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Conrad Black: Individual responsibility and the welfare state | Full Comment | National Post

January 26th, 2011 Comments off

Up until the late 19th century, with rare partial exceptions, the state took almost no responsibility for citizens; and indigence was considered morally indistinguishable from law-breaking. Poor houses operated by local governments, and alms houses operated by churches, provided elemental care only on a random basis, and certainly not as a matter of right nor in such quantities as to assure that no one starved. At times of acute economic hardship, there were very large numbers of beggars, thieves, or down-and-out exemplars of what Thomas Gray called the “short and simple annals of the poor.” Ireland lost half its population in the great famine of the 1840s, mainly to emigration, but largely also to starvation. “Ye shall always have the poor with ye,” was the Biblical wisdom, and Mr. Micawber’s home-economics aphorism that happiness and misery were determined by whether income or expenses prevailed by a farthing, was believed.

Read more at Conrad Black: Individual responsibility and the welfare state | Full Comment | National Post

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From Cinco de Mayo to Oktoberfest

September 10th, 2010 Comments off

Masskrug What do Cinco de Mayo and Oktoberfest have in common besides being celebrations involving mass consumption of beer? They are both very much misunderstood as to their origins.

A common misconception is that Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May) is Mexican Independence Day. It is not. It is not even close. Mexican Independence Day is celebrated every September 16 and marks the day that Mexico became independent from Spain. This occurred on 16 September 1810 – two hundred years ago this month.

Then what is Cinco de Mayo? Cinco de Mayo is a “holiday” that commemorates the defeat of the French Army by Mexican Republicans (Juaristas) at the Battle Puebla on 5 May 1862 – fifty-two years after Mexican independence. The French had invaded Mexico in 1861 to collect a large debt and remained in Mexico supporting the Emperor Maximilian, a former Hapsburg Archduke, until 1867. So, the victory at Puebla was largely a symbolic victory and not a strategic one. The “holiday” is not widely celebrated in Mexico. It is celebrated primarily in the Mexican state of Puebla and the United States.

Neuschwanstein CastleThis month (September 2010) folks will be celebrating the 200th Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest traditionally begins in mid-September and runs for 16 days to the first Sunday in October. So, if it begins in September and not in October why is it not called “Septemberfest”? It is because the first Oktoberfest was celebrated in Munich, Bavaria on 18 October 1810 to commemorate the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The celebration became an annual event starting in 1819. Gradually the celebration was expanded to two weeks and the start was moved to mid-September because the warmer weather meant thirstier celebrants. Regardless of when the festival begins it still always ends in October.

One misconception surrounding Oktoberfest is that Prince Ludwig who later became King Ludwig I of Bavaria was also known as “Mad Ludwig” and that he built the Cinderella castle. That’s a different guy. Ludwig I of Bavaria was born in 1786 and died in 1868. He was king of Bavaria from 1825 until the Revolt of 1848. He was an autocratic and when faced with the choice of a constitutional monarchy or abdication, he abdicated in favor of his eldest son, Maximilian Joseph. The Mad King Ludwig (Ludwig II) was a grandson of Ludwig I, he ruled Bavaria from 1864 to 1886, and is best known for commissioning the construction of several extravagant fantasy castles (the most famous being Neuschwanstein).

This year Oktoberfest runs from September 18 to October 4 and Mexican Independence is celebrated on September 16 (not May 5).

On a side note, I hear that some folks start celebrating Mexican Independence Day on the fifth of May and continue to September and there are some folks who start celebrating Oktoberfest in July.

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Distance between Two Points – Part 4: Other Routes Explored (1840′s-1870′s)

September 3rd, 2010 Comments off

Wheeling_West_Virginia By the mid-19th century, the time to cross the Atlantic between Europe and North America was down from weeks to days. In 1848 trans-Atlantic crossings average time from Liverpool to New York (including a stop at Halifax) was down to 12 days 22 hours. In 1851, they averaged 11 days 12 hours eastbound, and 12 days 9 hours westbound. In that era, the fastest sailing vessels, the China Clippers, when fully rigged and riding a trade wind, had a peak average speed of over 16 knots (30 km/h).

The decade of the 1840’s was a tumultuous period. The Panic of 1837, triggered by bank failures in the US, lead to a depression that lasted until 1845. In Europe, harvest failures in the mid-1840’s lead to famines such as the Great Irish Famine (1845-1849). In the 1840’s the German Confederation was a largely autocratic political structure consisting of 39 independent states. Rapid industrialization caused a socio-economic crisis as worker’s living standards dropped and alcohol consumption increased. In 1848 a wave of revolutions swept throughout Europe. In was in this decade that my German ancestors came over from the Grand Duchy of Baden and my Irish ancestors came over from North Ireland.

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Distance between Two Points – Part 3: France to Ohio (1832)

August 27th, 2010 Comments off

Postkutsche_brig On 6 September, 1492, Columbus departed from the Canary Islands off the coast of North Africa and reached the new world somewhere near the Bahamas on October 12th – traveling a distance of approximately 3,000 nautical miles of ocean in a little over 5 weeks time at an average speed of about 3 ½ knots (6.75 km/h).

In contrast the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620 took about 9 ½ weeks (66 days) to travel from Plymouth, England to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. While the distance traveled was approximately the same, the circumstances of the voyage of the Pilgrims was much different considering that the Mayflower was a larger ship than the Santa Maria, carrying a greater cargo and more passengers under different weather conditions.

Yet people then did not travel only from one sea port to another sea port. Just as we today need get to and from the air port, people then needed to travel overland from their homes to the port and from their port of arrival to their ultimate destinations, but more so then than now it required a variety of different modes of transportation.

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