist economist, he assures us — who went so far as to say that certain aspects of the Chávez program “needed to be revised or even discarded to set the nation’s economy on the right track.”
February 24, 2015
At sp!ked, Alexander Adams tries to put the Franklin Expedition into a context we can understand:
In May 1845, two Royal Navy ships, HMS Terror and Erebus, embarked from London on a voyage with ambitious aims. The mission would forge a passage through the partially mapped channels of northern Canada and pioneer the Northwest Passage. This route from Greenland to Alaska via the icy channels on the Arctic Circle would open new trading routes and allow vessels to forgo the dangerous and lengthy passage around Cape Horn. The attempt would use new technology pioneered in Britain — coal-fired engines powering propeller screws for locomotion, and tinned food.
The Admiralty decided on a large party in two ships under the command of Arctic veteran Sir John Franklin. Hostile conditions, the use of new technology, and — critically — operating beyond immediate assistance of the few trading forts and whaling stations to the south, meant the expedition was the equivalent of a Victorian-era moon landing. If men, supplies, technology, knowhow or leadership failed, then deaths could be expected. However, experience suggested that if the attempt met insurmountable obstacles there was a fair chance of retreating with only minor casualties, if leadership was decisive enough.
For the purposes of communication, the expedition was supplied with watertight brass tubes to hold written messages, to be left behind in coastal cairns. Provisions for three years were supplied, as it was expected that two overwinterings, locked in sea ice, would have to be borne. Without coal and food depoted ahead, and without a supply ship following the next season, the Admiralty’s plan left Franklin perilously reliant on his own resources.
It became plain, as search parties brought back the few clues, that 129 officers and men had died in the greatest single disaster in Arctic exploration. A rough outline became clear. All had started well but the ships had been woefully underpowered by their engines and relied on their sails. Much of the tinned food — produced by a contractor who was the lowest bidder — turned out to be rotten. A later expedition, using identical tins, discovered that much of their provisions were inedible. Some tins of meat included bone, which reduced the edible content to half of what it should have been. Loose beads of solder may have caused lead poisoning and inadequate preparation of tinned food may have given rise to cases of botulism. Franklin’s ships became beset during their second and third summers, rendering them prey to tidal movements in ice and leaving men dangerously short of supplies. Their margin for survival had been cut to a bare minimum, as evidence of a terse note (the only one ever found) demonstrates. The message said that Franklin had died and survivors were abandoning the ships to head south with rowing boats. It was an impossibly long journey for starving men. (One of those boats — with skeletons — was discovered.)
February 18, 2015
Published on 16 Feb 2015
Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee is one of the most famous admirals of World War One. When the war broke out, he and his East Asian Squadron are stationed in the Pacific. But instead of surrendering to his superior enemies, he manages to reach South America during an audacious cruiser war. At the Battle of Coronel, he ends the legend of the invincible Royal Navy.
January 20, 2015
H/T to Tyler Rogoway, who has a few other photos of Iowa-class battleships moving through the Panama canal.
January 14, 2015
December 26, 2014
The United States has been in a Cold War state of tension with one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere for half a century. The benefits of this strategy are hard to find (and harder to justify), but the drawbacks are pretty stark. The recent move by the Obama administration to move to more normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba may be driven by short-term petty political considerations, but the move is correct and rational on the larger scale. In The Federalist, Tom Nichols tries to talk the conservative base in off the window ledge by pointing out that there’s a strong conservative case as well:
Okay, everyone. Calm down.
There are a lot of reasons to be worried about the president’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba. Not least among them is that this is the least-adept foreign policy team in post-Cold War history (yes, I include the Carter and Bush 43 White Houses in that evaluation), and after six years of being taken to the cleaners by bad regimes, it feels like it’s happening again. It also looks too much like a quid pro quo for the release of an imprisoned American. And it’s being rationalized by the president himself in terms that show little understanding of the origins of the entire policy he’s about to overturn.
With all of that said, it’s still the right thing to do, and conservatives oppose it at their political peril.
Before we go any farther, however, what exactly are we actually talking about? To judge from the reaction of some conservatives, President Obama just proposed to send Fidel Castro a personal masseuse in a bikini stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what will come from this, other than “normalization:” that is, the ability to establish an embassy, carry on diplomatic relations, and negotiate over trade. Congress — dominated by Republicans for the next two years — will have a large say in how all of that proceeds. So it’s important to maintain some perspective here, especially since there is only so much the president can do by fiat.
