Quotulatiousness

April 1, 2015

Splicing the mainbrace

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

Adam Clark Estes provides a beginner’s guide to Navy-strength rum:

The Royal Navy’s successful invasion of Jamaica in 1655 had a lot of terribly negative outcomes. The commanders ended up in the Tower of London. Many of the English sailors fell sick or starved. A lot of Spanish settlers died. But there was one undeniably positive outcome: rum.

After that fated invasion, the Royal Navy started giving its sailors daily rations of domestically produced rum instead of the French brandy they’d been receiving. (“Domestically produced” meaning produced on the captured island of Jamaica, of course.) Referred to as a “tot,” this ration of rum measured about half a pint and was given to sailors around midday. The order used to distribute rum rations—”splice the mainbrace” — got its name from one of the most difficult repair jobs aboard it the ship. It remains a euphemism for having a drink today.

In order to ensure that the rum hadn’t been watered down, the sailors would “prove” the spirit’s strength by pouring it on gunpowder and then trying to ignite it. If it lit up, they knew that the alcohol content was greater than 57 percent. If it did not, the rum was considered “under proof.” This is where the term alcohol proof comes from, though it means something slightly different today.

The Royal Navy later tweaked the formula of the rations after the rum had been proved by adding some water and a bit of lime juice to combat scurvy. This healthy cocktail became known as grog after the 18th century British admiral Edward Vernon, better known as “Old Grog” for the waterproof grogram cloak he wore at sea.

Over the course of the past three centuries, Navy-strength rum has become the stuff of legend. The deep brown spirit made its way around the world, often in oak grog barrels with brass letters that read “The Queen God Bless Her,” or “The King God Bless Him” depending on the reign. Sailors used copper cups of various “measures” to portion out the grog. Since it took little more than molasses to make rum, the Royal Navy had no trouble keeping the kegs full.

QotD: Forward-lookers and right-thinkers

Filed under: History,Humour,Media,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On the whole, as a neutral in such matters, I prefer the forward-looker to the right-thinker, if only because he shows more courage and originality. It takes nothing save lack of humor to believe what Butler, or Ochs, or Bishop Manning believes, but it takes long practice and a considerable natural gift to get down the beliefs of Sinclair. I remember with great joy the magazine that he used to issue during the war. In the very first issue he advocated Socialism, the single tax, birth control, communism, the League of Nations, the conscription of wealth, government ownership of coal mines, sex hygiene and free trade. In the next issue he added the recall of judges, Fletcherism, the Gary system, the Montessori method, paper-bag cookery, war gardens and the budget system. In the third he came out for sex hygiene, one big union, the initiative and referendum, the city manager plan, chiropractic and Esperanto. In the fourth he went to the direct primary, fasting, the Third International, a federal divorce law, free motherhood, hot lunches for school children, Prohibition, the vice crusade, Expressionismus, the government control of newspapers, deep breathing, international courts, the Fourteen Points, freedom for the Armenians, the limitation of campaign expenditures, the merit system, the abolition of the New York Stock Exchange, psychoanalysis, crystal-gazing, the Little Theater movement, the recognition of Mexico, vers libre, old age pensions, unemployment insurance, cooperative stores, the endowment of motherhood, the Americanization of the immigrant, mental telepathy, the abolition of grade crossings, federal labor exchanges, profit-sharing in industry, a prohibitive tax on Poms, the clean-up-paint-up campaign, relief for the Jews, osteopathy, mental mastery, and the twilight sleep. And so on, and so on. Once I had got into the swing of the Sinclair monthly I found that I could dispense with at least twenty other journals of the uplift. When he abandoned it I had to subscribe for them anew, and the gravel has stuck in my craw ever since.

H.L. Mencken, “The Forward-Looker”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

March 31, 2015

Latin America During WW1 and Who Are You Guys? I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Americas,Europe,History,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

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.

The Roman Empire – Rise of the Republic

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

March 29, 2015

A Tour through Imperial Rome, circa 320AD

Filed under: Europe,History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 12 May 2012

A project between Khan Academy and Rome Reborn – with Dr. Bernard Frischer

March 28, 2015

George Orwell gets a letter from his former teacher

Filed under: Britain,History,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I didn’t know that Orwell was a former pupil of Aldous Huxley:

Wrightwood. Cal.

