Friday, 31 January 2014

The "salts and pills of white mercury"

The London Lock Hospital, which opened on 31 January 1747, was the first venereal disease clinic and the most famous and first of the Lock Hospitals. The Lock Hospitals were developed for the treatment of syphilis following the end of the use of lazar hospitals, as leprosy declined. The hospital later developed maternity and gynaecology services before being incorporated into the National Health Service in 1948, and finally closed in 1952.

A charitable society had been working to establish this hospital since July 1746. In November of that year a house was bought for this purpose in Grosvenor Place, London, near Hyde Park Corner. The founder of the hospital was William Bromfield or Bromfeild, as he himself preferred to spell his name. After opening in January 1747, the hospital treated almost 300  patients during its first year; the demand for its services stemmed from the unfounded belief that the treatments then available could be effective.


The hospital moved in 1842 to 283 Harrow Road in Westbourne Grove. It was renamed The Female Hospital when a new site in Dean Street, Soho, opened for male outpatients in 1862; that was later expanded in 1867, as a result of the Contagious Diseases Act 1864.

The name dates back to the earlier leprosy hospitals, which came to be known as lock hospitals after the "locks", or rags, which covered the lepers' lesions. This name was used as far back as medieval times, and was used by lock hospitals including those in Kingsland (established during the reign of Henry VIII) and Kent Street, Southwark as well as the one in Hyde Park Corner.


The memory of the hospital continues with the London Lock Hospital Memorial Prize in Sexually Transmitted Diseases at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, which was established by bequest in 1965 by an old student and staff member of the school. With subsequent mergers of London medical schools, it is now part of the awards in communicable diseases for final year medical students at UCL Medical School

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Vengeance!

The revenge of the Forty-seven Ronin  took place in Japan at the start of the 18th century. One noted Japanese scholar described the tale, the most famous example of the samurai code of honor, bushidō, as the country's "national legend."

The story tells of a group of samurai who were left leaderless (becoming ronin) after their daimyo (feudal lord) Asano Naganori was compelled to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for assaulting a court official named Kira Yoshinaka, whose title was Kōzuke no suke. The ronin, led by Oishi Yoshio avenged their master's honuor by killing Kira, after waiting and planning for almost two years. In turn, the ronin were themselves obliged to commit seppuku for committing the crime of murder. With much embellishment, this true story was popularized in Japanese culture as emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should preserve in their daily lives. The popularity of the tale grew during the Meiji era of Japanese history, in which Japan underwent rapid modernization, and the legend became subsumed within discourses of national heritage and identity.

Fictionalized accounts of the tale of the Forty-seven Ronin are known as Chūshingura. The story was popularized in numerous plays, including bunraku and kabuki. Because of the censorship laws of the shogunate in the Genroku era, which forbade portrayal of current events, the names were changed. While the version given by the playwrights may have come to be accepted as historical fact by some, the first Chūshingura was written some 50 years after the event, and numerous historical records about the actual events that predate the Chūshingura survive.

The bakufu's censorship laws had relaxed somewhat 75 years later in the late 18th century, when Japanologist Isaac Titsingh first recorded the story of the Forty-seven Ronin as one of the significant events of the Genroku era. The story continues to be popular in Japan to this day. Each year on December 14, Sengakuji Temple holds a festival commemorating the event.

Lifeboat

Henry Francis Greathead (1757–1818) was a pioneering rescue lifeboat builder from South Shields. Although Lionel Lukin had patented a lifeboat in 1785, Greathead successfully petitioned parliament in 1802 with the claim that he had invented a lifeboat in 1790, and he was awarded £1,200 for his trouble. Although his claims have been contested, he did build 31 boats, which saved very many lives, and succeeded in making the concept of a shore-based rescue lifeboat widely accepted.

In 1789 a ship was stranded on a sandbank and the crew could not be rescued because of storm conditions. A committee was formed to build a boat capable of effecting a rescue in such conditions. Two models were submitted. One, modelled in tin by William Wouldhave, was to be built of copper, made buoyant by the use of cork, and was incapable of being capsized. The committee however disapproved of the idea of a copper boat, but Wouldhave was awarded one guinea for his trouble. Greathead also made a submission, built of wood, but which floated bottom up when upset. He was however rewarded by being employed to build a boat as directed by the committee. Sometime after, two members of the committee presented a model which Greathead was instructed to build. At his suggestion it was agreed that a curved keel should be used. They decided that something akin to a Norway Yawl should be built.


The lifeboat constructed had a curved keel and rose more fore and aft than a Norway Yawl. When full of water amidships, one third at each end would be out of water, and it could continue underway without foundering. It could be rowed in either direction and was steered by an oar rather than a rudder. It was rowed with ten short oars, these being more manageable in heavy seas than a full-length oar. The boat was thirty feet long and ten feet broad. The sides were cased with cork, four inches thick, weighing nearly 7 hundredweight and secured with copper plates. It added considerably to the buoyancy of the boat, helping it recover quickly from any upset. The curvature of the keel made her very easy to steer about her centre. She was able to carry twenty people, and went out on her first trial on the River Tyne on 30 January 1790.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

"The ultimate high"

Mantra-Rock Dance was a musical countercultural event held on January 29, 1967, at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. It was organized by followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) as an opportunity for its founder, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, to address a wider public, and as a promotional and fundraising effort for their first center on the West Coast of the United States.

The Mantra-Rock Dance featured some of the most prominent Californian rock groups of the time, such as the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, as well as the then relatively unknown Moby Grape. 

The bands agreed to appear with Prabhupada and to perform for free; the proceeds were donated to the local Hare Krishna temple. The participation of countercultural leaders considerably boosted the event's popularity; among them were the poet Allen Ginsberg, who led the singing of the Hare Krishna mantra onstage along with Prabhupada, and LSD promoters Timothy Leary and Augustus Owsley Stanley III.

The Mantra-Rock Dance concert was later called "the ultimate high" and "the major spiritual event of the San Francisco hippie era." It led to favorable media exposures for Prabhupada and his followers, and brought the Hare Krishna movement to the wider attention of the American public. The 40th anniversary of the Mantra-Rock Dance was commemorated in 2007 in Berkeley, California.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A product of the Wegener–Bergeron–Findeisen process

A snowflake is either a single ice crystal or an aggregation of ice crystals which falls through the Earth's atmosphere. They begin as snow crystals which develop when microscopic supercooled cloud droplets freeze. Snowflakes come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Complex shapes emerge as the flake moves through differing temperature and humidity regimes, such that individual snowflakes are nearly unique in structure. Snowflakes encapsulated in rime form balls known as graupel. Snowflakes appear white in color despite being made of clear ice. This is due to diffuse reflection of the whole spectrum of light by the small crystal facets.

Snow crystals form when tiny supercooled cloud droplets (about 10 μm in diameter) freeze. These droplets are able to remain liquid at temperatures lower than −18 °C (0 °F), because to freeze, a few molecules in the droplet need to get together by chance to form an arrangement similar to that in an ice lattice, then the droplet freezes around this "nucleus." Experiments show that this "homogeneous" nucleation of cloud droplets only occurs at temperatures lower than −35 °C (−31 °F).

