Published on 30 Jul 2015
After Russia’s Great Retreat and the defeat on the Eastern Front, the Russian Army is demoralized and even revolution is in the air. Germany is fanning the revolutionary flames by sending Bolshevik prisoners of war back to Russia – equipped with money to support the Bolshevik cause. Meanwhile, the the war is continuing on the Western Front. Even small skirmishes are turning into atrocious battles with little gain for either side. A great offensive is not in sight.
July 31, 2015
Earlier this month, Sarah Hoyt explained how a time-traveller from the (recent) past might be able to handle the changes encountered on visiting our modern world:
Yesterday some point was raised about how an early twentieth century person would react to the modern day.
Well, give them some years to adapt. I know. You see, I am a time traveler.
I think I have mentioned in the past that I was reading a book on the Middle Ages (the Time Traveler’s Guide to the Middle Ages, I think) and kept coming across things that I went “so?” on. Because they were the same conditions I grew up in.
It’s hard to explain, truly, because we had buses and cars (not many cars. For instance there were two vans and one car in the village. When I had a breathing crisis in the middle of the night (every few months or so till I was six) we had to knock on the door of the grocer across the street who — poor man, may he rest in peace, he died with Alzheimer’s — is as responsible as my parents for my still being here. He would throw on clothes at any hour of the day or night and drive us to emergency in the city, then wait with my parents until he found out if I’d be sent back home or kept on oxygen.
We also had telephones. In the grocery store. If something dire happened to one of the relatives overseas, they’d call, and so when we got the knock on the door and “call for” we knew it was bad news. Only worse news was a telegram. Mind you, my brother used that phone to call in song requests to request programs on the radio. (Programa de pedidos.)
Oh, yeah, we had radios. Everyone had a radio, even my grandparents, and had had them from the beginning of the century. There were dead tube radios in the attics, which is how I built myself my first radio. (“Dad, I want a radio.” “Good, you can have one.” And then he went back to reading Three Men In A Boat. I’m not actually joking.)
And then there were televisions. Well, every coffee shop had a TV, which is how they attracted the after-dinner crowd who, for cultural reasons, were mostly male. Then again the nearest coffee shop was a mile away. Through ill-lit streets. So, yeah.
My godmother and the housekeeper for the earl’s “farm house” catercorner from us had TVs. We often went to watch TV with the housekeeper, when the earl and his family wasn’t in (which was 99% of the time.) And all I have to say about my godmother’s door pane is that she really shouldn’t have gone on vacation at the time of the moon landing. And besides we cleaned up and left her money for the replacement. (Sheesh.)
I not only didn’t see a dishwasher till I was 12 (I think) but, having heard of them, I imagined them kind of like the robot diners in Simak. Arms come out the wall and wash dishes.
I was by no means the person from the most backward environment to become an exchange student. I certainly didn’t come from as backward a place as my host-parents expected (look, host-mom was descended from Portuguese. What she didn’t realize was that it had changed since her grandma’s stories.) They showed me how to flush the toilet…
However there were myriad culture shocks. The all-day TV, for instance. (I watched for two days solid, then decided it wasn’t my thing.) But mostly, at that time, the culture shock was the prosperity. My host mother bought a small TV for the kitchen on a whim, at a time when, in Portugal, you’d still have to save for years to buy ANY TV. Or the things considered necessary. We had patio furniture, though I don’t think anyone but me EVER went outside. (Not to blame them. Ohio has two seasons: Deep Freeze and Sauna.)
The refrigerator. When I came over we had a fridge. We got a fridge when I was ten. But a) it was the size of a dorm fridge. b) mom was still in the habit of shopping every day. So the morning was devoted to shopping for the food for lunch/dinner. The main thing we used our fridge for was ice-cubes, one per drink, because more than that might kill you.
My host family shopped once a week, and kept stuff in the deep freezer, so you didn’t need to run out to get food every day.
July 30, 2015
Published on 29 Apr 2015
Stary Olsa performing “Californication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers for Belarusian TV-show “Legends. Live” on ONT channel.
Produced by Mediacube Production. (Minsk, Belarus)
H/T to Open Culture.
July 29, 2015
Published on 20 Jun 2015
Justinian arose from humble roots, the nephew of an illiterate pig farmer named Justin. Justin joined the army and rose to become leader of the palace guard, then took his nephew under his wing and made sure that he was well educated. When Emperor Anastasius died, Justin used his position (and his standing army inside Constantinople) to claim the crown for himself. His nephew guided the early years of his reign, helping Justin secure support both in the capitol and abroad. When Justin died, rule of the Byzantine Empire passed to the young Justinian, who had grand ambitions to restore its waning glory. It also freed him to marry Theodora, a famous actress who was far beneath his social station, and who would also rise from her humble beginnings to become a revered empress.
