Sunday, November 1, 2020

Medieval Times [Part 4]

In this episode of The Brain Food Show, we are start out with an appetizer looking at the film The Knight’s Tale and the very real historic knight Ulrich von Liechtenstein and what the real guy actually got up to.

Next up we have a brief message from our sponsor… Ourselves! Go check out our new-ish channel Highlight History and Simon’s latest attempt to host all YouTube channels- Side Projects.

Next up, in the main course, we look at what it was actually like to be a medieval knight and how one actually became one.

As for the desert for today, we have the absolute best part of today’s episode discussing whether there was ever actually a documented case of a knight rescuing a damsel in distress.

On another note, if you could do us a huge favor and rate and review this show in whatever podcasting platform you’re using (including hopefully giving us some feedback related to the new format), we would be extremely grateful. Thanks!

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from Today I Found Out
by Daven Hiskey - November 01, 2020 at 01:24PM
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How Do Arab Nations Teach the Crusades?

The Crusades are seen as a milestone in European history. Especially through romanticizing eyes, they are often viewed as a heroic age, with legendary tales of pious folk, honor-bound knights, and even epic narratives imbued with mystical and semi-mythological elements, such as the search for the Holy Grail.

Modern historians, however, tend to view the crusades more than a little less romantically. For example, viewed more as the pope’s political maneuvering to establish power via the policy of the milites christi. And in the early going from a very practical standpoint simply a way to give various knights causing problems on the home front something to do, and in a far off land. The events are considered as a precursor to the eras of exploration and colonialism respectively, as the Crusades were an early instance of the effort to deal with the overpopulation of Europe by trying to establish colonies. Furthermore, the failure of the eastward expansion and the related blockage of the routes to the eastern markets would gradually encourage the search for indirect ways to the East by circumnavigating Africa or – most famously since Columbus – by going westwards in search of India.

Negative aspects are pointed out, like the massacres of local citizens such as in Antioch and Jerusalem, regardless whether they were Christians or Muslims. But even under the light of this revisionism, the view of the cultural superiority of the Europeans is sometimes still present in popular culture. One example is the 2005 movie “Kingdom of Heaven”, in which Orlando Bloom arrives as a Crusader at an estate in Palestine and goes on instructing the locals in canalisation techniques, as if the cultures of the fertile crescent – where agriculture was born – were waiting for the Crusaders to learn how to turn an arid land into a fertile one.

At this point, the question might occur what the Muslim or Arab perspective is towards the Crusader era. But it’s a difficult one to answer. Depending on in which decade and in which country one is born, a student will receive different information regarding the Crusades. The reason is that the event is highly politicized today.

A common ground, however, is that the Western Christians are viewed as “barbarians” and unaware of the most elementary rules of honor, dignity, and social ethics. What will differ is where the teaching focuses and to what extent the event is taught at all, which is related to the region, era, and the political atmosphere. This can be seen by works targeted towards the western public, where two main themes arise. In the first, represented by Amin Maamlouf’s 1983 book “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes”, the events are viewed as a general clash of Western and Eastern culture. The second is represented by an Al-Jazeera documentary series of 2016, “The Crusades: An Arab Perspective”, where the theme of Christianity versus Islam is particularly highlighted.

So let’s now talk about schools. The school textbooks in Arab countries are generally regulated by a government institution, such as the Ministry of Education of each country. As an internal matter, the books will deviate from one another, but one can observe similarities, indicating a certain alignment at least regarding some aspects. This was more observable especially in the second half of the 20th century, influenced by the policy of pan-arabism, which was promoted in history and literature disciplines. Nowadays, a concentration on the political unity within each country is mostly the norm, which can cause further deviation between the Arab countries.

Regarding the Crusades, pupils get their information out of history and social studies textbooks and even literature, but the way this is done and the school year in which this period is presented differs from country to country. (As analytically presented in a 2008 article by Jörg Determann,) in Egypt, students learn about the Crusades in their 5th and 11th year, in Jordan in the 6th year, 7th in Palestine, 8th in Syria, Lebanon and Libya, 8th and 11th year in Saudi Arabia and 8th and 10th in Tunisia.

The most analytical discussions can be found in textbooks of Palestine and Lebanon, which is to be expected of the areas directly affected the most during the Crusades, though the perspective of modern politics also plays its part.

The schoolbooks usually describe the medieval Crusades after having discussed the history of the preceding centuries. In the case of Palestine and Tunisia, descriptions of Europe in the Middle Ages come before those of the Crusades, a fact that helps contextualize and introduce this foreign Western force. The narratives of the Crusades themselves as told by the Arabic textbooks concentrate on the events in Greater Syria and Egypt between 1096 and 1291 and stress the military elements. Only in a few countries such as Palestine, elements of administration and social structures within the Crusader states are described.

Overall, the negative evaluation of the invading forces can be seen in the term “purification”, with which the textbooks in Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Libya refer to the final expulsion of the Crusaders. To understand this sentiment and why within the collective memory of modern Arab countries the Crusades are perceived in this way, one should take a closer look at the details of what is being taught.

First we will start with the presentation of the Crusaders. The Muslims, unlike the Christians, did not regard the individual Crusades as something separate and distinctive, nor did they – at least in the past – single out the Crusaders from the long series of infidel enemies whom they fought in those times.

The chroniclers report in detail the smallest skirmishes between Muslims and Frankish troops – but they have little to say about the internal affairs of the Frankish states in the Levant and even less about their countries of origin.

Generally, the Arabic point of view on the crusaders is that of a foreign entity, collectively referred to as the “Faranj” or “Farang”, ignoring the various ethnic differences between them.[1] The term “Faranj” is a derivative of Frank, which was one of the main ethnic groups during the Crusades. (The insertion of a vowel between the first two letters of the word Frank, is indicative of the adaptation of foreign terms into Arabic, as in Arabic no word can start with a double consonant.)

This is indicative of the fact that at the time as well as today, the Crusaders were and are viewed as a collective enemy group, just one amongst the many foreign menaces that their region had to deal with in the late medieval period. Indeed, in the school systems of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Libya, the Crusades are usually treated alongside the Mongol invasion of the 13th century. In the case of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Libya, descriptions of the Mamluk and Ottoman periods follow thereafter.

The often implied link with the West’s later colonialism can also be seen on many levels. One of them is that in the Saudi Arabian and Egyptian textbooks, the Crusades and Mongol attacks are directly followed by Western assaults and the colonization of Arab countries in modern times.

This brings us to the timeline of the Crusades which focuses on the main themes as taught by history books in Arab countries.

The main force of the first Crusade arrived in Northern Syria in 1097 after successfully piercing through Asia Minor despite the resistance of the Seljuc sultan Kilij Arslan who controlled parts of the region. In June 1098, the Crusaders gained entry into the lower city of Antioch after an eight-month siege, massacring most inhabitants – including local Christians. In 1098, Kerbogha, the Atabeg of Mosul led the first coordinated attack against the Crusader army – at the time besieging Antioch – and would have possibly managed to end the first Crusade right then and there, had he not wasted time besieging Edessa, the easternmost city occupied by the Crusaders. Indeed, he arrived at Antioch on June 7th, only three days after the Crusaders under Bohemond had entered the outer walls and thus escaped direct attack on the open field.

After this attempt, no coordinated effort was undertaken to face the Crusades. Instead, each local government faced the invaders in turn and mostly on their own. This is seen as a major issue, and the textbooks of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya account to a general weakness or fragmentation of the Arab world in this period. They do not shy from making parallels to today’s political situation.