First and foremost, conservatives need to think carefully about the argument that Cuba is simply too evil a country to have a relationship with us. There is a moral “whataboutism” trap in that position, and liberals will gladly (and rightly) spring it. Many of the people thundering that we cannot even think of dealing with the Castros are the same conservatives who celebrate our massive, and utterly immoral, trade relations with China, a nominally Communist giant whose human rights abuses and mischief in the world dwarf Cuba’s.
Is our indulgence on China only because China is huge? Very well: I also note no similar outrage over our healthy relationship with much smaller Vietnam, a country in which American boys were killed and tortured, often with Chinese weapons and Chinese assistance. Other examples abound.
Yet we normalized relations with both nations. How many of us are wearing clothing with a “made in Vietnam” label right now? (I still can’t get used to that.) Think of it this way: all that cheap junk at your local department store eventually funds nuclear missiles aimed directly at the United States. Are we all ready for a China boycott and closing our Beijing embassy, or is moral outrage reserved only for small nations too broke to buy their way out of our condemnation, however justifiable?
November 1, 2014
A hundred years ago today, the Royal Navy lost the Battle of Coronel to Vice Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee’s squadron of armoured and light cruisers off the coast of Chile. Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock was killed along with 1,570 men when HMS Monmouth and HMS Good Hope were sunk. Public reaction was furious: blame was cast on the Admiralty and especially on the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. The British public fiercely believed that any British ship was more than a match for any foreign vessel, and losing two ships while inflicting no serious damage on the enemy was scandalous.
In the Plymouth Herald, Tristan Nichols explains why Plymouth in particular took the news so badly:
TODAY the figure is hard to comprehend. On November 1, 1914, just months after the start of World War One, the Royal Navy lost two warships and nearly 1,600 lives in the South Atlantic.
The outcome of ‘The Battle of Coronel’, as it would become known, sent shockwaves across Britain, not least Plymouth.
HMS Monmouth was one of the two British cruisers involved in the battle 40 nautical miles off the coast of Chile.
She was Devonport-based and Plymouth-manned.
And every one of the 735 men on board the cruiser died on the cold and stormy seas.
Hundreds more were lost on the other Royal Navy vessel, the Portsmouth-based HMS Good Hope.
The German squadron saw just three men injured during the battle.
The build-up, battle, and ultimate demise of the 4th Cruiser Squadron during that fateful day reads like a film script.
Rear Admiral Sir Christopher (Kit) Cradock led the Royal Navy squadron to hunt down and destroy the feared German East Asia Squadron.
Both sides had reportedly only been expecting to meet a solitary cruiser – but fate would play its hand.
Rear Admiral Cradock, leading two British armoured cruisers, was up against two German armoured cruisers, and a further three light cruisers.
He was reportedly given orders to engage with the enemy, despite outlining his concerns at being outnumbered and outgunned.
According to the history books the two British armoured cruisers were inferior in every respect.
Follow orders he did, and it led to a devastating outcome for the proud British squadron.
It’s not quite as clear that Cradock followed all of his orders, as Churchill had specifically instructed him to keep the old battleship HMS Canopus with his squadron at all times until a modern armoured cruiser, HMS Defence, was able to join him (Defence, however, had been recalled part-way to the Falklands). Instead, Cradock had detached Canopus to defend the coaling station in the Falkland Islands before crossing into the Pacific, headed toward Valparaiso. Without Canopus, Cradock was totally out-gunned by von Spee’s ships.
Wikipedia reports a Canadian connection with the battle:
The Coronel Memorial Library at Royal Roads Military College, now Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada was named in honour of the four Canadian midshipmen who perished in HMS Good Hope at the Battle of Coronel.
Update: The Royal Canadian Navy is marking the anniversary.
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will mark the Battle of Coronel on November 1st. This battle saw the first Canadian military casualties of the First World War, and the first ever casualties in the history of the RCN. RCN personnel serving today salute the following shipmates from the past:
- Midshipman Malcolm Cann, 19, of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia;
- Midshipman John V. W. Hatheway, 19, of Fredericton, New Brunswick;
- Midshipman William Archibald Palmer, 20, of Halifax, Nova Scotia; and
- Midshipman Arthur Wiltshire Silver, 20, of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
All four RCN midshipmen died in the Battle of Coronel, which took place on November 1, 1914 off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel.