21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley

QotD: The outbreak of war in 1914

Filed under: Europe,History,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This book thus strives to understand the July Crisis of 1914 as a modern event, the most complex of modern times, perhaps of any time so far. It is concerned less with why the war happened than with how it came about. Questions of why and how are logically inseparable, but they lead us in different directions. The question of how invites us to look closely at the sequences of interactions that produced certain outcomes. By contrast, the question of why invites us to go in search of remote and categorical causes: imperialism, nationalism, armaments, alliances, high finance, ideas of national honour, the mechanics of mobilization. The why approach brings a certain analytical clarity, but it also has a distorting effect, because it creates the illusion of a steadily building causal pressure; the factors pile up on top of each other pushing down on the events; political actors become mere executors of forces long established and beyond their control.

The story this book tells is, by contrast, saturated with agency. The key decision-makers — kings, emperors, foreign ministers, ambassadors, military commanders and a host of lesser officials — walked towards danger in watchful, calculated steps. The outbreak of war was the culmination of chains of decisions made by political actors with conscious objectives, who were capable of a degree of self-reflection, acknowledged a range of options and formed the best judgements they could on the basis of the best information they had to hand. Nationalism, armaments, alliances and finance were all part of the story, but they can be made to carry real explanatory weight only if they can be seen to have shaped the decisions that — in combination — made war break out.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

March 27, 2015

Changing Tactics And The Fall of Przemyśl I THE GREAT WAR Week 35

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

Published on 26 Mar 2015

The generals at the Western Front are slowly starting to adapt to the modern war. The battle of Neuve-Chappelle will be a blueprint for future operations and further improvements are supposed to finally bring the decisive advantage. In the meantime, after 133 days, the fortress of Przemyśl capitulates – the longest siege of World War 1.

March 26, 2015

Tsar Vladimir is merely following the pattern of Philip of Macedon and Napoleon

Filed under: Europe,History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

When he’s not droning on about domestic politics, Victor Davis Hanson has interesting historical patterns to point out:

Nothing that Vladimir Putin has done in gobbling up territories of the former Soviet Union is new. In fact, he simply apes every tyrant’s time-honored four-step plan of aggression.

From Philip of Macedon to Napoleon, aggressors did not necessarily have a grand timetable for creating an empire. Instead, they went at it ad hoc. They took as much as they could at any given time; then backed away for a bit, if they sensed strong opposition was building — only to go back on the offensive when vigilance waned.

Hitler did not realistically believe in 1936 that he would within five years create an empire from the Atlantic to the Volga. Instead, he started out by moving incrementally — in the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia — testing where he might grab land without a war, always both surprised at the ease of his success and full of contempt for the appeasers who had so empowered him.

So too Putin. Once the Obama administration had reset the mild punishments of the Bush administration for carving out parts of Ossetia, Putin went back on the move. Obama’s reset was a green light for Putin. Who in the real world of serious diplomacy shows up in Geneva with a red plastic toy reset button, complete with a mistranslated Russian label? When Putin soon sized up the Obama administration’s appeasement around the globe — from fake red lines for Syria, to a scramble out of Iraq, to chaos in Libya — he moved into Crimea. And then he waited.

Western sermons followed; outrage grew. Then the Western hysterics predictably passed, as popular attention went back to the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus’s metamorphosis from Disney girl to vamp. After a bit of digestion, Putin was ready for his next Anschluss. He repeated the formula in Ukraine: a persecuted Russian-speaking minority, an anti-Russian illiberal government, civil unrest, denial of a just and much-needed new plebiscite, a need for paramilitaries to help out their brethren, a Russian army standing nearby just in case, a few bombers buzzing the West, and magnanimous promises to leave crumbs for the victims.

Adolf Hitler in World War 1 I Portrait

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

Published on 23 Mar 2015

Adolf Hitler later said about his experience on the Western Front that it was the happiest time of his life. His time on the front and at home influenced his understanding of society and nation, the military gave his life structure for the first time in his life. Indy tells you everything about the early life of the man who later would become the Führer.