One reason for this fragmentation was that at the time, the control of the armies was assigned to Turkish generals while the Khalif of Baghdad was becoming more and more a cosmetic and symbolic figurehead. Real political and military power within the territories claimed by the caliph was exercised by the Turkish sultan. According to Muslim political theorists, the sultan was the executive servant and defender of the caliph. In practice, he ran the caliphate.

The sultan additionally delegated his power to various generals, each of whom was more interested in protecting his own dominion. (The situation was similar to the Late Roman Empire with the rise of Illyrian generals around the 300s, and especially the Germanic generals such as the vandal Stilicho who in the early 5th century ruled the Western Roman Empire in all but name. These were seen as foreign by the Empire’s inhabitants, who built their collective identity out of their tradition of Romance and Greek languages.)

In August 1099, after the fall of Jerusalem, al-Harawi, the chief Qadi of Damascus and famous scholar, went to Baghdad to put pressure on the Abbasid Kaliph al-Mustazhir-Billah to send an army to help the Muslims against the Crusaders. However, Baghdad was a long way from Jerusalem and, moreover, al-Mustazhir had no troops to speak of, as he did not hold actual power. Al-Harawi’s visit to Baghdad is memorable however, for the sermon he held in the Great Mosque in Baghdad: “Your brothers in Syria have no home other than the saddles of their camels or the entrails of vultures.” Al-Harawi was surrounded by a throng of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who wept as he spoke, and their weeping made others in turn weep.

This speech is often repeated in classrooms, and was and still is politisized within the discussion of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. More recently, it has been used in reference to the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, where each faction uses it to target the other by accusing them of collaborating with Westerners.

The next milestone in the timeline is the events at Ma’arat en Nu’man in December 1098, where after a siege the crusaders not only massacred the inhabitants, but also partook in acts of cannibalism. As seen in letters written by Crusaders: “a terrible famine racked the army in Ma‘arra, and placed it in the cruel necessity of feeding itself upon the bodies of the Saracens.”

The event is further documented by sources such as Fulcher of Chartres, a priest participating in the first Crusade who reports in horror: “I shudder to tell that many of our people, harassed by the madness of excessive hunger, cut pieces from the buttocks of the Saracens already dead there, which they cooked, but when it was not yet roasted enough by the fire, they devoured it with savage mouth.”

Among the European records of the incident was the French poem ‘The Leaguer of Antioch’, which contains an effort to justify this atrocity. The poem[2], contains the following lines uttered by the Hermit Peter, answering a group of hungry soldiers:

But Peter answered, ‘Out, ye drones, a helpless pack that cry,

While all unburied round about the slaughtered Paynim (pagans) lie.

A dainty dish is Paynim flesh, with salt and roasting due.

This is indicative of the main ideology of the Crusaders, which removed the guilt of massacring the local populace, namely that the assaulted were not Christians, and thus could be treated as subhumans.

The Eastern authors, unlike some Western ones, tend to view this event of cannibalism not as much as a necessity of hunger but rather that of religious fanaticism. It is therefore linked with the rest of the horrible acts caused by the Crusaders’ view of their enemies as beasts.

The development of this ideology is linked with 11th century papal reforms – such as the Gregorian reforms – that slowly promoted the idea of the Holy War when it has a justified reason, or “iustus finis”. This helped redefine the term milites Christi – which had previously applied to monks exclusively, with spiritual undertones – to concern laymen fighting with material weapons on behalf of the church’s interest.

This concluded a centuries-long evolution of ecclesiastical dogma which goes back to saint Augustin, thus bridging the gap between the pacifism of Early Christians and the Holy War of the Crusades. For the scope of this video, suffice it to say that the war was reframed, seen not only justifiable, but as an outright duty of Christian piety.

Pope Urban II’s desire to redirect Christian violence against foreign rather than domestic foes is evident in his address at the council of Clermont in 1095 that ignited the Crusades. He right-out stated that killing infidels was not immoral but rather encouraged, as the participation in the Holy War would serve as penance and remission of sins. The Crusaders were thus animated to “destroy that vile race from the holy lands [because] Christ commands it.”

Another example is the “Rule of the Templars” established in 1128/29 at the Council of Troyes, which stated their goal to “defend the land from the unbelieving pagans that are the enemies of [Christ]” and as such “may be killed[…] without sinning.”

This ideology is one of many instances where an enemy is portrayed as subhuman, which – as in similar cases throughout world history – encourages atrocities that should be seen from the perspective of fanaticism rather than just the inevitable effects of war.

Indeed, the Crusaders continued acting on this, as on July 15th 1099, Crusaders seized and sacked the city of Jerusalem and massacred Muslims, Eastern Christians, and Jews alike. The slaughter was shocking even for medieval standards.

Almost all school manuals in the Middle East emphasize this massacre, especially in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Libya. An Egyptian book describes it as follows: “When the Crusaders captured the city, they committed many atrocities and permitted the killing of Muslims, Jews and Christians who held beliefs different from theirs, including men, women and children, who were there. These attackers were not frightened by the holiness of the Aqsa mosque and they violated its holiness and killed all Muslims who took refuge in it”.

As is to be expected, these events produced shockwaves then and still influence the view of the Crusades heavily today. They established the image of the ferocious and barbarian Faranj. The incident at Ma’arat al Nu’man in particular gave birth to the epithet “cannibal” that many modern authors use. Adding to the cynicism of it all, many Eastern Christians were killed alongside their Muslim neighbors. Maybe the Crusaders were too busy being swept up by blood rush to feel like asking the particular faith of the people at their mercy. In any case, at the time, the locals of all faiths suffered the same.

The next major milestone is the events during the reign of Salah-el-Din who captured Jerusalem in the aftermath of the battle of Hattin in 1187 and his subsequent clash with Richard the Lionheart during the 3rd Crusade, which marks the end of the strong crusader states.

In the Arabic textbooks, his reign is portrayed as a golden era. He is regarded as a role model, especially in regards to chivalry. The textbooks of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt emphasize that Saladin treated the inhabitants of Jerusalem well, in contrast to the Crusaders’ conduct during their conquest of the town. For example, the Jordanian textbooks say that ‘Saladin granted them safety and allowed those who wanted to leave the transport of their properties and possessions’.

By many sources used in teaching, the successes of Salahedin that caused the tables to turn are attributed to the unification of Greater Syria under the Zangids. The morale is the effectiveness Muslims (or Arabs depending on the author) can accomplish when united.

For the coming century, despite a number of new Crusades, their sphere of influence was mostly limited to coastal areas, despite brief successes such as the temporary recapture of Jerusalem in 1229 during the 6th crusade. Acre, the last stronghold of importance, was lost to the Egyptian Mameluks in 1291.

Indicative of the relative disregard of this period is that the 8th Crusade – which was directed against Tunis – is mentioned in Tunisian textbooks in just one sentence!

Moving on to modern times, as can be seen by now, in Arab countries, the Crusades are hardly perceived as a remote event of little consequence. In fact, they are treated as a precursor to the later Western expansion into the region, and often linked with scepticism towards the West in general, be it from a religious or political perspective. For example, it has been viewed as a direct parallel to the founding of the state of Israel, which is seen as a result of Western intervention in the region. The Saudi Arabian textbooks – in a not-so-subtle comparison – goes as far as directly asking the readers to compare the treatment of Saladin’s enemies with ‘the treatment of the Palestinian people by the Jews today’.