Once a droplet has frozen, it grows in the supersaturated environment, which is one where air is saturated with respect to ice when the temperature is below the freezing point. The droplet then grows by deposition of water molecules in the air (vapor) onto the ice crystal surface where they are collected. Because water droplets are so much more numerous than the ice crystals due to their sheer abundance, the crystals are able to grow to hundreds of micrometers or millimeters in size at the expense of the water droplets. This process is known as the Wegener–Bergeron–Findeisen process. The corresponding depletion of water vapor causes the droplets to evaporate, meaning that the ice crystals grow at the droplets' expense. These large crystals are an efficient source of precipitation, since they fall through the atmosphere due to their mass, and may collide and stick together in clusters, or aggregates. These aggregates are usually the type of ice particle that falls to the ground. Guinness World Records list the world's largest (aggregate) snowflakes as those of January 1887 at Fort Keogh, Montana; allegedly one measured 15 inches (38 cm) wide. Although this report by a farmer is doubtful, aggregates of three or four inches width have been observed.

Snowflakes form in a wide variety of intricate shapes, leading to the popular expression that "no two are alike". Although possible, it is very unlikely for any two randomly selected snowflakes to appear exactly alike due to the many changes in temperature and humidity the crystal experiences during its fall to earth. Initial attempts to find identical snowflakes by photographing thousands of them with a microscope from 1885 onward by Wilson Alwyn Bentley found the wide variety of snowflakes we know about today. In 1988, Nancy Knight was documenting snowflakes for the National Center for Atmospheric Research and found two identical snowflakes of the hollow column type, though it was subsequently clarified that the snowflakes were, with near certainty, distinct at the atomic level. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Paris Peace Accords

The Paris Peace Accords of 1973 intended to establish peace in Vietnam and an end to the Vietnam War, ended direct U.S. military involvement, and temporarily stopped the fighting between North and South Vietnam. The governments of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), and the United States, as well as the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) that represented indigenous South Vietnamese revolutionaries, signed the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam on January 27, 1973. The agreement was not ratified by the United States Senate.

The negotiations that led to the accord began in 1968 after various lengthy delays. As a result of the accord, the International Control Commission (ICC) was replaced by International Commission of Control and Supervision (ICCS) to carry out the agreement. The main negotiators of the agreement were United States National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Vietnamese politburo member Le Duc Thọ; the two men were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts, although Le Duc Thọ refused to accept it.

The Paris Peace Accords had little practical effect on the conflict, and were routinely flouted, mainly by the North Vietnamese, as well as the Saigon government, which enlarged the area under its control in 1973. North Vietnamese military forces gradually moved through the southern provinces and two years later were in position to capture Saigon.

Nixon had secretly promised Thieu that he would use airpower to support the Saigon government should it be necessary. During his confirmation hearings in June 1973, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger was sharply criticized by some senators after he stated that he would recommend resumption of U.S. bombing in North Vietnam if North Vietnam launched a major offensive against South Vietnam. However, Nixon was driven from office due to the Watergate scandal in 1974 and when the North Vietnamese did begin their final offensive early in 1975, the United States Congress (controlled by the Democratic Party) refused to appropriate the funds needed by the South Vietnamese, who collapsed completely. 

Between 1965 and 1975, the United States spent $111 billion on the war ($686 billion in FY2008 dollars). 


More than 3 million Americans served in the Vietnam War, some 1.5 million of whom actually saw combat in Vietnam. James E. Westheider wrote that "At the height of American involvement in 1968, for example, there were 543,000 American military personnel in Vietnam, but only 80,000 were considered combat troops."

Estimates of the number of casualties vary of the war, with one source suggesting up to 3.8 million violent war deaths. 195,000–430,000 South Vietnamese civilians died in the war. 50,000–65,000 North Vietnamese civilians died in the war. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam lost between 171,331 and 220,357 men during the war. The official US Department of Defense figure was 950,765 communist forces killed in Vietnam from 1965 to 1974. Defense Department officials believed that these body count figures need to be deflated by 30 percent. In addition, Guenter Lewy assumes that one-third of the reported "enemy" killed may have been civilians, concluding that the actual number of deaths of communist military forces was probably closer to 444,000. A detailed demographic study calculated 791,000–1,141,000 war-related deaths for all of Vietnam Between 200,000[30] and 300,000 Cambodians died during the war. About 60,000 Laotians also died, and 58,220 U.S. service members were killed.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A stalwart of two world wars.

The Lee-Enfield bolt-action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle was the main firearm used by the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the first half of the 20th century. It was the British Army's standard rifle from its official adoption in 1895 until 1957.

A redesign of the Lee-Metford which had been adopted by the British Army in 1888, the Lee-Enfield superseded the earlier Martini-Henry, Martini-Enfield, and Lee-Metford rifles. It featured a ten-round box magazine which was loaded with the .303 British cartridge manually from the top, either one round at a time or by means of five-round chargers. The Lee-Enfield was the standard issue weapon to rifle companies of the British Army and other Commonwealth nations in both the First and Second World Wars (these Commonwealth nations included Canada, Australia and South Africa, among others).

Although officially replaced in the UK with the L1A1 SLR in 1957, it remained in widespread British service until the early/mid-1960s and the 7.62 mm L42 sniper variant remained in service until the 1990s. As a standard-issue infantry rifle, it is still found in service in the armed forces of some Commonwealth nations, notably with the Indian Police and Bangladesh Police, which makes it the longest-serving military bolt-action rifle still in official service. The Canadian Forces' Rangers Arctic reserve unit still use Enfield 4 rifles as of 2012, with plans announced to replace the weapons sometime in 2014 or 2015. Total production of all Lee-Enfields is estimated at over 17 million rifles.

The Lee-Enfield takes its name from the designer of the rifle's bolt system—James Paris Lee—and the factory in which it was designed—the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield. In Australia, New Zealand, Southern Africa and Canada the rifle became known simply as the "303".

Saturday, 25 January 2014

There goes the Couple

Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" in C major, written in 1842, is one of the best known of the pieces from his suite of incidental music (Op. 61) to Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. It is one of the most frequently used wedding marches, generally being played on a church pipe organ.

At weddings in many Western countries, this piece is commonly used as a recessional, though frequently stripped of its episodes in this context. It is frequently teamed with the "Bridal Chorus" from Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin, or with Jeremiah Clarke's "Prince of Denmark's March", both of which are often played for the entry of the bride.

The first time that Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" was used at a wedding was when Dorothy Carew wed Tom Daniel at St Peter's Church, Tiverton, England, on 2 June 1847 when it was performed by organist Samuel Reay. However, it did not become popular at weddings until it was selected by Victoria, The Princess Royal for her marriage to Prince Frederick William of Prussia on 25 January 1858. The bride was the daughter of Queen Victoria, who loved Mendelssohn's music and for whom Mendelssohn often played while on his visits to Britain.

An organ on which Mendelssohn gave recitals of the "Wedding March", among other works, is housed in St Ann's Church in Tottenham.

Franz Liszt wrote a virtuoso transcription of the "Wedding March and Dance of the Elves" (S. 410) in 1849-50. Vladimir Horowitz transcribed the Wedding March into a virtuoso showpiece for piano and played it as an encore at his concerts.


Friday, 24 January 2014

"It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned"

Shōichi Yokoi  was a Japanese sergeant in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during the Second World War.

