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Archive for November, 2012

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Reuters News Agency was indispensable to governments and journalists

Posted in Communications, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

This edited article about Paul Reuter originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 789 published on 26th February 1977.

Barob Reuter, picture, image, illustration

Baron Paul Julius Reuter by Melchiorre Delfico

A pigeon fluttered down from the sky and a young man gave a cry of joy. With trembling fingers he removed the message which was attached to the bird’s leg, then raced with it to the new telegraph office at Aachen. Paul Reuter was in business.

The pigeon had begun its flight at Brussels, where Paul Reuter’s young wife sent it off with the message. As yet the telegraph lines on the Continent had not been joined up and the Reuters introduced a pigeon post between the telegraph offices of Brussels and Aachen. It was the first step towards founding the world’s most famous news agency.

Paul Julius de Reuter (later to become a baron) was born at Kassel in Germany on July 21st, 1816. As he grew up he became interested in the newly-developed technique of sending messages along wires. And in 1849 he founded his pigeon post service.

In 1851 he set up an office in London following the laying of a cable between Dover and Calais. When he registered his company, its objective was described as the “transmission of intelligence” between Britain and the Continent.

Unfortunately for Reuter, no-one else seemed interested in the “transmission of intelligence”. In vain the German explained to English newspaper editors the advantages of his system; how he planned to have agents in every centre, sending off news so that papers everywhere knew what was going on almost within minutes of its happening.

It was not until 1858 – seven years after the Channel cable had been laid – that Reuter suddenly had his breakthrough.

A Paris Reuter agent forwarded the text of an important speech by Napoleon III. The Times published this, and overnight Reuters news agency was accepted. From then on its network of agents spread throughout the world to the huge organisation it is today.

Paul Reuter died at Nice in the South of France on February 25th, 1899.

The symbolic life and death of Che Guevara

Posted in Communism, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

This edited article about Che Guevara originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 789 published on 26th February 1977.

Death of Zapata, picture, image, illustration

The death of Zapata (above) gave Mexican revolutionaries a synbol much as the death of Che Guevara did the Cubans. Picture by Ron Embleton

When the Mexican revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata, was lured into a trap and riddled with bullets by the Federal troops, the General who was in charge of them had no illusions that the flames of the revolution had been quenched by his death. Looking down at the body of the guerrilla leader, he said on that day in 1918: “Sometimes a dead man can be a terrible enemy.”

He spoke with a great deal of truth, for Zapata was to remain a symbol of freedom for the oppressed peasantry throughout the whole of the revolution.

The same epitaph could have been applied to Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who lies in an unmarked grave somewhere in Bolivia.

Che was born into an upper class Argentinian family in 1928. Although in time he was to react strongly against his social background, his family were actually liberal and progressive people who were more interested in justice, literature and poetry, than in making money.

Thanks to his father, who encouraged him to work with the peasants, Che became aware of the tremendous gulf between the rich and poor in South America. This background contributed to his urge to help the underprivileged.

But if Che ever dreamed of becoming a revolutionary in those early days, he also had to face up to the fact that he suffered constantly from asthma – a complaint which demands a life free of tension. He fought the illness with the only weapon he had – will-power.

It was this will-power which made him take up games, even though there were times when he had to run off the field to inhale his medicine; it was this will-power, too, which took him through a six-year course in medicine in three years, despite 45 serious asthma attacks.

While he was still at the University, Che decided he would like to learn more about South America and its people. Finding an enthusiastic fellow traveller in a friend named Alberto Granados, who was to become a distinguished leperologist, Che set off on a journey which was to change his whole life.

Unfortunately, the motor bike which was to take them across South America, broke down soon after they had crossed the Andes. Undaunted, they continued on their way by hitch-hiking, and earning money as truck-drivers, porters, doctors and dishwashers. Travelling like this. Che was able to see at first hand how the peasants and workers lived.

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12 12 12, or 12 December 2012

Posted in History, Oddities, Puzzle on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

12 December 2012 is an interesting date because when written in abbreviated form the digits are all the same, viz 12 12 12.  This numerical coincidence last happened, of course, on 11 November 2011, barely over a year ago.  But it will not happen again until 1 January 2101 or 01 01 01, a wait of just over 89 years.

postcard, 12 12 12, 12 December 1912, 2012, numerology, digits, identical

Postcard to celebrate 12 12 12 (ie 12 December 1912), postmarked in Strasbourg

It will be interesting to see what interest 12 12 12 generates.  A hundred years ago numerous postcards were issued to celebrate the almost identical occasion, particularly it appears in mathematically-inclined Germany.  Above is a postcard, postmarked in Strasbourg at 12’oclock on 12 12 12.   Now, with the omnipresence of the internet and television, the natural point to celebrate might be the 12th second of the 12th minute of the the 12th hour of the 12th day of the 12th month of the 12th year of this century, or 12 12 12 12 12 12.

