Published on 4 Feb 2016
The preparations for the huge German offensive at Verdun are almost complete. Thousands of artillery pieces are moved, millions shells brought to the front. Erich von Falkenhayn would soon unleash is offensive on the Western Front. At the same time, Russia headed south to the Caucasus once more in search for a desperately needed victory against the Ottomans.
February 6, 2016
February 5, 2016
Popular concerns are often weirdly unrelated to actual circumstances. It was only in the 1960s, after the percentage of Americans failing to complete secondary school had been falling for decades and had reached an historic low, that Americans discovered the problem of “high school dropouts.” Political and economic conditions in France steadily improved in the decades leading up to the French Revolution; as Tocqueville explained, expectations rose faster than conditions could improve, so more humane government was accompanied by growing dissatisfaction over “despotism.” A similar process may underlie contemporary hysteria over “intimate partner violence.”
Many have commented on the “irony” that the most pampered women in history are the ones complaining most about oppression. Perhaps we should consider whether this does not represent an irony but a direct causal relation: whether modern woman complains of her lot because — rather than in spite of — its being so favorable.
Writer Jack Donovan has made an ethological argument in favor of such an interpretation. Bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees, are physically not very different from other chimps, but they are now classed as a separate species because of radical differences in their behavior. Bonobo males are not very aggressive. They compete less for status than do male chimps, and they do not compete at all for mates. Sex is promiscuous, and males are not possessive. Homosexual mating is common. All parenting is done by mothers. Female bonds are stronger and more enduring than male bonds. In short, bonobo society is a feminist paradise.
Chimpanzee behavior is the opposite of bonobo behavior in almost every respect. Male chimps form hierarchical gangs and compete constantly for status and access to females. They are violent and territorial, forming alliances both to defend their own territory and raid that of other chimpanzee bands. They kill stray males from other bands when the opportunity presents itself. They push females around, and females are expected to display submission to males. Homosexuality is uncommon among them. Chimpanzee social behavior is a feminist’s worst nightmare.
Evolutionary theory would lead us to look for a difference in the living environments of bonobos and chimps to which their radically different behavior could represent adaptations. And the primatologists have found such a difference: chimps must compete with other species, especially gorillas, for food. The bonobos live in a food-rich, gorilla-free environment where the living is easy. It is this lack of competitors which makes violence, hierarchy, competition, and male bonding unnecessary for bonobos.
F. Roger Devlin, “The Question of Female Masochism”, Counter-Currents Publishing, 2014-09-17.
February 2, 2016
Published on 1 Feb 2016
The execution of British nurse Edith Cavell by German soldiers in 1915 was instrumental to British propaganda at that time and the story became legend. But who was Edith Cavell really? Find out more about the humble nurse in Brussels and if she was really a spy after all.
February 1, 2016
“I’ll find friends to wear my bleeding roses,” cries Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, in Harey the vjth. Standing in a rose garden, he has plucked a red flower from a great bush that stands between him and his nemesis, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. York has selected a white rose – “with this maiden blossom in my hand/I scorn thee,” he spits – and the noblemen standing by have followed suit, choosing the colour of their rose to advertise their allegiance.
In 1592, this image made perfect sense. This was how the Wars of the Roses were generally understood. Against the backdrop of weak kingship and disastrous military defeat in France, two rival branches of the Plantagenet dynasty – Lancaster and York – had gone to war for the throne, using red and white roses as emblems of their causes. The war had shattered the country, causing tens of thousands of deaths and incalculable misery.
Only after decades of chaos had the family rift been healed by the victory of a Lancastrian, Henry Tudor, over a Yorkist, Richard III, at Bosworth in 1485. Henry’s victory, and his subsequent marriage to Elizabeth of York, reconciled the warring factions. Thus had been created the red-and-white ‘Tudor rose’ that seemed to be painted everywhere, reminding the populace that the Tudors stood for unity, reconciliation, peace and the incontestable right to rule.