October 30, 2014
It’s not exactly a revelation that what politicians call “free trade” agreements are usually tightly constrained, regulated, and micro-managed trade: almost the exact inverse of what a genuine free trade deal would look like. This is primarily because politicians and diplomats have hijacked the original term to describe modern mercantilism. In The Diplomat, Ji Xianbai looks at how so-called free trade negotiations are little more than diplomatic beat-downs of the weaker parties by the stronger:
The classic mercantilism, the one associated with the idea that the precious metals obtained through a favorable balance of foreign trade were essential to a powerful nation, may be historically obsolete. The core of the mercantilist view, namely that self-interested states maximize economic development by optimizing political control to strengthen national power, is very much alive and well. Indeed, the vitality of mercantilism as a state of mind may have infiltrated every corner of the international political economy. If one considers the essence of mercantilism through Robert Gilpin’s definition – the attempt of governments to manipulate economic arrangements in order to maximize their own interests – multiple examples immediately come to mind: Japan’s “economic totalitarianism” system in which the entire society was united in deterring foreign competition in the postwar period, China’s ascendance since 1980s through an export-led development mode underpinned by a deliberately undervalued currency, and Germany’s unprecedented trade surplus accrued from the stringent austerity imposed on its economy to sustain competitiveness in the aftermath of the euro crisis.
Compared to those national triumphs of classic mercantilism, there is a less visible showroom, but one in which mercantilism presents itself over and over again in the form of legal mercantilism. This would be free trade agreements (FTAs), negotiations of which are usually kept in the dark. In bilateral FTA negotiations, legal mercantilist governments endeavor to impose their own (or desirable) trade rules and economic policies on other sovereign countries, usually with the aid of a combination of economic immensity, political hegemony, and asymmetric trade dependence, to create a sort of “international best practice,” favorable trade rules, and legal gains that can be leveraged and multilateralized at a regional and/or global level. The “competitive liberalization” strategy aptly pursued by the U.S. since 2002 is one such legal mercantilist policy, which aims to create another “gold standard” in international trade standard setting to project U.S.-friendly economic policies all over the world. In short, the U.S. expects the trade policies of other nations to follow those of the U.S., in the same way that their currencies used to peg to the U.S. dollar.
The U.S.–Peru FTA (PTPA) marks the very first success of Washington’s attempts to subordinate other countries’ sovereignty to its own national interest by squeezing non-trade-related provisions into a bilateral trade liberalization agreement and overriding foreign national laws. To provide a level playing field for American companies, the PTPA lays out detailed measures that Peru is obliged to take to govern its forest sector. The Forest Annex of the PTPA requires Peru to set up an independent forestry oversight body and even enact new Forestry and Wildlife Laws to legalize key provisions of PTPA. The U.S.–Colombia FTA (CTPA)’s labor provisions represent an “even more blatant assault on another country’s sovereignty.” Meanwhile, Colombia was forced to agree to establish a dedicated labor ministry; endorse legislations outlawing interference in the exercise of labor rights; double the size of its labor inspectorate; and set up a phone hotline and an internet-based system to deal with labor complaints. Examples of similar provisions abound: Don’t forget that the U.S.-Panama FTA has “helped” revamp Panama’s tax policy on behalf of Panamanians.
October 5, 2014
For a change, it isn’t anything he said:
Top Gear‘s crew has had to abandon their cars at the roadside and flee Argentina after being pelted with stones. The incident happened after it emerged they were using a vehicle with a number plate that apparently refers to the Falklands War.
A Porsche with the registration number H982 FKL, which some people suggested could refer to the Falklands conflict of 1982, was among those abandoned. BBC bosses have said the number plate was merely a coincidence and was not chosen deliberately, but it led to protests in Argentina, including a demonstration by a group of war veterans who protested outside the hotel used by the show team.
The executive producer of Top Gear, Andy Wilman, said: “Top Gear production purchased three cars for a forthcoming programme; to suggest that this car was either chosen for its number plate, or that an alternative number plate was substituted for the original, is completely untrue.”
Even if Wilman is dissembling about the license plate … just how flipping sensitive do you have to be to object to a sort-of abbreviation, in a foreign language, in the characters on a license plate? Who would ordinarily notice or care what the license plate may or may not hint at, unless someone is busy trying to stir up trouble? That said, Top Gear thrives on controversy, so it’s quite possible that they hoped they’d draw some attention, but probably not to the extent of being forced out of the country.
Update: Clarkson is now accusing the Argentine government of setting a trap for the Top Gear film crew.
The presenter was said to have infuriated locals by driving through South America in a Porsche with the numberplate H982 FKL, seen as a goading reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict.
