Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A tax on "light and air"

The window tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house. It was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in England, France and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. To avoid the tax some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed or reglazed at a later date), as a result of the tax. It was introduced in 1696 and was repealed in 1851, 156 years after first being introduced. Spain and France both had window taxes as well for similar reasons.

The tax was introduced in England and Wales under the An Act for granting to His Majesty severall Rates or Duties upon Houses for making good the Deficiency of the clipped Money  in 1696 under King William III and was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, but without the controversy that then surrounded the idea of income tax.
At that time, many people in Britain opposed income tax, on principle, because they believed that the disclosure of personal income represented an unacceptable governmental intrusion into private matters, and a potential threat to personal liberty. In fact the first permanent British income tax was not introduced until 1842, and the issue remained intensely controversial well into the 20th century.

When the window tax was introduced, it consisted of two parts: a flat-rate house tax of 2 shillings per house (£11.75 as of 2013), and a variable tax for the number of windows above ten windows in the house. Properties with between ten and twenty windows paid a total of four shillings (£23.5 as of 2013), and those above twenty windows paid eight shillings(£47 as of 2013). The number of windows that incurred tax was changed to seven in 1766 and eight in 1825.

The flat-rate tax was changed to a variable rate, dependent on the property value, in 1778. People who were exempt from paying church or poor rates, for reasons of poverty, were exempt from the window tax. Window tax was relatively unintrusive and easy to assess. Certain rooms, particularly dairies, cheeserooms and milkhouses were exempt providing they were clearly labelled, and it is not uncommon to find the name of such rooms carved on the lintel. The bigger the house, the more windows it was likely to have, and the more tax the occupants would pay. Nevertheless, the tax was unpopular, because it was seen by some as a tax on "light and air".

There was a strong agitation in England in favour of the abolition of the tax during the winter of 1850–1851, and it was accordingly repealed on 24 July 1851, and a tax on inhabited houses substituted.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Beware Rainbows in Dickie's Meadow

The Battle of Wakefield took place in Sandal Magna near Wakefield, in West Yorkshire in Northern England, on 30 December 1460. It was a major battle of the Wars of the Roses. 

The opposing forces were an army led by nobles loyal to the captive King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster, his Queen Margaret of Anjou and their seven year-old son Edward, Prince of Wales on one side, and the army of Richard, Duke of York, the rival claimant to the throne, on the other. The Duke of York was killed and his army was destroyed.

Many people are familiar with William Shakespeare's melodramatic version of events in Henry VI, Part 3, notably the murder of Edmund of Rutland, although Edmund is depicted as a small child, and following his unnecessary slaughter by Clifford, Margaret torments his father, York, before murdering him also. In fact, York was killed during the battle, and Rutland, at seventeen, was more than old enough to be an active participant in the fighting. Margaret was almost certainly still in Scotland at the time.

The battle is said by some to be the source for the mnemonic for remembering the traditional colours of the rainbow, Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain, and also the mocking nursery rhyme, The Grand Old Duke of York although this much more likely refers to the eighteenth century duke, son of George III.


"Dickie's Meadow", a well-known Northern expression, possibly refers to Sandals Meadow where the battle of Wakefield took place and where Richard met his end. The common view held that Richard was ill-advised to fight here. The expression is usually used to warn against risky action. ("If you do that you'll end up in Dickie's Meadow".) It is a moot point how early the expression arose, and whether through folk memory or local history

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Warrior

HMS Warrior was the name ship of her class of two armoured frigates built for the Royal Navy in 1859–61. She and her sister ship HMS Black Prince were the first armour-plated, iron-hulled warships, and were built in response to France's launching in 1859 of the first ocean-going ironclad warship, the wooden-hulled Gloire. 

Warrior conducted a publicity tour of Great Britain in 1863 and spent her active career with the Channel Squadron. She became obsolescent following the 1871 launching of the mastless and more capable HMS Devastation, was placed in reserve in 1875, and was paid off in 1883.

She subsequently served as a storeship and depot ship, and in 1904 was assigned to the Royal Navy's torpedo training school. The ship was converted into an oil jetty in 1927 and remained in that role until 1979, at which point she was donated by the Navy to the Maritime Trust for restoration. The restoration process took eight years, during which many of her features and fittings were either restored or recreated. When this was finished she returned to Portsmouth as a museum ship. 

Listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Warrior has been based in Portsmouth since 1987.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Phoenix in flight

Hōshō (literally "phoenix in flight") was the world's first commissioned ship that was designed and built as an aircraft carrier, and the first aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Commissioned in 1922, the ship was used for testing carrier aircraft operations equipment, techniques, such as take-offs and landings, and carrier aircraft operational methods and tactics. The ship provided valuable lessons and experience for the IJN in early carrier air operations. Hōshō's superstructure and other obstructions to the flight deck were removed in 1924 on the advice of experienced aircrews.

Hōshō and her aircraft group participated in the Shanghai Incident in 1932 and in the opening stages of the Sino-Japanese War in late 1937. During those two conflicts, the carrier's aircraft supported Imperial Japanese Army ground operations and engaged in aerial combat with aircraft of the Nationalist Chinese Air Force. The small size of the ship and her assigned airgroups (usually around 15 aircraft) limited the effectiveness of her contributions to combat operations. As a result, the carrier was placed in reserve after her return to Japan from China and she became a training carrier in 1939.

During World War II, Hōshō participated in the Battle of Midway in June 1942 in a secondary role. After the battle, the carrier resumed her training role in Japanese home waters for the duration of the conflict and survived the war with only minor damage from air attacks. She was used as a repatriation transport after the war, making nine trips to bring some 40,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians to Japan from overseas locations. Hōshō was scrapped in Japan beginning in 1946.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Emitting Rays

Radium is a chemical element with symbol Ra and atomic number 88. Radium is an almost pure-white alkaline earth metal, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, becoming black in color. All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226, which has a half-life of 1601 years and decays into radon gas. Because of such instability, radium is luminescent, glowing a faint blue.

Radium, in the form of radium chloride, was discovered by Marie Curie and Pierre Curie in 1898. They extracted the radium compound from uraninite and published the discovery at the French Academy of Sciences five days later. Radium was isolated in its metallic state by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne through the electrolysis of radium chloride in 1910. Since its discovery, it has given names like radium A and radium C2 to several isotopes of other elements that are decay products of radium-226.

In nature, radium is found in uranium ores in trace amounts as small as a seventh of a gram per ton of uraninite. Radium is not necessary for living organisms, and adverse health effects are likely when it is incorporated into biochemical processes because of its radioactivity and chemical reactivity.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

The Stone of Destiny

The Stone of Scone (Scottish Gaelic: An Lia Fàil, Scots: Stane o Scone), also known as the Stone of Destiny and often referred to in England as The Coronation Stone, is an oblong block of red sandstone, used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland and later the monarchs of England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. Historically, the artifact was kept at the now-ruined Scone Abbey in Scone, near Perth, Scotland. It is also known as Jacob's Pillow Stone and the Tanist Stone, and in Scottish Gaelic clach-na-cinneamhain. 

