Published on Nov 5, 2016
Even as the use of paper money grew, ties to the gold standard remained… and remained challenging. From the First Opium War to the Great Depression, events around the world stretched the capacity of bullion based economics. So what – and who – finally abandoned it?
December 8, 2016
December 6, 2016
Published on 5 Dec 2016
Indy is sitting int he chair of madness again and answers all your questions about the First World War. This week we talk about the Belgians and Hand Grenades.
December 5, 2016
Published on Oct 29, 2016
The first question of paper money is not how much you can print, nor even what its value is – but who prints the money? When every bank started to print their own bank notes, it caused confusion and frustration. Enter the Central Bank.
December 4, 2016
Published on 3 Dec 2016
A big thank you to the project team: Archaeological Revival of Memory of World War I: Material Remains of the Life and Death in Trenches of the Eastern Front and the Condition of the Ever-changing Battlescape in the Region of the Rawka and Bzura (1914–2014).
The project is funded by the Polish National Centre of Science and implemented by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences.
This is the first big video from our trip to Poland. In Bolimow, Polish archaeologists are digging in the former trenches of the Eastern Front. Here, the Germans used gas on a big scale for the first time. Polish soldiers were fighting each other on both sides of the front.
December 3, 2016
Published on Oct 22, 2016
What happens when you really try to put paper money doctrine into practice? And why would you put a gambler, womanizer, and fugitive criminal like the ironically named John Law in charge of running it?
David Warren notes an odd similarity:
The last generation of Communists in power, in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, suffered from a debilitating foible. They did not themselves believe in the ideology they were preaching. Their efforts were thus directed to getting around the realities their forebears had not anticipated. They thus became their own enemies, working against their own unworkable socialist principles, and in the course of their tireless if frazzled ministrations, the Berlin Wall came down.
Capitalism suffers from the same problem today. The principles of Adam Smith are not seriously believed by any of its nominal advocates. They are not even known. Nor could they be, for like Marx, Smith is not even read. I have derived pleasure, on many occasions, from pointing out to some ideological enthusiast for Capitalism, that its supposed author was refulgently opposed to joint-stock companies. Which is to say, to the form of business ownership that controls — oh, I don’t know — ninety-five percent of the so-called “private sector” economy today?
I observed that, apart from any consideration of morality (and he was, after all, only an amateur economist, but a professional Perfesser of Moral Philosophy), Smith believed that joint-stock companies were inefficient, because essentially bureaucratic. This is inevitable when ownership is separated from management. “Growth,” or Bigness, subtly replaces profit (both mercenary and non-mercenary) as the principal aspiration.
As a general rule of thumb, when you want to get something done, use the smallest possible organization to achieve your desired goal. I always found it a warning sign of future decline when small companies I worked for started to take on the trappings of bigger companies … when the bureaucratic rot began to set in. In some cases, just the transition to having an “HR Department” (rather than managers hiring directly) was enough to trigger bureaucracy growth and efficiency losses.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines transgender as ‘[d]enoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex’. It is a relatively new term. According to equality-law professor and trans activist Stephen Whittle, the term ‘transvestite’ was first used in 1910 by the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who would later found the Berlin Institute where the very first sex-change operations took place. ‘Transsexual’ was not coined until 1949; ‘transgender’ not until 1971; and ‘trans’, which is a very British term, not until 1996.
The first reported sex-change operation may have taken place at Hirschfeld’s Berlin Institute in 1931, but the procedure only became widely known after American Christine (George) Jorgensen travelled to Denmark in 1952 to undergo sex-change surgery. In 1954, following Jorgensen’s transition, US endocrinologist Harry Benjamin began using the term ‘transsexualism’ to describe a unique condition of sex and gender role disorientation.
Throughout the 1960s, transsexualism, and the clinical response to it, remained a contentious issue. Medical professionals in the US were largely opposed to the idea of offering sex-change surgery. A 1965 survey showed that just three per cent of US surgeons would take seriously a request for a sex-change operation. And yet, by the early 1980s, thousands of sex-change operations had taken place.
The Hopkins Hospital, affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, became the most prominent institution to offer transsexual surgery during the 1970s. Under the guidance of psychologist John Money, psychiatrist Eugene Meyer and plastic surgeon Milton Edgerton, the Hopkins Hospital utilised the ‘single theme’ method for diagnosing transsexuals. This involved determining whether or not the patient had an intense conviction to be the other sex.
But, as the rate of referrals increased, by the late-1970s, some of the negative after-effects of sex-change surgery became apparent. These included: medical complications, demands for reverse surgery and suicide attempts. Moreover, it was discovered that, due to the self-diagnostic nature of the ‘single theme’ method for determining treatment, some patients had learned what kinds of things they needed to say in order to receive surgery.