However, Clarkson said the plate was “not the issue” — he claimed it was an unfortunate coincidence and that he removed it two days into the trip — and blamed the state government for orchestrating an ambush by mobs armed with pickaxe handles, paving stones and bricks.
“There is no question in my mind that we walked into a trap,” Clarkson said.
“We were English (apart from one Aussie camera guy and a Scottish doctor” and that was a good enough reason for the state government to send 29 people into a night filled with rage and flying bricks.”
He claimed the crew were “plainly herded into an ambush” and said: “Make no mistake, lives were at stake.”
The team were confronted at their hotel by a group claiming to be war veterans.
“Richard Hammond, James May and I bravely hid under the beds in a researcher’s room while protesters went through the hotel looking for us,” Clarkson said.
They then fled by plane to Buenos Aires — having “rounded up the girls” on the team — leaving the rest of their crew behind.
The crew were forced to make a gruelling six-hour trek to the Chilean border, abandoning the Porsche and their camera equipment at the side of the road.
September 18, 2014
Another example that I have encountered repeatedly is the Columbus myth, the belief that the difference between Columbus and those who argued against his voyage was that he knew the world was round and they thought it was flat. It is a widely believed story, but it is not only false, it is very nearly the opposite of the truth. A spherical earth had been orthodox cosmology ever since classical antiquity. The difference between Columbus and his critics was that they knew how big around the earth was, they knew how wide Asia was, they could subtract the one number from the other, hence they could calculate that he would run out of food and water long before he got to his intended destination. Columbus, in contrast, combined a much too small estimate for the circumference of the earth with a much too large figure for the width of Asia in order to convince himself that the difference was a short enough distance to make his planned voyage possible.
Why is this wildly ahistorical account so widely believed? Because it lets moderns feel superior to all those ignorant people in the past.
I could offer other examples of the same pattern, beliefs about people in the past inconsistent with the historical evidence, based on and supporting the unstated assumption of our superiority to them. It is the same motive that makes men believe they are superior to women, women that they are superior to men, Americans that they are superior to foreigners, Frenchmen that they are superior to everyone. Feeling superior feels good, and the less likely you are to confront the people you feel superior to, the easier it is to maintain it.
Men often meet women, women men, Americans foreigners, Frenchmen non-French, which can be a problem. Believing in your superiority to people long dead is safer.
David Friedman, “A Modern Conceit”, Ideas, 2014-09-16.
July 10, 2014
How bad is the Argentinian economy right now? So bad that middle class Argentine tourists in Brazil eat at soup kitchens, according to the Wall Street Journal‘s Miriam Jordan:
The state-funded Citizen Restaurant in downtown Rio is accustomed to serving a balanced meal at an unbeatable price to about 5,000 poor residents of this city each day. During the World Cup, however, this cafeteria has been catering to another clientele as well: middle-class Argentines.
“We serve homeless people, drug addicts, blue-collar workers and retirees,” said Jose Barbosa, Rio de Janeiro state coordinator for food security. “This World Cup we have been welcoming Argentine soccer fans, too.”
With the value of the Argentine peso deeply eroded amid the country’s economic woes, many Argentines who have flocked here to root for their soccer team […] say they’re counting every Brazilian real they spend — and hunting for bargains. On Monday, dozens of Argentines lined up alongside Brazilians to buy lunch at the cafeteria, where a meal of black beans, white rice, salad and choice of meatballs or chicken sausage cost 1 real, or about 40 U.S. cents.
“Rio is very expensive — that’s why I am here,” said Fernando Castillo, a 24-year-old bartender from Buenos Aires. With gusto, he dug into his plate of food, which sat on a plastic-blue tray beside a cup of guava juice and a fresh orange for desert, both included in the price. “This is perfect,” he said, “especially at this price.”
“The generous portion keeps us filled all day,” added his cousin, Thomas Castillo.
To save on accommodations and flights, many Argentines drove to Brazil. In Rio, their campers and cars occupied prime beachfront parking spots until the city evicted them.
It then allowed them to park vehicles and pitch tents in a vast parking lot downtown that abuts the permanent bleachers where Rio’s samba schools perform during the annual carnival celebrations.
Word spread quickly at these parking lots that Citizen Restaurant, within walking distance of the Argentine encampment, offered good Brazilian fare at a bargain-basement price in a clean, safe environment. “It started with 10 of them one day, then 50 of them came and now we’re seeing about 200 Argentines each day,” said Ricardo Chaves, the eatery’s administrator.