As an illustration of the wonders to be found in the Look and Learn picture library, here is another 12 12 12 image, a depiction of Danzig, the Northern Venice.

12 12 12, interesting date, Danzig, picture, illustration, 12th December 1912, numerology

Postcard to celebrate 12 12 12 (ie 12 December 1912), depicting Danzig

Both images are available for licensing, from Look and Learn or its agent, the Bridgeman Art Library.

The shameful destruction of Euston Station’s great portico

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Railways, Transport, Travel on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

This edited article about Euston Railway Station originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Euston Station, picture, image, illustration

The classical portico of the old Euston Station by Harry Green

Travellers to and from London a century ago could have imagined that they were in Greece or Rome. For, to reach their trains, they had to pass through a magnificent Doric arch which stood at the entrance to one of the capital’s most famous stations.

This was Euston station; not the modernised version which was opened in 1968, but the original structure which, for over a century-and-a-quarter, was a familiar London landmark.

It was London’s first main-line terminus, and it was built for the London and Birmingham Railway. Two men who made their mark upon it were the engineer, Robert Stephenson, whose father was George Stephenson – the steam engine pioneer – and Philip Hardwick, the architect.

His Doric portico was a fitting monument to the abounding affluence of the railway age. This, together with portions of the interior, survived almost to 1961, when they were surrounded and overwhelmed by far less interesting buildings.

A number of areas were considered for the site, including Islington, Marble Arch and Maiden Lane. But, eventually, Euston Grove was chosen. This entailed a fairly steep slope out of the terminus. As the light locomotives then in use would encounter difficulties on the outward run, the trains were hauled to Camden by cable.

The station was opened in 1837, and the cables were dispensed with in 1844 although the steam engines still needed assistance from a pilot engine. When the London and Birmingham Railway was absorbed into the London and North Western Railway later, the second engine was stationed at the rear.

The railway accommodation was on the eastern part of the large site because the Great Western Railway was due to use part of it for its London terminus. But when, mainly because of its insistence upon using broad gauge, it had to pull out and build a station at Paddington instead, Euston presented a very lopsided appearance, with the tracks at one side behind the facade.

However, as the years passed and the traffic grew, more platforms were added to present a more balanced effect.

Approaching by road, one would have seen a breath-taking vista – the great Doric arch with its attendant lodges. In those days, these could have been viewed without obstruction from the Euston Road. And when the sun shone upon the Bramley Fall stone of which it was made, it fairly glittered against the distant background of Hampstead Heath.

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Romulus slays Remus and founds the city of Rome

Posted in Ancient History, Geography, Historical articles, History, Legend on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

This edited article about Romulus and Remus originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Romulus and Remus, picture, image, illustration

Romulus kills Remus by Severino Baraldi

The great she-wolf raised her muzzle from the river Tiber and listened. From the mudflats came a baby’s cry. The she-wolf slunk closer. Two newly-born twin boys were lying there. Her great jaws opened . . .

“She was standing over them,” the shepherd, Faustulus, told his wife, “and would you believe it, they were playing quite happily, while she licked them with her tongue!”

Laurentia leaned over the little bundles her husband had rescued from the river.

“If they’ve been suckled by a wolf, no good can come of it,” she grumbled.

Faustulus thought it better not to tell her that the abandoned children were Romulus and Remus, the descendants of Aeneas and true heirs to the kingdom of the Latins.

For the shepherd knew that Amilius, great-uncle of these twin boys, had driven his elder brother, Numitor, from the Latins’ throne.

And he knew that Numitor’s daughter had been thrown into jail, and when she gave birth to Romulus and Remus, Amilius had ordered them to be thrown into the river in their cradle. When they drifted ashore the she-wolf had found them and protected them.

Perhaps the twins inherited the strength and courage of the wolf, their fostermother, for as they grew up, their reckless daring became famous throughout the country.