Yokoi was born in Saori, Aichi Prefecture. He was an apprentice tailor when he was conscripted in 1941.Initially, Yokoi served with the 29th Infantry Division in Manchukuo.
In 1943, he was transferred to the 38th Regiment in the Mariana Islands. He arrived on Guam in February 1943.

When American forces captured the island in the 1944 Battle of Guam, Yokoi went into hiding with ten other Japanese soldiers.
Seven of the original ten eventually moved away and only three remained in the region.These men separated but visited each other until about 1964, when the other two died in a flood.
The last eight years Yokoi lived alone.Yokoi survived by hunting, primarily at night.He used native plants to make clothes, bedding, and storage implements, which he carefully hid in his cave.

On the evening of 24 January 1972, Yokoi was discovered in the jungle[3] by Jesus Dueñas and Manuel De Gracia, two local men checking their shrimp traps along a small river on Talofofo. They had assumed Yokoi was a villager from Talofofo, but he thought his life was in danger and attacked them. They managed to subdue him and carried him out of the jungle with minor bruising.

"It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned", he said upon his return to Japan. The remark would become a popular saying in Japanese.

For twenty-eight years, he had hidden in an underground jungle cave, fearing to come out of hiding even after finding leaflets declaring World War II had ended, believing them to be false Allied propaganda. Yokoi was the third-to-last Japanese soldier to surrender after the war, preceding Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda (relieved from duty by his former commanding officer on 9 March 1974) and Private Teruo Nakamura (arrested 18 December 1974).

After a whirlwind media tour of Japan, he married and settled down in rural Aichi Prefecture.
Yokoi became a popular television personality and an advocate of austere living. He was featured in a 1977 documentary called Yokoi and His Twenty-Eight Years of Secret Life on Guam.

He eventually received the equivalent of US$300 in back pay, and a small pension. Yokoi died in 1997 of a heart attack at the age of 82, and was buried at a Nagoya cemetery, under a gravestone that had originally been commissioned by his mother in 1955, after Yokoi had been officially declared dead.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

"The Good Regent"

James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray (c. 1531 – 23 January 1570)[1] a member of the House of Stewart as the illegitimate son of King James V, was Regent of Scotland for his nephew, the infant King James VI of Scotland, from 1567 until  1570. 

Despite their religious differences, Moray became the chief advisor to his sister, Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1561 after her return from France. She was the only surviving child of his father's marriage to Mary of Guise. Although James disturbed her priests celebrating mass at Holyroodhouse in September 1561, she made him Earl of Moray and Earl of Mar the following year.

Mary abdicated at Loch Leven Castle on 24 July 1567. Moray returned to Edinburgh from France on 11 August 1567, escorted from Berwick-upon-Tweed by James Melville of Halhill, with a French ambassador, De Lignerolles. William Cecil, the English secretary of State had arranged his transport from Dieppe in an English ship. He was appointed Regent of Scotland on 22 August.

When Mary escaped from Loch Leven on 2 May 1568 the Duke of Chatelherault and other nobles rallied to her standard, but Moray gathered his allies and defeated her forces at the Battle of Langside, near Glasgow on 13 May 1568. Mary was compelled to flee to England. For this and the subsequent management of the kingdom he secured both civil and ecclesiastical peace, and earned the title of "The Good Regent".

Scotland was now in a state of civil war. Moray moved against the supporters of Queen Mary in their south-west homelands with a military expedition in June 1568 called the 'Raid of Dumfries' or 'Raid of Hoddom.'

On Thursday 19 January 1570 Moray was at Stirling Castle where he had invited the English diplomat Sir Henry Gate, Marshal of Berwick, and the soldier Sir William Drury for dinner in the Great Hall. Later in his bedchamber he told the English visitors he would meet with them and certain Scottish nobles at Edinburgh on Monday or Tuesday to discuss the rendition of English rebels. Moray was troubled by the problem of Dumbarton Castle, which was held against him by supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots. On 21 January, he sent letters to summon Morton, Lindsay and Home to the meeting in Edinburgh.

Moray was assassinated in Linlithgow on 23 January 1570 by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, a supporter of Mary. As Moray was passing in a cavalcade in the main street below, Hamilton fatally wounded him with a carbine shot from a window of his uncle Archbishop Hamilton's house. It was the first recorded assassination by a firearm.

The Regent's body was shipped to Leith then taken to Holyrood Abbey. Moray was buried on 14 February 1570 in St. Anthony's aisle at St. Giles, Edinburgh. Seven earls and lords carried his body; William Kirkcaldy of Grange held his standard, and John Knox preached at the funeral. Knox's own prohibition of funeral sermons (on the grounds that they glorified the deceased and displayed distinctions between rich and poor) was waived for the occasion. Moray's tomb was carved by John Roytell and Murdoch Walker, with a brass engraved by James Gray. His wife, Agnes Keith, was buried inside his tomb when she died in 1588. Moray was succeeded by his eldest daughter and heir, Elizabeth Stewart, 2nd Countess of Moray, whose husband, James Stewart of Doune acquired the earldom on their marriage.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

"Defenders of the Church's freedom".

Swiss Guards are the Swiss soldiers who have served as bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century. Apart from household and guard units, regular Swiss mercenary regiments have served as line troops in various armies; notably those of France, Spain and Naples up to the 19th century . In contemporary usage, the name Swiss Guard generally refers to the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See.

Various units of Swiss Guards existed for hundreds of years. The earliest such unit was the Swiss Hundred Guard (Cent Suisses) at the French court (1497 – 1830). This small force was complemented in 1567 by a Swiss Guards regiment. The Papal Swiss Guard (now located in Vatican City), was founded in 1506 and is the only extant Swiss Guard. In the 18th and early 19th centuries several other Swiss Guards existed for periods in various European courts.

The use of Swiss soldiers as Royal guards and as the Pontifical guard stems from the reputation of Swiss mercenaries at the time of their formation. Since Switzerland was a poor country, young men often sought their fortunes abroad. Having a reputation for discipline and loyalty, and employing revolutionary battle tactics, they were considered the most powerful troops of the 15th century, until their methods were refined by the Landsknechte in the early 16th century.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its origins in the 15th century. Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) already made a previous alliance with the Swiss Confederation and built barracks in Via Pellegrino after foreseeing the possibility of recruiting Swiss mercenaries. The pact was renewed by Innocent VIII (1484–1492) in order to use them against the Duke of Milan. Alexander VI (1492–1503) later actually used the Swiss mercenaries during their alliance with the King of France. During the time of the Borgias, however, the Italian Wars began in which the Swiss mercenaries were a fixture in the front lines among the warring factions, sometimes for France and sometimes for the Holy See or the Holy Roman Empire. The mercenaries enlisted when they heard King Charles VIII of France was going to war with Naples. Among the participants in the war against Naples was Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II (1503–1513), who was well acquainted with the Swiss having been Bishop of Lausanne years earlier. The expedition failed in part thanks to new alliances made by Alexander VI against the French. When Cardinal della Rovere became Pope Julius II in 1503, he asked the Swiss Diet to provide him with a constant corps of 200 Swiss mercenaries. In September 1505, the first contingent of 150 soldiers started their march towards Rome, under the command of Kaspar von Silenen, and entered the city on January 22, 1506, today given as the official date of the Guard's foundation. "The Swiss see the sad situation of the Church of God, Mother of Christianity, and realize how grave and dangerous it is that any tyrant, avid for wealth, can assault with impunity, the common Mother of Christianity," declared Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss Catholic who later became a Protestant reformer. Pope Julius II later granted them the title "Defenders of the Church's freedom".