July 28, 2015
Published on 27 Jul 2015
It’s been a year, since we started following the First World War, and still no end of the bloodshed is in sight. “A year of battles“ had begun and total war had commenced and was spreading around the world. Russia was no longer gaining ground on the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Armies, instead it was fighting on its own territory, constantly under fire and forced to retreat. The allies had hoped for a quick win after storming Gallipoli, instead the catastrophical fighting was dragging on. Constantly being at the Germans mercy in the skies and on the sea. Daily men and means were lost, while the hope of developing an innovation, that would gain a decisive advantage still lingered. For all of you who joined The Great War recently, or you who would like a summary to recall the last six months, this is part two of our Recap reaching from February to July 1915.
In Nautilis, Adam Piore talks about the project to thoroughly map Icelanders’ DNA:
In the ninth century there was a Norwegian Viking named Kveldulf, so big and strong that no man could defeat him. He sailed the seas in a long-ship and raided and plundered towns and homesteads of distant lands for many years. He settled down to farm, a very wealthy man.
Kveldulf had two sons who grew up to become mighty warriors. One joined the service of King Harald Tangle Hair. But in time the King grew fearful of the son’s growing power and had him murdered. Kveldulf vowed revenge. With his surviving son and allies, Kveldulf caught up with the killers, and wielding a double-bladed ax, slew 50 men. He sent the paltriest survivors back to the king to recount his deed and fled toward the newly settled realm of Iceland. Kveldulf died on the journey. But his remaining son Skallagrim landed on Iceland’s west coast, prospered, and had children.
Skallagrim’s children had children. Those children had children. And the blood and genes of Kveldulf the Viking and Skallagrim his son were passed down the ages. Then, in 1949, in the capital of Reykjavik, a descendent named Kari Stefansson was born.
Like Kveldulf, Stefansson would grow to be a giant, 6’5”, with piercing eyes and a beard. As a young man, he set out for the distant lands of the universities of Chicago and Harvard in search of intellectual bounty. But at the dawn of modern genetics in the 1990s, Stefansson, a neurologist, was lured back to his homeland by an unlikely enticement — the very genes that he and his 300,000-plus countrymen had inherited from Kveldulf and the tiny band of settlers who gave birth to Iceland.
Stefansson had a bold vision. He would create a library of DNA from every single living descendent of his nation’s early inhabitants. This library, coupled with Iceland’s rich trove of genealogical data and meticulous medical records, would constitute an unparalleled resource that could reveal the causes — and point to cures — for human diseases.
In 1996, Stefansson founded a company called Decode, and thrust his tiny island nation into the center of the burgeoning field of gene hunting. “Our genetic heritage is a natural resource,” Stefansson declared after returning to Iceland. “Like fish and hot pools.”
July 26, 2015
Published on 20 Feb 2015
‘Tracker’ by Mark Knopfler available now.
“What bicycle did you say this was of yours?” asked George.
Harris told him. I forget of what particular manufacture it happened to be; it is immaterial.
“Are you sure?” persisted George.
“Of course I am sure,” answered Harris. “Why, what’s the matter with it?”
“Well, it doesn’t come up to the poster,” said George, “that’s all.”
“What poster?” asked Harris.
“The poster advertising this particular brand of cycle,” explained George. “I was looking at one on a hoarding in Sloane Street only a day or two before we started. A man was riding this make of machine, a man with a banner in his hand: he wasn’t doing any work, that was clear as daylight; he was just sitting on the thing and drinking in the air. The cycle was going of its own accord, and going well. This thing of yours leaves all the work to me. It is a lazy brute of a machine; if you don’t shove, it simply does nothing: I should complain about it, if I were you.”
When one comes to think of it, few bicycles do realise the poster. On only one poster that I can recollect have I seen the rider represented as doing any work. But then this man was being pursued by a bull. In ordinary cases the object of the artist is to convince the hesitating neophyte that the sport of bicycling consists in sitting on a luxurious saddle, and being moved rapidly in the direction you wish to go by unseen heavenly powers.