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Many sharks look more lethal than they are

Posted in Fish, Nature, Sea, Wildlife on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

This edited article about selachians originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Blue shark, picture, image, illustration

Blue shark and dolphin

No creature of the sea has a more terrifying reputation than the shark. Many a story, and more recently the highly successful film Jaws, have helped to make the word shark a frightening one.

Yet there are several species of shark, including some of the biggest, which offer no threat to human beings.

Sharks are normally classed as fish, but they belong to a group having features which clearly distinguish its members from the majority of fish. Most types of fish, like mammals, have skeletons of bone. But the selachians, the group to which sharks, rays and skates belong, are “cartilaginous”. This means that their skeletons are composed of a kind of gristle.

In addition, their gills, by means of which they extract oxygen from the water, lack the gill-covers present on other fish. Another feature is that the selachians have to keep in constant motion to keep afloat, as they lack the “swim-bladder” which gives buoyancy to the other types.

A fourth difference is to be seen in the shark’s scales. These are constructed like minute teeth, and instead of overlapping they are joined by leathery skin.

Finally, all the sharks breed their young in a manner rarely found among bony-skeletoned fish. Normally, the female fish lays eggs, which are afterwards fertilised by the male, and in due course hatch out to produce the young.

The eggs of selachians – and of a few other species, such as the tropical guppy – are fertilised inside the female. In some cases the fertilised eggs are laid – as with birds or reptiles. The Greenland shark and the skates are among the egg-laying selachians.

Most sharks, however, are “viviparous” – that is, their young leave the egg inside the female, and are born alive. Some big sharks produce as many as 20 young at one birth.

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Lazzaro Spallanzani discovered that a microbe split into two

Posted in Historical articles, History, Medicine, Nature, Science on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

This edited article about Lazzaro Spallanzani originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Spallanzani upon Etna, picture, image, illustration

Lazzaro Spallanzani observing an eruption of Mount Etna by J Armet

Where did microbes come from? If the great learned minds of Europe could establish to their satisfaction the source of these little ‘animals’ first revealed by Dutchman Antony Leeuwenhoek in the 17th century, the mystery of life itself might be laid bare.

However while the Europe of Leeuwenhoek was, by and large, God-fearing and religious, not one hundred years later reaction had set in. In the fashionable salons the powdered gentility of the day liked to believe that God and microbes had nothing at all to do with each other. How absurd to believe that these tiny creatures, visible only through those early microscopes, could be part of some Great Plan.

After all had not that august body, the Royal Society itself, been suitably impressed by a priest called Needham, who appeared to have demonstrated beyond doubt that little animals could generate ‘spontaneously’ in mutton gravy. Since life, therefore, could arise from something as dead as a flask of tightly-corked mutton gravy what need was there for the miraculous hand of the Almighty?

In a dusty, glass-littered laboratory at the University of Reggio in Northern Italy another priest – a Professor into the bargain – thought differently. Lazzaro Spallanzani snorted loudly and indeed publicly – at what he considered to be the nonsensical theories of Needham, and announced to his students that he would demonstrate to this upstart that life could not be generated in mutton gravy, or for that matter in any other soup or concoction, but that it had to grow from other life.

In other words, microbes came from other microbes; flies came from maggots and did not ‘grow’ in garbage; the mice that swarmed beside the fields of the Nile were born of other mice and did not spontaneously create themselves in the river mud.

All his life Spallanzani had wanted to find out the secrets of nature. He had been born in Scandiano, in the north of Italy, in 1729. His father had wanted him to become a lawyer, but young Lazzaro was much more interested in walking in the woods and fields, thinking about the wonder of nature. Unfortunately his inquisitiveness led him, now and again, to pull a few insects apart in order to discover how they ‘worked’, but since this dissection was in the cause of science he must be forgiven that.

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The ancient Marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq

Posted in Anthropology, Geography on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

This edited article about the marsh Arabs originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Marsh Arabs, picture, image, illustration

The Marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq

In the vast swamps, lagoons and waterways that surround the lower Tigris and Euphrates, in Southern Iraq, live a people known as the marsh people. They are mainly Arabs, and they live in reed houses on artificial islands built of packed reeds. Although they are despised and shunned by the nomadic desert tribes, they are a proud people.

They live a hard, lonely and bitter existence, forced upon them by the very changeable climate of their homeland, which often inflicts on them tearing gales and floods, capable of turning the province into a great sea. At other times a damp, sticky heat settles over the land, bringing with it clouds of mosquitoes.