QotD: Picking sides in historical struggles

Filed under: History,Liberty,Quotations,Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All laws and regulations have unforeseen consequences. That usually means unintended damage, but there’s no law of history that says every unplanned outcome is pernicious.

If you’re an advocate of a free society — one in which all arrangements are voluntary and there is the least coercive interference from governments or other thugs — history will present you with an unending series of conundrums. Whom do you side with in the Protestant Reformation, for example? The Catholic Church banned books and tortured scholars, and their official structure is one of hierarchy and authority. Easy enemy, right? Clear-cut bad guy. But the Church had kept the State in check for centuries — and vice versa, permitting seeds of freedom to root and flourish in the gaps between power centers. Whereas the Protestant states tended to be more authoritarian than the Catholic ones, with Luther and Calvin (not to mention the Anglicans) advocating orthodoxy through force. There’s a reason all those Northern princes embraced the Reformation: they wanted a cozier partnership of church and state.

This is certainly not the history I was taught in my Protestant private schools.

Similarly, most of us were schooled to side with the Union in the Civil War, to see Lincoln as a savior and the Confederacy as pure evil. But as much as the war may have resulted, however accidentally, in emancipating slaves, it also obliterated civil liberties, centralized power, strengthened central banking and fiat currencies and — to borrow from Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s great book title — enslaved free men.

“Father Abraham,” as the pietists called him after his assassination, was a tyrant whose primary goal was always what he actually achieved: central power over an involuntary union. Recasting this guy as an abolitionist hero is one of the many perverse legacies of America’s official history. But it’s a mistake to simply reverse the Establishment’s verdict and claim that the Confederacy was heroic. Plenty of Johnny Rebs were fighting a righteous battle against what they rightly deemed to be foreign invaders, but even if you ignore the little problem of the South’s “peculiar institution,” the Confederate government was no more liberal than its Northern rival. “While the Civil War saw the triumph in the North of Republican neo-mercantilism,” writes Hummel, “it saw the emergence in the South of full-blown State socialism.”

Reading history without taking sides may fit some scholarly ideal (actually, it seems to be a journalistic ideal created by the Progressive Movement to masquerade their views as the only unbiased ones), but it is not a realistic option. We cannot do value-free history. If we try, we instead hide or repress our biases, which makes them a greater threat to intellectual integrity.

Neither can we say, “a plague on both their houses,” and retreat to the realm of pure theory, libertarian or otherwise. We have to live in the real world, and even if we are not activists or revolutionaries, the same intellectual integrity that must reject “neutrality” also requires that we occasionally explore the question of second-best or least-evil options.

BK Marcus, “When evil institutions do good things”, Libertarian Standard, 2014-06-12.

March 24, 2015

Tim Worstall on the economic emancipation of women

Filed under: Economics,History,Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In his Forbes column last week, Tim Worstall made the point that perhaps the biggest economic story of the last century has been the economic emancipation of women:

There’s an interesting little rumpus going on over the new book by Robert Putnam on the class divide in American lifestyles. Put very simply, the middle and upper classes seem to take marriage and child rearing seriously and the poor have a more, umm, chaotic approach. Looking at the various think pieces that have been done on this book I find myself astonished by the way that the most important salient and relevant fact is simply not being mentioned. Marriage is many things but among them is that it is an economic contract. And the terms of that contract have changed: thus it’s not even remotely surprising that behaviour has changed too.

[…]

Which brings me to that headline: that the economic emancipation of women is the most important single fact of the past century. That past really was a different place. We can argue if we want to about whether that economic emancipation is complete (the famous womens’ 77 cents to mens’ dollar, or is it a motherhood pay gap and so on) but let’s leave that for another time. What is obviously and glaringly true is that women are much freer economically than they were a century ago. Wages for women back then were distinctly lower than they were for men. And no, this wasn’t particularly discrimination: some large part of what most people were hired for was physical muscle. Men have more of this so they got paid more. There were also strong social norms: I’m not quite sure of pre-WWI America but in my native UK the only respectable jobs for an adult woman (ie, something that the bourgeois would be happy to see their daughters go into) were nursing or teaching. And as a result of this paucity of choice the wages were low in both professions (there’s a strong truth to the point that the rising wages of both teachers and nurses in recent decades are the result of their being free to work in other sectors these days).

