Quotulatiousness

November 22, 2014

QotD: The first “American” college football game

Filed under: Cancon, Football, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

… the first college-football contest was not played in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton, but in 1874 between McGill and Harvard. The game the two New Jersey schools played was something close to soccer, with players (25 per side) allowed to kick the ball or bat it with their hands, and points scored by kicking the ball into the opponents’ goal. This game spread to a handful of other northeastern colleges in the next few years, under varying rules.

Meanwhile, Harvard played a different, more rugbyish game that allowed the ball to be carried and thrown. In 1874 it agreed to a two-game series in Cambridge with McGill, which also played a rugby-type game. The first game, played on May 14 under Harvard’s rules, was an easy victory for the home team. The next day they played under McGill’s rules, which permitted more ball handling, used an oval ball (unlike Harvard’s round one), and scored points with a “try,” similar to the modern touchdown. The contest ended in a scoreless tie, but Harvard’s players decided they liked McGill’s rules better than their own.

The “Boston game” soon became more popular than the kicking-oriented variety, and when representatives from four American colleges met in November 1876 to standardize football rules, they largely adopted the McGill/Harvard version. So while the 1874 game was quite different from today’s football, it is at least recognizable as an ancestor, whereas the game Rutgers and Princeton played in 1869 was an evolutionary dead end.

Fred Schwarz, “Why American Football Is Canadian”, National Review Online, 2014-11-13.

November 21, 2014

The Enemy Within – The German Army’s Power Play I THE GREAT WAR Week 17

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:01

Published on 20 Nov 2014

The commanders of the German army blame each other for the missing victories. Falkenhayn and Hindenburg both believe that they have the only solution to the problems. The German emperor feels more and more excluded when it comes to military decisions. His soldiers become pieces on a chessboard and the war of the 20th century also takes it’s toll on some of the best commanders. The situation at the Western Front stays unaltered: the French and Germans fight each other between the trenches. On the contrary, at the Eastern Front the Russians and the Germans are battling in a heavy fight.

November 18, 2014

Excavating the trenches of Flanders, 100 years on

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

In the Telegraph, Tim Rowley reports from Ypres:

In Flanders fields, dozens of men are digging trenches. From dawn to sunset, they force their shovels through the soil, even when the temperature plunges below freezing. When it rains, their clothes cling to their bodies. They were told it would be over by Christmas; now, they are not so sure.

This is Belgium, 2014, and the men are archaeologists, not soldiers – but in one regard their experiences are not so far removed from those of their forebears a century ago. The foes of the Great War have long been reconciled, but the weather is as harsh as ever.

“The cold is not the problem, it’s the rain,” says Simon Verdegem, one of the 30 archaeologists excavating land touched by only a plough for decades. “By the end of the day, our shoes are full of mud and we can’t walk straight because we slip all the time. And, this time, nobody’s firing at us.”

Verdegem’s great uncle fought on these fields 100 years ago. Now the 31-year-old is learning a little of the conditions he had to endure. “The first thing I do when I get home is take a shower and hang my clothes up by the fire. But they didn’t have the chance. They had to stay in a water-filled trench. I know how we feel after a day out here in the rain – we’re just miserable – and I can’t imagine it.”

All these years later, Belgium’s war wounds have still to heal. In the years following the Armistice 96 years ago today, vast mounds of earth were shovelled into the trenches. In the great cemeteries of Belgium, the row upon row of Portland stone stood as testament to the sacrifice of the men; the authorities were less keen to remember the inglorious squalor to which each side subjected the other.

If only that were so easy. For decades now, Flanders farmers have turned up a deadly harvest of unexploded bombs, shells and grenades. They all know the bomb squad’s phone number, and some have reinforced their tractors against explosion.

Yet archaeologists rarely get the chance to mine this rich seam of history. Under European Union regulations, they can only excavate these fields when there is an external threat to the artefacts buried beneath, such as a housing development.

Which is why Verdegem is so excited by this latest dig, the largest-ever excavation of First World War battlefields. Next year, Fluxys, a Belgian energy company, will lay a new £120 million gas pipeline across the country, snaking through 18 miles of land that formed the frontline for four years, as both sides inched from Ypres to Passchendaele then back to Ypres – each time, shuffling just far enough to bury their dead.