However, this is rather a modern trend, a fact that can be verified by looking at the historiography. Chroniclers of the medieval Middle East, having lived in a highly literate culture, of course documented the events of the Crusades, and their quotes often find their way into most school books in Arabic countries. But after the 15th century, there is hardly any relevant historiography on the subject.

The situation began to change in the 19th century, and especially in the 20th, where the issuance of books on the subject skyrocketed, initially linked with the formation of Arabic national perception, identifying the Crusader period as a kind of foundation myth regarding the joined Arab identity. This was not hindered by the fact that the most well-known commanders of the time -such as Imad al-Din Zengi, Toghtekin and even Salah-el-Din himself – weren’t ethnic Arabs. The union of parts of Greater Syria with that of Egypt under Salahedin was designated an example for the efforts to politically unite Syria and Egypt that led to the short lived United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961.

Additionally, the Crusade era acted as a cautionary tale, again with rather on-the-nose present-day parallels. This revisionism acted on two levels. The conflict tended to be viewed as an example of a major clash of cultures, treating modern conflicts in the region as a continuation of Crusader policies. Here, it served as proof of the “true barbaric nature of the west”. On the other hand, it warned against disunity among the Arab people.

These views are widespread in all extreme anti-west groups, such as Isis, where in their inflammatory rhetoric the word “Crusader” is always present when mentioning Western intervention. Ironically, this reference to Crusaders has been used when referring  to countries such as Russia, which had nothing to do with the Crusades whatsoever. For example in 2015, Reuters reported on an audio message by the Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani who encouraged “Islamic youth everywhere, ignite jihad against the Russians and the Americans in their crusaders’ war against Muslims”.

But this is not an isolated incident. In fact, it seems to be a theme in the background of all instances of the past 100 years when Western powers opposed Middle Eastern ones.

An early example where the parallels to Crusades seems out of place relates to the Turkish victory in the 1920s against foreign powers, which resulted in the foundation of a secular Turkey but also in the 1922 expulsion of the Greek-speaking populace from within the borders of modern-day Turkey. This can sometimes – especially through the rise of political Islam in Turkey in recent years – be somehow paralleled with the expulsion of the Crusaders from Asia.

Historically speaking, this may seem at least misdirected, as the Greek presence in Asia Minor preceded the Turkish one by literally thousands of years. But it is indicative of how the rhetoric of Crusaders has been on the rise recently, and how it now seems to include any Western action or even criticism directed towards the dealings of the Turkish government. In 2017, the Turkish President Erdogan himself made such a comparison, when he denounced the West’s “crusader mentality” after Western politicians criticised a referendum after which he was allegedly bestowed with authoritarian powers.

But the main field where analogies with Crusaders are notably high are statements issued concerning Israel. Even before the foundation of Israel in 1948 for example, Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “If the Jewish state becomes a fact, and this is realized by the Arab peoples, they will drive the Jews who live in their midst into the sea.” Similar statements, this time referring to the newly arrived Jewish settlers, have been attributed to the circle around the Egyptian leader Gamal abdel-Nasser in the 60s.

Indeed, Arab scholars, writers and politicians have repeatedly nurtured the Crusader myth when referring to Zionism and Israelism in order to prove that Israel is a Western-colonialist entity in the Eastern Meditereanean. Especially when the legitimacy of Israel is being questioned – by organisations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and even elements within Iran – the Crusader metaphor gets repeatedly trotted out even today.

Generally however, this equating of crusaders with modern Western countries is not limited to extremist groups but also to more moderate, peace-seeking ones that are sceptical of the West. This – at least in part – is linked with what they learned in schools regarding the period: The strong focus on the initial atrocities committed by the invading Western warriors, with less to negligible mentions of cultural exchange and other aspects that are part of the era’s history.

But in the end, the crusades are filled with many epic battles, feats of bravery and heroism on both sides that are of interest to all history geeks. Such as Baldwin III, who became King of Jerusalem at 13, when he refused to abandon his army – which was in peril – for the sake of safety, because he was king. Or chivalrous acts, like Salah-el-Din sending his doctor to Baldwin the IV, the leper King of Jerusalem. Or the fact that an Arab tribesman personally saved a Crusader commander, leading him through the Muslim army to safety while putting himself in danger’s way only because some years back Baldwin was merciful towards the tribesman’s captured pregnant wife.

Even a modus vivendi was reached, with tales of friendship between the locals and the Crusader settlers that lived there for a long time. But it is important to remember that the first Crusade in particular, and especially all new Crusaders that kept arriving through the whole period were indoctrinated with fanaticism and a black-and-white perceptions. As always the case when such fanaticism appears in history, it led to acts of blind violence. And it is mostly this aspect that remains vivid in the people of the Orient, and it is rhetoric devised from it that keeps fueling the Western-sceptic fractions in Arab, Iraninan and Turkish people with argumentation for the evil nature of the West.

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from Today I Found Out
by Nasser Ayash - November 01, 2020 at 01:06PM
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How Most People Got Schrödinger’s Cat Thought Experiment Wrong

Quantum mechanics is every Hollywood writers favorite handwavy tool to accomplish whatever they feel like in a given moment regardless of whether what they say or have happen has anything remotely to do with the reality of this branch of science and, well, reality. Beyond the masses, it is so NOT understood that even the likes of Richard Feynman, one of the greatest theoretical physicists said (probably joking) that nobody understood the topic. And yet, many will use examples to explain it, and probably there’s no example that is used more often than Schrödinger’s cat… but don’t do it yourself, because chances are that you are missing the point Schrödinger intended.

For the uninitiated, in an ironically oversimplified nutshell, quantum mechanics is the study of everything at a very small scale- this includes the study of elementary particles such as the ones that constitute an atom. The realm of quantum mechanics is largely probabilistic, given that things that seem so simple in classical physics such as knowing the position and momentum at the same time of macroscopic objects is impossible at the scales of an atom or smaller. Quantum mechanics therefore deals with superposition states, where a particle could be in more than one state at a time before it is forced to collapse when observed.

As you can imagine, this is not an easy pill to swallow and at the infancy of this branch of physics everyone was struggling to get some water fast. A lot of proposed different solutions have been published explaining the lack of deterministic nature from these very small particles, yet no one has been able to offer one that is universally accepted. Many physicists are actually content with just dealing with the probabilistic mess since it has worked so far. Albert Einstein was not among them. So he, along with Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen published a paper in 1935 called “Can Quantum-Mechanical Description Of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” where they claimed that quantum physics was not complete due to the paradoxes it could create without any further context. As an example, they mentioned in the paper the issue regarding quantum entanglement; the phenomenon of how a particle’s state could influence another one even if they were separated, regardless of distance, yet this influence would be instantaneous. According to Einstein, this would mean that information would be traveling at infinite speed, therefore breaking one of the most fundamental constants of physics; the speed of light. In 1964, John Stewart Bell proposed a solution for the paradox and later experiments supported these conclusions, but at the time of Einstein’s article, another physicist was not impressed either with the implications that quantum indeterminacy brought to the table, and that someone was Erwin Schrödinger.

Born in Austria in 1887, Erwin Schrödinger was not only a successful physicist, but also contributed to quantum mechanics significantly and one of these contributions was the

Schrödinger equation, which is used to describe the wave function of a system, a tool that would eventually earn him a Nobel Prize in physics that he shared with Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac. Given that his career has been so extensively dedicated to quantum mechanics, you might wonder; how could he be skeptical of quantum mechanics’ description of nature?

