Physics, Chemistry, Progress and the mid 19th Century.

Although the first cases of Spanish Flu were registered in the continental U.S. and the rest of Europe long before getting to Spain, the epidemic received its nickname "Spanish flu" because Spain published the most reliable news on the disease, giving the impression Spain was the source.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic


In 1919 there was a world wide plague. It lasted until some time into the early 1920's, more or less. Actually it was influenza and depends on the cold overcast weather that delights in sporting TB and the like, so it was as good as over in a couple of weather spells.

But in 1921 the war ended. THE War, the Great one.
It summed up the height and the depth of the Industrial Revolution. Men have always been prone to depravity. But it was more heroic in all the previous eras when soldiers had to face each other with dogs, bows and arrows, copper or iron covered wooden shields and long unmanageable spears or short stabbing (and not very far flung) javelins, the obligatory slings and stones, swords and horse-backed lancers, etceterr… ahh…

But in the mid 17th century a very productive plague had supplied us with physics. This lead rapidly to the sport of ballistics and the Napoleonic war. This was not -as you might suppose, a war against France.

Nothing new about a war with France.

This was a war with a man called Napoleon who just happened to be Corsican and supplied with troops from Europe, not least of which were a few contingents from the survivors of the French Revolution. (It is an amazing truism that the French march on their stomachs. Something not perfected in the rest of the world until the invention of barbed wire and the machine gun.)

And so getting the French army to sign up for a European war – another new phenomenon – unless you count European history, was a piece of cake.

Cannon-ballism was a practice perfected at the end of the dark ages by the Royal Navy, once they got the hang of the fact that canons need holes in the sides of the host ship before they can make holes in the sides of the opposition's.

It took a national disaster in the reign of a military imbecile, who on the Dubia scale of Dubious politics scored about 5. (Guy Fawkes got a near perfect 1 and GW hissel scowed a Dubias 10.) The Mary Rose was an exceedingly fine ship whose improvements, among a long list naval weaponry such as fishing nets, bows and arrows, fine silverware and top heavy superstructure, included canon mounted below sea level.

After the obvious happened, the British merged with Scotland who were deeply indebted to Holland, which was a scion of Spain and so they invented broadsides.

With so many friends to choose from, a new style of sea warfare was no longer imperative, it had become vital. So with successive rows of smaller canon mounted one atop the other but in a ship or as in the case of European navies: Fleets of ships; it was noticed that bonking relatively small shot over the sea surface would allow the balls to fly with greater accuracy whilst simultaneously permitting the crew to reload PDQ.

This was called fire-power and did away with the need for crews to mount the other bloke's ship and cut everyone's throats with cutlasses.

A cutlass is a sharp iron blade almost impossible to wield effectively in a ship and next to impossible on one. The problem with the cutlass is that ships are inherently unstable, often wet and in the case of embattled ones, slick with blood.

That's after the initial assault by canon that usually caused "loss of way" by depriving the assaulted vessel of wind power and steering. The residue of which was to be found hanging by ropes and sweeping the splintered deck withall floundering on a sea of whatever state.

So, cutlassing was a rather imprecise method of taking a ship. Far better to sent the whole thing to the bottom. This ended the ideal of "capturing" a "prize" and making life in the navy bearable for the unambitious.

Also at the same time, the invention of antiscorbic foods and the renunciation of whipping made the act of boarding other people's vessels at sea obsolete, if not impossible. (Two things made boarding and taking a prize possible, the idea of getting away from blokes with whips and the hope of being chosen to take a prize to port (with the consequent relief from scurvy.))

By the end of the 18th century it became possible to build canon light enough, yet effective enough, to be used on land. With the invention of roads, horses and funpowder, killing on a grand scale took off. And along with mounted artillery, the invention of rifled barrels made it possible to mount said artillery at some distance from the opposition.

By the middle of the 19th century the canon could be used fairly effectively on armies several miles distant, if they could be kept still. Which fortunately enough, they had just had time to invent the tactics to enable.

