October 14, 2009

Benito Mussolini was a British Agent

This is a turn up for the books. Benito Mussolini was a British agent.

Towards the end of WWI he was paid £100 a week (around £20,000 a week in modern money, if we compare earnings) in order to make sure that the nascent peace movement in Italy didn't get very far.

Nothing too vicious: just writing editorials in his paper, hiring thugs to beat up peace demonstrations and the like. In fact, rather good training for the Fascist movement that he started a year or two later.

But, it should be said, he was a Socialist at the time, the British didn't actually fund him when he was running for power.

Historical records reveal that Benito Mussolini, the Italian Dictator during the Second World War, was in fact a paid agent for British Intelligence. Sadly for the conspiracy theorists though, he wasn't a British agent during his time as dictator. That would simply be too much.

During World War One the weakest of the allies was Italy and there were large peace movements. Mussolini at the time was a journalist in Milan and was paid by the British to make sure that demostrations and the campaign for peace did not get out of hand. He was paid £100 a week: a considerable sum at the time, equivalent to some $9,000 a week now (nearly $500,000 a year). That comparison probably understates the value of the money in fact.

October 14, 2009 in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2009


A short note for all those burning up the intertubes looking for "Chapaquitic".

The word you are looking for is "Chappaquiddick". Yes, I know, strange spelling, but that's the way the name of the place looks after we've turned it from the Algonquian language into the English alphabet.

Now you know the spelling, you'll be able to find out more of the story of Mary Jo Kopechnik. A sad tale but an apposite one for the current times.

August 26, 2009 in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 08, 2009

Garden antiquities

Now this is a fascinating company, one specialising in garden antiquities. It's easy enough to find people willing to sell you interior antiques, but I've never actually come across one doing the same for garden ornaments.

As regular readers will know we're working on restoring this house down here and we've got to the garden part of doing that. So looking through this wonderful site of antique garden decor is just a pleasure. Statues of Pan, a pair of whippets carved in limestone, a terra cotta sundial, even a gilded eagle weathervane.

I want it all! Hmm, now to just try and work out how to pay for it....

March 8, 2009 in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 05, 2007

Dakota Dinosaur

The Dakota dinosaur story that is tearing up the newswires is not, in fact, about the Dakota dinosaur museum. It's actually about something much more interesting that that. For what, in thi sense at least, "Dakota dinosaur" refers to is a mummified remains: that is, it's isn't purely a bone fossil, there's actually evidence of muscle there (which, being 65 million years old is of course fossilised):

The world of 65 million years ago is filled with mystery, especially because scientists have little to go on but bones.

But buried in a remote corner of North Dakota was a remarkably well-preserved dinosaur with fossilized skin, ligaments and tendons. You can even see scales on its side.


Tyler Lyson, the young scientist who found the fossil, said, "The skin hadn't collapsed in around the bone, and at that point I knew that we had a 3-D dinosaur mummy. I was absolutely thrilled."

Lyson is currently pursuing his doctorate in paleontology at Yale University and founded the Marmarth Research Foundation, an organization dedicated to the excavation, preservation and study of dinosaurs.

Why is it important to find one so complete? Because bones don't tell you what the animal really looked like. Imagine if you found elephant bones, but you'd never seen a living one.

Well, quite, how would you rebuild an elephant only from the bones? We can look around at other animals, work out how bones relate to other parts, but we're always making estimates and judgements, rather than actually being certain:

Specifically, the discovery is expected to add an extraordinary amount of information about how such animals looked inside and out. It is expected that the discovery will add to human knowledge on how dinosaurs evolved over time.

The soft muscle, ligaments, tendons, and skin from a 25-foot (7.6 meter) hadrosaur (or duck-billed dinosaur, because their heads look similar to ducks) was found in 1999 by 16-year-old Tyler Lyson on his uncle’s ranch in the Hell Creek Formation Badlands of North Dakota. Lyson now goes to school at Yales' Department of Geology and Geophysics in New Haven, Connecticut.

Much of the discovered bodily material is from the animal’s arms, legs, and tail.

Lyson's discovery was reported by scientists on Monday, December 3, 2007 and is already considered a major find of a well-preserved specimen of a dinosaur. Scientists consider this discovery to be the first-ever of a dinosaur with its skin envelope not collapsed onto the sheleton. The specimen has been nicknamed “Dakota,” and is estimated to be about 67 million years old.