It was a powerful and easily grasped story that, by Shakespeare’s day, had already been in circulation for 100 years. And, in part thanks to the success of Shakespeare’s brilliant cycle of history plays, this vision of the Wars of the Roses remains in circulation – on television, in film and in popular historical fiction. Lancaster versus York, red versus white: it is a story as easy to grasp as a football match at the end of which everyone swaps shirts. Yet it is misleading, distorted, oversimplified and – in parts – deliberately false.
Published on 30 Jan 2016
It’s time for the chair of wisdom again and this week we talk about the trenches, balloon observers and well, Emilio Esteves.
January 30, 2016
Published on 17 Apr 2014
Tanks were invented by the British during the First World War. Historian Dan Snow traces their development, from prototype to battlefield fixture.
January 29, 2016
Published on 28 Jan 2016
Even though Britain went to war over the violation of the Belgian neutrality by the Germans, the neutrality of Greece seems to be of no concern to the Entente. The military presence on Corfu and Salonika is growing and growing. And even though there is no fighting there, the soldiers have to suffer since general Malaria is taking his toll. In the week of the Kaiser’s birthday, the diplomatic tensions between the USA and Germany are increasing and on the Western Front Trench Foot is becoming a real problem.
January 28, 2016
Someone has just sent me a copy of an American fashion magazine which shall be nameless. It consists of 325 large quarto pages, of which no less than 15 are given up to articles on world politics, literature, etc. The rest consists entirely of pictures with a little letterpress creeping round their edges: pictures of ball dresses, mink coats, step-ins, panties, brassières, silk stockings, slippers, perfumes, lipsticks, nail polish — and, of course, of the women, unrelievedly beautiful, who wear them or make use of them.
One striking thing when one looks at these pictures is the overbred, exhausted, even decadent style of beauty that now seems to be striven after. Nearly all of these women are immensely elongated. A thin-boned, ancient-Egyptian type of face seems to predominate: narrow hips are general, and slender, non-prehensile hands like those of a lizard are quite universal. Evidently it is a real physical type, for it occurs as much in the photographs as in the drawings. Another striking thing is the prose style of the advertisements, an extraordinary mixture of sheer lushness with clipped and sometimes very expensive technical jargon. Words like suave-mannered, custom-finished, contour-conforming, mitt-back, inner-sole, backdip, midriff, swoosh, swash, curvaceous, slenderize and pet-smooth are flung about with evident full expectation that the reader will understand them at a glance. Here are a few sample sentences taken at random:
“A new Shimmer Sheen color that sets your hands and his head in a whirl.” “Bared and beautifully bosomy.” “Feathery-light Milliken Fleece to keep her kitten-snug!” “Others see you through a veil of sheer beauty, and they wonder why!” “An exclamation point of a dress that depends on fluid fabric for much of its drama.” “The miracle of figure flattery!” “Molds your bosom into proud feminine lines.” “Isn’t it wonderful to know that Corsets wash and wear and whittle you down… even though they weigh only four ounces!” “The distilled witchery of one woman who was forever desirable… forever beloved… Forever Amber.” And so on and so on and so on.
A fairly diligent search through the magazine reveals two discreet allusions to gray hair, but if there is anywhere a direct mention of fatness or middle-age I have not found it. Birth and death are not mentioned either: nor is work, except that a few recipes for breakfast dishes are given. The male sex enters directly or indirectly into perhaps one advertisement in twenty, and photographs of dogs or kittens appear here and there. In only two pictures, out of about three hundred, is a child represented.
On the front cover there is a colored photograph of the usual elegant female, standing on a chair while a gray-haired, spectacled, crushed-looking man in shirtsleeves kneels at her feet, doing something to the edge of her skirt. If one looks closely one finds that actually he is about to take a measurement with a yardstick. But to a casual glance he looks as though he were kissing the hem of the woman’s garment — not a bad symbolical picture of American civilization, or at least of one important side of it.