Its size is about 26 inches (660 mm) by 16.75 inches (425 mm) by 10.5 inches (270 mm) and its weight is approximately 336 pounds (152 kg). The top bears chisel-marks.[citation needed] At each end of the stone is an iron ring, apparently intended to make transport easier. The Stone of Scone was last used in 1953 for the coronation of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

Various theories and legends exist about the stone's history prior to its residence at Scone:
Legends hold that this stone was the coronation stone of the early Dál Riata Gaels, which they brought with them from Ireland when settling Scotland.
The more historically supported story is of Fergus, son of Erc. As the first King of the Scots in Scotland, he is recorded to have brought the stone  from Ireland to Argyll, and was crowned in it.

In either case, these legends present a transport from Ireland and connection to the stone Lia Fáil, the coronation stone of the kings of Tara. As referenced above, the Scottish Gaelic, clach-na-cinneamhain, clach Sgàin, and Lia(th) Fàil lends strong etymological support.

Legends place the origins in Biblical times and consider the stone to be the Stone of Jacob taken by Jacob while in Haran. (Genesis 28:10-22).

According to Hector Boece, the Stone was first kept in the west of Scotland at the lost city of Evonium. Founded by Evenus, or Ewin, Evonium and its founder have been tentatively identified as Irvine, Ayrshire, a medieval power centre on the west coast of Scotland, and with Dunstaffnage, in Argyll.

The stone taken by Edward I of England to Westminster has been proven by geologists to be a "lower Old Red Sandstone" quarried in the vicinity of Scone. This account has, of course, limited its history to that land.


Doubts as to the present stone's authenticity have however existed for a long time now. One example can be cited to show that they date back at least a couple of hundred years.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Hooded Order

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), informally known as the Klan or the "Hooded Order", is the name of three distinct past and present far-right organizations in the United States, which have advocated extremist reactionary currents such as white supremacy, white nationalism, and anti-immigration, historically expressed through terrorism.

Since the mid-20th century, the KKK has also been anti-communist. The current manifestation is splintered into several chapters with no connection to each other; it is classified as a hate group by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is estimated to have between 5,000 and 8,000 members as of 2012.

The first Ku Klux Klan flourished in the Southern United States in the late 1860s, then died out by the early 1870s. Members adopted white costumes: robes, masks, and conical hats, designed to be outlandish and terrifying, and to hide their identities. The second KKK flourished nationwide in the early and mid-1920s, and adopted the same costumes and code words as the first Klan, while introducing cross burnings. The third KKK emerged after World War II and was associated with opposing the Civil Rights Movement and progress among minorities. The second and third incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan made frequent reference to the USA's "Anglo-Saxon" blood, harking back to 19th-century nativism and claiming descent from the original 18th-century British colonial revolutionaries.

Monday, 23 December 2013

A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function

The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom. It became law when it received Royal Assent on 23 December 1919.

The basic purpose of the Act was, as stated in its long title, "... to amend the Law with respect to disqualification on account of sex", which it achieved in four short sections and one schedule. Its broad aim was achieved by section 1, which stated that:
A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation, or for admission to any incorporated society (whether incorporated by Royal Charter or otherwise), [and a person shall not be exempted by sex or marriage from the liability to serve as a juror] …

Women had previously been given a (limited) right to vote by the Representation of the People Act 1918, and had been able to stand for Parliament, but most of the less high-profile restrictions on women participating in civil life remained. In effect, this Act lifted most of the existing common-law restrictions on women; they were now able, for example to serve as magistrates or jurors, or enter the professions. Marriage was no longer legally considered a bar to a woman's ability to work.

The Act came into force on the day it became law, 23 December 1919; the first female Justice of the Peace - Ada Summers, ex officio a Justice by virtue of being the Mayor of Stalybridge - was sworn in a week later, on 31 December. However, it took until December 1922 for a female solicitor to be appointed.

The Act was, by the standards of its time, astonishingly broad. It only addressed three areas specifically - the Civil Service, the courts, and the Universities - leaving all other areas to the sweeping alterations made by section 1. Francis Bennion later described it as "splendidly general", arguing that it went "further in emancipating women than [did] the Sex Discrimination Act 1975".

However, the Act was rarely invoked by the courts—the first court case to rule based on it was Nagle v. Fielden in 1966. The one significant ruling as to the extent of the Act was not in a court of law, but rather in the House of Lords, where the Committee for Privileges was asked by Margaret Mackworth, 2nd Viscountess Rhondda to rule if the Act's provisions for exercising "any public function" extended to permitting a woman to sit in the House as a peeress in her own right. After some debate, it was held 22-4 that it did not. Women would not be permitted to sit in the Lords until 1958, when appointed female life peers were expressly permitted by the Life Peerages Act 1958, whilst hereditary peeresses gained the right to take their seats after the passage of the Peerage Act 1963.

Much of the Act has been repealed, although the first part of section 1 remains in force (outside Scotland, where it was repealed by the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975), as well as the whole of section 3,


Sunday, 22 December 2013

J'Accuse!

The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France from the affair's inception in 1894 until its resolution in 1906. The affair is often seen as a modern and universal symbol of injustice for reasons of state and remains one of the most striking examples of a complex miscarriage of justice where a major role was played by the press and public opinion.
The affair began in November 1894 with the conviction for treason of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. Sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil's Island in French Guiana, where he spent almost five years.

Two years later in 1896 evidence came to light identifying a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. After high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after the second day of his trial. The Army accused Dreyfus of additional charges based on false documents. Word of the military court's framing of Dreyfus and of an attendant cover-up began to spread, chiefly owing to J'accuse, a vehement open letter published in a Paris newspaper in January 1898 by the notable writer Émile Zola. Activists put pressure on the government to reopen the case.

In 1899, Dreyfus was returned to France for another trial. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus (now called "Dreyfusards"), such as Anatole France, Henri Poincaré and Georges Clemenceau, and those who condemned him (the anti-Dreyfusards), such as Edouard Drumont, the director and publisher of the antisemitic newspaper La Libre Parole. The new trial resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence but Dreyfus was given a pardon and set free.
Eventually all the accusations against Alfred Dreyfus were demonstrated to be baseless. In 1906 Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I ending his service with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
The Affair from 1894 to 1906 divided France deeply and lastingly into two opposing camps: the pro-Army, mostly Catholic "anti-Dreyfusards" who generally lost the initiative to the anticlerical, pro-republican Dreyfusards. It embittered French politics and allowed the radicals to come to power.