To answer this, it is necessary to dive into the conversations Schrödinger and Einstein had through the years. Given their shared skepticism of quantum indeterminacy, they would exchange letters about the topic and in one of these letters he proposed an example that is fairly known by everyone at this point:

Imagine a cat inside a steel box, inside with the cat there is a device; A geiger counter (a device to measure radiation) is monitoring a small amount of a radioactive substance with a probability of 50% that one of the atoms would decay in the next hour (of course with a 50% chance that no atom will). If one of the atoms decay, it will be detected by the Geiger counter, which will tell the device to release hydrogen cyanide.

Given the vague nature of quantum mechanics, until measured or observed, the system has not been forced to collapse into one of two states (the atom decaying or not decaying), therefore the cat is equally just as dead and alive at the same time as the atom is decayed or not decayed, since the cat’s health is dependant of the mentioned atom. The trigger that will force the atom and subsequently the cat into one of the two possible states is a physicist (hopefully not the owner of the cat) that will open the door of the box and look by himself after an hour the experiment has started.

You see, the problem the physicist had with quantum mechanics was that no one knew where its probabilistic effects ended. Why would the life or death of the cat be dependent on our observation? Why would the system care if we observe it or not? Isn’t the cat observing the poison? Who is observing the physicist observing the inside the box? How large could these probabilistic effects be? If it has a limit in its scale, how large is it? How could a system be independent and superpositioned before our observation but then its state be defined only once we observe it? This is a mess to explain because in relative macroscopic terms, everyday objects are not in multiple states until an observer interacts with it. It is therefore illogical that before opening the box, the cat is dead and alive at the same time, and only until you open the box the cat is retroactively dead, if that’s the result observed. This was meant as a direct critique of the Copenhagen interpretation.

Einstein couldn’t agree more with the implications this scenario created. When amplifying its effects, the situation regarding what is deterministic and what is probabilistic becomes very hard to define. Stating this in a letter sent to Schrödinger in 1950:

This interpretation (that quantum mechanics is a complete description of reality) is, however, refuted, most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + Geiger counter + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which a psi-function of the system contains the cat both alive and blown to bits. Is the state of the cat to be created only when a physicist investigates the situation at some definite time? Nobody really doubts that the presence of absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation. But then the description by means of the psi-function is certainly incomplete…

It must be said that was Einstein who substituted the cyanide for gunpowder as a means of hypothetical animal cruelty.

Naturally, the thought experiment has been either misquoted and even sometimes twisted to prove something unrelated to physics entirely. The easiest misconception to make about the thought experiment is that Schrödinger was serious about this experiment, and that “it could be done”. You might have guessed at this point that he didn’t take the concept seriously, rather he mocked the possibilities that quantum indeterminacy implied.

Another misconception is the favorite from philosophers and people who want to give a mystic nature to this thought experiment. For them “observer” is defined as an actual “eyewitness”, so to speak; a conscious entity or a person. This normally branches into linking consciousness and quantum mechanics in a very holistic way to give mystic-like philosophies some kind of credibility. One famous theory is the Von Neumann-Wigner Interpretation that claims that consciousness is necessary to collapse the wave function. It must be pointed out however that Schrödinger probably meant that either an observer could be or not a conscious observer. It could be something that simply measures or interacts with the system. So its philosophical reach probably was not meant to necessarily speak about conscious beings or even point out that a conscious observer was not necessary. Physicists tend to lower the role of a conscious actor in the model, since for them, the universe does not care for your interpretation.

A very simplified interpretation was that Schrödinger was mocking or dismissing quantum mechanics entirely. But knowing that he established very well known formulas and that everyone knew that quantum mechanics works, this is not the case at all. He just simply argued that instead of interpreting quantum mechanics as a complete theory that relies on probability, that we might just not know how the real gears behind it works.

As science author Philip Ball, pointed out, Erwin Schriodinger did not mean to say that quantum physics are not applicable to everyday macroscopic objects. We already know about this, but rather use the example as an absurd, exaggerated way to show that pushing the limits of what could be considered as “quantum objects” could bring paradoxes that might not be easily solvable.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from trying. For example, we have the relational interpretation which states that anything can be an observer, each with their own version equally valid: If the cat has been poisoned, it observed the system collapsing, but since the physicist has not looked inside the box, the system is in superposition for him, until he obtains more information about it by opening the box.

There is also the Many-Worlds interpretation by Hugh Everett, where it says that any measurement that forces a system to collapse into one of two superpositioned states, will split reality in two; both equally real, and yet, none can interact with each other. This means that the collapse never happened: if you open the box and the cat is still alive, it was always meant to be alive… in your reality, but now there’s another universe where you are being arrested with charges of animal cruelty.

As for Neils Bohr, the main antagonist of Albert Einstein regarding this topic, the riddle wasn’t a riddle at all. He didn’t think the observer directly triggered the collapse, it simply measured it. For him, the first observer was the Geiger counter. One could say that for Bohr, anything outside the box was not necessary to obtain a result.

Many more solutions to the paradox have been proposed, at the same time showing only how hard it is to solve. None of these have offered a satisfactory conclusion for everyone. This is probably why Erwin Schrödinger wasn’t much of a fan of speaking about probability in quantum mechanics, stating:

I am no friend of probability theory, I have hated it from the first moment when our dear friend Max Born gave it birth. For it could be seen how easy and simple it made everything, in principle, everything ironed and the true problems concealed.

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from Today I Found Out
by Gerardo Amador - October 31, 2020 at 01:05PM
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If Children Grew up Isolated from Adults, Would they Create Their Own Language?

Just where did language come from and what does it take for a language to develop? If a group of children grew up isolated from the rest of the world, without any access to human language, would they create one of their own and, if so, what would it look like and how long would it take? These questions have fascinated humans for centuries and speculation on the matter dates back at least as early as ancient Greece.

Some early thinkers believed that without outside influence, a child might default to an ancient or ancestral language. Depending on the location and time period, Hebrew, Greek, Egyptian, and Sanskrit were all suggested as possibilities. This might sound farfetched to us today, but ancient scholars gave the idea serious consideration. Several accounts (of varying credibility) describe attempts to isolate children from linguistic input and observe what language they would eventually speak.

The earliest such account comes from Herodotus, who described a supposed experiment by Psamtik I (who ruled Egypt from 664-610 BCE). Psamtik is said to have placed two newborns in the care of a shepherd with instructions to raise the children in isolation, with goats to provide milk as needed and no exposure to human speech. The goal was to determine whether the Egyptians or the Phrygians were the “eldest of all men” by observing whether these isolated children grew to speak the Egyptian or Phrygian language. According to legend, when the children were brought before Psamtik, they held out their hands and cried “becos”, the Phrygian word for bread. This was taken as evidence that the Phyrgians, rather than the Egyptians, were the oldest people. It is unlikely that these events unfolded exactly as described by Herodotus, but it does show that our fascination with the origins of language dates back thousands of years.

Another experiment said to be conducted by King Frederick II of Sicily was described in the 13th century by Franciscan friar Brother Salimbene.

…he made linguistic experiments on the vile bodies of hapless infants, bidding foster-mothers and nurses to suckle and bathe and wash the children, but in no wise to prattle or speak with them; for he would have learnt whether they would speak the Hebrew language (which had been the first), or Greek, or Latin, or Arabic, or perchance the tongue of their parents of whom they had been born.

However, it is uncertain whether this experiment actually occurred. If it was conducted, it appears it was a failure, judging from Brother Salimbene’s description of the outcome. “But he laboured in vain, for the children could not live without clappings of the hands, and gestures, and gladness of countenance, and blandishments.”

