Operation Bernhard


Operation Bernhard was the name of a secret German plan devised during World War II to destabilise the British economy by flooding the country with forged Bank of England £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes.

The plan was directed by, and named after, SS Major (Sturmbannführer) Bernhard Krüger, who set up a team of 142 counterfeiters from among inmates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp at first, and then from others, especially Auschwitz.

Beginning in 1942, the work of engraving the complex printing plates, developing the appropriate rag-based paper with the correct watermarks, and breaking the code to generate valid serial numbers was extremely difficult, but by the time Sachsenhausen was evacuated in April 1945, the printing press there had produced 8,965,080 banknotes with a total value of £134,610,810. The notes are considered among the most perfect counterfeits ever produced, being extremely difficult although not impossible to distinguish from the real thing.

Although the initial plan was to destabilise the British economy by dropping the notes from aircraft, on the assumption that while some honest people would hand them in most people would keep the notes, in practice this plan was not put into effect.

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Cows, Kaiser Wilhelm and Daylight Saving Time


Billions of people around the world experience general fatigue all day after losing an hour of sleep to daylight saving time. For years, conventional wisdom has been that it benefits one particular group: farmers, but that’s not actually true. There are no farming activities that benefit from daylight saving.

‘Of course daylight saving doesn’t benefit farmers, cows don’t care what time it is, because they’re cows, and cows are idiots.[1] So if it’s not for them, who is it for?

The modern daylight saving was introduced during the first world war as a fuel saving measure by the Germans. – That’s right, you lost an hour of sleep this morning thanks to Kaiser Wilhelm!

And while back then, daylight saving may indeed have saved fuel, in the modern era, energy consumption is a little more complicated. In fact, when Indiana adopted daylight saving in 2006, guess what happened: the data shows that daylight saving actually led to a 1% overall rise in residential electricity.

Of course it did, because switching on a lamp an hour later in the summer doesn’t really matter when you’re blasting an air conditioner and staying up all night psychotically scrolling through instagrams of your ex’s honeymoon to Morocco.

But that’s not to say daylight saving doesn’t have any effects at all. Studies show there is an increase of car accidents and work-related injuries the week after the time change. – That’s right, what you lose in sleep, you gain in mortal danger.

Despite all this, 70 countries around the world still observe daylight saving and yet by going by local news reports, none of them could tell you why. […]

So if it doesn’t benefit our energy bill, our health or our stupid, stupid cows, it has to make you wonder: daylight saving time, how is this still a thing?’

– Oliver. J. et. al. (2015, March 8) Daylight Saving Time – How Is This Still A Thing?: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)


[1] The authors would like to underline they do not endorse the view that all cows are idiots. A 2004 study by Cambridge University researchers revealed cows have “eureka” moments, taking pleasure in their own learning achievements. When the cows made improvements in learning, they showed emotional and behavioral reactions that indicated excitement.

Conversations: Genocide and Dogma


Helena
Consider the Holocaust: centuries before the mid 20th century, Christian Europeans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, while the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, its roots were religious, and the explicitly religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued. The anti-Semitism that built the Nazi death camps was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity.

Sappho
Examples aplenty, the Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914. And both Catholic and Protestant churches have a shameful record of complicity with the Nazi genocide.

Galene
Hang on, what is this so-called blood libel? Continue reading

Ostalgie


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, almost all symbols of the former German Democratic Republic (DDR in German) have been removed. Regardless of the fact that former inhabitants of the DDR now live in a predominantly free-market economy, many still prefer to purchase household items that remind them of life in the old republic.

This socio-economic and sociocultural phenomenon is known in Germany as Ostalgie; it is a portmanteau that describes nostalgia for East Germany combining the German words Nostalgie meaning ‘nostalgia’ and Ost meaning ‘east’.