During the winter, the marshes are full of wild life, ranging from herons, pelicans, flamingoes to eagles and otters, as well as the marsh people’s worse enemy, the wild boar, which destroys their crops and often attacks and kills them.

The marsh Arabs are divided into two groups. The Fellah who are farmers, and the Ma’dan, who are chiefly buffalo raisers.

Faraday – the errand boy who became a scientific genius

Posted in Historical articles, History, Inventions, Science, Technology on Tuesday, 27 November 2012

This edited article about Michael Faraday originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Michael Faraday, picture, image, illustration

Michael Faraday and the world of electricity

It was New Year’s Eve – and a very special one, too. For it was the beginning of the nineteenth century. Despite the fact that a terrible war was being fought against Napoleon, Londoners were making merry, and there were parties and feasting to celebrate a new age.

But in a broken-down house in a London slum, a nine-year-old boy had nothing but some bread and vegetable soup to mark the occasion.

There wasn’t much of that, for his mother had other children to feed, and times were bad. The boy’s father had been unwell for a long time, and he often had to stay in bed instead of shoeing horses and mending pots and pans.

But young Michael Faraday did not grumble. The truth was that he had rarely known what it was like to have a good meal. He longed for the day when he could help his mother by having a job himself.

Michael had little schooling, for his parents could not afford even the few pence a week charged by the local ragged school. But his father used the times when he was ill to give his boy lessons in writing and arithmetic.

Most of all, Michael loved to read. He would often loiter around the booksellers’ shops near Charing Cross, hastily reading through the bargain books displayed outside. Most of the shopkeepers told the little ragged boy to be off.

But one, a man named Riebau, let Michael read to his heart’s content.

Noticing the boy was there day after day, he asked him about himself. Michael explained about his father’s ill-health and the family poverty.

“Soon I hope to get a job and help my mother,” he said, trying to look bigger and older than he was.

Riebau stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Well, young fellow,” he said at last. “I could do with an errand boy who really knows London.”

“I know every street and alley for miles around,” Michael said instantly.

“All right,” said Riebau. “If your father agrees, you may start on Monday. I will pay you three shillings a week.”

Michael was too excited to say much. He rushed off to tell his parents the news. Three shillings would be almost a fortune to his mother.

So, at the age of twelve years of age, Michael Faraday ran round the streets of London delivering books.

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The F.B.I. uncovered Nazi sympathisers and Cold War spies

Posted in America, Communism, Espionage, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Law, World War 2 on Monday, 26 November 2012

This edited article about the F.B.I. originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Charles Lindbergh, picture, image, illustration

Charles Lindbergh, whose son was kidnapped and killed in 1932, by Ron Embleton

Since its instigation in 1908, the F.B.I. has helped solve many cases from the most famous, like the Rosenberg Spy Ring of the postwar years, described below, to the smaller, unpublicised local crimes of suburban America. Some lawbreakers have taken years to apprehend, some only hours or days to bring to justice. In any case, the criminal, whether he be forget, kidnapper or common thief, takes on a massive organisation when he confronts the F.B.I.

During the early years the G-man was frustrated by his lack of power when handling investigations. The complexity of U.S. law tied his hands, to the limit of assisting local police who often resented his interference. It was the lawlessness of the inter-war years which led to new legislation giving F.B.I. agents more responsibility and greater powers of arrest. Prohibition was the watershed for both lawbreaker and Bureau. America was officially declared dry – i.e. alcohol was banned – in January 1920, raising the curtain for the bootlegger and gangster.

Initially the public was apathetic, finding excitement in ‘speakeasy’ bars and illegal alcohol. They attached a certain glamour to the underworld personalities of the period, turning a blind eye to gang wars and corruption in local government. By the time J. Edgar Hoover took over the F.B.I. in 1924, the reputation of police agencies in the U.S. was at its lowest. Soon the Attorney-General had given Hoover powers to form special squads to investigate corruption in city police forces and reform was on the way.

After the Lindbergh affair in 1932 when the great flier’s child was kidnapped, then killed, kidnapping reached its peak, so did crime generally in the U.S., by which time the public was outraged and demanding action by law enforcement agencies. The big round-up started as Hoover and his agents tracked down the hoodlums one by one. The cost was high, F.B.I. men and police alike were killed, but by 1934 the gangs were crippled and corruption at least partly crushed.

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