The conviction was a miscarriage of justice based upon espionage and antisemitism, particularly in a social context conducive to antisemitism and hatred of the German Empire following its annexation of Alsace and part of Lorraine in 1871. According to one modern historian:
"The enduring significance of the Dreyfus Affair as a subject of historical inquiry lies in its manifest embodiment of multiple narratives and multiple strands of historical causality. It shows how longstanding beliefs and tensions can be transformed by particular circumstances and by particular individuals into a juggernaut that alters the political and cultural landscape for decades. In the interest of increasing our understanding of both past and present, the complexities of that transformation should be recognized and analyzed rather than packaged for moral or political usefulness."

Saturday, 21 December 2013

1. Across. Today (8,6,5)

Crossword puzzles are said to be the most popular and widespread word game in the world, yet have a short history. The first crosswords appeared in England during the 19th century. They were of an elementary kind, apparently derived from the word square, a group of words arranged so the letters read alike vertically and horizontally, and printed in children's puzzle books and various periodicals.

Crossword-like puzzles, for example Double Diamond Puzzles, appeared in the magazine St. Nicholas, published since 1873. Another crossword puzzle appeared on September 14, 1890, in the Italian magazine Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica. It was designed by Giuseppe Airoldi and titled "Per passare il tempo" ("To pass the time"). Airoldi's puzzle was a four-by-four grid with no shaded squares; it included horizontal and vertical clues.

On December 21, 1913, Arthur Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool, England, published a "word-cross" puzzle in the New York World that embodied most of the features of the genre as we know it. This puzzle is frequently cited as the first crossword puzzle, and Wynne as the inventor. Later, the name of the puzzle was changed to "crossword".[8][9]

Crossword puzzles became a regular weekly feature in the World, and spread to other newspapers; the Boston Globe, for example was publishing them at least as early as 1917.

By the 1920s, the crossword phenomenon was starting to attract notice. In 1921, the New York Public Library reported that "The latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle," and complained that when "the puzzle 'fans' swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias so as to drive away readers and students who need these books in their daily work, can there be any doubt of the Library's duty to protect its legitimate readers?" In October 1922, newspapers published a comic strip by Clare Briggs entitled "Movie of a Man Doing the Cross-Word Puzzle," with an enthusiast muttering "87 across 'Northern Sea Bird'!!??!?!!? Hm-m-m starts with an 'M', second letter is 'U'... I'll look up all the words starting with an 'M-U...' mus-musi-mur-murd--Hot Dog! Here 'tis! Murre!" In 1923 a humorous squib in The Boston Globe has a wife ordering her husband to run out and "rescue the papers... the part I want is blowing down the street." "What is it you're so keen about?" "The Cross-Word Puzzle. Hurry, please, that's a good boy."[13] In The New Yorker's first issue, released in 1925, the "Jottings About Town" section wrote, "Judging from the number of solvers in the subway and "L" trains, the crossword puzzle bids fair to become a fad with New Yorkers." 

The first book of crossword puzzles appeared in 1924, published by Simon and Schuster. "This odd-looking book with a pencil attached to it" was an instant hit and crossword puzzles became the craze of 1924.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Breeding Energy

The construction ofExperimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I)  started in late 1949. The reactor itself was designed by a team led by Walter Zinn at the Argonne National Laboratory. In its early stages, the reactor plant was referred to as Chicago Pile 4 (CP-4) and Zinn's Infernal Pile. Installation of the reactor at EBR-I took place in early 1951 (the first reactor in Idaho) and it began power operation on August 24, 1951. On December 20 of that year, atomic energy was successfully harvested for the first time. The following day the reactor produced enough power to light the whole building. The power plant produced 200kW of electricity out of 1.4MW of heat generated by the reactor.

The design purpose of EBR-I was not to produce electricity but instead to validate nuclear physics theory which suggested that a breeder reactor should be possible. In 1953, experiments revealed the reactor was producing additional fuel during fission, thus confirming the hypothesis. However, on November 29, 1955, the reactor at EBR-I suffered a partial meltdown during a coolant flow test. The flow test was trying to determine the cause of unexpected reactor responses to changes in coolant flow. It was subsequently repaired for further experiments, which determined that thermal expansion of the fuel rods and the thick plates supporting the fuel rods was the cause of the unexpected reactor response.

Although EBR-I produced the first electricity available in-house, a nearby reactor plant called BORAX-III was connected to external loads, powering the nearby city of Arco, Idaho in 1955, the first time a city had been powered solely by nuclear power.

Besides generating the world's first electricity from atomic energy, EBR-I was also the world's first breeder reactor and the first to use plutonium fuel to generate electricity (see also the Clementine nuclear reactor). EBR-1's initial purpose was to prove Enrico Fermi's fuel breeding principle, a principle that showed a nuclear reactor producing more fuel atoms than consumed. Along with generating electricity, EBR-1 would also prove this principle.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

$350 Death Ride

The General Slocum worked as a passenger ship, taking people on excursions around New York City. On Wednesday, June 15, 1904, the ship had been chartered for $350 by St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Little Germany district of Manhattan. This was an annual rite for the group, which had made the trip for 17 consecutive years even as German settlers deserted Little Germany for the Upper East and West Sides. Over 1,400 passengers, mostly women and children, boarded the Slocum, which was to sail up the East River and then eastward to a picnic site in Eatons Neck, Long Island.

Not long after he ship got underway a fire started in the Lamp Room in the forward section, possibly caused by a discarded cigarette or match, but certainly fueled by the straw, oily rags, and lamp oil strewn around the room.  Captain Van Schaick was only notified ten minutes after the fire was discovered. A 12-year-old boy had tried to warn him earlier but was not believed.

Although the captain was ultimately responsible for the safety of passengers, no effort had been made to maintain or replace the ship's safety equipment. The fire hoses had been allowed to rot, and fell apart when the crew attempted to put out the fire. Likewise, the crew had never had a fire drill, and the lifeboats were tied up and inaccessible. Survivors reported that the life preservers were useless and fell apart in their hands. Desperate mothers placed life jackets on their children and tossed them into the water, only to watch in horror as their children sank instead of floating. Most of those on board were women and children who, like most Americans of the time, could not swim; even victims who did not use the worthless life preservers found that their heavy wool clothing weighed them down in the water. Many died when the floors of the overloaded boat collapsed; others were battered by the still-turning paddles as they attempted to escape into the water or over the sides.

By the time the General Slocum sank in shallow water at North Brother Island, just off the Bronx shore, an estimated 1,021 people had either burned to death or drowned, with 321 survivors. Five of the 40 crew members died. The captain lost sight in one eye owing to the fire. Reports indicate that Captain Van Schaick deserted the Slocum as soon as it settled, jumping into a nearby tug, along with several crew. Some say his jacket was hardly rumpled, but other reports stated that he was seriously injured. He was hospitalized at Lebanon Hospital.