‘Now some people are longing for the old hermit’s cell like a childhood treehouse. That’s harmless; West Germans find it horrifying, East Germans find it touching.’ – Christoph Dieckmann (10 December 1993) “Der Schnee von gestern”, Die Zeit

‘The archival practices of collection and display can have a similar, if unintended, implication. Imagine what it must be like for many eastern Germans to walk into a museum and be surrounded by the things in their own living rooms. The effect of such historicizations of the present is uncanny (in the sense of a ‘strangeness of that which is most familiar’ [Ivy 1995:23]); The past is connected to the present by distancing it in space and time. […]

‘Ostalgic’ practices reveal a highly complicated relationship between personal histories, disadvantage, dispossession, the betrayal of promises, and the social worlds of production and consumption. These practices thus not only reflect and constitute important identity transformations in a period of intense social discord, but also reveal the politics, ambiguities, and paradoxes of memory, nostalgia, and resistance, all of which are linked to the paths, diversions, and multiple meanings of East German things.’

– Berdahl, Daphne (1999) ‘(N)Ostalgie’ for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things, Ethnos, 64: 2, 192—211

Bureaucracy and Suicide in the DDR


‘The statistics office on Hans Beimler Street counts everything, knows everything. How many shoes I buy a year: 2,3. How many books I read a year: 3,2. And how many pupils graduate with straight A’s every year: 6347. But there is one thing they don’t count, maybe because even bureaucrats find it painful, and that’s suicides[1]. If you call Beimler Street to ask how many people between the Elbe and the Oder, between the Baltic Sea and the Ore Mountains have been driven to their death by despair, our numbers oracle is silent. But it may just note your name for State Security… Those grey men who ensure safety in our land… and happiness.

In 1977, our country stopped counting suicides[2]. They called them ‘self-murderers’. But it has nothing to do with murder. It knows no bloodlust, no heated passion, it knows only death, the death of all hope. When we stopped counting, only one country in Europe drove more people to their death: Hungary. We came next, the land of Real Existing Socialism.’

– Translated from Wiedemann. M. et al. (Producer), Henckel von Donnersmarck. F. (Director). (2006). Das Leben Der Anderen [Motion Picture]. Germany: Buena Vista International


[1] Freitoden, from the singular Freitod, a euphemistic term meaning ‘suicide’, literally: “free death”.

[2] Selbstmorden, from the singular Selbstmord, a dysphemistic term meaning ‘suicide’, literally: “self murder”.

8/x mmxv


The charango, a unique musical instrument found only in Bolivia, is made from the shell of an armadillo.

Every year about 98% of the atoms in your body are replaced.

For every American killed by terrorism in or outside the U.S., more than 1,000 died from firearms inside the U.S. during the recent decade.

One in four Dutch smokers does not reach their pension-age.

The 1919 Treaty of Versailles explicitly forbade Germans form calling their sparkling wine ‘champagne’, so they called it by another, informal name: ‘sekt’ (from the Latin siccus, ‘dry’).

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Geographic Illiteracy


Over a decade ago, National Geographic organised a global survey to measure the developed world’s geographic literacy.[1]

On average, fewer than 25 percent of young people worldwide could locate Israel on the map. Only about 20 percent could identify international news hotspots like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

‘Geographically Illiterate: Someone who sucks at geography.’ – Urban Dictionary

More recent research shows no improvement. When the Russian Federation invaded the Ukraine in 2014, the Washington Post conducted a survey which showed that only 16% of Americans was able to locate the Black Sea nation on a map.[2]

More importantly, it was found that this lack of geographic knowledge is related to preferences and decision-making: namely, the farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force.

Whatever your views on this political squabble, the following conclusion is inevitable: whether people are in possession of a certain geographic fact determines their opinion in a certain way.

As for geography, knowledge of the location of places and the physical and cultural characteristics of those places are a requirement to function more effectively in an increasingly interdependent world.

On top of that, knowledge of the geography of past times and how geography has played an important role in the evolution of a society, their ideas, and its environment are not only prerequisites for historical knowledge, but also necessary for making sound decisions in the present.[3]

“If geography is prose, maps are iconography.” – Lennart Meri

These findings only underline the importance of teaching Geography. However, as always with formal education, it does not tell the whole story: besides teaching Geography as a core subject on the national curriculum, National Geographic researchers found that geographic knowledge also increases through travel and language proficiency.