Hopkins Hospital eventually stopped performing the operations in 1979, after Jon Meyer, the chair of the sexual behaviours unit, conducted a study comparing 29 patients who had the surgery and 21 who didn’t, and concluded that those who had the surgery were no more adjusted to society than those who did not have the surgery. As Meyer told the New York Times in 1979: ‘My personal feeling is that surgery is not proper treatment for a psychiatric disorder, and it’s clear to me that these patients have severe psychological problems that don’t go away following surgery.’
While physicians and commentators argued over whether or not medical intervention benefited the patient, for some of those who chose to undergo treatment, it was a lifeline.
Naomi Firsht, “The Rise of Transgender: In the space of a century, transgenderism has become a mainstream concern”, Spiked, 2016-10-28.
December 2, 2016
Published on 1 Dec 2016
The fighting at the Somme is over – for now. The numbers of casualties on both sides is staggering and for what? Indy reflects on this epitome of WW1 battles. And at the same time 100 years ago the fighting in Romania was far from over. The four Central Powers were still on the move and it did not look good for Romania which only joined the war a few months ago. The situation in Greece became ever more complicated and increasingly violent too.
December 1, 2016
Published on 30 Nov 2016
Rick joins the Society for Creative Anachronism in recreating life in the middle ages at the Feast of the Hare in Ottawa in the Kingdom of Ealdormere (Ontario).
November 30, 2016
… “What do most ladies have to complain of? Don’t we acknowledge they have souls … They demand equality! Pure madness! Woman is our property … just as the fruit tree belongs to the gardener.” Only inadequate education could make a wife think she was on the same level as her husband. Convinced of “the weakness of the female intellect”, he considered his brother Joseph extraordinary in enjoying the other sex’s company as well as their bodies — “He’s forever shut away with some woman reading Torquato Tasso and Aretino.”
However gracefully phrased, his opinion of adultery revealed utter cynicism. In the end it is “a joke behind a mask … not by any means a rare phenomenon but a very ordinary occurrence on the sofa”. He had surprisingly modern views on women as soldiers. “They are brave, incredibly enthusiastic and capable of the most frightful atrocities … In a real war between men and women the only thing which would handicap women would be pregnancy, since the women of the people are just as strong as most men.” (In this he was far more progressive than the Führer.)
Desmond Seward, Napoleon and Hitler: A comparative biography, 1988.
November 29, 2016
Published on 28 Nov 2016
Sidney Reilly is remembered as the Ace of Spies in popular fiction and Ian Flemming read his files as inspiration for James Bond. But even the best espionage novels are nothing against the life of the real Sidney Reilly who did it all. He worked as a double agent, turned the tide of wars and changed world history more than once.
November 27, 2016
Published on 26 Nov 2016
Another exciting episode of Out of the trenches this time featuring questions about German anti tank tactics, night combat, the detection of enemy aircraft prior to radar and more.
Jerry Weinberger reviews The United States of Beer: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink by Dane Huckelbridge:
In rich and full detail, Huckelbridge tells the story of America’s love affair with beer. Even before Europeans set foot on the new continent, Native Americans made beer for fun and religious purposes from a wide variety of vegetable matter. Our Dutch and English forbears brought their beer — and their beer preferences — with them. In 1620, the Mayflower landed in Plymouth, at least in part for want of enough beer for both passengers and crew. When the Arbella sailed into Boston Harbor in 1630, it was laden not just with Puritans but also with 10,000 gallons of beer and 120 hogsheads of malt. The English in New England drank dark and cloudy ales made from fire-roasted malt and top-fermenting yeast. The Dutch in New Netherlands preferred drafts lighter in body and mouthfeel; they added rye, wheat, and oats to the barley. The English put an end to New Netherlands in 1664, but that didn’t end the war — as it would eventually prove to become — between the light and the dark worlds of beer. Huckelbridge approaches his subject from a regional point of view. National tastes sprang from regional ones. Beer tides flowed North to South, turned westward to California, and then doubled back East in the late twentieth century.
Our English forbears came relatively late to the use of hops in beer, as was done on the European Continent in the ninth century. As late as the early sixteenth century, hops were thought of in England as “a wicked and pernicious weed.” In Europe, brewing was done by large, organized monasteries, while in England it remained largely a household craft. The larger European producers had to worry more about consistency and spoilage than did the home-brewing English; the hop, though essential to the taste of beer as we know it, was originally used as a preservative, with the appreciation of bitterness following on the utility of anti-sepsis. As English brewing took on a more industrial tone, the uses of the hop became clear, and so the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower could drink safe beer rather than brackish and polluted water. By the time of the revolutionary crisis, English economic policy and regulation had increased the price of barley and hops so much that cider and rum began to edge out beer as the preferred drink of New Englanders. The Sons of Liberty — including Samuel Adams and John Hancock — rebelled for beer as much as for independence.