The result of both of these things was that the wages of a female worker were not, except at the most basic, basic, level, sufficient to raise a child let alone support a family. I’m not saying that being a single parent these days is easy but it is at least possible as tens of millions of people are showing us.

Which brings us to marriage: yes, this is many things. Love, sex, companionship and so on. But it is also an economic contract (the only proof we need of this is to read some divorce settlements)
and marriage always has been an economic contract. Pretty much since humans arrived as a species it has been necessary to have two parents around in order for a child to have a reasonable chance of survival to an age where it would have its own children. This was true of hunter gatherer societies, of agricultural ones, of industrial ones, feudal and so on. It really is only in this past century, more so in the past 50 years, that it’s been possible for one person to both earn a living and raise a child or children. Yes, obviously people did do so as a result of having to do so but it wasn’t something that anyone did by choice simply because of the penury that resulted from their doing so. And yes, all of this is much more true of women than men.

March 23, 2015

What’s in a name?

Filed under: Britain,History,Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Mark Steyn linked to this rather amusing communication from the British embassy in Moscow, back in 1943:

Embassy letter from Moscow

If it’s not quite legible, he also provided a text version:

H.M. EMBASSY
MOSCOW

Lord Pembroke
The Foreign Office
London

6th April 1943

My Dear Reggie,

In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me that he is called Mustapha Kunt.

We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when Spring is upon us, but few of us would care to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.

Archie

Sir Archibald Clark Kerr
H.M. Ambassador

March 22, 2015

A different interpretation of the Battle of Bosworth

Filed under: Britain,History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Telegraph, Chris Skidmore looks at the end of the Battle of Bosworth in the light of the injuries suffered by King Richard:

Richard III’s body was discovered among the dead strewn across the battlefield, “despoiled to the skin” and “all besprung with mire and filth”. It was hard to believe that this naked and bloodied corpse had once belonged to a king. Still Richard III’s body had one final journey to make. After “many other insults were heaped upon it”, one chronicler reported how “not very humanely, a halter was thrown round the neck, and it was carried to Leicester”. With “nought being left about him, so much as would cover his privy member”, the last Plantagenet king was trussed up on the back of a horse, “as a hog or another vile beast” to be brought into the town “for all men to wonder upon, and there lastly irreverently buried”.

The new king — Henry Tudor, now crowned Henry VII — had good reason to put Richard’s body on display. Few could believe that Richard was dead, much less that a Welsh rebel who had landed on the tip of Wales two weeks earlier, leading an army of a few thousand men, mostly French mercenaries, had defeated a reigning king. Only hours earlier, Richard had led his army of 15,000 men, the largest army ever assembled “on one side” that England had ever witnessed, into battle against a rebel army barely one third its size. Bosworth, quite simply, was a battle that Richard should never have lost. Why did it go so badly wrong?

Treason, without a doubt:

With the collapse of his vanguard, Richard would have expected that his rear-guard, led by Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland, to provide re-inforcements. Instead the earl did nothing. One chronicler was insistent that ‘in the place where the earl of Northumberland was posted, with a large company of reasonably good men, no engagement could be discerned, and no battle blows given or received”. Northumberland, Jean Molinet observed, should have “charged the French” but instead “did nothing except to flee, both he and his company, and to abandon his King Richard” since he had already agreed a secret pact with Henry Tudor.

Northumberland was a northern lord whose own power had diminished over the past decade as a result of Richard’s rise to power. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain from abandoning his king. Other reports from the battlefield suggest that Northumberland may have not only left Richard to his fate, but actively turned against him and “left his position and passed in front of the king’s vanguard”, at which point, “turning his back on Earl Henry, he began to fight fiercely against the king’s van, and so did all the others who had plighted their faith to Earl Henry”. If this were the case, it would explain why Richard had been heard “shouting again and again that he was betrayed, and crying ‘Treason! Treason! Treason!’”