Generally speaking, the rider is a lady, and then one feels that, for perfect bodily rest combined with entire freedom from mental anxiety, slumber upon a water-bed cannot compare with bicycle-riding upon a hilly road. No fairy travelling on a summer cloud could take things more easily than does the bicycle girl, according to the poster. Her costume for cycling in hot weather is ideal. Old-fashioned landladies might refuse her lunch, it is true; and a narrowminded police force might desire to secure her, and wrap her in a rug preliminary to summonsing her. But such she heeds not. Uphill and downhill, through traffic that might tax the ingenuity of a cat, over road surfaces calculated to break the average steam roller she passes, a vision of idle loveliness; her fair hair streaming to the wind, her sylph-like form poised airily, one foot upon the saddle, the other resting lightly upon the lamp. Sometimes she condescends to sit down on the saddle; then she puts her feet on the rests, lights a cigarette, and waves above her head a Chinese lantern.
Less often, it is a mere male thing that rides the machine. He is not so accomplished an acrobat as is the lady; but simple tricks, such as standing on the saddle and waving flags, drinking beer or beef-tea while riding, he can and does perform. Something, one supposes, he must do to occupy his mind: sitting still hour after hour on this machine, having no work to do, nothing to think about, must pall upon any man of active temperament. Thus it is that we see him rising on his pedals as he nears the top of some high hill to apostrophise the sun, or address poetry to the surrounding scenery.
Occasionally the poster pictures a pair of cyclists; and then one grasps the fact how much superior for purposes of flirtation is the modern bicycle to the old-fashioned parlour or the played-out garden gate. He and she mount their bicycles, being careful, of course, that such are of the right make. After that they have nothing to think about but the old sweet tale. Down shady lanes, through busy towns on market days, merrily roll the wheels of the “Bermondsey Company’s Bottom Bracket Britain’s Best,” or of the “Camberwell Company’s Jointless Eureka.” They need no pedalling; they require no guiding. Give them their heads, and tell them what time you want to get home, and that is all they ask. While Edwin leans from his saddle to whisper the dear old nothings in Angelina’s ear, while Angelina’s face, to hide its blushes, is turned towards the horizon at the back, the magic bicycles pursue their even course.
And the sun is always shining and the roads are always dry. No stern parent rides behind, no interfering aunt beside, no demon small boy brother is peeping round the corner, there never comes a skid. Ah me! Why were there no “Britain’s Best” nor “Camberwell Eurekas” to be hired when we were young?
Or maybe the “Britain’s Best” or the “Camberwell Eureka” stands leaning against a gate; maybe it is tired. It has worked hard all the afternoon, carrying these young people. Mercifully minded, they have dismounted, to give the machine a rest. They sit upon the grass beneath the shade of graceful boughs; it is long and dry grass. A stream flows by their feet. All is rest and peace.
That is ever the idea the cycle poster artist sets himself to convey — rest and peace.
But I am wrong in saying that no cyclist, according to the poster, ever works. Now I come to reflect, I have seen posters representing gentlemen on cycles working very hard — over-working themselves, one might almost say. They are thin and haggard with the toil, the perspiration stands upon their brow in beads; you feel that if there is another hill beyond the poster they must either get off or die. But this is the result of their own folly. This happens because they will persist in riding a machine of an inferior make. Were they riding a “Putney Popular” or “Battersea Bounder,” such as the sensible young man in the centre of the poster rides, then all this unnecessary labour would be saved to them. Then all required of them would be, as in gratitude bound, to look happy; perhaps, occasionally to back-pedal a little when the machine in its youthful buoyancy loses its head for a moment and dashes on too swiftly.
You tired young men, sitting dejectedly on milestones, too spent to heed the steady rain that soaks you through; you weary maidens, with the straight, damp hair, anxious about the time, longing to swear, not knowing how; you stout bald men, vanishing visibly as you pant and grunt along the endless road; you purple, dejected matrons, plying with pain the slow unwilling wheel; why did you not see to it that you bought a “Britain’s Best” or a “Camberwell Eureka”? Why are these bicycles of inferior make so prevalent throughout the land?
Or is it with bicycling as with all other things: does Life at no point realise the Poster?
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
July 25, 2015
Daniel J. Mahoney reviews Havel: A Life, by Michael Zantovsky:
Michael Zantovsky has written a remarkable book about a complex and genuinely admirable human being. Zantovsky, a long-time friend and sometime press secretary to Václav Havel, went on to become Czech ambassador to Washington and to the Court of St. James in London. He has intimate knowledge of Havel and writes with verve and clarity. He freely admits to “loving” Havel, even as he maintains his critical distance and avoids anything resembling hagiography. Zantovsky is aided in this seemingly impossible task by his experience as a clinical psychologist, which allows him to combine admiration with detachment and remarkable descriptive powers. Unlike so many other critical accounts inspired by suspicion and anti-elitism, his “loving” but measured account leaves Havel’s greatness undiminished.