The force has varied greatly in size over the years and has even been disbanded. Its first, and most significant, hostile engagement was on May 6, 1527, when 147 of the 189 Guards, including their commander, died fighting the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the stand of the Swiss Guard during the Sack of Rome in order to allow Clement VII to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, escorted by the other 40 guards. The last stand battlefield is located on the left side of St Peter's Basilica, close to the Campo Santo Teutonico (German Graveyard).


The Pontifical Swiss Guard has served the popes since the 16th century. Ceremonially, they shared duties in the Papal household with the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, both of which were disbanded in 1970 under Paul VI. Today the Papal Swiss Guard have taken over the ceremonial roles of the former units. At the end of 2005, there were 135 members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. This number consisted of a Commandant (bearing the rank of Oberst or Colonel), a chaplain, three officers, one sergeant major (Feldwebel), 30 NCOs, and 99 halberdiers, the rank equivalent to private (so called because of their traditional halberd).

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time.

The guillotine is a device designed for carrying out executions by beheading. It consists of a tall upright frame in which a weighted and angled blade is raised to the top and suspended. The condemned person is secured at the bottom of the frame, with his or her neck held directly below the blade. The blade is then released, to fall swiftly and sever the head from the body. The device is best known for its use in France, in particular during the French Revolution, when it "became a part of popular culture" and it became celebrated as the people's avenger by supporters of the Revolution and vilified as the pre-eminent symbol of the Reign of Terror by opponents." The guillotine continued to be used long after the Revolution and remained France's standard method of judicial execution until the abolition of capital punishment with the backing of President François Mitterrand in 1981.The last person guillotined in France was Hamida Djandoubi, on 10 September 1977.

The guillotine has also been employed in other countries. In Germany, it saw prolific use during the Third Reich and was used once by West Germany in 1949 and by the German Democratic Republic as late as 1966.

Louis XVI (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) was King of France and Navarre from 1774 until 1791, after which he was subsequently King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before his deposition and execution during the French Revolution. 

The first part of Louis' reign was marked by attempts to reform France in accordance with Enlightenment ideals. These included efforts to abolish serfdom, remove the taille, and increase tolerance toward non-Catholics. The French nobility reacted to the proposed reforms with hostility, and successfully opposed their implementation; increased discontent among the common people ensued. From 1776 Louis XVI actively supported the North American colonists, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain, which was realized in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.


The ensuing debt and financial crisis contributed to the unpopularity of the ancien régime which culminated at the Estates-General of 1789. Discontent among the members of France's middle and lower classes resulted in strengthened opposition to the French aristocracy and to the absolute monarchy, of which Louis and his queen Marie Antoinette were viewed as representative. In 1789, the Bastille was stormed during riots in Paris, and the French Revolution began.

In a context of civil and international war, Louis XVI was suspended and arrested as part of the insurrection of 10 August 1792 just one month before the constitutional monarchy was abolished and a republic declared. He was tried by the National Convention, found guilty of high treason, and executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793 as a desacralized French citizen known as "Citizen Louis Capet", a nickname in reference to Hugh Capet, the founder of the Capetian dynasty – which the revolutionaries interpreted as Louis' family name. In the meantime, the French Republic had been proclaimed 21 September 1792. Louis XVI is the only King of France ever to be executed, and his death brought an end to more than a thousand years of continuous French monarchy.

Some accounts of Louis's beheading indicate that the blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time. There are also accounts of a blood-curdling scream issuing from Louis after the blade fell but this is unlikely, since the blade severed Louis's spine. It is agreed that while Louis's blood dripped to the ground many members of the crowd ran forward to dip their handkerchiefs in it. This account was proven true in 2012 after a DNA comparison linked blood thought to be from Louis XVI's beheading to DNA taken from tissue samples originating from what was long thought to be the mummified head of Henry IV of France. The blood sample was taken from a gourd carved to commemorate the heroes of the French Revolution that had, according to legend, been used to house Louis's blood.

Monday, 20 January 2014

The First Parliament

Simon De Montfort's army had met and defeated the royal forces at the Battle of Lewes on May 14, 1264. The rebels captured the king's son and heir Prince Edward, and the subsequent treaty led to a parliament being called in 1265 to agree to a constitution formulated by De Monfort.

De Montfort sent out envoys to consult with knights in each county to select two knights among their number, and so too to the burgesses and aldermen of the boroughs, asking each to send two representatives. This was not the first such gathering in England, but what distinguished it was that De Montfort insisted the representatives be elected, not appointed. The knights representing counties or more often, not, had been summoned to some earlier Parliaments.

This was also the first parliament at which both knights (representing counties) and burgesses (representing boroughs) were present, thereby substantially broadening representation to non-peers.

De Montfort's Parliament was summoned (sent for) on 14 December 1264 and owing to elections and slow communications and transport first met on 20 January 1265 at Westminster Hall and was dissolved on 15 February 1265.

Henry III dissolved and repudiated the new Parliament and resumed his war against De Montfort, who was killed later that year. Henry later held his own parliament in a field near Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire.

After this Parliament it took some time for the knights and burgesses to become a regular part of the composition of Parliament. The next time they were summoned was for the 1st Parliament of King Edward I of England in 1275. The Model Parliament of 1295 is sometimes seen as the start of regular attendance by commoners, but the institutional development was gradual. 

The right to vote in Parliamentary elections for county constituencies is believed to have been uniform throughout the country, from the first election of knights of the shire to this Parliament. Most of the members of this and future parliaments were elected from individual boroughs. The list of boroughs which had the right to elect a member grew slowly over the centuries as monarchs gave out more Royal Charters, but the last charter was given to Newark in 1674.


Until legislation in 1430 limited the franchise to all those who owned the freehold of land that brought in an annual rent of at least 40 shillings (Forty Shilling Freeholders), Seymour suggested "it is probable that all free inhabitant householders voted and that the parliamentary qualification was, like that which compelled attendance in the county court, merely a "resiance" or "residence qualification". As women could not own land, they were automatically excluded from any voting rights on the county level. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

"A good man, in his darkest impulses, remains aware of the right path"

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust is a tragic play in two parts: Faust. Der Tragödie erster Teil (translated as: Faust: The First Part of the Tragedy) and Faust. Der Tragödie zweiter Teil (Faust: The Second Part of the Tragedy). Although rarely staged in its entirety, it is the play with the largest audience numbers on German-language stages. Faust is Goethe's most famous work and considered by many to be one of the greatest works of German literature.

Goethe completed a preliminary version of Part One in 1806. The 1808 publication was followed by the revised 1828–29 edition, which was the last to be edited by Goethe himself. Prior to these appeared a partial printing in 1790 of Faust, a Fragment.

The earliest forms of the work, known as the Urfaust, were developed between 1772 and 1775; however, the details of that development are no longer entirely clear. Urfaust has twenty-two scenes, one in prose, two largely prose and the remaining 1,441 lines in rhymed verse. The manuscript is lost, but a copy was discovered in 1886.

The first part of Faust is not divided into acts, but is structured as a sequence of scenes in a variety of settings. After a dedicatory poem and a prelude in the theater, the actual plot begins with a prologue in Heaven.  In an allusion to the story of Job, Mephistopheles wagers with God for the soul of Faust.

God has decided to "soon lead Faust to clarity", who previously only "served [Him] confusedly." However, to test Faust, he allows Mephistopheles to attempt to lead him astray. God declares that "man still must err, while he doth strive". It is shown that the outcome of the bet is certain, for "a good man, in his darkest impulses, remains aware of the right path", and Mephistopheles is permitted to lead Faust astray only so that he may learn from his misdeeds. That in itself is his main objective.

We then see Faust in his study, attempting and failing to gain knowledge of nature and the universe by magic means. The dejected Faust contemplates suicide, but is held back by the sounds of the beginning Easter celebrations. He joins his assistant Wagner for an Easter walk in the countryside, among the celebrating people, and is followed home by a poodle. Back in the study, the poodle transforms itself into Mephistopheles, who offers Faust a contract: he will do Faust's bidding on earth, and Faust will do the same for him in hell (if, as Faust adds in an important side clause, Mephisto can get him to be satisfied and to want a moment to last forever). Faust signs in blood, and Mephisto first takes him to Auerbach's tavern in Leipzig, where the devil plays tricks on some drunken revellers. Having then been transformed into a young man by a witch, Faust encounters Margaret (Gretchen) and she excites his desires. Through a scheme involving jewellery and Gretchen's neighbour Marthe, Mephisto brings about Faust's and Gretchen's liaison. After a period of separation, Faust seduces Gretchen, who accidentally kills her mother with a sleeping potion Faust had given her. Gretchen is pregnant, and her torment is further increased when Faust and Mephisto kill her enraged brother in a sword fight. Mephisto seeks to distract Faust by taking him to the witches' sabbath of Walpurgis Night, but Faust insists on rescuing Gretchen from the death sentence she has been given after going insane and drowning her newborn child. In the dungeon, Faust in vain tries to persuade Gretchen to follow him to freedom. At the end of the drama, as Faust and Mephisto flee the dungeon, a voice from heaven announces Gretchen's salvation.

Goethe finished writing Faust Part Two in 1831. In contrast to Faust Part One, the focus here is no longer on the soul of Faust, which has been sold to the devil, but rather on social phenomena such as psychology, history and politics, in addition to mystical and philosophical topics. The second part formed the principal occupation of Goethe's last years. It appeared only posthumously in 1832.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Legionellosis

Legionnaires' disease or Legionellosis is the medical term for the potentially fatal, acute infectious respiratory process caused by any species of the gram negative, aerobic bacteria belonging to the genus Legionella. Over 90% of Legionnaires' disease, also known as Legion Fever, are caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.

Legionnaires' disease acquired its name in July 1976, when an outbreak of pneumonia occurred among people attending a convention of the American Legion at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. Of the 182 reported cases, mostly men, 29 died. On January 18, 1977, the causative agent was identified as a previously unknown strain of bacteria, subsequently named Legionella, and the species that caused the outbreak was named Legionella pneumophila.

Outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease receive significant media attention. However, this disease usually occurs as single, isolated cases not associated with any recognized outbreak. When outbreaks do occur, they are usually in the summer and early autumn, though cases may occur at any time of year. Most infections occur in those who are middle-aged or older. Legionella pneumophila was first identified in 1976. National surveillance systems and research studies were established early, and in recent years improved ascertainment and changes in clinical methods of diagnosis have contributed to an upsurge in reported cases in many countries.

Patients with Legionnaires' disease usually have fever, chills, and a cough, which may be dry or may produce sputum. Some patients also have muscle aches, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite, loss of coordination (ataxia), and occasionally diarrhea and vomiting. Confusion and impaired cognition may also occur, as can a so-called 'relative bradycardia', i.e. low or low normal heart rate despite the presence of a fever.Laboratory tests may show that patients' renal functions, liver functions and electrolytes are deranged, including hyponatremia. Chest X-rays often show pneumonia with bi-basal consolidation. It is difficult to distinguish Legionnaires' disease from other types of pneumonia by symptoms or radiologic findings alone; other tests are required for diagnosis.

The fatality rate of Legionnaires' disease has ranged from 5% to 30% during various outbreaks and approaches 50% for nosocomial infections, especially when treatment with antibiotics is delayed. According to the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, hospital-acquired Legionella pneumonia has a fatality rate of 28%, and the principal source of infection in such cases is the drinking-water distribution system.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Monte Cassino

Montecassino is a rocky hill about 130 kilometres (81 mi) southeast of Rome, Italy, c. 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) to the west of the town of Cassino (the Roman Casinum having been on the hill) and 520 m (1,706.04 ft) altitude. St. Benedict of Nursia established his first monastery, the source of the Benedictine Order, here around 529.

According to Gregory the Great's biography of Benedict, Life of Saint Benedict of Nursia, the monastery was constructed on an older pagan site, a temple of Apollo that crowned the hill. The biography records that the area was still largely pagan at the time and Benedict's first act was to smash the sculpture of Apollo and destroy the altar. He then reused the temple, dedicating it to Saint Martin, and built another chapel on the site of the altar dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Archaeologist Neil Christie notes that it was common in such hagiographies for the protagonist to encounter areas of strong paganism. Once established at Monte Cassino, Benedict never left. There he wrote the Benedictine Rule that became the founding principle for western monasticism. There at Monte Cassino he received a visit from Totila, king of the Ostrogoths, perhaps in 543 (the only remotely secure historical date for Benedict), and there he died.

Monte Cassino became a model for future developments. Unfortunately its prominent site has always made it an object of strategic importance. It was sacked or destroyed a number of times. In 581, during the abbacy of Bonitus, the Lombards sacked the abbey, and the surviving monks fled to Rome, where they remained for more than a century. During this time the body of St Benedict was transferred to Fleury, the modern Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire near Orleans, France.

In December 1942, some 1,400 irreplaceable manuscript codices, chiefly patristic and historical, in addition to a vast number of documents relating to the history of the abbey and the collections of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House in Rome, had been sent to the abbey archives for safekeeping. Fortunately, German officers Lt. Col. Julius Schlegel (a Roman Catholic) and Capt. Maximilian Becker (a Protestant), both from the Panzer-Division Hermann Göring, had them transferred to the Vatican at the beginning of the battle.

During the Battle of Monte Cassino (January - May 1944) the Abbey made up one section of the 161 kilometre (100 miles) Gustav line, which was a defensive German line designed to hold the Allied attackers from advancing any further into Italy during World War Two. It stretched from coast to coast and the monastery was one of the key strongholds overlooking highway 6 and blocking the path to Rome. On 15 February 1944 the abbey was almost completely destroyed in a series of heavy American led air-raids. The bombing was conducted because many reports from troops on the ground suggested that Germans were occupying the monastery, and it was considered a key observational post by all those who were fighting in the field. However, actually during the bombing no Germans were present. It is certain from every investigation that followed since the event that the only people killed in the monastery by the bombing were 230 Italian civilians seeking refuge in the abbey. After the bombing the ruins of the monastery were occupied by German Fallschirmjäger, aiding them in their defense, because the ruins provided excellent defensive cover. The heavily outnumbered Germans held the position until withdrawing on 17 May 1944, having repulsed four main offensives by the New Zealanders, British Indian division and Polish corps. Allied forces broke the line between 11 and 17 May. The Polish 12th Podolian Uhlans Regiment of the Polish II Corps, commanded by Lt. Gen. Władysław Anders, raised the Polish flag over the ruins 18 May 1944.  The road to Rome was then open.

The Abbey was rebuilt after the war; Pope Paul VI reconsecrated it in 1964. During reconstruction, its library was housed at the Pontifical Abbey of St Jerome-in-the-City.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

"Today I traveled over Rungholt; the city sank 600 years ago."

Rungholt was a wealthy city in Nordfriesland, in the Danish duchy of Schleswig. It sank beneath the waves when a storm tide (the first "Grote Mandrenke") in the North Sea tore through the area on January 16, 1362.

Rungholt was situated on the island of Strand, which was rent asunder by another storm tide in 1634, and of which the islets of Pellworm, Nordstrand and Nordstrandischmoor are the only remaining fragments.

Relics of the city were being found in the Wadden Sea until the late 20th century, but shifting sediments have carried the last of these into the sea. In the 1920s and 1930s, some remains of the city were exposed; they suggested a population of at least 1,500 to 2,000, which is fairly large for that region and time, and it is likely that Rungholt was a major port. Legend has greatly exaggerated its size and wealth, however.

Impressed by the fate of the city, the relics, and not least legend's excessive descriptions, the German poet Detlev von Liliencron wrote a popular poem called "Trutz, Blanke Hans" about this lost city which starts with the words: "Heut bin ich über Rungholt gefahren, die Stadt ging unter vor sechshundert Jahren". ("Today I traveled over Rungholt; the city sank 600 years ago.")

Local myth has it that one can still hear the church bells of Rungholt ringing when sailing through the area on a stormy night.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

"Close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopædia Britannica."

Wikipedia  is a collaboratively edited, multilingual, free Internet encyclopedia that the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation supports. Volunteers worldwide collaboratively write Wikipedia's 30 million articles in 287 languages, including over 4.4 million in the English Wikipedia. Anyone who can access the site can edit almost any of its articles, which on the Internet comprise the largest and most popular general reference work, ranking sixth globally among all websites on Alexa with an estimated 365 million readers.

Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched Wikipedia on January 15, 2001, the latter creating its name Wikipedia, from a portmanteau of wiki (a type of collaborative website, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning "quick")[ and encyclopedia.
Wikipedia's departure from the expert-driven style of encyclopedia-building and the presence of much unacademic content have received extensive attention in print media.

In 2006, Time magazine recognized Wikipedia's participation in the rapid growth of online collaboration and interaction by millions of people around the world, in addition to YouTube, Reddit, MySpace, and Facebook. Wikipedia has also become known as a news source because of the rapid update of articles related to breaking news.

The open nature of Wikipedia has caused concerns about its writing, the amount of vandalism, and the accuracy of information. Some articles contain unverified or inconsistent information, though a 2005 investigation in Nature showed that the 42 science articles they compared came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopædia Britannica.

Wikipedia is hosted and funded by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization which also operates Wikipedia-related projects such as Wiktionary and Wikibooks. The Wikimedia Foundation relies on public contributions and grants to fund its mission. The Wikimedia chapters, local associations of users and supporters of the Wikimedia projects, also participate in the promotion, development, and funding of the project. The 22 October 2013 essay by Tom Simonite in MIT's Technology Review titled "The Decline of Wikipedia" was accurate in describing Sue Gardner's progress in fund raising while at the foundation. "On Gardner's watch, the funds the Wikimedia Foundation has raised each year to support the site have grown from $4 million to $45 million." The foundation's most recent IRS Form 990 shows revenue of $39.7 million and expenses of almost $29 million, with assets of $37.2 million and liabilities of about $2.3 million. Gardner's salary and other compensation was $219,980, while five other high-ranking individuals each made between $170,899 and $212,018.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

"There are two teams out there, one is playing cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so."

Bodyline, also known as fast leg theory bowling, was a cricketing tactic devised by the English cricket team for their 1932–33 Ashes tour of Australia, specifically to combat the extraordinary batting skill of Australia's Don Bradman. A bodyline delivery was one where the cricket ball was bowled towards the body of the batsman on the line of the leg stump, in the hope of creating leg-side deflections that could be caught by one of several fielders in the quadrant of the field behind square leg. This was considered by many to be intimidatory and physically threatening, to the point of being unfair in a game once supposed to have gentlemanly traditions, but commercialisation of the game has subsequently tended to elevate the principle of "win at all costs" above traditional ideals of sportsmanship.

The controversy reached its peak during the second day of the Third Test. On 14 January, an all-time record Adelaide Oval crowd of 50,962 watched Australia finish off England's first innings. Shortly after the start of Australia's innings, Larwood, bowling to a conventional field setting, struck Woodfull an agonising blow under his heart with a short, lifting delivery.Woodfull was struck when he was bent over his bat and wicket, and not when upright as often imagined. As Woodfull bent down over his bat in pain for several minutes, an image that became one of the defining symbols of the series, the huge crowd began jeering, hooting and verbally abusing the English team. Jardine reacted by saying "Well bowled, Harold." Tension and feelings ran so high that a riot was narrowly averted as police stationed themselves between the players and enraged spectators.

The capacity Saturday afternoon crowd viewed this as hitting a man when he was down. Journalist–cricketer Dick Whitington wrote that Jardine's actions were seen as "an unforgivable crime in Australian eyes and certainly no part of cricket". Mass hooting and jeering occurred after almost every ball.Whitington noted that "[Umpire George] Hele believes that had what followed occurred in Melbourne the crowd would have leapt the fence and belaboured the English captain, Larwood, and possibly the entire side".

During the over, another rising Larwood delivery knocked the bat out of Woodfull's hands. He battled it out for 89 minutes, collecting more bruises before Allen bowled him for 22. Later in the day, the English team manager Pelham Warner visited the Australian dressing room to express his sympathies to Woodfull. Woodfull had remained calm in public, refusing to complain about Jardine's tactics. Woodfull's abrupt response was meant to be private, but it was leaked to the press - the Adelaide leak:

I don't want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there, one is playing cricket. The other is making no attempt to do so.

Although no serious injuries arose from any short-pitched deliveries while a leg theory field was set, the tactic still led to considerable ill feeling between the two teams, with the controversy eventually spilling into the diplomatic arena. Over the next two decades, several of the Laws of Cricket were changed to prevent this tactic being repeated. Law 41.5 states "At the instant of the bowler's delivery there shall not be more than two fielders, other than the wicket-keeper, behind the popping crease on the on side," commonly referred to as being "behind square leg". Additionally, Law 42.6(a) includes: "The bowling of fast short pitched balls is dangerous and unfair if the umpire at the bowler's end considers that by their repetition and taking into account their length, height and direction they are likely to inflict physical injury on the striker".

The occasional short-pitched ball aimed at the batsman (a bouncer) has never been illegal and is still in widespread use as a tactic.

Monday, 13 January 2014

"The worst British military disaster until the fall of Singapore exactly a century later."

The 1842 Kabul Retreat (or Massacre of Elphinstone's Army) took place during the First Anglo-Afghan War. Following an uprising in Kabul, Major General Sir William Elphinstone negotiated an agreement with Akbar Khan, one of the sons of King Dost Mohammad Khan of Afghanistan, by which his army was to withdraw to the British garrison at Jalalabad, more than 90 miles (140 km) away. As the army and its numerous dependents and camp-followers began its march, it came under attack from Afghan tribesmen. Many of the column died of exposure, frostbite or starvation or were killed during the fighting. The last formed surviving troops made a final stand near the village of Gandamak on 13 January.

The Afghans launched numerous attacks against the column as it made slow progress through the winter snows of the Hindu Kush. In total the British army lost 4,500 troops, along with 12,000 mainly Indian camp-followers. The final stand was made just outside a village called Gandamak on 13 January.

Out of more than 16,000 people from the column commanded by Elphinstone, only one European (Assistant Surgeon William Brydon) and a few Indian sepoys reached Jalalabad. A few dozen British prisoners and civilian hostages were later released. Many of the British and Indians died of exposure, frostbite or starvation or were killed during the fighting. Around 2,000 of the Indians, many of whom were maimed by frostbite, survived and returned to Kabul to exist by begging or to be sold into slavery. Some at least returned to India after another British invasion of Kabul several months later, but others remained behind in Afghanistan.

The retreat has been described as "the worst British military disaster until the fall of Singapore exactly a century later."

Sunday, 12 January 2014

A Chilling Landmark

Cryonics (from Greek κρύος kryos- meaning icy cold) is the low-temperature preservation of humans who cannot be sustained by contemporary medicine, with the hope that healing and resuscitation may be possible in the future.

James Hiram Bedford (20 April 1893 – 12 January 1967) was a University of California psychology professor who wrote several books on occupational counseling. He is the first person whose body was cryonically preserved (frozen) after legal death, and who remains cryopreserved. Among those in the cryonics community, the anniversary of his cryonic preservation is celebrated as "Bedford Day".

In June 1965, Ev Cooper’s Life Extension Society (LES) offered to preserve one person free of charge, stating that "the Life Extension Society now has primitive facilities for emergency short term freezing and storing our friend the large homeotherm (man). LES offers to freeze free of charge the first person desirous and in need of cryogenic suspension” and Bedford offered and was accepted as this candidate. Bedford had kidney cancer that had metastasized to his lungs and was untreatable at that time. 

Bedford's body was frozen a few hours after he died of natural causes related to his cancer. His body was frozen by Robert Prehoda (author of the 1969 book Suspended Animation), Dr. Dante Brunol (physician and biophysicist) and Robert Nelson (President of the Cryonics Society of California). Nelson then wrote a book about the subject titled We Froze the First Man. Modern cryonics organizations perfuse cryonics patients with an anti-freeze (cryoprotectant) to prevent ice formation (vitrification), but the use of cryoprotectants in Bedford's case was primitive. He was injected with DMSO, so it is unlikely that his brain was protected. At first, his body was stored at Edward Hope's Cryo-Care facility in Phoenix, Arizona, for two years, then in 1969 moved to the Galiso facility in California. Bedford was moved from Galiso in 1973 to Trans Time near Berkeley, California, until 1977, before being stored by Bedford's son for many years.

Bedford's body was maintained in liquid nitrogen by his family in southern California until 1982, when it was then moved to Alcor Life Extension Foundation, and has remained in Alcor's care to the present day. In May 1991, his body's condition was evaluated when he was moved to a new storage dewar. The examiners concluded that "it seems likely that his external temperature has remained at relatively low subzero temperatures throughout the storage interval."

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Drawing of Wood

The first recorded signs of a lottery are keno slips from the Chinese Han Dynasty between 205 and 187 BC. These lotteries are believed to have helped to finance major government projects like the Great Wall of China. From the Chinese "The Book of Songs" (2nd millennium BC.) comes a reference to a game of chance as "the drawing of wood", which in context appears to describe the drawing of lots. From the Celtic era, the Cornish words "teulel pren" translates into "to throw wood" and means "to draw lots". The Iliad of Homer refers to lots being placed into Agamemnon's helmet to determine who would fight Hector.

The first known European lotteries were held during the Roman Empire, mainly as an amusement at dinner parties. Each guest would receive a ticket, and prizes would often consist of fancy items such as dinnerware. Every ticket holder would be assured of winning something. This type of lottery, however, was no more than the distribution of gifts by wealthy noblemen during the Saturnalian revelries. The earliest records of a lottery offering tickets for sale is the lottery organized by Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. The funds were for repairs in the City of Rome, and the winners were given prizes in the form of articles of unequal value.

The first recorded lotteries to offer tickets for sale with prizes in the form of money were held in the Low Countries in the 15th century. Various towns held public lotteries to raise money for town fortifications, and to help the poor. The town records of Ghent, Utrecht, and Bruges indicate that lotteries may be even older. A record dated May 9, 1445 at L'Ecluse refers to raising funds to build walls and town fortifications, with a lottery of 4,304 tickets and total prize money of 1737 florins. In the 17th century it was quite usual in the Netherlands to organize lotteries to collect money for the poor or in order to raise funds for all kinds of public usages. The lotteries proved very popular and were hailed as a painless form of taxation. The Dutch state-owned Staatsloterij is the oldest running lottery.

Although the English probably first experimented with raffles and similar games of chance, the first recorded official lottery was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, in the year 1566, and was drawn in 1569. This lottery was designed to raise money for the "reparation of the havens and strength of the Realme, and towardes such other publique good workes". Each ticket holder won a prize, and the total value of the prizes equalled the money raised. Prizes were in the form of silver plate and other valuable commodities. The lottery was promoted by scrolls posted throughout the country showing sketches of the prizes.

Thus, the lottery money received was an interest free loan to the government during the three years that the tickets ('without any Blankes') were sold. In later years, the government sold the lottery ticket rights to brokers, who in turn hired agents and runners to sell them. These brokers eventually became the modern day stockbrokers for various commercial ventures. Most people could not afford the entire cost of a lottery ticket, so the brokers would sell shares in a ticket; this resulted in tickets being issued with a notation such as "Sixteenth" or "Third Class".

Many private lotteries were held, including raising money for The Virginia Company of London to support its settlement in America at Jamestown. The English State Lottery ran from 1694 until 1826. Thus, the English lotteries ran for over 250 years, until the government, under constant pressure from the opposition in parliament, declared a final lottery in 1826. This lottery was held up to ridicule by contemporary commentators as "the last struggle of the speculators on public credulity for popularity to their last dying lottery".

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Die Has Been Cast

The Rubicon (Latin: Rubico, Italian: Rubicone) is a shallow river in northeastern Italy, about 80 kilometres long, running from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea through the southern Emilia-Romagna region, between the towns of Rimini and Cesena. The Latin word rubico comes from the adjective "rubeus", meaning "red". The river was so named because its waters are colored red by mud deposits. It was key to protecting Rome from civil war.

During the Roman republic, the river Rubicon marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north-east and Italy proper (controlled directly by Rome and its socii (allies)) to the south. On the north-western side, the border was marked by the river Arno, a much wider and more important waterway, which flows westward from the Apennine Mountains (its source is not far from Rubicon's source) into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Governors of Roman provinces were appointed promagistrates with imperium (roughly, "right to command") in their province(s). The governor would then serve as the general of the Roman army within the territory of his province(s). Roman law specified that only the elected magistrates (consuls and praetors) could hold imperium within Italy. Any promagistrate who entered Italy at the head of his troops forfeited his imperium and was therefore no longer legally allowed to command troops.