As to how the Dakota dinosaur was actually found, well, let the boys from Dakota talk about one of their own:

The story of Dakota, the dinosaur “mummy,” is big news in dinosaur circles, and for good reason: The fossilized hadrosaur is the find of the century.

But the dinosaur's tale ought to be big news in North Dakota, too - and not just because the fossil was discovered here.

No, Dakota's story is a North Dakota gem because of how the great beast was discovered - and by whom. The “how” is that an amateur dinosaur hunter used some good paleontology field work to find the fossil in the Badlands in 1999.


“On an expedition in 1999, Lyson noticed some bone fragments at the base of a hill and traced their origin to a point farther up. There he spotted three vertebrae from the tail of a hadrosaur, a common plant eater that traveled in herds and is sometimes described as the cow of the Cretaceous Period.”

Lyson himself dismissed the find at first; dinosaur fossils are common in the area, called the Hell Creek Formation.

“After finding a small piece of fossilized skin, however, Lyson knew he was onto something special,” the Post reported.


December 5, 2007 in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2007

Historic Lighthouses

If you're looking for historic lighthouses, just a few pointers to help you find the interesting places out there.

First, here's the Maritime Heritage Program's listing of historic lighthouses in the US.

If you're looking for an historic lighthouse to care for, try here. The Feds keep a list of those they're thinking of giving away to new owners.

If you've already got one and want to find out how to care for an historic lighthouse, read the manual here.

The history of Candain lighthouses is dealt with here. And people you can donate to to preserve them is here.

English and Irish lighthouses (both historic and new) are dealt with by Trinity House.

November 20, 2007 in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 12, 2007

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is about to lose its record as the most tilting building in the world, meaning that Pisa's tower will lose some of its iconic status:

The Guinness Book of World Records has ruled that a church steeple in Germany, not the famous leaning tower of Pisa, is the most tilted tower in the world.

The 25.7-metre steeple tilts at an angle of 5.07 degrees, while the tower of Pisa tilts at just 3.97 degrees, said Olaf Kuchenbecker, head of Guinness's German edition.

"When you lay photos of the two next to each other you can see it relatively clearly," Kuchenbecker said.

The new record, scheduled to appear next autumn in the 2009 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, could strip the Pisa tower of its iconic status, Kuchenbecker said.

That the German bell tower is actually pretty ugly while the other is a quite glorious buildingm might mean that the tower in Pisa doesn't lose too many tourists. Which is a good thing, as it's just reopened after having millions spent on repairs.

One of Italy's most famous tourist attractions, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, has reopened for the first time in almost 12 years.

Bells rang out across Pisa to mark the tower's restoration.

One of the first visitors said the experience was "unbelievable". She said that after years of thinking that the tower was going to fall down, "you can't describe the sensation you have when you walk up the steps." 


It was closed in 1990 because it was in danger of falling over but after construction work costing millions, tourists can once again enter the 800-year-old tower.

To the naked eye, the 56-metre-high tower looks the same as it always has.

But in fact the lean has been corrected by 45 centimetres.

The leaning tower, begun more than 800 years ago, developed a tilt almost from the start because it was built on sandy foundations.

This lean has intrigued generations of admirers of medieval architecture, but in 1990 engineers said the white marble tower was so far out of perpendicular that it risked toppling over.

The tower was closed and an engineering plan to save it was worked out by an international committee. Work on digging out part of the shifting foundations and placing counterweights ended last summer.

A little more history of the leaning tower of Pisa:

Constructed in 1174, at a time when the Pisans were enjoying an era of military success, the LeaningTower of Pisa, located in Pisa’s Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) is famous not only because of its striking beauty but also because of its awkward geometry. It served as the bell tower of the equally impressive Cattedrale (Cathedral) and Battistero (Baptistry), and, as a result of the poor swampy soil beneath, has leaned almost since construction first started. Today, one side is five metres (16ft) closer to the ground than the other. Galileo used the tower for experiments to prove his theory of motion whilst he was chair of mathematics at the Università di Pisa (Pisa University) in 1589.