Other accounts describe more extreme methods taken to ensure sufficient isolation. King James IV of Scotland is said to have left two infants, in the care of a mute nanny, on the isolated island of Inchkeith. Akbar the Great, a Mogul emperor of India, reportedly locked away a small group of children in a dedicated building known as the Gang Mahal, or “dumb house” where any form of speech was forbidden.

Unfortunately, in addition to the obvious ethical concerns, documentation of these early experiments is sparse, making it difficult to determine whether they actually occurred as described or draw any conclusive results. In modern times, deliberate isolation of helpless infants to satisfy scientific curiosity is obviously no longer considered an acceptable approach, but “natural experiments,” often resulting from strange and sad circumstances, have continued to provide insight into our innate language capacity. Case studies of children who grew up in isolation, often due to abandonment or abuse, suggest that, perhaps unsurprisingly, these situations are not exactly ideal for language development.

Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the case of Genie, a child who was found at the age of 13 after spending almost her entire life locked in a small room with minimal human interaction and almost no exposure to speech. At the time she was removed from this abusive situation, she did not speak. She quickly began imitating words and within the first year made impressive progress in learning to speak and understand English. However, she continued to show difficulty in fully acquiring English grammar, even many years later.

Similar language difficulties have been observed in other children isolated from human contact for extended periods of time. They do not generally develop strong language skills and, especially in the case of older children, many have difficulty learning language even if they are later exposed to it. This has been proposed as evidence for the Critical Period Hypothesis, the idea that fully acquiring language is difficult or impossible after a certain age. However, in these cases, it’s pretty much impossible to distinguish the effects of extreme social isolation and lack of linguistic input.

It is often reported that twins develop their own secret languages for communication with each other. It is true that twins often converse with each other using speech unintelligible to others, including close family members. However, it wouldn’t be quite correct to refer to this “twin speak” as a language in the strictest sense. In cases where the private speech of twins has been studied, the vast majority of vocabulary can be traced back to the languages the children have been exposed to, with changes to the sounds and simplified grammar. In fact, many children go through a phase where their speech is unintelligible, with all but the closest of family members. For twins (and sometimes other children close in age being raised together), the difference is that they have a readily available partner at a similar phase in speech development. Add in the fact that the twins will copy each other’s speech just as readily as that of adults and the feedback loop can quickly result in speech that sounds like gibberish to anyone but the twins themselves.

One famous example of this is that of Virginia and Grace Kennedy, also known as Poto and Cabengo in the private speech they used with each other. The two girls had minimal contact outside their family and were not sent to school. In the early years of their life, they spoke almost exclusively in a unique style of speech that no one understood but them. After the girls were referred to speech therapy around the age of 6, their speech was found to be largely derived from a mixture of English and German (the two languages spoken in their household), with some invented words thrown in. The relative social isolation the girls experienced is believed to have been a contributing factor to the development of their unique way of speaking.

Deaf children without early access to sign language provide some insight into the case of linguistic deprivation without the same degree of social isolation. In the absence of an established sign language, deaf children and their families often develop a form of communication known as homesign. These systems of gestures allow for some communication with family members, but the gestures typically vary from family to family and lack the complex, regular grammar found in established sign languages. Early exposure to language input, including this kind of complex grammar, appears to be a stepping stone to later language learning. Lack of early exposure to language makes it more difficult for children in this situation to later learn any language, spoken or signed. Interestingly, this means that deaf children who have early access to sign language actually end up showing higher proficiency in not only signed, but also spoken language as adults.

New languages can also form when two or more languages come into contact. In these situations. speakers may develop a pidgin in order to communicate with each other. These often combine material from multiple languages into a sort of simplified “emergency” language that people who don’t share a language can use to communicate. In some situations, children may grow up in an environment where a pidgin is the main language spoken around them. In these environments, the language can evolve into a creole. Unlike pidgins, creoles are spoken by children as a native language and have the full functionality of a natural language. This process can happen very quickly, often within a generation or two. That is, even with input that lacks some of the usual features of language, kids can fill in the blanks and add complexity to the system quite quickly.

In the past, creoles were often viewed as corrupt or imperfect versions of languages they developed from. Haitian Creole developed through contact between French colonists and African slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries. Much of the language’s vocabulary is drawn from French, but its influences also include languages from West Africa and the Caribbean as well as Portuguese. Despite being the first language of most residents of Haiti (around 9 million people), it was only recognised as an official language in 1987. Even today, French is still considered more prestigious in many contexts and school is most often taught in French. However, in Haiti and elsewhere, creoles are gradually gaining prestige and acceptance. Far from being lesser forms of their parent languages, creoles are some of the best evidence we have of children’s remarkable ability to create and modify language to suit their needs.

While ethical standards are much more strict than in the past, scientists have continued to look for creative ways to observe the process of language creation. In the late 1970’s, one researcher, Derek Bickerton, made a serious proposal to take six families with young children, each speaking a different language, and leave them all isolated on an island for a year. The idea was to observe how the young children learned to communicate with each other over the course of the experiment. The adults would farm coconuts and communicate using a simple system of easy to pronounce words provided by the researchers while their children (presumably) kept themselves busy inventing a new language. No problem at all, right? The idea may sound like a wacky reality show pitch, but Bickerton actually made it as far as scouting out an isolated island in the Philippines for the experiment and getting ethics approval from the University of Hawaii. However, funding ultimately fell through and the experiment never took place.

There are still many unanswered questions, but humans (or our ancestors) must have invented language somehow. So, how did we go from no language at all to the 6000+ languages spoken around the world today? While languages show a dizzying variety of features, they also have many striking similarities. The degree to which language and its rules are genetically innate remains a source of heated debate, but it is clear that humans are well-equipped for language and have at least some innate ability for language learning. Even deaf infants babble initially (and can also babble with their hands) and newborns already recognize some characteristics of their mothers’ language due to exposure before birth. Anyone who has watched how quickly toddlers’ vocabularies can explode to hundreds of words, often before they are even out of diapers, can attest that humans are veritable language-learning machines. It’s hard not to wonder how long it would take for children to create a language of their own if given the opportunity.

It might seem that such questions would forever remain in the realm of idle speculation, but around the same time as Bickerton’s proposed experiment, the unique ingredients needed for the birth of a new language came together in an unexpected place— a school in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua.

Prior to the late 1970’s Nicaragua did not have an established Deaf community and few educational resources for deaf students existed. This was a tumultuous time in Nicaragua, with a devastating earthquake in 1972 and a violent revolution in 1979.  Lack of access to education was a problem across the country, and not just for deaf children. At the time of the revolution, it was estimated that as few as one in five rural Nicaraguans were literate. It was against this unlikely backdrop that Nicaraguan Sign Language was born.

In the late 1970s, a special education school with a program for deaf children in grades 1-6 was opened in the capital city of Managua. Within a few years it had around one hundred students. In 1980, the new government opened a vocational school, also in Managua. Instruction at these schools didn’t include any sign language. As was common practice at the time, the focus was on teaching the children the spoken and written language of their community, in this case Spanish. Unfortunately this method, known as oralism, tends to result in impoverished language input and generally does not lead to native-like language acquisition, so these children did not become fluent speakers of Spanish either.