Exercising imperium when forbidden by the law was a capital offence, punishable by death. Furthermore, obeying the commands of a general who did not legally possess imperium was also a capital offence. If a general entered Italy whilst exercising command of an army, both the general and his soldiers became outlaws and were automatically condemned to death. Generals were thus obliged to disband their armies before entering Italy.

In 49 BC, perhaps on January 10, G. Julius Caesar led a single legion, Legio XIII Gemina, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he (deliberately) broke the law on imperium and made armed conflict inevitable. Suetonius depicts Caesar as undecided as he approached the river, and attributes the crossing to a supernatural apparition. It was reported that Caesar dined with Sallust, Hirtius, Oppius, Lucius Balbus and Sulpicus Rufus on the night after his famous crossing into Italy January 10.

According to Suetonius, Caesar uttered the famous phrase ālea iacta est ("the die has been cast"). The phrase "crossing the Rubicon" has survived to refer to any individual or group committing itself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action, similar to the modern phrase "passing the point of no return". Caesar's decision for swift action forced Pompey, the lawful consuls (G. Claudius Marcellus and L. Cornelius Lentulus Crus), and a large part of the Roman Senate to flee Rome in fear. Caesar's subsequent victory in Caesar's civil war ensured that punishment for the infraction would never be rendered.

After Caesar's crossing, the Rubicon was a geographical feature of note until Emperor Augustus abolished the Province of Gallia Cisalpina (today’s northern Italy) and the river ceased to be the extreme border line of Italy. The decision robbed the Rubicon of its importance, and the name gradually disappeared from the local toponymy.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

"One of the few warplanes in history to be 'right' from the start."

The Avro Lancaster is a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber designed and built by Avro for the Royal Air Force (RAF). It first saw active service with RAF Bomber Command in 1942 and, as the strategic bombing offensive over Europe gathered momentum, it became the main heavy bomber used by the RAF, the RCAF, and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within the RAF, overshadowing its close contemporaries the Handley Page Halifax and Short Stirling. The "Lanc", as it was affectionately known, thus became the most famous and most successful of the Second World War night bombers, "delivering 608,612 long tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties.

The origins of the Lancaster stem from a twin-engined bomber design submitted to meet Air Ministry Specification P.13/36, which was for a new generation of twin-engined medium bombers for "worldwide use", the engine specified as the Rolls-Royce Vulture. The resulting aircraft was the Manchester, which, although a capable aircraft, was underpowered and troubled by the unreliability of the Vulture engine. Only 200 Manchesters were built, with the type withdrawn from service in 1942.

Avro's chief designer, Roy Chadwick, was already working on an improved Manchester design using four of the more reliable, but less powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engines on a larger wing. The aircraft was initially designated Avro Type 683 Manchester III, and later renamed the "Lancaster". The prototype aircraft BT308 was assembled by Avro's experimental flight department at Manchester's Ringway Airport. Test pilot H.A. "Bill" Thorn took the controls for its first flight at Ringway, on Thursday, 9 January 1941. The aircraft proved to be a great improvement on its predecessor, being "one of the few warplanes in history to be 'right' from the start.

A long, unobstructed bomb bay meant that the Lancaster could take even the largest bombs used by the RAF, including the 4,000 lb (1,800 kg), 8,000 lb (3,600 kg), and 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) blockbusters, loads often supplemented with smaller bombs or incendiaries. The versatility of the Lancaster was such that it was chosen to equip 617 Squadron, and was modified to carry the Barnes Wallis designed Upkeep "Bouncing bomb" for Operation Chastise, the attack on Germany's Ruhr Valley dams. Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles, including daylight precision bombing: in the latter role some Lancasters were adapted to carry the 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) Tallboy and, ultimately, the 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam earthquake bombs (also designed by Wallis).


As early as 1943, a Lancaster was converted to become an engine test bed for the Metropolitan-Vickers F.2 turbojet. Lancasters were later used to test several different engines, including the Armstrong Siddeley Mamba and Rolls-Royce Dart turboprops, and the Avro Canada Orenda and STAL Dovern turbojets. Postwar, the Lancaster was supplanted as the RAF's main strategic bomber by the Avro Lincoln, itself a larger permutation of the Lancaster. Instead the Lancaster took on the role of long range anti-submarine patrol aircraft (later supplanted by the Avro Shackleton) and air-sea rescue. It was also used in roles as diverse as photo-reconnaissance and aerial mapping, as a flying tanker for aerial refueling, and as the Avro Lancastrian, a long-range, high-speed transatlantic passenger and postal delivery airliner. In March 1946, a Lancastrian of BSAA flew the first scheduled flight from the then new London Heathrow Airport.





Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The poor boy's murderers crowded round him at the gallow

Thomas Aikenhead (c. March 1676 – 8 January 1697) was a Scottish student from Edinburgh, who was prosecuted and executed at the age of 20 on a charge of blasphemy. He was the last person in Britain to be executed for blasphemy. This was 85 years after the death of Edward Wightman (1612), the last person to be burned at the stake for heresy in England.

Aikenhead was indicted in December 1696. The indictment read:
That ... the prisoner had repeatedly maintained, in conversation, that theology was a rhapsody of ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the moral doctrines of philosophers, and partly of poetical fictions and extravagant chimeras: That he ridiculed the holy scriptures, calling the Old Testament Ezra's fables, in profane allusion to Esop's Fables; That he railed on Christ, saying, he had learned magick in Egypt, which enabled him to perform those pranks which were called miracles: That he called the New Testament the history of the imposter Christ; That he said Moses was the better artist and the better politician; and he preferred Muhammad to Christ: That the Holy Scriptures were stuffed with such madness, nonsense, and contradictions, that he admired the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them: That he rejected the mystery of the Trinity as unworthy of refutation; and scoffed at the incarnation of Christ.

The case was prosecuted by the Lord Advocate, Sir James Stewart, who demanded the death penalty to set an example to others who might otherwise express such opinions in the future.
Aikenhead petitioned the Privy Council to consider his "deplorable circumstances and tender years." Also, he had forgotten to mention that he was also a first time offender. Two ministers and two Privy Councillors pleaded on his behalf, but to no avail. On January 7, after another petition, the Privy Council ruled that they would not grant a reprieve unless the church interceded for him. The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, sitting in Edinburgh at the time, urged "vigorous execution" to curb "the abounding of impiety and profanity in this land". Thus Aikenhead’s sentence was confirmed.

On the morning of 8 January 1697, Thomas wrote to his 'friends' that "it is a principle innate and co-natural to every man to have an insatiable inclination to the truth, and to seek for it as for hid treasure. . . So I proceeded until the more I thought thereon, the further I was from finding the verity I desired. . ." Aikenhead may have read this letter outside the Tolbooth, before making the long walk, under guard, to the gallows on the road between Edinburgh and Leith. He was said to have died Bible in hand, "with all the Marks of a true Penitent".

Thomas Babington Macaulay said of Aikenhead's death that "the preachers who were the poor boy's murderers crowded round him at the gallows, and. . . insulted heaven with prayers more blasphemous than anything he had uttered."