Eight people were indicted by a Federal grand jury after the disaster: the Captain; two inspectors; and the president, secretary, treasurer and commodore of the Knickerbocker Steamship Company. Only Captain Van Schaick was convicted. He was found guilty on one of three charges: criminal negligence, failing to maintain proper fire drills and fire extinguishers. The jury could not reach a verdict on the other two counts of manslaughter. He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He spent three years and six months at Sing Sing prison before he was paroled. He was pardoned by President Taft on December 19, 1912, and died in 1927.

The Knickerbocker Steamship Company, which owned the ship, paid a relatively small fine despite evidence they might have falsified inspection records. The sunken remains of the General Slocum were recovered and converted into a barge, which sank in a storm in 1911.

The disaster motivated federal and state regulation to improve the emergency equipment on passenger ships.


The neighborhood of Little Germany, which had been in decline for some time before the disaster, almost disappeared afterwards. With the trauma and arguments that followed the tragedy and the loss of many prominent settlers, most of the Lutheran Germans remaining in the Lower East Side eventually moved uptown. The church whose congregation chartered the ship for the fateful voyage is now a synagogue.



Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A World First!

Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat holds a unique place in motoring's history because he was the first man to set up a World Land Speed Record. It was, of course, the two Germans, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, who invented the motor car and made it work, but it was the French who held the first motor races and started the idea of competitive motoring.

France was well blessed, thanks to Napoleon, with long straight roads even before the turn of the century, and the motorcar had only been in existence about ten years before French owners began to ask the age old question, "what will she do?."

The first recorded motoring competition was in 1894 from Paris to Rouen in which all kinds of improbable cars driven by steam, electricity and petrol engines took part. The first race proper was in the following year from Paris to Bordeaux and back. In these early days the two main champions of the electric car were the Marquis de Chasseloup-Laubat and the Belgian, Camille Jenatzy.

The Marquis was a founder member of the Automobile Club de France in 1895, and his driver was his younger brother, Count Gaston. The Marquis built his car, a Jeantaud, and in December 1898, Count Gaston took it to a deserted stretch of road outside Paris near the hamlet of Acheres, between the villages of St. Germain and Constans to make what became the first attempt on the World Land Speed Record.

The timekeepers operated their primitive apparatus in one direction only over a flying kilometre, and were no doubt thankful to be finished on a cold, wet day and to seek shelter. Count Gaston was told, after due calculation, that he had achieved a time of 57 seconds, giving him a speed of 39.24 miles an hour.

Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat then re-built and re-bodied the car and took the record for a third time in 1899. This car took part in, or was in fact the cause of, the three-cornered battle between steam, electricity, and the petrol engine which was fought during the first five years of the motor car and decided what the whole world would use for the next 65 years at least.

Count Gaston made his records over a flying kilometre in one direction only, before there was much control over these attempts. His car was an ugly chain-driven machine in which he sat high off the ground and steered by a vertical handle projecting from the first steering wheel on record in times when the tiller was universal. It was strictly a sprint machine as the batteries of the day gave him only a short range without recharging.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

In style.

Vogue is an American fashion and lifestyle magazine that is published monthly in 23 national and regional editions by Condé Nast. Vogue means "in style" in French.

In 1892 Arthur Turnure founded Vogue as a weekly publication in the United States, sponsored by Kristoffer Wright., its first issue published on December 17 of that year. Turnure intended for the publication to be a celebration of the "ceremonial side of life," one that, "attracts the sage as well as debutante, men of affairs as well as the belle."  From its very beginning, the magazine was meant to target the new New York aristocracy, establishing social norms in a country that did not value class and ceremony nearly as much as England or France. The magazine at this time was primarily concerned with fashion, with coverage of sports and social affairs for its male readership.

Condé Montrose Nast bought "Vogue" in 1905 several years before Tenure's death and slowly grew its publication. He changed it to a bi-weekly magazine and also started Vogue overseas starting in the 1910s. He first went to Britain in 1916, and started a Vogue there, then to Spain, and then to Italy and France in 1920, where it was a huge success. The magazine's number of publications and profit increased dramatically under his management. By 1911, the "Vogue" brand had evolved into the business it is recognized today, still targeting an elite audience and expanding into coverage of weddings.

Laird Borrelli notes that Vogue led the decline of fashion illustration in the late 1930s when they began to replace their celebrated illustrated covers by artists such as Dagmar Freuchen with photographic images.

In the 1960s, with Diana Vreeland as editor-in-chief and personality, the magazine began to appeal to the youth of the sexual revolution by focusing more on contemporary fashion and editorial features openly discussing sexuality. Toward this end, Vogue extended coverage to include East Village boutiques such as Limbo on St. Mark's Place as well as featuring "downtown" personalities such as Warhol "Superstar" Jane Holzer's favorite haunts. Vogue also continued making household names out of models, a practice that continued with Suzy Parker, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Lauren Hutton, Veruschka, Marisa Berenson, Penelope Tree, and others.

In 1973, Vogue became a monthly publication. As of October 2013, "Vogue" claims to have an average print circulation of 11.3 million and an average monthly online audience of 1.6 million. The median "Vogue" magazine reader's age is 37.9 and gender readership skews 87% female, 13% male.

Monday, 16 December 2013

"is hereby declared to be, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth...."

The Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland was the title of the head of state during the Commonwealth (or, to monarchists, the Interregnum), following the first period when a Council of State held executive power. The title was held by Oliver Cromwell (December 1653–September 1658) and his son and designated successor Richard Cromwell (September 1658–May 1659) during what is now known as The Protectorate.

The 1653 Instrument of Government (republican constitution) stated that—
Oliver Cromwell, Captain-General of the forces of England, Scotland and Ireland, shall be, and is hereby declared to be, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging, for his life.

The replacement constitution of 1657, the Humble Petition and Advice, gave ‘His Highness the Lord Protector’ the power to nominate his successor. Cromwell chose his eldest surviving son, the politically inexperienced Richard. This was a non-representative and de facto dynastic mode of succession, with royal connotations in both styles awarded, even a double invocation 16 December 1653 - 3 September 1658 "By the Grace of God and Republic Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland" and many other monarchic prerogatives, such as awarding knighthoods.

The younger Cromwell, who succeeded on his father's death in September 1658, held the position for only eight months before resigning in May 1659, being followed by the second period of Commonwealth rule until the Restoration of the exiled heir to the Stuart throne Charles II in May 1660.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

To boldly go where no Comrade has gone before.

The Venera 7 (Russian: Венера-7 meaning Venus 7) was a Soviet spacecraft, part of the Venera series of probes to Venus. When it landed on the Venusian surface, it became the first man-made spacecraft to land successfully on another planet, and to transmit data from there back to Earth.

The probe was launched from Earth on August 17, 1970. It consisted of an interplanetary bus based on the 3MV system and a lander. During the flight to Venus two in-course corrections were made using the bus's on-board KDU-414 engine.

It entered the atmosphere of Venus on December 15, 1970. Unusually the lander remained attached to the interplanetary bus during the initial stages of atmospheric entry. This was to allow the bus to cool the lander to -8°C for as long as possible. The lander was ejected once atmospheric buffeting broke the interplanetary bus's lock-on with Earth. The parachute opened at a height of 60 km and atmospheric testing began with results showing the atmosphere to be 97% carbon dioxide. During the descent the parachute appeared to fail, resulting in a more rapid than planned descent. As a result the lander struck the surface of Venus at about 16.5 metres per second (54 ft/s).

The probe appeared to go silent on impact. However, recording tapes kept rolling. A few weeks later, upon a reviewing of the tapes, another 23 minutes of very weak signals were found on them. The spacecraft had landed on Venus and probably bounced onto its side upon impact, leaving the medium gain antenna not aimed correctly for strong signal transmission to Earth. The only data returned from the surface were temperature readings, which gave a temperature of 475 °C (887 °F).

Saturday, 14 December 2013

"The most terrible of all my battles was the one before Moscow. The French showed themselves to be worthy of victory, but the Russians showed themselves worthy of being invincible."

The French Invasion of Russia  or the Patriotic War of 1812  began on 24 June 1812 when Napoleon's Grande Armée crossed the Neman River in an attempt to engage and defeat the Russian army. Napoleon hoped to compel Tsar Alexander I of Russia to cease trading with British merchants through proxies in an effort to pressure the United Kingdom to sue for peace. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia.

The Russian army retreated into Russia for almost three months. The continual retreat and the loss of lands to the French upset the Russian nobility. They pressured Alexander I to relieve the commander of the Russian army, Field Marshal Barclay. Alexander I complied, appointing an old veteran, Prince Mikhail Kutuzov, to take over command of the army.

On 7 September the French caught up with the Russian army which had dug itself in on hillsides before a small town called Borodino, seventy miles west of Moscow. The battle that followed was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the Napoleonic Wars, involving more than 250,000 soldiers and resulting in 70,000 casualties. The French gained a victory, but at the cost of 49 general officers and thousands of men. The Russian army was able to extricate itself and withdrew the following day, leaving the French without the decisive victory Napoleon sought.

Napoleon entered Moscow a week later. In another turn of events the French found puzzling, there was no delegation to meet the Emperor. The Russians had evacuated the city, and the city's governor, Count Fyodor Rostopchin, had ordered the city to be burnt. Napoleon's hopes had been set upon a victorious end to his campaign, but victory in the field did not yield him victory in the war.

Napoleon tried once more to engage the Russian army for a decisive action at the Battle of Maloyaroslavets. Despite holding a superior position, the Russians retreated following a sharp engagement, confirming that the Russians would not commit themselves to a pitched battle. His troops exhausted, with few rations, no winter clothing, and his remaining horses in poor condition, Napoleon was forced to retreat. He hoped to reach supplies at Smolensk and later at Vilnius. In the weeks that followed the Grande Armée starved and suffered from the onset of the Russian Winter. Lack of food and fodder for the horses, hypothermia from the bitter cold and persistent attacks upon isolated troops from Russian peasants and Cossacks led to great losses in men, and a general loss of discipline and cohesion in the army. When the remnants of Napoleon's army crossed the Berezina River in November, only 27,000 fit soldiers remained; the Grand Armée had lost some 380,000 men dead and 100,000 captured. Following the crossing of the Beresina Napoleon left the army, after much urging from his advisors and with the unanimous approval of his Marshals. He returned to Paris by carriage and sledge to protect his position as Emperor and to raise more forces to resist the advancing Russians. The campaign effectively ended on 14 December 1812, not quite six months from its outset, with the last French troops leaving Russian soil.

The campaign was a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars. The reputation of Napoleon was severely shaken, and French hegemony in Europe was dramatically weakened. The Grande Armée, made up of French and allied invasion forces, was reduced to a fraction of its initial strength. These events triggered a major shift in European politics. France's ally Prussia, soon followed by Austria, broke their alliance with France and switched camps. This triggered the War of the Sixth Coalition.

Napoleon said of Borodino: "The most terrible of all my battles was the one before Moscow. The French showed themselves to be worthy of victory, but the Russians showed themselves worthy of being invincible."

Friday, 13 December 2013

That's one last step for a man?

Apollo 17 was the final mission of the United States' Apollo lunar landing program, and was the sixth landing of humans on the Moon. Launched at 12:33 AM Eastern Standard Time (EST) on December 7, 1972, with a three-member crew consisting of Commander Eugene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 remains the most recent manned Moon landing and the most recent crewed flight beyond low Earth orbit. After Apollo 17, extra Apollo spacecraft were used in the Skylab and Apollo–Soyuz Test Project programs.

Apollo 17 was the sixth Apollo lunar landing, the first night launch of a U.S. human spaceflight and the final crewed launch of a Saturn V rocket. It was a "J-type mission," missions including three-day lunar surface stays, extended scientific capability, and the third Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). While Evans remained in lunar orbit above in the Command/Service Module (CSM), Cernan and Schmitt spent just over three days on the lunar surface in the Taurus-Littrow valley, conducting three periods of extra-vehicular activity, or moonwalks, during which they collected lunar samples and deployed scientific instruments. Cernan, Evans, and Schmitt returned to Earth on December 19 after an approximately 12-day mission.

The decision to land in the Taurus-Littrow valley was made with the primary objectives for Apollo 17 in mind: to sample lunar highland material older than the impact that formed Mare Imbrium and investigating the possibility of relatively young volcanic activity in the same vicinity. Taurus-Littrow was selected with the prospects of finding highland material in the valley's north and south walls and the possibility that several craters in the valley surrounded by dark material could be linked to volcanic activity.

Apollo 17 also broke several records set by previous flights, including the longest manned lunar landing flight; the longest total lunar surface extravehicular activities; the largest lunar sample return, and the longest time in lunar orbit.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

"Our pure inclination and intention to crush the pernicious deeds of the same perfidious Enemy."

On December 12, 1408, following the Battle of Dobor  Sigismund and his queen, Barbara of Celje, founded the league known today as the Order of the Dragon. Its statutes, written in Latin, call it a society (societas) whose members carry the signum draconis, but assign no name to it. Contemporary records, however, refer to the order by a variety of similar if unofficial names, such as Gesellschaft mit dem Trakchen, Divisa seu Societas Draconica, Societas Draconica seu Draconistarum and Fraternitas Draconum. It was to some extent modelled after the earlier Hungarian monarchical order, the Order of St. George (Societas militae Sancti Georgii), founded by King Carol Robert of Anjou in 1318. The order adopted St. George as its patron saint, whose legendary defeat of a dragon was used as a symbol for the military and religious ethos of the order.

