In this plague time, zombie ideas walk the earth, for all our attempts to call down academic fire on them. One of those is S.L.A. Marshall’s assertion that only 15-25% of American infantry in WW II fired their weapons in the direction of the enemy. Although Marshall’s trustworthiness had been undermined by the 1980s, and he left no records of the interviews where he claimed to have learned this embarrassing truth, the idea gained a new life after it was popularized by writers like columnist Gwynne Dyer and the smooth smiling David Grossman. Engen’s book focuses on another body of evidence which exists today: surveys mailed to Canadian infantry captains, majors, and lieutenant-colonels returning to Britain after fighting on the continent. Anyone can go and read the original documents in Ottawa, and they were filled out within a few weeks of leaving combat for an internal military audience. While Engen dutifully reminds readers that combat is confusing, memories are maleable, and people don’t always say exactly what they remember, these surveys are better sources than anecdotes or the opinions of one amateur historian with a gift for self-publicity.Continue reading
In most parts of Canada, we are suffering under shockingly bad officials. British Columbia is dealing with a pandemic of a novel coronavirus which emerged late last year but spread early this year when travellers brought it to a ski resort and infected workers who were living in close quarters, and our federal government just found 6 billion dollars to lend to an airline when a lot of people and communities are waiting for less expensive things.
In Ontario, one of these crises is at Laurentian University, whose administration has just entered bankruptcy protection at a closed Senate meeting. They have laid off approximately 100 faculty and closed 60 programs including one of only three midwifery programs in Ontario, all Francophone history at this bilingual university, and all history education above the bachelor’s level. The faculty are being notified by email in the first week of exam season. Faculty have strongly suspected that the university had financial troubles for some time but the administration refused to provide sufficient information until it was too late. Dr. Janice Liedl, the chair of the history department, is my only trusted source about what is happening (she abandoned her blog for birdsite sadly https://twitter.com/jliedl). There is an open letter to the provincial government on Google Docs here (link).
Edit 2021-04-18: Pundit Alex Usher, who is generally harshly critical of faculty and student unions, asks the following about the withdrawal of a line of credit which the administration at Laurentian claims triggered the crisis. “Did the bank actually withdraw the line of credit? If so, why? Or, did Laurentian University’s President actually choose to renounce the line of credit in order to provoke a crisis? (The careful wording of Haché’s affidavit is ambiguous on this point).”
The modern international historical fencing movement began in the 1990s, but before that there were isolated or short-lived attempts to collect old fencing manuals and practice their teachings. Like some exiled scholars before me, I am taking advantage of the situation to read books and find references which I could not at home. I read the following long before I discovered the historical fencers or was in the habit of listing all the useful passages I read. It was published in 1969 and describes the foundation of SCA Heavy combat in California. It begins:
Fencers and kendo men occasionally take part in tournaments. At present, some people are experimenting with rapier and dagger. No doubt still other weapons will appear. It will be interesting to see how they do.
It is likely interesting to consider the methods of their appointment. Except for a recent discovery of an old German manual by Jakob Sutor, which treats only a few kinds of arms, nobody has yet turned up contemporary instructions for sword and shield or the like. If any of you out there know of some, the Society will be grateful for the information. Meanwhile, reconstruction has been by trial and error. The influence of judo and karate is noticeable in the results. We would love to know if the men who stood at Hastings or Crécy- a time gap which may well have seen considerable evolution- had developed similar styles or quite different ones. In the later case, which set would be more effective?
At first I thought substack were just good self-promoters. They managed to convince people to lend them more than $80 million to launch a blog platform with 2010s aesthetics. Most blog platforms will deliver posts by RSS or email if you sign up, and paid and unpaid newsletters go back to the 19th century. Getting people with too much money to give you some is harmless, and convincing people to read and write blogs is good. But then @email@example.com suggested I should look at their source code and I saw something as beautiful as the tale of Emperor Norton of the United States.Continue reading
My mental health has recovered to the point that I can work on moving the static part of my website onto its own domain name and server. That is good, because WordPress’ web interface has become even more intolerable. Automattic has other frustrating policies, like storing images on their domain not mine (so if I move the site links on other sites to the images break), and editing a customer’s site to stop them from using someone’s legal and most famous name. If you want to see how a computer scientist thinks about this problem, read on!
 a scientist with a diploma that says CSC and a resume with “junior software developer” under work experience, at leastContinue reading