These early attempts at language teaching may not have been successful, but, unknown to their teachers, the children were taking matters, quite literally, into their own hands. Gestures were not allowed in the classroom, but outside of class, the children were busy doing what children everywhere do—playing, socializing, and interacting with their peers. On the playground and on the bus to and from school, the children were spending time together every day. Teenage students were hanging out together after school and beginning to date each other. Within a few years, teachers began to notice that the children were gesturing prolifically among themselves, although no adult was able to understand the gestures. In 1986 they brought in outside researchers to help them figure out what the children were saying. What they found was remarkable.

Older students at the vocational school had all brought different homesign systems with them, but had converged on a system that let them communicate with each other. In many ways, this system resembled a pidgin, the kind of emergency, makeshift language that lets speakers who don’t share a common language communicate. Younger children at the elementary school, however, signed more fluently and had expanded on this system, adding rules, regularity and complexity. For example, they had developed a system of using location in space to indicate agreement between a verb and its argument.

What was remarkable was that no outsider taught them this. The youngest children were using the most complex structures and signing the most fluently, so they could not have learned this from their older classmates. The structure of their signs was also completely different from that of Spanish. It appeared that these children had simply invented the language, more or less out of thin air. In less than a decade they had created themselves what no adult had managed to teach them–a language.

Returning to our original question, would a completely isolated group of children be able to invent their own language? Assuming their basic survival needs were met, it seems likely they would come up with some way of communicating. Social interaction and development across generations appear to be important ingredients as well, so there would need to be a large enough group of children and it’s possible that, much like in the development of pidgins into creoles, a second generation would add complexity, making something more like a fully-fledged language. We may never know for sure what communication would look like in a population raised in complete isolation, but the natural experiments in language formation show us that humans have an innate drive to communicate, a capacity for creating language, and that seemingly with the current state of our brains, it doesn’t take long for us to develop a fully featured language.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Fact:

Even in songbirds, it appears that learning from an adult is often a necessary step in developing the ability to vocalize and communicate. Baby male Zebra Finches deprived of an adult “tutor” will still learn to sing, but not the in same way as their peers (In case you’re wondering, just listening to a recording doesn’t work as well. Yes, scientists have tested this.) Like many songbirds, male Zebra Finches utilize their singing skills in order to attract a mate. If they don’t get the chance to learn from an older mentor, their resulting sub-par singing skills may even mean they are less likely to attract the attention of the lady Zebra Finches. Interestingly however, one study found that when isolated Zebra Finches were allowed to raise young of their own, successive generations gradually altered the song. Within 4 or 5 generations, the descendants of these isolated birds were producing songs very similar to those of their wild counterparts.

Expand for References

Ancient Language Deprivation Experiments:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233597995_Royal_Investigations_of_the_Origin_of_Language

Genie:

https://linguistics.ucla.edu/people/curtiss/1974%20-%20The%20development%20of%20language%20in%20Genie.pdf

More about Genie:

https://www.verywellmind.com/genie-the-story-of-the-wild-child-2795241

Critical Period Hypothesis:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_period_hypothesis

Twin Language:

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Karen_Thorpe/publication/7091569_Twin_children’s_language_development/links/5ba3232345851574f7d80e20/Twin-childrens-language-development.pdf

Poto and Cabango:

https://flashbak.com/poto-and-cabengo-in-the-1970s-grace-and-virginia-kennedy-were-bigger-than-the-loch-ness-monster-10333/

Language in Deaf Children:

http://grammar.ucsd.edu/courses/hdp1/Mayberry_AP_07.pdf

Pidgins and Creoles:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_language

Haitian Creole:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Creole

Derek Bickerton:

https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/kids-creoles-and-the-coconuts

Language Diversity:

http://home.hum.uva.nl/oz/hengeveldp/publications/2006_hengeveld.pdf

Language Learning Before Birth:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543479/

Early Language Development:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/1166093

Babbling:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manual_babbling

Nicaraguan Sign Language:

https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/11131

manos-unidas.org/files/2015/04/New-Ways-to-be-Deaf-in-Nicaragua-chapter-14.pdf

serious-science.org/nicaraguan-sign-language-6876

Nicaraguan Literacy Campaign:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaraguan_Literacy_Campaign

Songbirds:

https://academic.oup.com/icb/article/57/4/910/4055837

https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/113/24/6641.full.pdf

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090503132617.htm

The post If Children Grew up Isolated from Adults, Would they Create Their Own Language? appeared first on Today I Found Out.



from Today I Found Out
by Ann Burchfield - October 31, 2020 at 01:03PM
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The V2 Rocket Heist

Of all the advanced weapons technology developed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, perhaps none was as sought after by the Allies as the Aggregat-4 rocket, better known as the V2. Developed at the Peenemunde Army Research Station under the direction of Walter Dornberger and Werner von Braun, the V2 was the world’s first operational ballistic missile, pioneering many of the technologies that would later become standard in most modern rockets, such as turbine fuel pumps, gyroscopic stabilization, and radio guidance systems. Standing 14 meters tall and weighing 12.5 tons, the V2 had a range of 320 kilometres and could be set up and fired in a few hours by highly mobile launching squads, making it difficult for allied aircraft to track down and destroy. And once fired, it was unstoppable, rising to the edge of space before hurtling down at its target at nearly 3,000 kilometres per hour – nearly twice the speed of sound. Between September 1944 and March 1945, around 3,225 V2s were fired at targets in England and mainland Europe killing an estimated 2,754 civilians.

But while the V2 was a technological marvel and a potent propaganda symbol, as a strategic weapon it was a dismal failure. Despite its incredible sophistication, the V2 could only carry a 1-ton explosive warhead, and was so inaccurate it could only be used against city-sized targets. This, combined with the rocket’s tendency to break apart before even reaching its target, meant that its impact on of the war was minimal – all while costing Germany the equivalent of $40 Billion USD – more than half as much as the Manhattan Project – and consuming valuable resources desperately needed elsewhere for the war effort. Furthermore, the rockets were produced by slave labourers in unimaginably brutal conditions, an estimated 26,5000 of whom died in the process. This makes the V2 the only weapon in history to kill more people in its manufacture than in combat.

But while the V2 may not have been the war-winning Germany had hoped for, the Allies immediately recognized it as the weapon of the future, and even before the war in Europe had ended, the mad scramble for German rocket technology began. Infamously, the majority of the German rocket scientists defected to the Americans, who sanitized their nazi past and brought them  to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip. In addition to helping the United States develop missile technology, many of these scientists would form the backbone of America’s fledgling space program and help land men on the moon. The Soviets also captured a number of scientists as well as the development centre at Peenemunde and the underground V2 factory at Nordhausen, while Britain and France captured and studied large numbers of V2 rocket parts.

But often forgotten in this race for German technology is Canada, which although still technically a part of the British Empire had been granted nominal independence in 1931 and was keen to operate militarily on its own terms. So in May 1945, Canada formed the 1st Canadian Army Museum Collection Team, a crack five-man squad tasked with scouring Germany for weapons to bring back to Canada. Leading the squad was 24-year-old Captain Farley Mowat, who would later go on to become a beloved environmentalist and author of such classic books as Never Cry Wolf and People of the Deer. Over the next three months, Mowat’s team collected over 700 tons of German military equipment, ranging from tanks to aircraft to artillery pieces and even midget submarines.

