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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Filed under book review, History

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

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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Filed under book review, History

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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Filed under History

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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Filed under economics, History

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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Filed under History, physics

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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Filed under History, physics