The statute of the Order, which was expanded by Bishop Eberhard of Nagyvárad, chancellor of Sigismund's court, survives only in a copy made in 1707. An edition was published in 1841. The prologue to these statutes of 1408 reports that the society was created:
"in company with the prelates, barons, and magnates of our kingdom, whom we invite to participate with us in this party, by reason of the sign and effigy of our pure inclination and intention to crush the pernicious deeds of the same perfidious Enemy, and of the followers of the ancient Dragon, and (as one would expect) of the pagan knights, schismatics, and other nations of the Orthodox faith, and those envious of the Cross of Christ, and of our kingdoms, and of his holy and saving religion of faith, under the banner of the triumphant Cross of Christ ..."

Described in general terms, the "enemy" was any anti-Christian political power or group, including schismatic or actively heretical fellow countrymen or Europeans (such as the putatively "Christian" Bosnian Bogomil force alluded to above, immediately before the Order's foundation); but the primary representatives of "the perfidious Enemy" remained the Ottoman Turks. The Order's outward focus on foreign threats was also aimed at achieving a level of domestic cohesion. The statutes go on to describe the order's symbols of the ouroboros and the red cross. They also list the mutual obligations of the king and his nobles. The members were to swear loyalty to the king, queen and their future sons and to protect the royal interests.  In return for their services, the nobles could expect to enjoy royal protection, honors and offices.

The creation of the order was an instance within a larger fashion of founding chivalric orders during the 14th and early 15th centuries. Not infrequently dedicated to organizing "crusades", especially after the disaster of the battle of Nicopolis (1396). 

The Order flourished during the first half of the 15th century, primarily in Germany and Italy. After Sigismund's death in 1437, its importance declined in Western Europe, but after the Fall of Constantinople of 1453, it continued to play a role in Hungary including Croatia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania, which bore the brunt of the Ottoman incursions.

Vlad Țepeș, the figure who inspired Dracula, was a member of the Order, as well as his father, Vlad II Dracul.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

"Unless it is expressly declared in that Act that that Dominion has requested, and consented"

The Statute of Westminster 1931 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and identical but separate versions of it are now domestic law within each of the other Commonwealth realms, to the extent that they have not been implicitly repealed by subsequent laws. Passed on 11 December 1931, the act established legislative equality between the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire and the United Kingdom, thereby marking the effective legislative independence of these countries, either immediately or upon ratification. The Statute of Westminster's relevance today is that it sets the basis for the continuing relationship between the Commonwealth realms and the Crown.

The Statute of Westminster gave effect to certain political resolutions passed by the Imperial Conferences of 1926 and 1930; in particular, the Balfour Declaration of 1926. The main effect was the removal of the ability of the British parliament to legislate for the Dominions, part of which also required the repeal of the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865 in its application to the Dominions. After the statute was passed, the British government could no longer make ordinary laws for the Dominions, other than with the request and consent of the government of that Dominion.

The Statute of Westminster provides that:
No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend or be deemed to extend, to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that Act that that Dominion has requested, and consented to, the enactment thereof.

The statute applied to Canada, the Irish Free State, and the Union of South Africa without the need for any acts of ratification; the governments of those countries gave their consent to the application of the law to their respective jurisdiction. Section 10 required the parliaments of the other three Dominions—Australia, New Zealand, and Newfoundland—to adopt the statute before it would apply to them as part of their domestic laws.
Since 1931, over a dozen new Commonwealth realms have been created, all of which now hold the same powers as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand over matters of change to the monarchy. Ireland and South Africa are now republics and Newfoundland is part of Canada.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

King Turd

Ubu Roi (Ubu the King or King Ubu) is a play by Alfred Jarry. It was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre de l’Œuvre, causing a riotous response in the audience as it opened and closed on December 10, 1896. It is considered a wild, bizarre and comic play, significant for the way it overturns the cultural rules, norms, and conventions. For those who were in the audience on that night to witness the response, including William Butler Yeats, it seemed an event of revolutionary importance. It is now seen by some to have opened the door for what became known as modernism in the twentieth century. It is a precursor to the Theatre of the Absurd and Surrealism. It is the first of three stylised burlesques in which Jarry satirises power, greed, and their evil practices—in particular the propensity of the complacent bourgeoisie to abuse the authority engendered by success.

The title is sometimes translated as King Turd; however, the word "Ubu" is actually merely a nonsense word.

Jarry gave some suggestions regarding how he saw his play being performed. He wanted King Ubu to wear a cardboard horse's head in certain scenes, "as in the old English theatre", for he intended to “write a guignol". He thought a "suitably costumed person would enter, as in puppet shows, to put up signs indicating the locations of the various scenes." He also wanted costumes with as little specific local colour reference or historical accuracy as possible.

Ubu Roi was followed by Ubu Cocu (Ubu Cuckolded) and Ubu Enchaîné (Ubu in Chains), neither of which was performed during Jarry's 34-year life. One of his later works, a novel/essay on "pataphysics", is offered as an explanation behind the ideas that underpin ‘’Ubu Roi’’. Pataphysics is, as Jarry explains, “the science of the realm beyond metaphysics”. It studies the laws that “govern exceptions and will explain the universe supplementary to this one.” It is the “science of imaginary solutions.” 

Monday, 9 December 2013

"Absolutely nothing."

The Kecksburg UFO incident occurred on December 9, 1965, at Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, USA. A large, brilliant fireball was seen by thousands in at least six U.S. states and Ontario, Canada. It streaked over the Detroit, Michigan/Windsor, Ontario area, reportedly dropped hot metal debris over Michigan and northern Ohio, starting some grass fires and caused sonic booms in Western Pennsylvania. It was generally assumed and reported by the press to be a meteor after authorities discounted other proposed explanations such as a plane crash, errant missile test, or reentering satellite debris.

However, eyewitnesses in the small village of Kecksburg, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, claimed something crashed in the woods. A boy said he saw the object land; his mother saw a wisp of blue smoke arising from the woods and alerted authorities. Another reported feeling a vibration and "a thump" about the time the object reportedly landed. Others from Kecksburg, including local volunteer fire department members, reported finding an object in the shape of an acorn and about as large as a Volkswagen Beetle. Writing resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics was also said to be in a band around the base of the object. Witnesses further reported that intense military presence, most notably the United States Army, secured the area, ordered civilians out, and then removed the object on a flatbed truck[citation needed]. At the time, however, the military claimed they searched the woods and found "absolutely nothing".