George Orwell, retitled as “George Orwell Wrote One of the Most Incensed Takedowns of American Fashion Magazines”, The New Republic, 1946-12-02.
January 27, 2016
Published on 23 Jan 2016
Belisarius had broken the siege around Rome. Now he wanted to push on to the Ostrogothic capital in Ravenna, so Justinian sent fresh troops with new commanders: Narses and John. Belisarius ordered John to take his cavalry north and secure the route the Ravenna, but John bypassed several cities that seemed too difficult until he was offered a willing surrender by the people of Ariminum. When Belisarius ordered him to return to the main army, John refused, and soon found himself surrounded by the same forces he’d declined to fight earlier. Narses insisted that they rescue him, so Belisarius devised a plan and tricked the Ostrogoths into thinking his force was larger than it really was, so they fled without joining battle. John gave all the credit for his rescue to Narses, and a divide grew between the old guard loyal to Belisarius and the new troops loyal to Narses. Even though Belisarius had a letter from Justinian giving him sole control of the army, Narses argued over the semantics of the order and continued to do as he liked. He roped Belisarius into besieging Urbinus, then decided to abandon his own plan and return to Ariminum. Belisarius took Urbinus by a stroke of luck and wanted to send reinforcements to the Ostrogoth-besieged city of Mediolanum, supposedly under Roman protection, but John would only accept orders from Narses and stalled until after the city fell. When Roman troops finally arrived in Mediolanum, they found the entire city butchered and burned to the ground.
January 26, 2016
Published on 25 Jan 2016
The end of the year 1915 and early 1916 don’t look good for the Entente powers. Stalemate on the Western Front, no progress on the Eastern Front, Serbia overrun, defeat after defeat at the Isonzo, under siege at Kut, Gallipoli evacuated and even a new war zone in Libya. How would they turn the tide against the Central Powers?
January 25, 2016
January 24, 2016
Published on 23 Jan 2016
Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions. This time we tell you how the food was like in the trenches and what role Andorra and Iceland had in World War 1.
January 22, 2016
Published on 21 Jan 2016
The Russians try to take Czernowitz, the Capital of Austrian Bukovina but thousands upon thousands of Russians were killed in action. While in Montenegro, Austro-Hungarian troops under commander in chief Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf take control of the Balkan state of Montenegro. A relief force led by Lieutenant-General Fenton Aylmer had to return to base after a big loss against the Turks, while in South Cameroon, so the Germans retire into Spanish territory.
January 20, 2016
Published on 18 Jan 2016
From the iconic Pickelhaube to the almost legendary Stahlhelm and the field grey colour, German military uniforms of World War 1 are instantly recognisable. But there is more to them than just the spiky leather helmet that was often used in enemy propaganda. In our new special episode we are talking about the details of the German uniforms in the First World War.
In the company of medical people who know the history of their craft you can get a good discussion going about the exact date after which medical attention was more likely to help than harm you. Opinions generally settle somewhere between 1910 and 1940.
That’s within living memory. People of the generation before my own had little to hope for from medicine. The more realistic among them knew this. My own father, born 1899, regarded the entire medical profession with fear and mistrust. A hospital, he believed, was a place where poor people went to die. A major theme in the background noise of my childhood was the voice of my mother — a professional nurse — nagging Dad to go see a doctor about some ailment he was suffering. “Why won’t you at least go see him? He won’t HURT you.” Dad knew better. Most things mend by themselves. He lived to be 85, dying at last of pneumonia, which was known to people of that generation as “the old man’s friend.”
It wasn’t all negatives before “the early 1950s, when medicine was turning into a science” (Lewis Thomas). There was nursing; there was surgery; there were a handful of useful drugs.
Nursing — the art of keeping patients clean, comfortable, and cheerful — must have saved far more lives than doctoring in the long dark ages before antibiotics. Florence Nightingale (a significant mathematician, by the way) has to be reckoned one of the great benefactors of humanity.
John Derbyshire, “The Scariest Science”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-11-13.