Then, in July 1945, the team stumbled upon the ultimate prize. While speaking to local members of the Dutch Resistance, Mowat learned of a trainload of V2 rockets which had escaped Allied bombing sitting on a railroad siding just west of Nienburg, Germany. The train was being guarded by a detachment of British troops, whose commanders had forbidden Canadians and other ‘Colonials’ from acquiring Germany rocket technology. But determined to bring back a V2 for Canada, Mowat dispatched Canadian Intelligence Corps Lieutenant Mike Donovan on a daring heist mission. Setting out in a jeep from the team’s base in Ouderkerk in the Netherlands, Donovan surveyed the site and discovered that the last V2 in the train was partially concealed by some trees and was accessible by a small road running through the forest. Donovan returned to base, and along with Lieutenant Jim Hood acquired a 12-ton tow truck, work crew, and a trailer for a midget submarine before heading back to the V2 site. While Lieutenant Hood concealed the truck in the forest around two miles from the rocket, Donovan approached the British guards bearing a demijohn of Dutch gin and offered them all a drink. Within hours the entire contingent had been rendered blackout drunk, and as dusk fell Donovan told his drinking partners that he had to relive himself. Instead, he used a radio in his jeep to signal the all-clear to Hood, who along with his work crew drove his truck up to the last rail car, cut the tie-down chains, and managed to roll the 4.5-ton rocket onto the submarine trailer and spirit it away back to Ouderkerk.

Fearing that the British or Americans would try to confiscate his valuable prize, Captain Mowat ordered that the rocket be camouflaged. It was thus fitted with a false wooden conning tower, periscope, and propeller, and given a coat of navy-blue paint in order to pass it off as an experimental midget submarine. In this guise, the rocket successfully avoided detection until finally it was loaded aboard the transport ship

On arrival in Canada, the V2 was sent to the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment, or CARDE, in Valcartier, Quebec, where it was carefully disassembled, examined, and blueprinted. During this process it was discovered that the rocket had been armed the whole time, requiring the CARDE scientists to carefully drill a hole in the nose and drain out one ton of high explosive.

In 1950 the V2 was prominently displayed at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, but after this all record of the rocket’s whereabouts seems to disappear. The last reported sighting of the Canadian V2 was in 1961 in the scrapyard of the Canadian Forces Base in Picton, Ontario, in 1961. The base was closed in 1969, meaning that the rocket, which had taken such ingenuity and daring to acquire, was likely bulldozed into a landfill, never to be seen again. And despite having been able to examine such advanced technology early on, Canada never developed its own home-grown satellite-launching rocket like the Americans, Soviets, British, and French did. When the first Canadian-designed and built satellite, Alouette 1, blasted into orbit on September 29, 1962, it was aboard an American rocket.

But the legacy of the V2 lives on. Combined with the War’s other great technological achievement, the atomic bomb, ballistic missile technology would form the cornerstone of the Cold War policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, and shape the course of history for the next 50 years.

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Bonus Facts

#1: The V2 was fuelled by 5 tons of liquid oxygen and 4 tons of 75% ethyl alcohol – essentially 150-proof Vodka. One strange consequence of this fuel combination was that in the closing days of the War, the V2 project consumed nearly all of Germany’s supply of potatoes – further worsening already dire food shortages. The fuel also caused major problems for the rocket development program at Peenemunde, as Army and SS directors noticed that it tended to “evaporate” at a much faster rate than chemistry typically allowed. Yes, it turned out the German rocket scientists were helping themselves to the rocket fuel in order to get rip-roaring drunk, so much so that fuel theft is estimated to have delayed the entire development project by several weeks. In response, the SS added a bad-tasting pink dye to the fuel to render it undrinkable, but the ever-resourceful scientists soon discovered how to filter this out by passing the fuel through a potato. The SS countered by adding a purgative to render the drinker violently ill, but this too backfired, resulting in such high rates of absenteeism that it threatened to derail the entire project. Eventually, a solution was found in the form of Methanol or wood alcohol, which is not only extremely toxic but very difficult to filter or distill out of Ethanol. After one scientist went blind and another died from Methanol poisoning, the drinking problem suddenly stopped.

#2: In the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, alongside many of the weapons and vehicles captured by Captain Mowat and his team, sits a seemingly nondescript piece of equipment with a surprisingly fascinating history. This collection of cylindrical cans, painted in blue and white camouflage, is known as Weather Station Kurt, and it is all that remains of the only successful Nazi invasion of North America.

The German U-boat campaign against Allied shipping in the Atlantic was dependent on accurate weather reports, and as weather systems in the Atlantic tend to move from West to East, it was necessary to collect meteorological data as close to the North American coast as possible to give adequate warning. At first the Germans used weather ships and manned weather stations, but these were vulnerable to capture by Allied forces, and regular weather reporting by U-boats required them to break radio silence and expose themselves to attach. So in 1943, German firm Siemens developed the Wetter-Funkgerat Land-26, an electronic automatic weather station that could automatically broadcast regular weather reports for up to six months. The system was housed in ten steel canisters, two of which held the meteorological instruments and a radio antenna and the other eight batteries to power the device. In total, fourteen of these stations were deployed by U-boats in various Arctic regions such as Greenland, Spitsbergen, and Norway. Two were intended for the North American coast, but the U-boat carrying one of them, U-867, was sunk in September 1944.

On October 22, 1943, U-537, commanded by Captain-Lieutenant Peter Schrewe, arrived at Martin Bay on the east coast of Labrador, approximately 6 degrees north of the Arctic Circle. After dropping anchor, Schrewe sent technician Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer – after whom the station was codenamed – and ten sailors ashore to install the weather equipment while the rest of the crew worked through the night to repair storm damage U-537 had incurred on the journey over. To prevent sailors and local Inuit from discovering and interfering with the equipment, it was marked as belonging to the non-existent “Canadian Meteor Service” and empty American cigarette packets were scattered about the site. 28 hours after dropping anchor, U-537 departed Martin Bay and resumed its war patrol.

Weather Station Kurt operated for a month before mysteriously going silent, and as the War came to an end in May 1945 it and its fellow stations were promptly forgotten. Then, in 1977, while researching the history of the Siemens company, retired engineer Franz Selinger stumbled upon the papers of Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer, which included pictures of Weather Station Kurt. Intrigued, Selinger contacted W.A.B. Douglas, a historian at the Canadian Department of National Defense, asking if the Station still existed. In 1981, Douglas sailed to Martin Bay, and to his surprise discovered the remains of the station – rusty but mostly intact – exactly where Dr. Sommermeyer had left it more than 30 years before.

Expand for References

Mowat, Farley M, My Father’s Son: Memories of War and Peace, (Houghton Mifflin, the University of Michigan, 1992), p. 297

Skaarup, Harold A, Canadian War Trophies http://silverhawkauthor.com/canadian-war-trophies-book_326.html

King, Andrew, The Story of Canada’s Lost Nazi Rocket https://ottawarewind.com/2015/05/04/the-lost-rocket/

http://www.v2rocket.com

Weather Station Kurt erected in Labrador in 1943 https://ift.tt/36opK2T

Nazi Weather Station in Canada During WWII https://ift.tt/3l0q2B1

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from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - October 30, 2020 at 01:00PM
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“Dirty Bertie’s” Throne: the Sex Chair of Edward VI

The Edwardian Era, lasting from 1901 to 1910, is often remembered as a final age of innocence before Europe descended into the savagery of the First World War – a gilded period of refinement and elegance. This is somewhat ironic, as for most of his life the namesake of the era, King Edward VII, embodied exactly none of these virtues.

