Category Archives: History

Bullets and Shells, Book Review

Bullet and Shell, the Civil War as the Soldier saw it is an inexpensive book at Amazon and a good read. The mild fighting as the Arab regions shake off old dictators gives me a reason to write a book review for it: it’s a lesson on why civil war should be avoided.

The book was written in 1884 by George F. Williams, an author with a very common name and possibly several other books. The book is a fictionalized memoir of the U.S. Civil War, 1861-1865, and follows the experiences of a young college graduate who enlists in the union side.

Cover of Bullet and Shell

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An Immorality Tale

She was born with given name Johanna Maria Magdalena and a last name of either Behrend or Ritschel, my sources disagree. Her parents were unmarried, did she receive the last name of her father, Oskar Ritschel, or her mother, Auguste Behrend? In either case it was November 11, 1901. She was one of the most fascinating personalities of her time.

Bild 183-R22014

Youth
Her mother worked as a servant in Berlin and her father was an engineer who worked in various places around Europe. Soon after her birth, they married, but only for 3 years. Until she was 5, she stayed with her mother. Then she went to Belgium to visit her father who, after a delay of two years and insistent requests from the mother, finally told her that he had sent their child to be educated by the nuns at a convent (Catholic) boarding school in Brussels.

Her mother met and married a Jewish businessman, Richard Friedländer. When, the couple saw the conditions at the convent her mother decided to transfer her daughter to another convent, one that was less strict, in Vilvoorde, Belgium. Her parents moved to Schaerbeek, near Brussels (Belgium), and now she was able to come home to visit. With the marriage, she became Johanna Maria Magdalena Friedländer, and from the age of 7 she was raised in a household that observed both Catholic and Jewish customs.

In 1914, the world descended into the horror of the first world war. As German aliens living in Belgium, overnight the Friedländers became refugees. Eventually they made it to the German border, probably feeling fortunate that there was space available on a cattle car for them. As the modern world is one of passenger jets, the railroad was the transportation mode of the first half of the 20th century. Transport by livestock car is not a pleasant thing. Later, in the second world war, many thousands would be transported this way to the concentration camp at Buchenwald, where Richard Friedländer died. But let us return to her story.

Survivors at Buchenwald, April 16, 1945

Survivors at Buchenwald, April 16, 1945


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The Battle of Campeche

Matt Springer, of Texas A&M, via his blog Built On Facts is sending me large numbers of visitors so I thought I would share a small part of the history of Texas, and the Texas navy.
Texas Navy schooner Austin

Texas was a part of Mexico when the colony of Spain obtained independence as a result of the Mexican War of Independence, 1810-1821. There followed a brief empire under Agustín de Iturbide followed by the first Mexican Republic in 1824 with Guadalupe Victoria (an assumed name) as President. The election to succeed Guadalupe Victoria was one by the founder of the Partido Moderador (Moderate Party), Manuel Gómez Pedraza, however, before he could take office, the now infamous Antonio López de Santa Anna forced him out and annulled the election. Antonio López de Santa Anna installed the first arguably African-American president of a major North American country, Vicente Guerrero, into power. One of Vicente Guerrero’s most important acts of his brief (1 April 1829 – 17 December 1829) term in power was to ban slavery and emancipate all slaves. The Presidency of Vicente Guerrero ended when his Vice President, Anastasio Bustamante lead a coup against him (and had him executed). More unrest followed, but many must have thought that Mexico was slowly becoming a democracy.

Liberal changes may be good (especially applied to conditions of the early 19th century), but Valentín Gómez Farías changed things too much and too fast for the Catholic and military parts of Mexico which revolted against him. The resulting conflict saw Antonio López de Santa Anna in power as President with the followers of Valentín Gómez Farías forced to hide or leave (mostly to the United States). Enough with democracy; Antonio López de Santa Anna reformed Mexico into a Catholic dictatorship in 1836 and tore up the Constitution of 1824. The new Constitution of 1835 eliminated the loose confederation of states and created a powerful federal government.
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The Barbarous Relic Rises Again

There’s gold in them thar’ shops: the rush is on

Tucked away beside the ornate entrance of the Savoy hotel in London are the discreet premises of ATS Bullion. Over the last few days staff there have witnessed an unprecedented phenomenon: queues.

The US Mint, responsible for ensuring an adequate supply of American coinage since 1792, has been forced to halt sales of its American Buffalo solid 24 carat gold coin because it was running out of supplies. It is also limiting the availability of its 22 carat American Eagle alternative. [I don’t believe this is a fact. The US makes money on sale of these coins and will mint however many the public wants. Any lack of them is just temporary. But I do believe that demand for gold bullion has gone way up.]