The technique became known as the British Square. And once again relied on small calibre; rapid fire. It was soon discovered that mass extermination of a civilisation could be endangered by force feeding infantry to canon. The largesse with which this was accomplished in the Balkans was so successful the USA rapidly copied the method and by 1870 only a few uncivilised tribes in the Americas and north Africa were unaware of the capabilities of modern warfare.

Surprisingly, the Ethiopians have only just caught on despite the advances in training supplied to them by Italy between the "Wars". (When they finally realised; their adjustments so astonished the USA that the Americans made a film about it, as once again they fell victim to underestimating the capabilities of farmers defending their crops.)

Which brings us to Chemistry.

Along with the Broadside, the British had invented the Blockade. This was a bit "dog in the manger"-ish as the only access most of Europe had to the Atlantic in winter was via the North Sea, The Channel and the relatively windless access points south of the UK.

Patrolling the sea lanes became the vogue for a country at war with most of Europe at one time or another. And it was the Atlantic that supplied the Nitre needed to make funpowder. Feeling the pinch as is the wont of Prussian and various other Germanic States, they invented chemistry. These days it is called agro-chemicals to make it sound respectable.

(Leading to the quaint English phrase for "a spot of bovver" at its height in the 1970's.)

But its original intention was to supply gunpowder to an otherwise materiel deficient world. The first cold war ended. By then, Britain had captured sufficient international ports internationally, so that it was now the World Power to be reckoned with.

Not that the USA was backwards in coming forward, once they had enough men to start breeding once more. (Rather than wait the customary 60 or 80 years for baby-booming to even out, they imported fierce people with a gift for genocide and went to war with Spain again.)

With the advent of coloured physics (chemistry) the question of who ruled the world became a matter of who invented the thickest armour. Which on a ship is a problem of statics, eventually solved by chemistry.

Chemistry's natural colour is blood.
Prior to the middle of the 18th century, cast iron had to be wrought to make it a usable metal. Cast iron is full of carbon, silicon and base metals. In order to get these impurities into crystals of manageable size, the iron had to be heated to red hot and given a pasting.

This made individual iron items expensive. Dealing with the silicon at source meant it could be eradicated wholesale. And made iron a more manageable produce and cheaper. Cheap enough to build bridges with the stuff. Or not quite. That was a rather expensive publicity stunt that still used cast iron. And was an example of the use of the blast furnace, the first real inspiration to chemists. Very colourful physics but still…

A blunt instrument -as was artillery in those days. But with "chemicals" and new ideas sourced from a rapidly shrinking world: getting sharper.

Soon nitroglycerin was invented and when they had killed lots of people with that (chiefly of their own side – a military tactic honed to perfection in the 1950's) they invented dynamite.

Now wouldn't you think a nation whose ports are icebound 3 or 4 months in the year would keep that invention to themselves? Wisely, in the interests of killing the most men as quickly as possible, the idea was taken to Britain.

After dynamite, came even more glorious plastic explosives but first TNT and smokeless gunpowders. The beauty of TNT is that you can boil it and hit it and do all sorts of daft things with it, except store it under the top decks of lightly shielded Dreadnoughts. (Another thing you shouldn't do with TNT is store it on boats that catch fire and run aground in busy harbours near vantage points that are bound to draw crowds.)

Then came poison gas, which released multi-millionaires from the onus of paying men to go down mines to get killed. All you needed was to convince them the efficacy of digging shallow graves called trenches which could be rapidly filled with heavier than air poisonous gasses. And the beauty of that design was you could then use artillery to bury the dead by the basketful.

And the governemtns would pay for the shells by taxing the widows and orphans and anyone clever enough to survive.

(It was next to impossible to mop up the shreds of people mown down in France -even if the firing was halted for the purpose- not that it was. The reason being that the trenches and gunfire had ruined the natural drainage of the land.)