As Zantovsky shows, Havel was “one of the more fascinating politicians of the last century” even as he was much more than a politician. He ably explores Havel’s multiple roles as writer, dramatist, moralist, dissident, and anti-totalitarian theoretician. The book also captures Havel’s myriad “contradictions,” which were never too far from the surface. A born leader who was kind, polite, humorous, and self-effacing, he was also a “bundle of nerves,” prone to depression and self-medication, and to “sometimes ill-considered sexual adventures.” Havel’s admirers are obliged to confront that latter point. This moralist did not readily apply moral criteria to affairs of the heart and was sometimes promiscuous in ways that belie conventional morality and religious principles. He seems to have at least partly bought into the radically “individualist” ethos of the 1960s, at least as regards “personal” morality. Zantovsky provides an insightful analysis of the dissident culture of the sixties and seventies, which was in most respects admirable, even as it defended sexual “freedom” as a venue for individual autonomy in an order dominated by totalitarian repression and the erosion of individuality.
Sexual indiscretions aside, Havel was an intensely spiritual man who didn’t adhere to any religion. Despite his admiration for Pope John Paul II and his prison friendship with the future cardinal archbishop of Prague, Dominik Duka, he “did not die a Roman Catholic.” But he respected religion and even attended secret masses in prison. In his voluminous writings and speeches, he upheld a quasi-theistic “conception of being” and an understanding of “responsibility rooted in the memory of Being.” In Havel’s philosophical conception, everything we do is remembered, “recorded,” by “being” itself. This was Havel’s equivalent of immortality; it provided cosmic grounds or support for moral responsibility. These spiritual convictions, bordering on New Age philosophy, were a staple of Havel’s speeches at home and abroad during his years as president first of Czechoslovakia and then of the Czech Republic.
Strategy Page on the (long overdue) inclusion of Gurkha troops in the British army’s elite Special Air Services (SAS) units:
It was recently revealed that the British SAS commandos have, since about 2010 recruited a dozen Gurkhas. The SAS, who were the original modern commandos and were first formed during World War II, are a very selective and elite organization. There are only about 200-300 SAS operators active and several years ago it was decided to recruit some Gurkhas. What was unusual about this was that the Gurkhas are not British and it is very rare for commando organizations to recruit foreigners. The Gurkhas are different in that they have served Britain loyally for a long time. While the Gurkhas are native to Nepal (a small country north of India) for two centuries Britain has recruited Gurkhas from the Gurkha tribes. This was mainly because Gurkhas have an outstanding reputation for military skills including discipline, bravery and all round kick-ass soldiering. Having served in the British Army, most can speak good English and all are familiar with British weapons, tactics and military customs.
There are currently 3,500 Gurkhas serving in the British army, and recruiting more is not a problem. Because of high unemployment in Nepal, a job in the British army is like winning the lottery. British military pay is more than 30 times what a good job in Nepal will get you. There are over sixty applicants for each of the few hundred openings each year. The men who don’t make it into the British army, can try getting into the Indian Army Gurkha units. There are about ten times as many Gurkhas in the Indian army, but the pay is only a few times what one could make in Nepal, and the fringe benefits are not nearly as good. Then again, you’re closer to home.
When the SAS quietly sought Gurkha recruits they found fifty willing to try out. A dozen of these passed the screening and survived the training. That’s a slightly higher pass rate than the usual SAS volunteers (British citizens serving in the army or Royal Marines). This was not surprising because Gurkhas have an outstanding military record. Such mercenary duty is now a tradition in the Gurkha tribes, where warriors, and things like loyalty and courage, have been held in high esteem for centuries. Nepal was never conquered by the British, although they did fight a war with the colonial British army in the early 19th century.
July 24, 2015
Published on 23 Jul 2015
This week Russia premieres her tactics of “Scorched Earth”. A new strategy of burning their own land is to avoid enemies profiting from their conquests. Russia had been retreating from the German and Austro-Hungarian armies for nearly three months now. Continuously losing huge areas of land and hundreds of thousands of men on the Eastern Front. As a consequence, millions of civilians had to flee their homes. At the same time allied troops at Gallipoli are weakened by infections and disease due to lack of hygiene and heat while Italy repeatedly failed to take out Austrian strongpoints.
Katherine Timpf on the beleaguered organizers of the annual Glasgow Free Pride event:
The organizers of Free Pride Glasgow in Scotland have hit a snag in their mission to plan a totally inclusive event: Some activists think drag queens are offensive to transgender people, others think banning drag queens is offensive to transgender drag queens, and still others think allowing only transgender drag queens is offensive to cisgender drag queens.