Demand for gold coin is undoubtedly higher outside the US than inside. The reason is that in panics, foreign investors tend to buy US dollars. This raises the value of the dollar, which drops the price of gold, as priced in US dollars. The effect is that the US consumer does not see a big drop in the value of the dollar. Hence they have no reason to hedge with gold. (This will change if the Fed gives up and begins using inflation to save the banking system.) Foreigners, on the other hand, see the price of gold going up, and worry about the financial headlines about the US. So they move into gold.
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Unusual Activity at the Federal Reserve

It’s not very often you see graphs like this:

The above would be highly inflationary except that the Fed simultaneously has been selling treasuries. The graph, also in billions of dollars (note that the time scales is shorter than the above):
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The image of the Sun

Today at Moses Lake the sun went down in cloudless skies. Naturally, my mind drifted to the subjects of religion, time, astronomy, sunspots, optics, history, and climate, and of I ran into the fermentation section of our ethanol plant to see if I could image the sun. The west wall of our plant has a lot of little (maybe 1/8″ = 3mm) holes in it and a good view of the setting sun. The sun shines through each of these holes, and they produce images of the sun on the opposite wall. These are, literally, sunspots in the sense of “spots of sun”:

Images of the sun like these were used by the Catholic Church as a very accurate sun dial. They drew curves on the floor to indicate noon, summer and winter solstice, etc. These are called Meridian lines. When one specifies a time as “AM” or “PM”, this is an abbreviation for “ante meridian” or “post meridian.” The moment at which the disk is perfectly centered on the meridian curve indicates high noon. High noon occurs in slightly different directions depending on the time of year, so the meridian figures are curved in a distorted figure eight, called an analemma. The very interesting history of the meridian lines inside churches is the subject of the book The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories by J. L. Heilbron.

With the improvement of time keeping, the necessity of making solar observations by sunshaft decreased and some of the beautiful meridian curves have been removed from cathedral floors. The Catholic Church, however, still supports astronomy. The tradition is carried on at the Vatican Observatory in Arizona.

You can get a better sun image at home if you use a piece of paper. After adjusting contrast and brightness, here’s my image of the sun:

The above is a nice clean image of the sun. You can tell that it is in pretty good focus by noticing how sharp the border of the sun’s disk is. If there were sunspots visible at that time, I would have seen them.
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Quantum Cloning

It’s time I blogged some physics instead of filler like mouse transportation. There’s a lot of physics stuff going on around here but right now it’s kind of hush-hush and I can’t tell you about it. Which reminds me, I found an older version (perhaps a reader will disavow me of the notion that it is the oldest) of the line used in Top Gun, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you“: Alexandre Dumas, in The Man in the Iron Mask aka The Vicomte de Bragelonne, writes:
“It is a state secret,” replied d’Artagnan, bluntly; “and as you know that according to the King’s orders it is under the penalty of death that any one should penetrate it, I will, if you like, allow you to read it and have you shot immediately afterwards.”

“The man in the iron mask” was a mysterious 17th century prisoner of the reign of Louis IV in France. Will I spoil the book if I tell you that in it, the state secret is that the man in the iron mask is the exact twin of the King of France? I hope not. It’s germane; in this post we will discuss what one would have to do to make the twin (or clone) of a quantum object, a [state] secret that evaded science until quite recently.

I will explain why this is of interest, and how this comes about in the language of quantum mechanics. For us, the quantum object will be an electron, and it’s state will be its spin.
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Tameshigiri (試し斬り), the Art of Cutting

Saturday, I attended a demonstration of Tameshigiri, the Japanese Art of test cutting, at Bellevue Community College’s annual Aki Matsuri (Japanese festival). The demonstration was put on by Ishi Yama Ryu, a Seattle area martial arts school specializing in the art of cutting.

I didn’t have my camera, but I did pick up the end of one of the grass mats that they cut, around 3.5″ or so in diameter, and perhaps 3 feet long before being cut into pieces:

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The Quantum Zeno Paradox or Effect

Kea recently brought up the subject of Zeno of Elea and his now long lost book of 40 paradoxes dealing with the continuum. His nominal 2500th birthday should be celebrated relatively soon. Let me paraphrase an example paradox is the following:

If one assumes that space and time are continuous, then an arrow shot from a bow, before reaching its target, must first travel half the distance. And then travel half the remaining distance. And so on. And therefore, there are an infinite number of distances to be travelled and the arrow could never reach the target. But arrows do reach targets. Therefore, space and time are not continuous.

Surprisingly, there is an echo of this thought in quantum mecahnics. The echo is so close to the original paradox that it is known as the Quantum Zeno’s Effect or sometimes “Paradox” depending on the writer. The subject is discussed in many arXiv articles.

In quantum mechanics, when one measures a system, the formalism requires that the system collapse to the result of the measurement. If one examines this carefully, one finds that if one measures a system at a sufficiently high rate, the effect of the repeated measurements is to prevent the quantum system from changing. In effect, if one examines the position of the arrow too frequently, the arrow cannot move. It’s worthwhile looking at the simple mathematics that causes this effect.
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The Neutral Point of View

One finds a fairly diverse collection of characters hanging around the Crossroads Mall Chess Club, (which I sometimes inaccurately refer to as the “Overlake Mall Chess Club”). Mostly it’s men who love chess, or are retired or otherwise have too much time on their hands. In my case, it’s a love of watching others play chess. And one meets people there and one gets to know them. And they find out about one’s other hobbies, in my case physics, and they talk about their own.

In the case of Forrest LeDuc, his other hobby is divination. His regular employment is in the gold fields of north Idaho. Divination has undoubtedly been a central part of mining since before man knew how to smelt metals. I suppose that Neanderthals used divination to find flints, as well as game, other tribes, etc. Divination (or dowsing) is not taught in mining engineering, but the students, at least when I was a student 30 years ago, are exposed to divination by the miners, when they work summers in the mines. Despite centuries of suppression by the combined forces of the church and science, divining or dowsing is still in use. See the recent Mother Earth News article for a description.
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Book Review: River Run Red; The Fort Pillow Massacre, Andrew Ward

The Fort Pillow Massacre dates to April 12, 1864, the fourth year of the American Civil War, on the banks of the Mississippi river in west Tennessee. I bought this 530 page hardback by Andrew Ward at Half Price Books at a bit of a steal for $3 or so:
River Run Red by Andrew Ward

The book is peculiarly interesting in that it reminds one that our current arguments over the rules of war, that is, the definition of enemy combatants, and the mistreatment of prisoners, were also the subject of great controversy 140 years ago.

Perhaps a sign of my maturity, or perhaps some other thing, it no longer bothers me when youngsters (those aged, say 20 to 30) make appalling statements regarding history. Instead, I simply assume that they’re just trying to piss me off, and I ignore it. This sentiment was brought up when I showed the book to a chess player at the Overlake Mall just after buying it. “The Civil War? Oh that’s one of my favorites. That was when the slaves were freed. Or was that World War I?” Under the assumption that the comment was rooted in ignorance rather than in wishing to see me blow a gasket, I write this book review.
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Book Review: West With the Night, Beryl Markham

West With the Night is the autobiography of Beryl Markham, a pioneering aviator of pre WW2 Africa. This remarkable autobiography dates to 1942 and is so beautifully written that if you know someone who loves flying you should pick them up a copy. As usual, let me introduce the book by a few quotes:

From the time I arrived in British East Africa at the indifferent age of four and went through the barefoot stage of early youth hunting wild pig with the Nandi, later training race-horses for a living, and still later scouting Tanganyika and the waterless bush country between the Tana and Athi Rivers, by aeroplane, for elephant, I remained so happily provincial I was unable to discuss the boredom of being alive with any intelligence until I had gone to London and lived there a year. Boredom, like hookworm, is endemic.

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Love = Negative Energy

Perhaps due to a lack of details regarding his or their martyrdom, the Catholic Church pulled Saint Valentine from its liturgical veneration in 1969. Since that time, the holiday has expanded world-wide to areas that have never heard of early Roman martyrs. What a descent. From ecstatic religious devotion to a crude worshipping at the altars of sex and money. The now unholy day is coming up soon, and I thought that the following exchange would be appropriate for the occasion:

.

I am sorry for bothering you with this question.

But my high school students are asking this questions and I am not able to answer. Could you help me?

You wrote in Physics forum.

“When energy is released, it means that the binding is increased. The number of nucleons in gamma decay (emission of a photon, if I recall) stays constant. Therefore, the binding energy per nucleon increases.”

I am not able to find any textbooks or website explaining this. Could you indicate where I can find it so that I can explain iit.

Regards,
xxx

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Col. Raigoza’s Calculus Class

The internet contains a lot of information that is difficult to search for. One’s memory for how to spell a name fails with age and even if you find a piece of information that is important to you, if you don’t record it, it is possible for it to sink like one of those unverified island sightings during the age of discovery, and leave you tacking back and forth over the same waters muttering, “I know I saw that link here somewhere.”

Such was the case for me, with regard to the obituary notice of my high school calculus teacher, Juan Raigoza. Due to global pioneering’s recent whining about calculus, I have looked again, and found again, and now can write the post describing him and his class. Where was the link hiding? That I cannot answer, but the sadness I again feel at reading of his death suggests that perhaps my typing fingers held the telescope to a blind eye.
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Book Review: The Search for Eldorado, John Hemming

I’ve wanted to get back to the topic of the history of San Antonio, but the next step was the conquistadors. I put off writing anything up because I had an unread book on my shelf, The Search for Eldorado”, by John Hemming. This originally came out in 1978, but I have the $21.95 paperback from Phoenix Press in 2001. I’m pretty sure I bought it at Half Price Books, probably for under $5.
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A Short History of San Antonio, part I (general Texas history)

The Texas Folklore Society had its annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas this year and I thought I would write a few paragraphs describing the history of San Antonio. Unfortunately, this has gotten way out of hand. I’ll call this the first of two posts.
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