The Tribune-Review from nearby Greensburg had a reporter at the scene; the headline in the newspaper the next morning was "Unidentified Flying Object Falls near Kecksburg — Army Ropes off Area". The article continued with, "The area where the object landed was immediately sealed off on the order of U.S. Army and State Police officials, reportedly in anticipation of a 'close inspection' of whatever may have fallen... State Police officials there ordered the area roped off to await the expected arrival of both U.S. Army engineers and possibly, civilian scientists." However, a later edition of the newspaper stated that nothing reportedly had been found after authorities searched the area.
The official explanation of the widely seen fireball was that it was a mid-sized meteor. 

However speculation as to the identity of the Kecksburg object (if there was one — reports vary) also range from it being an alien craft to debris from Cosmos 96, a Soviet Space Probe Intended for Venus but never left the atmosphere.

In December 2005, just before the 40th anniversary of the Kecksburg crash, NASA released a statement to the effect that they had examined metallic fragments from the object and now claimed it was from a re-entering "Russian satellite". The spokesman further claimed that the related records had been misplaced. According to an Associated Press story:

The object appeared to be a Russian satellite that re-entered the atmosphere and broke up. NASA experts studied fragments from the object, but records of what they found were lost in the 1990s.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Particularly good legs

Margaret Hughes (c. 1645 – 1 October 1719), also Peg Hughes or Margaret Hewes, is often credited as the first professional actress on the English stage. Hughes was also famous as the mistress of the English Civil War general and later Restoration admiral, Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

Hughes became an actress during a period of great change in English drama. English drama had suffered greatly during the English Civil War and the Interregnum, being banned by a Puritan Parliament in 1642. This ban was finally lifted upon the Restoration of King Charles. Charles was a keen theatre-goer, and promptly gave two royal patents to Sir Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant. During the Renaissance women had been almost exclusively banned from appearing as actresses on the stage, and there was a history of embarrassing incidents occurring for male actors in female roles. One famous incident occurred when a play which King Charles II was watching suddenly stopped. When he sent servants to see what the problem was it was found that the male that was supposed to play one of the female parts was still shaving. There were also concerns over this practice encouraging 'unnatural vice', which added to Charles' decision to issue a royal warrant in 1662 declaring that all female roles should be played only by female actresses. Killigrew and Davenant were casting women almost immediately following the Restoration, and once women began appearing professionally on the stage in the early 1660s, they won quick acceptance. Killigrew staged an all-female-cast production of his own play The Parson's Wedding in 1664, and again in 1672.

Hughes may have been the first professional actress in England. The occasion of her first performance was on 8 December 1660, in a production of Shakespeare's play Othello, when she played the role of Desdemona in a production by Thomas Killigrew's new King's Company at their Vere Street theatre. There remains some uncertainty over this, however. Some other historians place Anne Marshall as the first such actress, and there has been much analysis of the early recollections of John Downes, whose memories of the 1660s form a key part of Hughes' claim in this regard.

Hughes was famous for her charms as an actress; diarist Samuel Pepys considered her 'a mighty pretty woman', and she was said to be a 'a great beauty, with dark ringletted hair, a fine figure, and particularly good legs'.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

"Renaissance was above all things a revival of Cicero."

Marcus Tullius Cicero (3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC; sometimes anglicised as Tully) was a Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the Roman equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.

His influence on the Latin language was so immense that the subsequent history of prose in not only Latin but European languages up to the 19th century was said to be either a reaction against or a return to his style. According to Michael Grant, "the influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language". Cicero introduced the Romans to the chief schools of Greek philosophy and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary (with neologisms such as humanitas, qualitas, quantitas, and essentia) distinguishing himself as a linguist, translator, and philosopher.

Petrarch's rediscovery of Cicero's letters is often credited for initiating the 14th-century Renaissance in public affairs, humanism, and classical Roman culture. According to Polish historian Tadeusz Zieliński, "Renaissance was above all things a revival of Cicero, and only after him and through him of the rest of Classical antiquity." The peak of Cicero's authority and prestige came during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and his impact on leading Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, and Montesquieu was substantial. His works rank among the most influential in European culture, and today still constitute one of the most important bodies of primary material for the writing and revision of Roman history, especially the last days of the Roman Republic.

Though he was an accomplished orator and successful lawyer, Cicero believed his political career was his most important achievement. It was during his consulship that the Second Catilinarian Conspiracy attempted the government overthrow through an attack on the city from outside forces, and Cicero suppressed the revolt by executing five conspirators without due process. During the chaotic latter half of the 1st century BC marked by civil wars and the dictatorship of Gaius Julius Caesar, Cicero championed a return to the traditional republican government. Following Julius Caesar's death Cicero became an enemy of Mark Antony in the ensuing power struggle, attacking him in a series of speeches. He was proscribed as an enemy of the state by the Second Triumvirate and subsequently murdered in 43 BC.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Stayputnik

Vanguard TV3 was the first attempt of the United States to launch a satellite into orbit around the Earth. It was a small satellite designed to test the launch capabilities of the three-stage Vanguard and study the effects of the environment on a satellite and its systems in Earth orbit. It was also to be used to obtain geodetic measurements through orbit analysis.

At its launch attempt on December 6, 1957 at Cape Canaveral, the booster ignited and began to rise; but about two seconds after liftoff, after rising about four feet (1.2 m), the rocket lost thrust and began to fall back to the launch pad. As it settled the fuel tanks ruptured and exploded, destroying the rocket and severely damaging the launch pad. The Vanguard satellite was thrown clear and landed on the ground a short distance away with its transmitters still sending out a beacon signal. The satellite was damaged, however, and could not be reused. It is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

The exact cause of the accident was never determined with certainty, but the commonly accepted explanation is that low fuel tank pressure during the start procedure allowed some of the burning fuel in the combustion chamber to leak into the fuel system through the injector head before full propellant pressure was obtained from the turbopump.

Newspapers in the United States, published prominent headlines and articles noting the failure including plays on the name of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, such as "Flopnik", "Kaputnik", "Oopsnik", and "Stayputnik".

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Visibility could be down to a metre or so in the daytime.

The Great Smog of '52 or Big Smoke was a severe air-pollution event that affected London during December 1952. A period of cold weather, combined with an anticyclone and windless conditions, collected airborne pollutants mostly from the use of coal to form a thick layer of smog over the city. It lasted from Friday 5 to Tuesday 9 December 1952, and then dispersed quickly after a change of weather.

Although it caused major disruption due to the effect on visibility, and even penetrated indoor areas, it was not thought to be a significant event at the time, with London having experienced many smog events in the past, so-called "pea soupers". However, government medical reports in the following weeks estimated that up until 8 December 4,000 people had died prematurely and 100,000 more were made ill because of the smog's effects on the human respiratory tract. More recent research suggests that the total number of fatalities was considerably greater, at about 12,000.