Although drag performances had been part of Free Pride Glasgow for years, the event organizers announced in a statement on Saturday that they would not be allowing them this year because some transgender individuals found “some drag performance, particularly cis drag,” to be offensive because it “hinges on the social view of gender and making it into a joke.”
In the original statement, the organizers maintained that since they felt it would “not be appropriate to ask any prospective drag acts whether or not they identified as trans,” they would just cancel drag performances altogether. You know, just to make sure that no one would be uncomfortable. One problem: The attempt at appeasing transgender people who are offended by drag performers wound up offending transgender people who are drag performers. Whoops.
It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations. He was an extreme exemplar of that Edwardian social category, the club bore who is forever explaining some pet project to the man in the next chair. Small wonder that the prospect of being buttonholed by the Kaiser over lunch or dinner, when escape was impossible, struck fear into the hearts of so many European royals.
Wilhelm’s interventions greatly exercised the men of the German foreign ministry, but they did little to shape the course of German policy. Indeed it may in part have been a deepening sense of impotence and disconnection from the real levers of power that fired up Wilhelm’s recurring fantasies about future world wars between Japan and the USA, invasions of Puerto Rico, global jihad against the British Empire, a German protectorate over China and so on. These were the blue-sky scenarios of an inveterate geopolitical fantasist, not policies as such. And whenever a real conflict seemed imminent, Wilhelm pulled in his horns and quickly found reasons why Germany could not possibly go to war. […] Wilhelm could talk tough, but when trouble loomed he tended to turn and run for cover. He would do exactly that during the July Crisis of 1914. “It is a curious thing,” Jules Cambon, French ambassador in Berlin, observed in a letter to a senior official at the French foreign ministry in May 1912, “to see how this man, so sudden, so reckless and impulsive in words, is full of caution and patience in action.”
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
July 23, 2015
David Warren, earlier this month, on the slow-motion financial, economic, and political disaster that is modern-day Greece:
Now seriously, gentle reader, we are being reminded that there is truly no way out — no foreseeable practical and material escape — from the Nanny State web we have woven. Except by catastrophe, and/or miracle. My fascination with Greece is, as I have said, to see what happens as that state breaks down. Greece is unrepresentative in some ways; she never was a truly Western country, and thus even her way of abandoning the Christian faith is different from the Western. Since the West freed her from the Infidel Turk, Greece has had the luxury to pick and choose between spiritual destinies. The West offered three: the Catholic, the Protestant, and the Revolutionary. Greece chose to dress her post-Byzantine, Orthodox self in the robes of Marianne, goddess of fake Liberty. They don’t fit, can’t, and she has experienced one wardrobe malfunction after another. Whereas the French, whom she most likes to emulate, at least know how to carry off satanic modernism in style.
Notwithstanding, the material facts of Nanny State are universal, and Greece can now serve as an illustration of their consequences — for the simple reason that she has made more mistakes, faster, than any other European country.
My fondest hope was that the failure of Greece would provoke a genuine re-assessment of the European Union. My worst fear is that it would instead make Europe’s commissars circle their wagon (the EU flag unintentionally represents this), and advance the continental nannyism in the vain belief that they can somehow save it. This, I observe, is what most likely happens. Or to put this another way, for the third time in a century, Europe has embarked on a mission of self-destruction, and will not turn back.
The correct response, to my humble mind, would have been on two fronts. First, to acknowledge that Greece can’t pay, and therefore write off the debts. Let them start again from scratch, according to their lights, providing whatever humanitarian aid can be afforded, but making clear it is a gift, and therefore delivering it through visibly European (and North American) agencies. Never let anyone think he is receiving gifts by right, and thus confuse gifts with payment. But don’t kick Greece out of anything; they have as much right to use euros while unwinding as the Argentines had to use U.S. dollars through their last bankruptcy. In defiance of post-modern sentimentalism, I would say it is possible to be both charitable, and firm.
Second, to begin a peaceful disassembly of most of the pan-European scheme, including the euro currency, which doesn’t and can’t work. Restore marks, francs, lire, pesetas; but also gradually downsize the Brussels bureaucracy to what it can and did do reasonably well — as a clearing house for trade transactions. This would be sane, now the ambition of a “European nation” is proved to have been foolish in itself. It would be insane, politically, to leave it to the member countries’ respective nationalist lunatics to achieve the same end by jingo, with the violence that follows inevitably from that.
It is in this greater (political, not religious) light that I think another bailout for Greece is a horror. It means Europe’s politicians are accelerating down a blind alley — the political equivalent of “the spirit of Vatican II.”
Published on 14 Dec 2014
Stary Olsa performing Deep Purple – Child In Time!
Produced by Mediacube Production. (Minsk, Belarus)
H/T to Open Culture.