When American beer recovered, it did so in the Midwest, and in a new form: lager. What we now think of as American beer (Budweiser, Busch, Pabst, Miller, etc.) sprang from the habits and tastes of German immigrants in Midwestern cities. Their lager beers were rich and full-flavored, but were somewhat lighter and milder than “the darker and more fragrant British-style” ales they eventually displaced. Huckelbridge describes in some detail the history of German brewing from Roman times through the sixteenth century, when lager yeast was discovered as an alternative to ale yeast. This new yeast strain originated in the cold forests of Patagonia and made its way by accident to Europe — and especially to Bavaria.
And how American beer got its (well-deserved at the time) reputation for blandness:
In the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century, two forces converged to transform our national drink: technological innovation and Prohibition. Before the Volstead Act went into effect in January 1920, technological and economic changes had been at work degrading the quality of American beer. New kiln technology made it possible to roast malts with no direct contact with the heat, which made for fewer notes of smoke and slag. Likewise, temperature controls made it possible to make lighter and “crispier” brews. The use of American six-row barley, which is higher in enzymes than German two-row barley, enabled brewers to employ cheaper, adjunct grains such as corn, wheat, and rice—all of which made for a sweeter and flimsier beer. Pasteurization increased shelf life, lessening the need for preservative alcohol and hops. Artificial carbonation replaced the traditional practice of adding live yeast to the finished brew, which improved taste but was less consistent than artificial carbonation. Add to this the advent of advertising and refrigerated rail transportation, and we were on the verge of becoming the United States of Bland Beer. Prohibition delivered the death blow.
After the Volstead Act’s repeal, America was in the grip of the Great Depression. Beer drinkers—and brewers—focused on the cheap and not the good. The result was a pale and watery brew “served up in cans across the county … and the final product bore only a passing resemblance to the rich and hoppy lagers that German immigrants had first brought to this country.” Prohibition ruined the beer industry nationwide and drove alcohol underground, producing a significant change in American tastes: speakeasies learned to disguise low-quality whiskey and gin in sweet “cocktails.” As a result, a generation of Americans came of age with sweet-tooth tongues allergic to the bitter hop or the malty malt. By the 1950s, America was the land of the macrobrew: thin and flaccid sweet suds, distinguishable only by the brand names on the can.
In February 1939, Vogue ran a major feature on the fashions of the future. Inspired by the soon-to-open New York World’s Fair, the magazine asked nine industrial designers to imagine what the people of ‘a far Tomorrow’ might wear and why. (The editors deemed fashion designers too of-the-moment for such speculations.) A mock‑up of each outfit was manufactured and photographed for a lavish nine-page colour spread.
You might have seen some of the results online: an evening dress with a see-through net top and strategically placed swirls of gold braid, for instance, or a baggy men’s jumpsuit with a utility belt and halo antenna. Bloggers periodically rediscover a British newsreel of models demonstrating the outfits while a campy narrator (‘Oh, swish!’) makes laboured jokes. The silly get‑ups are always good for self-satisfied smirks. What dopes those old-time prognosticators were!
The ridicule is unfair. Anticipating climate-controlled interiors, greater nudity, more athleticism, more travel and simpler wardrobes, the designers actually got a lot of trends right. Besides, the mock‑ups don’t reveal what really made the predicted fashions futuristic. Looking only at the pictures, you can’t detect the most prominent technological theme.
‘The important improvements and innovations in clothes for the World of Tomorrow will be in the fabrics themselves,’ declared Raymond Loewy, one of the Vogue contributors. His fellow visionaries agreed. Every single one talked about textile advances. Many of their designs specified yet-to-be-invented materials that could adjust to temperature, change colour or be crushed into suitcases without wrinkling. Without exception, everyone foretelling the ‘World of Tomorrow’ believed that an exciting future meant innovative new fabrics.
They all understood something we’ve largely forgotten: that textiles are technology, more ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires. We hairless apes co-evolved with our apparel. But, to reverse Arthur C Clarke’s adage, any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature. It seems intuitive, obvious – so woven into the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.
November 25, 2016
Published on 24 Nov 2016
They year 1916 is slowly coming to a close. This year of battles has seen the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme with well over 2 million casualties alone. And this week 100 years ago, the Battle of the Somme ended with the last push at the Ancre. In Vienna, Emperor Franz Joseph dies after almost 7 decades on the throne and Serbian and French forces take Monastir.