It is known to be the worst air-pollution event in the history of the United Kingdom, and the most significant in terms of its effect on environmental research, government regulation, and public awareness of the relationship between air quality and health. It led to several changes in practices and regulations, including the Clean Air Act 1956.

Although London was accustomed to heavy fogs, this one was denser and longer-lasting than any previous fog. Visibility was reduced to a few yards making driving difficult or impossible.

Public transport ceased, apart from the London Underground; and the ambulance service stopped functioning, forcing users to transport themselves to hospital. The smog even seeped indoors, resulting in the cancellation or abandonment of concerts and film screenings as visibility decreased in large enclosed spaces, and stages and screens became harder to see from the seats[citation needed]. Outdoor sports events were also affected.
In the inner London suburbs and away from town centres there was no disturbance by moving traffic to thin out the dense fog in the back streets. The result was that visibility could be down to a metre or so in the daytime. Walking out of doors became a matter of shuffling one’s feet to feel for road curbs, etc. This was made even worse at night because each back street lamp at the time was fitted with an incandescent light-bulb which gave no penetrating light onto the pavement for pedestrians to see their feet, or even the lamp post. Fog-penetrating fluorescent lamps did not become widely available until later on in the Fifties. ‘Smog masks’ were worn by those who were able to purchase them from chemists.


Near railway lines, on which 'fog working' was implemented, loud explosions similar to the report of a shotgun were a common feature. These explosions were made by 'detonators', a form of large percussion cap placed on the track and activated by the wheels of trains. These were placed by certain signals to provide an audible warning to match the visual indication provided by the signal for the driver.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Smoke on the water, fire in the sky

Montreux Casino was built in 1881 and had modifications made to it in 1903. Throughout the twentieth century, the site played host to many great symphony orchestras and well-known conductors. By the late 1960s, jazz, blues and rock artists began to perform there.

In 1967 the Casino became the venue for the Montreux Jazz Festival, which was the brainchild of music promoter Claude Nobs. The festival was held there annually and lasted for three days. The highlights of this era were Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Evans, Nina Simone, Jan Garbarek, and Ella Fitzgerald. Originally featuring almost exclusively jazz artists, in the 1970s the festival began broadening its scope, including blues, soul, and rock artists. Some notable rock acts which performed at Montreux Casino in these years include Led Zeppelin (although they never performed at the festival itself), Pink Floyd and Deep Purple.

On December 4, 1971, Montreux Casino burned down during a concert by Frank Zappa after a fan had set the venue on fire with a flare gun. Claude Nobs saved several young people who, thinking they would be sheltered from the flames, had hidden in the casino from the blaze. A recording of the outbreak and fire announcement can be found on a Frank Zappa Bootleg album titled "Swiss Cheese / Fire".

The song "Smoke on the Water" by English rock group Deep Purple is about the incident:
We all came out to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline / To make records with a mobile - We didn't have much time / Frank Zappa & the Mothers were at the best place around / But some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground / Smoke on the water, fire in the sky...


The Casino was subsequently rebuilt, and during the interim the Montreux Jazz Festival was held in other auditoriums in Montreux, until it could return to the newly re-opened Casino in 1975. The Festival continued to be hosted there until 1993, when it moved to a larger Convention Centre located approximately one kilometre from the Casino. From 1995 through 2006, the Festival occupied both the Convention Centre and the Casino. Beginning with the 41st Festival in 2007, nightly performances of headliners were again moved mainly to the Convention Centre, although the Casino still hosts the odd one-off show.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

What a Fine Mess

Putting Pants On Philip is a silent short film starring American comedy double act Laurel and Hardy, their first to bill them as an official team. The duo appeared in a total of 107 films between 1921 and 1950.

Piedmont Mumblethunder (Hardy),seeing Philip for the first time, tells a friend that he pities whoever has to collect this character, only to be upset when HE turns out to be that person. Hardy is embarrassed at the effeminacy of his kilt-wearing Scottish nephew Philip (Laurel).and is further upset by repeated incidents with the kilt. Women faint. In one chase scene, a dog, riled up by the action, chases after Hardy. This was not scripted, but added to the hilarity .

Although this was their first "official" film as a team, the iconic Stan and Ollie characters and costumes had yet to become a permanent fixture. Their first appearance as the now familiar "Stan and Ollie" characters was in The Second Hundred Years, directed by Fred Guiol and supervised by Leo McCarey, who suggested that the performers be teamed permanently.

The film was partially shot at the historic Culver Hotel.


Monday, 2 December 2013

Crossing Boundaries out of Tradition

Leipzig University (German: Universität Leipzig), located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university (by consecutive years of existence) in Germany.

The university was founded on December 2, 1409 by Frederick I, Elector of Saxony and his brother William II, Margrave of Meissen, and originally comprised four faculties. Since its inception the university has engaged in teaching and research for over 600 years without interruption.

The university was modelled on the University of Prague, from which the German-speaking faculty members withdrew to Leipzig after the Jan Hus crisis and the Decree of Kutná Hora. The Alma mater Lipsiensis opened in 1409, after it had been officially endorsed by Pope Alexander V in his Bull of Acknowledgment on (September 9 of that year). Its first rector was Johann von Münsterberg. From its foundation, the Paulinerkirche served as the university church. After the Reformation the church and the monastery buildings were donated to the university in 1544.

During the first centuries the university grew slowly and was a rather regional institution. This changed, however, during the 19th century when the university became a world-class institution of higher education and research. Until the beginning of the Second World War, Leipzig University attracted a number of renowned scholars and later Nobel Prize laureates. Many of the university's alumni became important scientists. Famous alumni include Leibniz, Goethe, Nietzsche, Wagner, Angela Merkel, Raila Odinga, Tycho Brahe[citation needed] and nine Nobel laureates are associated with this university.

The university was kept open throughout World War II, even after the destruction of its buildings.By the end of the war 60 per cent of the university's buildings and 70 per cent of its books had been destroyed.

In 1991, following the reunification of Germany, the University's name was restored to the original Leipzig University (Alma mater lipsiensis). The reconstruction of the University Library, which was heavily damaged during the war and in the GDR barely secured, was completed in 2002. The University Library of Leipzig was established in 1543. It is one of the oldest German university libraries and it serves as a source of literature and information for the Leipzig University as well as the general public in the region. Its extensive historical and special collections are nationally and internationally recognized. The library consists of the main building "Bibliotheca Albertina" and forty branches situated near their respective academic institutions. The current stock comprises 5 million volumes and about 7,700 periodicals. Collections range from important medieval and modern manuscripts to incunabula, papyri, autographs, ostraka and coins. The Apel Codex, a manuscript of 16th century music, is housed in the Leipzig University library.

The University Motto is Aus Tradition Grenzen überschreiten - Crossing Boundaries out of Tradition.