November 16, 2014

QotD: James Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan

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

The 11th Light Dragoons at this time were newly back from India, where they had been serving since before I was born. They were a fighting regiment, and — I say it without regimental pride, for I never had any, but as a plain matter of fact — probably the finest mounted troops in England, if not in the world. Yet they had been losing officers, since coming home, hand over fist. The reason was James Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan.

You have heard all about him, no doubt. The regimental scandals, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the vanity, stupidity, and extravagance of the man — these things are history. Like most history, they have a fair basis of fact. But I knew him, probably as few other officers knew him, and in turn I found him amusing, frightening, vindictive, charming, and downright dangerous. He was God’s own original fool, there’s no doubt of that — although he was not to blame for the fiasco at Balaclava; that was Raglan and Airey between them. And he was arrogant as no other man I’ve ever met, and as sure of his own unshakeable rightness as any man could be — even when his wrongheadedness was there for all to see. That was his great point, the key to his character: he could never be wrong.

They say that at least he was brave. He was not. He was just stupid, too stupid ever to be afraid. Fear is an emotion, and his emotions were all between his knees and his breastbone; they never touched his reason, and he had little enough of that.

For all that, he could never be called a bad soldier. Some human faults are military virtues, like stupidity, and arrogance, and narrow-mindedness. Cardigan blended all three with a passion for detail and accuracy; he was a perfectionist, and the manual of cavalry drill was his Bible. Whatever rested between the covers of that book he could perform, or cause to be performed, with marvellous efficiency, and God help anyone who marred that performance. He would have made a first-class drill sergeant — only a man with a mind capable of such depths of folly could have led six regiments into the Valley at Balaclava.

However, I devote some space to him because he played a not unimportant part in the career of Harry Flashman, and since it is my purpose to show how the Flashman of Tom Brown became the glorious Flashman with four inches in Who’s Who and grew markedly worse in the process, I must say that he was a good friend to me. He never understood me, of course, which is not surprising. I took good care not to let him.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

November 15, 2014

The very late adoption of some Jewish surnames

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

Kathy Shaidle linked to this post at Business Insider from back in January:

Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance). For centuries, Jewish communal leaders were responsible for collecting taxes from the Jewish population on behalf of the government, and in some cases were responsible for filling draft quotas. Education was traditionally an internal Jewish affair.

Until this period, Jewish names generally changed with every generation. For example, if Moses son of Mendel (Moyshe ben Mendel) married Sarah daughter of Rebecca (Sara bat rivka), and they had a boy and named it Samuel (Shmuel), the child would be called Shmuel ben Moyshe. If they had a girl and named her Feygele, she would be called Feygele bas Sora.

Jews distrusted the authorities and resisted the new requirement. Although they were forced to take last names, at first they were used only for official purposes. Among themselves, they kept their traditional names. Over time, Jews accepted the new last names, which were essential as Jews sought to advance within the broader society and as the shtetles were transformed or Jews left them for big cities.

Men’s unwillingness to ask for directions … may be an evolutionary advantage

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

I wanted to title this post “Have dick, will travel”, but I decided it wasn’t the most dignified way to introduce this topic:

The reason men refuse to ask for directions when lost isn’t down to pig-headed stubbornness, but rather a hard-wired evolutionary instinct which has developed so they can, err, get more sex — say anthropologists.

Students with clipboards from the University of Utah interviewed dozens of members of the Twe and Tjimba tribes in northwest Namibia. They found that men who did better spatial tasks, unsurprisingly, travelled farther — but also had children with more women.

Anthropologist Elizabeth Cashdan said the data supports the hypothesis that men have evolved a greater spatial ability to “benefit reproductively from getting more mates” and “ranging farther is one way they do this.”

Compared with other cognitive differences between the sexes, such as cultural differences in maths skills, the difference in spatial skills is much larger, found the research.

November 14, 2014

Defend, Don’t Strike! – The Defensive War I THE GREAT WAR Week 16

Filed under: History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:38

Published on 13 Nov 2014

The German army dug in at the Western Front and waited for the next enemy attack at the Eastern Front. Even though the Germans outnumbered their opponents, they barely stand a chance against machine guns in no-man’s-land. But they realize: to defend a position is a lot easier than to attack and conquer. Especially while fighting near Ypres. At the Eastern Front, things are going better for Chief of Staff Ludendorff: he breaks through outstretched Siberian lines. At the same time, Russian soldiers are faced with a new enemy and start the Bergmann Offensive in today’s East-Turkey.

HMAS Sydney versus SMS Emden, 9 November 1914

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

Last Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the first major naval victory of the Royal Australian Navy, when Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney fought against one of the Kaiser’s most effective commerce raiders, SMS Emden in the Indian Ocean:

November 9 is when the light cruiser HMAS Sydney met the light cruiser SMS Emden in action in the Indian Ocean, dispatching a surface raider that had taken a heavy toll on Allied merchant and naval shipping since the guns of August rang out. R. K. Lochner chronicled Emden’s exploits in the late 1970s, dubbing her “the last gentleman of war.” Lochner awarded the cruiser this title to acknowledge skipper Karl von Müller’s and his crew’s scrupulous fidelity to the laws of cruiser warfare. The Germans’ enemy paid homage to Emden’s gallantry as well. Two days after the engagement, for instance, the London Daily News saluted the “resourceful energy and chivalry” displayed by the raider’s crewmen throughout their voyage. That, of course, was an era when knightly conduct was in decline on the high seas, yielding to unrestricted submarine warfare. Striking without warning, as U-boats commonly did in the Atlantic, left mariners and passengers scant prospects of escaping an attack.

SMS Emden underway in 1910 (via Wikipedia)

SMS Emden underway in 1910 (via Wikipedia)


The battle, then, helped mark the passing of an age. Emden had remained behind at the onset of war, after the German East Asian Squadron quit Southeast Asia to return home. Hers was not destined to be a prolonged cruise. Cut off from logistical and maintenance support, Captain Müller had to forage for coal and stores. The cruiser coped with this hand-to-mouth existence — for a while — and in the process sank or captured twenty-five merchantmen, destroyed two Allied men-of-war at Penang, and bombarded the seaport of Madras, along the seacoast of British India. That’s quite a combat record. It’s especially noteworthy when compiled by seafarers who were unsure where they could refuel next — if anywhere at all — and were sure that equipment that suffered a major breakdown would never be repaired for want of spare parts and shipyard expertise.
The light cruiser HMAS Sydney steams towards Rabaul. The Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), which included HMAS Sydney, HMAS Australia, HMAS Encounter, HMAS Warrego, HMAS Yarra and HMAS Parramatta, seized control of German New Guinea on 11 September 1914 (via Wikipedia)

The light cruiser HMAS Sydney steams towards Rabaul. The Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF), which included HMAS Sydney, HMAS Australia, HMAS Encounter, HMAS Warrego, HMAS Yarra and HMAS Parramatta, seized control of German New Guinea on 11 September 1914 (via Wikipedia)


No ship can keep going for long without putting into port or tapping resources from nearby fuel or stores ships. Heck, U.S. Navy commanders — like their counterparts in other fleets, no doubt — get antsy when the fuel tanks drop to half-empty or hardware fails at sea, hampering performance or reducing redundancy in the propulsion plant or other critical machinery. And that’s in a navy accustomed to having logistics vessels steaming in company to top off the tanks, replenish stores, or transfer or manufacture spares when need be. Imagine being altogether alone in some faraway region — at risk of running out of some vital commodity or suffering battle damage and finding yourself dead in the water. Such loneliness and doubt were constant companions to Emden officers and men during the fall of 1914.

It takes extraordinary pluck to seize the offensive amid such circumstances. And yet the Germans did. In November, nonetheless, Sydney found Emden in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, where Müller had decided to attack a communications station that was aiding the hunt for his raider. Like so many naval actions, it was a chance encounter. The station got off a distress call, and Sydney — which happened to be in the vicinity while helping escort a convoy transporting Australian and New Zealand troops to Europe — responded to it. Emden gave a good account of herself, landing several punches before Sydney’s heavier main guns began to tell. Hopelessly outgunned, Müller ultimately ordered his vessel beached on North Keeling Island to save lives. Of the crew, 134 seamen fell while 69 were wounded and 157 were captured.

November 13, 2014

It was the tank that won WW2 in the west … and a deathtrap

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

Last month, Paul Richard Huard did a brief tribute to one of the iconic tanks of the Second World War, the M-4 Sherman. It was not a good tank, but it was good enough (if you ignore the survivability of the crews):

M4A1 Sherman tank at Canadian Forces Base Borden (via Wikipedia)

M4A1 Sherman tank at Canadian Forces Base Borden (via Wikipedia)

The M-4 Sherman was the workhorse medium tank of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps during World War II. It fought in every theater of operation — North Africa, the Pacific and Europe.

The Sherman was renown for its mechanical reliability, owing to its standardized parts and quality construction on the assembly line. It was roomy, easily repaired, easy to drive. It should have been the ideal tank.

But the Sherman was also a death trap.

Most tanks at the time ran on diesel, a safer and less flammable fuel than gasoline. The Sherman’s power plant was a 400-horsepower gas engine that, combined with the ammo on board, could transform the tank into a Hellish inferno after taking a hit.

All it took was a German adversary like the awe-inspiring Tiger tank with its 88-millimeter gun. One round could punch through the Sherman’s comparatively thin armor. If they were lucky, the tank’s five crew might have seconds to escape before they burned alive.

Hence, the Sherman’s grim nickname — Ronson, like the cigarette lighter, because “it lights up the first time, every time.”

Commonwealth units were allocated a proportion of Sherman tanks with the original 75mm or 76mm main gun replaced by a British 17-pounder anti-tank gun that gave Sherman Firefly tanks nearly the same punch as German Tiger tanks (and better than Panthers). There weren’t enough to go around, so they were parcelled out to allow a few Fireflies per troop or squadron. The 17-pounder gun also lacked a high explosive round for use against thin-skinned or unarmoured targets, so including one or two Fireflies among a group of conventionally armed Shermans was a good trade-off.

Sherman Firefly on display at Bovington Tank Museum (via Wikipedia)

Sherman Firefly on display at Bovington Tank Museum (via Wikipedia)

“Class matters far less than it used to in the 19th century. Citizenship matters far more.”

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

Tim Harford — white, male Oxford grad and child of Oxbridge-educated parents — checks his privilege:

All these accidents of birth are important. But there’s a more important one: citizenship. Gillian, Simon and I are all British citizens. Financially speaking, this is a greater privilege than all the others combined.

Imagine lining up everyone in the world from the poorest to the richest, each standing beside a pile of money that represents his or her annual income. The world is a very unequal place: those in the top 1 per cent have vastly more than those in the bottom 1 per cent – you need about $35,000 after taxes to make that cut-off and be one of the 70 million richest people in the world. If that seems low, it’s $140,000 after taxes for a family of four – and it is also about 100 times more than the world’s poorest people have.

What determines who is at the richer end of that curve is, mostly, living in a rich country. Branko Milanovic, a visiting presidential professor at City University New York and author of The Haves and the Have-Nots, calculates that about 80 per cent of global inequality is the result of inequality between rich nations and poor nations. Only 20 per cent is the result of inequality between rich and poor within nations. […]

That might seem obvious but it’s often ignored in the conversations we have about inequality. And things used to be very different. In 1820, the UK had about three times the per capita income of countries such as China and India, and perhaps four times that of the poorest countries. The gap between rich countries and the rest has since grown. Today the US has about five times the per capita income of China, 10 times that of India and 50 times that of the poorest countries. (These gaps could be made to look even bigger by not adjusting for lower prices in China and India.) Being a citizen of the US, the EU or Japan is an extraordinary economic privilege, one of a dramatically different scale than in the 19th century.

November 11, 2014

Canada’s last casualty during the Great War

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:12

The last Canadian soldier to die during the First World War was killed just two minutes before the ceasefire:

George Lawrence Price was a typical Canadian soldier in the First World War, except for the timing of his death, writes Nelson Wyatt of the Canadian Press.

[…]

He holds the sad distinction of being the last Canadian and last Commonwealth soldier to die in the meat-grinder conflict that claimed more than 60,000 Canadians in its four years.

A total of 10,000 men were killed, wounded or listed as missing from all participating armies on the last day of the war, according to historical records.

Price, a 25-year-old farm labourer before he enlisted, was struck by a single shot and killed two minutes before the 11 a.m. armistice went into effect on Nov. 11, 1918.

A native of Port Williams, N.S., he moved to Moose Jaw, Sask., as a young man and joined the army there in October 1917. He would become part of the last allied push that broke the German army.

On Nov. 11, Price was part of the Canadian advance through the outskirts of Mons in Belgium, where the one of the earliest battles of the war had been fought in 1914 and where the first British soldier had been killed.

“They were clearing through the village and people in the village told them to be careful, the Germans are still here,” said Maj. Jim McKillip, a historian with the Canadian Forces directorate of history and heritage. “He pushed on anyway and he got shot.”

Author James McWilliams, in a 1980 Reader’s Digest article entitled “The Last Patrol,” reported that Price and several colleagues were checking out possible German machine-gun nests in the village when the enemy opened fire. Civilians waved to the Canadians, urging them to take shelter in their home.

Mark Knopfler – “Remembrance Day”

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:11

A Remembrance Day slideshow using Mark Knopfler’s wonderful “Remembrance Day” song from the album Get Lucky (2009). The early part of the song conveys many British images, but I have added some very Canadian images also which fit with many of the lyrics. The theme and message is universal… ‘we will remember them’.

In memoriam

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

A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:

The Great War

  • A Poppy is to RememberPrivate William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
    (Elizabeth’s great uncle)
  • Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
    (Elizabeth’s great grandfather)
  • Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
    (my great uncle)
  • Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
    (Elizabeth’s great uncle)

The Second World War

  • Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
    (my great uncle)
  • Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the Defensively Equipped Merchant fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
    (Elizabeth’s father)
  • Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
    (Elizabeth’s uncle)
  • Elizabeth Buller, “Lumberjill” in the Women’s Land Army in Scotland through the war.
    (Elizabeth’s mother)
  • Trooper Leslie Taplan Russon, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, died at Tobruk, 19 December, 1942 (aged 23).
    A recently discovered relative. Leslie was my father’s first cousin, once removed (and therefore my first cousin, twice removed).

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD Canadian Army Medical Corps (1872-1918)

QotD: The Canadian tradition of military neglect

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

Canada is an unmilitary community. Warlike her people have often been forced to be; military they have never been.

Repeatedly, during the French regime, Canadians took up arms in defence of their country. Twice during Canada’s early history as a British colony her people joined with British forces in defending the soil against attack by the neighbouring nation. On many occasions in later times there was danger of renewed war with the United States. Later still, when a happy evolution had put an end to such apprehensions, Canada’s increasing involvement in world politics led her to take a minor part in the South African War of 1899-1902 and a much larger share in the World War of 1914-18. None of these episodes proved sufficient to convince Canadians that there was a close connection between their nation’s welfare and the state of her military preparations. Fortunately for the country, there were always some people in it who interested themselves in such matters and sought to maintain a degree of active military spirit; but they were always a small minority.

For generations, Canadian governments and parliaments, and certainly also the public at large, appeared to be convinced that it was time enough to begin preparing for war after war had broken out. It would be easy to demonstrate the country’s traditional dislike of peacetime armaments and unwillingness to spend money upon them, and to give examples of how on many occasions the sudden appearance of a crisis led ministers and legislators to take, hurriedly and belatedly, the military measures for which in more peaceful moments they had seen no need. But it is not necessary to labour the point; nor need we here attempt to account fully for the country’s unmilitary outlook, which has certainly been due in great part to the happy accident of a political and geographical situation that, placed formidable barriers, in the shape of distance, ocean spaces and the power of great friendly nations, between Canada and potential aggressors. It is enough to say that not until the years following the Second World War did the Canadian people and their government show themselves ready to spend, in time of peace, money enough to maintain national armaments commensurate in any degree with the position claimed by Canada in the world.

It is a remarkable fact that the First World War, which affected Canadian development so fundamentally in so many ways, had almost no long-term influence upon the country’s military policy. In that war, the most important episode in Canadian history until its time, 628,000 Canadians served and 60,000 lost their lives. Canada intervened on a large scale on European battlefields, and her troops were recognized as being among the most formidable on the Western Front. Nevertheless, when the emergency was over the country reverted lightly and confidently to her earlier traditions, and reduced her armed forces to a level of insignificance almost as low as that of 1913.

C.P. Stacey, Six Years of War, 1956.

November 10, 2014

The Great War, week 15

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

Published on 6 Nov 2014

Three months after the outbreak of the war, another world power enters the conflict: The Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman war minister Enver Pasha, a supporter of a new Turkish self confidence, wants to gain advantages for a future Turkey by declaring war. Meanwhile, another ship of the German East Asian Squadron is surprising the Royal Navy by sinking two of their ships near Coronel, Chile. Regardless, the battles on the Eastern, Western Front and in Serbia are continuing.

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