What was needed was a means of sanitising warfare. This was accomplished with the internal combustion engine. Instead of losing fairly intact soldiers (still capable of wreaking mass extermination) to trench foot and mouth, the military planners came up with the idea of getting the men away from the scenes of their crimes PDQ. Not only that but mounting them on internal combustion machinery meant they could carry more effective weapons further, quicker and supply heavier ammunition to boot.

An all around success.
Which lead to biological warfare.

Unfortunately most countries pay lip service to the ideal of not using poisons or diseases in battle. So they have had to come up with ever more ingenious methods to get it into the hands of the still living. This was called "Modern Agriculture". Even more ingenious is recreational chemical poisoning. An art of suffusing both men -and these days women too, with noxious chemicals of their own choice and their own volition.

And get this:

Making them pay for it themselves.
Isn't that brilliant?
At one stroke it combines the European idea of suffusing potent chemicals into the population, bypassing the need to doctor animals and (can you doctor vegetables?) other foodstuffs, with the Oriental idea of getting the parents of the victims to pay for the bullet used to kill the children.

You couldn't make it up, could you? Well obviously someone could -lots of people could and did but you know what I mean.

So we enter a decade that will see the Arabs getting in on the act. And it has to be said they made a very effective if amateur start ten years ago. This is going to be an interesting year or ten. Body-formed weaponry is no longer being confined to shielding.

Suicidal maniacs, a feature of Arab militancy from the dark ages, had been resurrected to deal with Israel. But now that they have identified the head of the serpent, we shall be seeing a great increase in human inhumanity to man.

And terrorists have not signed the Geneva Convention, too, neither. Once they get over the idea of using brown skinned volunteers and aluminium skinned aircraft, we shall be hosting a melee of invisible murderers.

I can't wait.

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One thought on “Physics, Chemistry, Progress and the mid 19th Century.

  1. Every home should have one.Once you have mastered the three Rs (Wreeding Rightin and Rhythmatick) you should bone up on the basics of the politics of your country (or countries (for the poly-nationals)) pretty recent stuff will do compared to what you also need to catch up on your religion. (Atheists only have to go back 150 years, which fits nicely with most countries' polytricks.)And you aught to have good physics and chemistry text books. One of each. Not the silly exam primers that don't teach you anything interesting. They don't teach you anything at all, actually; rather the opposite.You aught to get at least elementary level. The sort of stuff most kids will be told about (in Britain we only have to show them web sites and exam papers, teaching is optional and depends on your post code.)Better still get advanced science level ones. They will cover you for all you need to know about geology, meteorology, the economics of your locale and shopping for yourself and family.*Once you get to the level of knowing what enthralpy is you are all the way home and no nitwit from the upper echelons of Colorado's weather by numbers 101, writing in the Dumbcyclopedia Britannica will snow you in with mystic spaghetti about atmospheric science.Of course if you'd rather watch soap operas, you don't deserve to have an education -even if you think you are willing to DIY. Shoot yourself now# and make the whole world marginally more intelligent.*Some ideas about topping yourself off, too.#I don't know what the average IQ is but spread over over 6 thousand million people, raising the mean by about 100 over 6000000000 x whatever the average is, will not mean much but locally it would be an increase of 1 quotient point per person in a village of 100 people. (Not counting the extra oxygen available.)If you want to think big+; liken it to a nail left on the side of a little used road that never gets to deflate the tyre on the emergency vehicle that is taking the woman -pregnant with the genius who is going to save the world- to hospital allowing her to make a safe delivery, as opposed to leaving the damned thing on the side of a busy road, still-born.+Or not, as the allusion might lead to.If you rally want to think big, rather than commit suicide, get a machine gun and spray the local mall clean of people buying cosmetics, mobile phones and soap-opera boxes.If you want to really, really do a good job go down the centre of the nation's government and whack the sleaze-balls. (All you can get before their security wakes up.%)%I'd like to say more but the signs are getting a bit naff on the keyboard. You'd think in this day and age more symbols would be available on a modern computer.

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