Born Albert Edward, Prince of Wales – but known to his family as ‘Bertie’ – Edward was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. As heir to the throne, from an early age he was subjected to a strict regimen of academic and moral instruction – a program against which he fiercely rebelled, throwing tantrums and refusing to study or work. This behaviour would persist throughout his childhood and adolescence, defeating his exasperated parents’ every effort at correction. In 1861 at the age of 20, Bertie was enrolled in the Army and sent to a training camp in Ireland in a final effort to impose upon him some kind of discipline. However, this backfired when his fellow officers smuggled actress Nellie Clifden into his quarters so the young Prince could lose his virginity. This incident so scandalized his parents that Prince Albert, already suffering the onset of Typhoid Fever, travelled to Cambridge to admonish his son, declaring: “I knew that you were thoughtless and weak – but I could not think you depraved.” 

When Albert died two weeks later, a distraught Victoria blamed his death on Edward’s indiscretion. She would never fully forgive him, declaring: “I never can, or shall, look at him without a shudder.”

With the mourning Victoria withdrawn from public life but refused to let her son take on important royal duties, Edward was left to live a life of leisure, travelling the world, yachting, hunting, horse racing and attending endless parties and other social events. And despite his parents’ efforts to tame him by marrying him off to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863, Edward retained an insatiable sexual appetite that was to become legendary. In addition to carrying out multiple indiscreet affairs society women including actress Sarah Bernhardt and Lady Randolph Churchill – mother of Winston Churchill – Edward frequented the most exclusive brothels in Paris, his favourite being La Chabanais. There he kept a private room decorated with his coat of arms, where his favourite pastime was reportedly to entertain the ladies in a giant swan-neck bathtub allegedly filled with champagne. Such was Edward’s reputation as a womanizer that he soon acquired the nicknames ‘Dirty Bertie’ and ‘Edward the Caresser.”

But by 1890 Edward’s enormous sexual appetite had begun to run afoul of his other great love: that of food. To say Edward was a big eater would be an understatement, his standard dinner being a gargantuan 12-course affair including two kinds of soup, whole salmon, multiple saddles of mutton, sirloins of beef, and whole game birds, devilled herrings, cheese, and cakes. Consequently, he quickly found himself overweight, out of shape, and increasingly unable to perform in the bedroom.

Ordinarily, a man in Edward’s position would have had two choices: lose weight or try different positions. But this being the Prince of Wales, he decided to take a third option. Edward commissioned famous Paris cabinetmaker Louis Soubrier to create what he called a “Siege d’Amour”, or “Love Chair”. Installed in Edward’s private room at La Chabanais, the elaborate gilded device allowed Edward to continue having sex without crushing his partners with his enormous girth. It was also rumoured that the chair allowed Edward to have sex with two women at once, yet while the chair does feature a second cushion on the lower level it is unclear how this was supposed to function.

In 1901 Queen Victoria finally died, and after 60 years of waiting Edward was at last able to ascend to the throne. Despite his parents’ fears and a lifetime of questionable behaviour, during his short reign Edward proved a surprisingly popular and effective king, his gregariousness and social intelligence making him an excellent diplomat and ambassador for England.

As for his infamous sex chair, it remained at La Chabanais until 1951, when the brothel went out of business and its contents were purchased by a private buyer. Its whereabouts remained a mystery until 2011, when author Tony Perrottet interviewed the great-grandson of Louis Soubrier, who revealed that he had re-purchased the original chair. Restored and re-upholstered, Edward VII’s sex chair remains in the Soubrier warehouse, a relic of a bygone age of decadence and a testament to Edward’s unconventional approach to life and the age-old adage: it’s good to be the King.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Fact:

Speaking of affairs, a common rumor was and is that Richard the Lionheart and Philip II of France were a couple of kings who seemingly would rather have a relationship with a man than produce an heir and a spare, and were particularly fond of one another. But is this actually true?

Well, while Kind Dick has been treated as something of a gay icon for years, direct evidence that he and Philip actually had a homosexual relationship is scant. The source most people point to is a report by Roger de Hoveden, who was a contemporary of the two kings. Here is an English translation of his account:

“Richard, [then] duke of Aquitaine, the son of the king of England, remained with Philip, the King of France, who so honored him for so long that they ate every day at the same table and from the same dish, and at night their beds did not separate them. And the king of France loved him as his own soul; and they loved each other so much that the king of England was absolutely astonished and the passionate love between them and marveled at it.”

It sounds like solid evidence, but put into the context of the time, sharing a bed wasn’t a big deal. Certainly among lower classes, bed sharing among families happened all the time—it was a way to keep warm, or they might not have been able to afford more than one bed, or had room for more than one. Bed sharing was done as a matter of necessity. There was nothing inherently sexual about it and it was something most did.

In the case of Richard and Philip, the bed sharing and the other statements of love between them are generally thought to have been a political statement.  The two had teamed up to overthrow Henry II, and were just announcing to the world that France and England were allies. About the notion that the two were gay, historian Dr. John Gillingham states,

“The idea wasn’t even mooted until 1948 and it stems from an official record announcing that, as a symbol of unity between the two countries, the kings of France and England had slept the night in the same bed. It was an accepted political act, nothing sexual about it; just two politicians literally getting into bed together, a bit like a modern-day photo opportunity.”

Richard the Lionheart was also known to have held political court in his bedroom. He also rewarded his favourite servants with the opportunity to sleep at the foot of his bed at night. Again, there is no evidence to suggest that anything more than sleeping occurred on these occasions. He shared a bed with others to symbolize trust.

In later years, political leaders would often greet each other with “the kiss of peace” which was Biblically sanctioned. Again, the kiss meant nothing more than a handshake does today.

While the bed sharing and eating together wasn’t necessarily a positive indicator of the pair’s sexual preferences, the two for a time maintained a close alliance and apparent friendship.  In fact, Richard was engaged to Alice, Philip’s sister for a while. However, he ended up renouncing her and spreading a rumour that she was having an affair and had given birth to an illegitimate child. Richard also married his wife, Berengaria of Navarre, while he was still betrothed to Philip’s sister. Not exactly things a person should do if they were trying to keep on the woman’s brother’s good side.

As previously mentioned, Philip also helped Richard win the crown of England. Thanks to their alliance, Philip went to war against Richard’s father with Richard later joining in, ultimately defeating Henry II. Henry then named Richard his heir and died two days later.

Philip and Richard’s relationship eventually soured. The pair spent the last five years of Richard’s life in bitter rivalry and open war. Richard ended up winning many of the battles between the two, but Philip outlasted him. Supposedly, Richard was shot and killed by a boy who was acting out of revenge. Whether that is true or not, the arrow he was shot with didn’t hit anything vital, but the wound became gangrenous, at least giving him time to set his affairs in order before he succumbed to infection.

Was Richard’s and Philip’s enmity part of a lover’s quarrel as is so commonly said today? The evidence for that is scant. So if not “lover’s quarrel” maybe “bromance turned sour…” or perhaps most accurate of all “political alliance that was no longer necessary or convenient.”

Expand for References

The Real Edward VII, BBC https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdRddYn605c&t=1025s

Perring, Rebecca, Dirty Bertie: How Royal Playbox Took Victorian Paris By Storm with a Three-Way Love Seat, Daily Express, October 9, 2015 https://www.express.co.uk/news/royal/610974/Prince-Bertie-three-way-love-seat-Paris-lust-Royal-Prince-of-Wales-playboy

Hof, Peter, Two Edwards: How King Edward VII and Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey Fomented the First World War, Trine Day, 2018

Perrottet, Tony, The Sinner’s Grand Tour,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFsY7Vf74mE

Cooke, Rachel, What the Royals Eat at Home, The Guardian, May 20, 2012, https://ift.tt/2lXO0lu

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from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - October 30, 2020 at 12:59PM
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