And if you can't get all the way to Pisa to see the tower, there's a half size replica near Chicago:

The Leaning Tower is a perennial stop for Roadsiders in the Chicago area, and only 15 minutes northeast of O'Hare Intl. Airport (and 10 minutes from the World's First Franchised McDonald's in Des Plaines). The Leaning Tower of Niles is, of course, a replica of Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa. It is roughly half-sized -- 94 feet, vs. the authentic's 177 feet, and leans about 7'4" off plum (vs. Pisa's 15 foot tilt). But that hardly matters when you're standing across the street taking a picture. And the savings in overseas airfare and reduced risk of injury is worth considering.

America's Leaning Tower was built in 1934 (600 years after the original), and for many years has stood in front of the Tower YMCA. It was a utility tower, made from steel, concrete and precast stone, designed to store water. A plaque at its base says it was built to honor the outstanding scientist Galileo Galilei.

According to a July 1997 visitor, the attraction has been recently renovated and is "pretty neat with fountains and early Italian-style phone booth."

Just think of that, you lucky tourist you. Botu the leaning tower and the world's first McDonald's franchise in one afternoon!


And if you want to see the tower overtaking (or is that overleaning?) that of Pisa, play this video:

November 12, 2007 in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 09, 2007

Today in History: Friday November 9

Today in history: Friday November 9.

November 9, 2007 in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 25, 2007

Actress Menken

Actress Menken: folks, if you're doing the New York Times crossword and you're getting stuck on the answer for "Actress Menken" then the answer is "Adah Isaacs" Menken, the first Jewish American superstar.

More on Menken here:

Today, celebrities such as Madonna, Wilt Chamberlain           and Warren Beatty are as well known for their defiance of conventional           values and the notoriety that surrounds their personal lives as they           are for their professional accomplishments. It was more than a century           ago that Adah Isaacs Menken, the first American Jewish "superstar,"           helped pioneer the art of cultivating an outsized, even outrageous,           personality as a path to fame and fortune. Even fame, however, could           not guarantee her happiness.        

In the 1860’s, Menken earned world fame in an equestrian melodrama,           "Mazeppa." She daringly appeared on stage playing the role           of a man, wearing nothing but a flesh-colored body stocking, riding           a horse on a ramp that extended into the audience. Menken’s costume           scandalized "respectable" critics—even as it attracted           huge and enthusiastic audiences that included such notables as Walt           Whitman and the great Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth.

October 25, 2007 in History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 21, 2007

Continental Illinois

That's the Bubba! I've been scratching my head for days now, there was something I couldn't quite remember about the whole Northern Rock thing. Hadn't we actually been here before? A bank borrowing short on the commercial markets to lend long: said bank going bust when it couldn't roll over it's paper? Jeff Randall reminds me:

More than 20 years ago, William Ogden, then chairman of an insolvent US bank, Continental Illinois, warned: "A modern run on a bank doesn't always show up in lines at the teller windows, but in an increasing erosion of its capacity to purchase large blocks of funds in money markets."

Back in 1984. Guess we're seeing that old truism in action again: you get a banking crisis once every generation, it comes along just after the people who remember the last one have retired. That is, there's no longer anyone around to tell you not to be so damn stupid.

September 21, 2007 in History | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 11, 2007

We've Done It Before You Know

About those Iraqi interperters. We've done it before, left those who aided us to their fates.

Historians still debate how many colonists backed the British. Estimates range from one fifth to one third of the population of less than three million. At any rate, about 100,000 fled the new United States, which had stripped them of their property and their legal rights.

When the states’ legislatures refused to compensate them, Westminster worried about the cost of assisting so large a number of émigré Loyalists. It was Lord North, the former Prime Minister usually labelled with having “lost America”, who sprang to their defence. “They have exposed their lives, endured an age of hardships, deserted their interests, forfeited their possessions, lost their connections and ruined their families in our cause,” he reminded Parliament. “Never was the honour, the principles, the policy of a nation, so grossly abused as in our desertion of those men, who are now exposed to every punishment that such desertion and poverty can inflict, because they were not rebels.”

Yet in truth they were now a political embarrassment, standing in the way of improving relations with the new Republic. As one Loyalist rued: “Tis an honour to serve the bravest of nations/ And be left to be hanged in their capitulations.”

The thing is though, for those like me who take a rather Whiggish view of history, that we're supposed to be getting better as the centuries roll by. So let's not do it again, eh?

August 11, 2007 in History | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack