Quotulatiousness

June 20, 2017

QotD: The essential horror of army life

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

One of the essential experiences of war is never being able to escape from disgusting smells of human origin. Latrines are an overworked subject in war literature, and I would not mention them if it were not that the latrine in our barracks did its necessary bit towards puncturing my own illusions about the Spanish civil war. The Latin type of latrine, at which you have to squat, is bad enough at its best, but these were made of some kind of polished stone so slippery that it was all you could do to keep on your feet. In addition they were always blocked. Now I have plenty of other disgusting things in my memory, but I believe it was these latrines that first brought home to me the thought, so often to recur: ‘Here we are, soldiers of a revolutionary army, defending Democracy against Fascism, fighting a war which is about something, and the detail of our lives is just as sordid and degrading as it could be in prison, let alone in a bourgeois army.’ Many other things reinforced this impression later; for instance, the boredom and animal hunger of trench life, the squalid intrigues over scraps of food, the mean, nagging quarrels which people exhausted by lack of sleep indulge in.

The essential horror of army life (whoever has been a soldier will know what I mean by the essential horror of army life) is barely affected by the nature of the war you happen to be fighting in. Discipline, for instance, is ultimately the same in all armies. Orders have to be obeyed and enforced by punishment if necessary, the relationship of officer and man has to be the relationship of superior and inferior. The picture of war set forth in books like All Quiet on the Western Front is substantially true. Bullets hurt, corpses stink, men under fire are often so frightened that they wet their trousers. It is true that the social background from which an army springs will colour its training, tactics and general efficiency, and also that the consciousness of being in the right can bolster up morale, though this affects the civilian population more than the troops. (People forget that a soldier anywhere near the front line is usually too hungry, or frightened, or cold, or, above all, too tired to bother about the political origins of the war.) But the laws of nature are not suspended for a ‘red’ army any more than for a ‘white’ one. A louse is a louse and a bomb is a bomb, even though the cause you are fighting for happens to be just.

George Orwell, “Looking back on the Spanish War”, New Road, 1943 (republished in England, Your England and Other Essays, 1953).

June 19, 2017

The Articles of Confederation – IV: Constitutional Convention – Extra History

Filed under: Government, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on May 27, 2017

What if we kept the Articles of Confederation? The Alternate History Hub explores: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1NTboCDbtk

The war finally ended and the United States secured their independence from Great Britain, but immediately their Confederation seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison teamed up to organize a new convention where all the states would not just reform the Articles of Confederation, but replace them entirely.

June 18, 2017

Ottoman Soldiers in Europe – Naval Tactics – Officer PoWs I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

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

Published on 17 Jun 2017

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Another exciting episode of Out Of The Trenches featuring naval tactics, the treatment of officers as prisoners of war and two questions related to the Ottoman Empire.

*The Great Courses Plus is currently available to watch through a web browser to almost anyone in the world and optimized for the US market. The Great Courses Plus is currently working to both optimize the product globally and accept credit card payments globally.

Fiat 500 – The Original Small Car – James May’s Cars Of The People – BBC Brit

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

Published on 19 Jul 2015

James May takes a spin in one of the original small cars, the very mini, Fiat 500.

Taken from James May’s Cars of the People

June 17, 2017

Hunting the Bismarck – I: The Pride of Germany – Extra History

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

Published on May 11, 2017

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During World War II, the Bismarck was the pride of the German navy – and the nightmare of Great Britain. It was enormous, overpowered, and a constant threat to the seas. So when they got word that the Bismarck had mobilized, the British raced to stop it.

June 16, 2017

Italian Mountain Warfare – The Espionage Act I THE GREAT WAR Week 151

Filed under: Europe, History, Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 15 Jun 2017

WW1 Flying Event: http://bit.ly/TGWStowMaries

The US entry into the war had raised some pretty unrealistic expectations among the Allies. When General Pershing arrived in Britain, King George personally told him how he looked forward to the 50,000 US airplanes soon in the air. At the same time the Italians start an offensive in the Trentino and attack Mount Ortigara.

QotD: Cultural decline markers

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

In response to my previous post noting that the Flynn effect turns out to be a mirage, at least two respondents have suggested that average IQ has actually been falling, and have pointed to the alleged dumbing-down of politics and popular culture in the last fifty years.

I think both those respondents and the psychometricians are correct. That is, it seems to me that during my lifetime I’ve seen evidence that average IQ has risen a little, but that other traits involved in the “smart or stupid” judgment have eroded.

On the one hand, I’ve previously described the emergence of geek culture, which I take among other things as evidence that there are more bright and imaginative individuals around than there were when I was a kid. Enough of us, now, to claim a substantial slice of turf in the cultural marketplace. This good news is reinforced for me be the explosive growth of the hacker community, which today is easily a hundred times the size it was in, say, 1975 — and far larger than I ever dreamed it would be then.

On the other hand, when I compare Americans today to the country of my childhood there are ways the present comes off rather badly. We are more obese, we have shorter attention spans, our divorce rate has skyrocketed. All these and other indicators tell me that we have (on average) lost a significant part of our capacity to exert self-discipline, defer gratification, and honor contracts when the going gets tough.

To sum up, we’re brighter than we used to be, but lazier. We have more capacity, but we use less of it. Physically and mentally we are self-indulgent, flabby, unwilling to wake up from the consumer-culture dream of entitlement. We pursue happiness by means ever more elaborate and frenetic, diminishing returns long since having set in. When reality hands us a wake-up call like 9/11, too many of us react with denial and fantasy.

This is, of course, not a new complaint. Juvenal, Horace, and Petronius Arbiter wrote much the same indictment of their popular culture at the height of the Roman Empire. They were smart enough to understand, nigh on two millennia ago, that this is what happens to elites who have it easy, who aren’t tested and winnowed by war and famine and plague and poverty.

But there are important differences. One is that while decadence used to be an exclusive problem of the upper crust, we are all aristocrats now. More importantly, where the Romans believed that decadence in individuals and societies was inevitable, we know (because we’ve kept records) that as individuals we are taller, stronger, healthier, longer-lived and more intelligent than our ancestors — that, in fact, we have reaped large gains merely within the last century.

We have more capacity, but we use less of it. And, really, is it any surprise? Our schools are abandoning truth for left-wing bullshit about multiculturalism and right-wing bullshit about “intelligent design”. Our politics has become a wasteland of rhetorical assassinations in which nobody but the fringe crazies believe even their own slogans any more. Our cultural environment has become inward-turned, obsessed with petty intramural squabbles, clogged with cant. Juvenal would find it all quite familiar.

Eric S. Raymond, “People Getting Brighter, Culture Getting Dimmer”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-08-28.

June 15, 2017

Why is Rommel so complicated? – Erwin Rommel vs. Desert Fox

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

Published on 17 May 2017

This video takes a look at why Erwin Rommel often called the “Desert Fox” is so complicated due to the various interest groups and his complex situation in World War 2.

QotD: The Budapest Effect

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

A group of Manhattan Project physicists created a tongue-in-cheek mythology where superintelligent Martian scouts landed in Budapest in the late 19th century and stayed for about a generation, after which they decided the planet was unsuitable for their needs and disappeared. The only clue to their existence were the children they had with local women.

The joke was that this explained why the Manhattan Project was led by a group of Hungarian supergeniuses, all born in Budapest between 1890 and 1920. These included Manhattan Project founder Leo Szilard, H-bomb creator Edward Teller, Nobel-Prize-winning quantum physicist Eugene Wigner, and legendary polymath John von Neumann, namesake of the List Of Things Named After John Von Neumann.

The coincidences actually pile up beyond this. Von Neumann, Wigner, and possibly Teller all went to the same central Budapest high school at about the same time, leading a friend to joke about the atomic bomb being basically a Hungarian high school science fair project.

But maybe we shouldn’t be joking about this so much. Suppose we learned that Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach all had the same childhood piano tutor. It sounds less like “ha ha, what a funny coincidence” and more like “wait, who was this guy, and how quickly can we make everyone else start doing what he did?”

In this case, the guy was Laszlo Ratz, legendary Budapest high school math teacher. I didn’t even know people told legends about high school math teachers, but apparently they do, and this guy features in a lot of them. There is apparently a Laszlo Ratz Memorial Congress for high school math teachers each year, and a Laszlo Ratz medal for services to the profession. There are plaques and statues to this guy. It’s pretty impressive.

A while ago I looked into the literature on teachers and concluded that they didn’t have much effect overall. Similarly, Freddie deBoer writes that most claims that certain schools or programs have transformative effects on their students are the result of selection bias.

On the other hand, we have a Hungarian academy producing like half the brainpower behind 20th century physics, and Nobel laureates who literally keep a picture of their high school math teacher on the wall of their office to inspire them. Perhaps even if teachers don’t explain much of the existing variability, there are heights of teacherdom so rare that they don’t show up in the statistics, but still exist to be aspired to?

Scott Alexander, “The Atomic Bomb Considered as Hungarian High School Science Fair Project”, Slate Star Codex, 2016-05-26.

June 14, 2017

The Articles of Confederation – III: Finding Finances – Extra History

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

Published on 20 May 2017

With the newly United States on the verge of bankruptcy, Congress reaches out to the most able financier in the nation: Robert Morris. His ambitious plans attract the aid of Alexander Hamilton, but fall to ruins when the states abandon him.

Public Service Announcement I THE GREAT WAR

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

Published on 13 Jun 2017

WW1 Flying Event: http://bit.ly/TGWStowMaries
Infographic Poster: http://bit.ly/InfographicPoster
Viewer Survey: http://bit.ly/TGWsurvey

Thank you for your support!

June 13, 2017

Top 10 Stupid Moves of World War 1 – Mid 1915/1916 I THE GREAT WAR Ranking

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

Published on 12 Jun 2017

Generals of WW1 did a lot of stupid things, so many in fact that we made a second top 10 list to appeal to your inner armchair general.

June 12, 2017

Tank Chats #10 Crossley Chevrolet Armoured Car

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

Published on 19 Oct 2015

Armoured cars had proved so successful in India during the First World War, that shortly after its end the Indian Government ordered 16 Rolls-Royce cars. However, these proved so expensive that subsequent orders were placed with Crossley Motors in Manchester who made a tough but cheap 50hp IAG1 chassis. Substantial numbers of these cars were supplied between 1923 and 1925.

The car shown in this film was presented to The Tank Museum by the Government of Pakistan in 1951.

June 11, 2017

Creeping Barrage – Desert Tanks I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

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

Published on 10 Jun 2017

This week Indy discusses the invention of the Creeping Barrage and how tanks fared in the desert.

Nostalgia for a lost England

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

David Warren got all weepy about bygone times in England:

I lived in England — London, to be more frank, but with much wandering about — through the middle ’seventies and for a shorter spell in the early ’eighties. By the late ’nineties I visited a place that had been in many ways transformed, and clearly for the worse, by the Thatcher Revolution. Tinsel wealth had spread everywhere, trickling down into every crevice. Tony Blair surfed the glitter, and people with the most discouraging lower-class accents were wearing loud, expensive, off-the-rack garments, and carrying laptops and briefcases. No hats. It was a land in which one could no longer find beans-egg-sausage-and-toast for thirty-five new pence, nor enter the museums for free.

I missed that old Labour England, with the coalfield strikes, and the economy in free fall; with everything so broken, and all the empty houses in which one could squat; the quiet of post-industrial inanition, and the working classes all kept in their place by the unions. I loved the physical decay, the leisurely way people went about their charmingly miserable lives. Cricket still played in cricket whites; the plaster coming off the walls in pubs. It was all so poetical. And yes, Mrs Thatcher had ruined all that. For a blissful moment I was thinking, Corbyn could bring it back.

Actually, he would bring something more like Venezuela, but like the youff of England, one can still dream.

I visited England as an adult in mid-Winter 1979, the “Winter of Discontent“, and it was a fantastically appropriate epithet for a chilly, damp, and miserable time-and-place. When we landed at Heathrow, there was some kind of disruption with both the bus service and the underground (“subway” to us North Americans), so getting into London required taking a cab. The cabbie “kindly” took us around a bunch of touristy sites (and probably ran up the meter a fair bit) before dropping us off at King’s Cross station. When we bought our tickets for the train north to Darlington, we were warned that the catering staff were not working that day (no idea whether there was a formal strike or just a wildcat walkout), so there were no meals available on the train. The restaurant at the station was closed — that might just have been the time we were there, as British restaurant opening and closing hours were quite restricted at the best of times.

On the train, we were at least able to get a cup of tea and a stale bun. The journey took quite some time — once again, that might have been normal, but what was supposed to be a ~3 hour journey probably took closer to 5 hours (maintenance, signalling issues, strike-related delays, and for all I know the “wrong kind of snow” were all possible contributors). By then, we’d missed our connecting train to Middlesbrough, but they ran fairly frequently so we weren’t held up too long. We finally reached my Grandmother’s house, only to discover that we might be hit by blackouts as the power station workers were threatening to go off the job. It was a dismal and yet appropriate welcome back to the place I’d left as a child in 1967 … it was tough to recognize the places I thought I remembered, as childhood memories tend to emphasize the (fleeting) warmth and sunshine and ignore the much more traditional wet and windy British weather.

I left Toronto wearing normal winter clothing, which was well adapted to our Canadian winters, but not at all appropriate to the bitter, wet cold of Northeast England at the best of times and this was the worst winter since 1963. My teeth started to chatter as we left the terminal at Heathrow and didn’t stop chattering until the door closed on the aircraft for our return two weeks later (in the middle of a huge winter snowstorm that had us on one of the few aircraft that arrived or departed that day).

My brief two weeks’ experience of England’s Winter of Discontent didn’t build up any particularly rich sense of nostalgia, let me tell you…

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