In the highest-scoring countries of the National Geographic Survey (Sweden, Germany and Italy) at least 70 percent of the young adults had travelled internationally in the last three years, and the majority spoke more than one language (at the time, no less than 92 percent of young people in Sweden).

In the U.S. and Mexico only about 20 percent of young people had travelled abroad during the same period and the majority spoke only one language.

“All I ever wanted was a world without maps.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

‘Our daily lives are interwoven with geography. Each of us lives in a unique place and in constant interaction with our surroundings. Geographic knowledge and skills are essential for us to understand the activities and patterns of our lives and the lives of others. We move from place to place, aided by transportation and navigation systems. We communicate using global networks of computers and satellites. We strive to live in healthy physical and social environments. We work to avoid the negative consequences of exposure to natural and technological hazards. We search for interesting destinations and vacations. We observe and learn about our own culture and other cultures around the world. We want to lead satisfying lives and contribute to the welfare of our communities. Geographic knowledge and understanding is fundamental to reaching our goals, and in attaining a higher quality of life.’
Why Geography Is Important (2005), Grosvenor Centre of Education


[1] The National Geographic–Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States.
According to Robert Pastor, professor of International Relations at American University, in Washington, D.C., “The survey demonstrates the geographic illiteracy of the United States.”
About 11 percent of young citizens of the U.S. couldn’t even locate the U.S. on a map. The Pacific Ocean’s location was a mystery to 29 percent; Japan, to 58 percent; France, to 65 percent; and the United Kingdom, to 69 percent. Less than 15 percent could locate neither Israel nor Iraq.
“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” – Ambrose Bierce

[2] From March 28 to 31, 2014, The Washington Post asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: in addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, they also asked the survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. The newspaper wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. The survey also found that 5 out of 2,066 Americans thought the Ukraine was located in the U.S. corn belt.

[3] The importance of geographic knowledge is of paramount importance, not only for a better understanding of historical and present geopolitical issues, but also as a scientific measuring device to help humans to make better decisions about the environment. Consider the intellectual poverty of young people who are ignorant of:

  • The basic physical systems that affect everyday life (e.g. earth-sun relationships, water cycles, wind and ocean currents).
  • Relationships between the physical environment and society.
  • How the processes of human and physical systems have arranged and sometimes changed the surface of the Earth – and still do.
  • The fact that the Earth is the homeland of humankind and knowledge of that planet provides insight for wise management decisions about how the planet’s resources should be used.

Genocide and Dogma


‘Consider the Holocaust: the anti-Semitism that built the Nazi death camps was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity. For centuries, Christian Europeans had viewed the Jews as the worst species of heretics and attributed every societal ill to their continued presence among the faithful. While the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominately secular way, its roots were religious, and the explicitly religious demonization of the Jews of Europe continued throughout the period. The Vatican itself perpetuated the blood libel in its newspapers as late as 1914.[3] And both Catholic and Protestant churches have a shameful record of complicity with the Nazi genocide.

[3] The “blood libel” (with respect to the Jews) consists of the false claim that Jews murder non-Jews in order to obtain their blood for use in religious rituals. This allegation is still widely believed throughout the Muslim world.

Auschwitz, the Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia are not examples of what happens to people when they become too reasonable. To the contrary, these horrors testify to the dangers of political and racial dogmatism.

It is time that Christians like yourself stop pretending that a rational rejection of your faith entails the blind embrace of atheism as a dogma. One need not accept anything on insufficient evidence to find the virgin birth of Jesus to be a preposterous idea. The problem with religion—as with Nazism, Stalinism, or any other totalitarian mythology—is the problem of dogma itself. I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.

While you believe that bringing an end to religion is an impossible goal, it is important to realize that much of the developed world has nearly accomplished it. Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth. According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Insofar as there is a crime problem in Western Europe, it is largely the product of immigration. Seventy percent of the inmates of France’s jails, for instance, are Muslim. The Muslims of Western Europe are generally not atheists. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest in terms of the United Nations’ human development index are unwaveringly religious.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 15