Not just treason, but double treason:

The “first onslaught” of Richard’s attack saw some men surrounding Tudor been killed instantly, including Henry’s standard bearer, William Brandon, standing just feet away. It seemed that victory was now in Richard’s grasp. Not only had some of Henry’s men chose to flee, his standard had been ‘thrown to the ground’. Henry’s own men were ‘now wholly distrustful of victory’. Richard’s frenzied energy seemed to be turning the tables, as the king “began to fight with much vigour, putting heart into those that remained loyal, so that by his sole effort he upheld the battle for a long time”. It was at this point that Sir William Stanley, having sat out the battle on its fringes, sent orders for his forces, numbering perhaps 3,000 men, to crash into the side of Richard’s detachment, taking Tudor’s side. Richard stood no chance. He was swept off his horse and into a marsh, where he was killed, “pierced with numerous deadly wounds” one chronicler wrote, “while fighting, and not in the act of flight”.

Update: Maclean’s has a long article up on the Canadian connections to Richard III.

March 21, 2015

Who was Sappho?

Filed under: Europe,History,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn discusses our evolving views of the poet Sappho:

One day not long after New Year’s, 2012, an antiquities collector approached an eminent Oxford scholar for his opinion about some brownish, tattered scraps of writing. The collector’s identity has never been revealed, but the scholar was Dirk Obbink, a MacArthur-winning classicist whose specialty is the study of texts written on papyrus — the material, made of plant fibres, that was the paper of the ancient world. When pieced together, the scraps that the collector showed Obbink formed a fragment about seven inches long and four inches wide: a little larger than a woman’s hand. Densely covered with lines of black Greek characters, they had been extracted from a piece of desiccated cartonnage, a papier-mâché-like plaster that the Egyptians and Greeks used for everything from mummy cases to bookbindings. After acquiring the cartonnage at a Christie’s auction, the collector soaked it in a warm water solution to free up the precious bits of papyrus.

Judging from the style of the handwriting, Obbink estimated that it dated to around 200 A.D. But, as he looked at the curious pattern of the lines — repeated sequences of three long lines followed by a short fourth — he saw that the text, a poem whose beginning had disappeared but of which five stanzas were still intact, had to be older.

Much older: about a thousand years more ancient than the papyrus itself. The dialect, diction, and metre of these Greek verses were all typical of the work of Sappho, the seventh-century-B.C. lyric genius whose sometimes playful, sometimes anguished songs about her susceptibility to the graces of younger women bequeathed us the adjectives “sapphic” and “lesbian” (from the island of Lesbos, where she lived). The four-line stanzas were in fact part of a schema she is said to have invented, called the “sapphic stanza.” To clinch the identification, two names mentioned in the poem were ones that several ancient sources attribute to Sappho’s brothers. The text is now known as the “Brothers Poem.”

Remarkably enough, this was the second major Sappho find in a decade: another nearly complete poem, about the deprivations of old age, came to light in 2004. The new additions to the extant corpus of antiquity’s greatest female artist were reported in papers around the world, leaving scholars gratified and a bit dazzled. “Papyrological finds,” as one classicist put it, “ordinarily do not make international headlines.”

But then Sappho is no ordinary poet. For the better part of three millennia, she has been the subject of furious controversies — about her work, her family life, and, above all, her sexuality. In antiquity, literary critics praised her “sublime” style, even as comic playwrights ridiculed her allegedly loose morals. Legend has it that the early Church burned her works. (“A sex-crazed whore who sings of her own wantonness,” one theologian wrote, just as a scribe was meticulously copying out the lines that Obbink deciphered.) A millennium passed, and Byzantine grammarians were regretting that so little of her poetry had survived. Seven centuries later, Victorian scholars were doing their best to explain away her erotic predilections, while their literary contemporaries, the Decadents and the Aesthetes, seized on her verses for inspiration. Even today, experts can’t agree on whether the poems were performed in private or in public, by soloists or by choruses, or, indeed, whether they were meant to celebrate or to subvert the conventions of love and marriage. The last is a particularly loaded issue, given that, for many readers and scholars, Sappho has been a feminist heroine or a gay role model, or both. “As far as I knew, there was only me and a woman called Sappho,” the critic Judith Butler once remarked.

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