Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Archive for March, 2016

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Soviet Soldiers performing the Cossack dance after the defeat of Berlin, Germany; ca. May 1945

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“The freestanding Tour Saint-Jacques”; ca. 1867

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Saint-Jacques Tower (Tour Saint-Jacques) is a monument located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, France, on Rue de Rivoli at Rue Nicolas Flamel. This 52-metre (171 ft) Flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie (“Saint James of the butchery”), which was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, – like many other churches, leaving only the tower. What remains of the destroyed church of St. Jacques La Boucherie is now considered a national historic landmark.

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Hjalmar Schacht

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Hjalmar Schacht was an economist of the Weimar Republic and for the Nazis until his dismissal in 1937 due to his opposition to German rearmament. He was known for working with or developing several schemes that the Germans used throughout the interwar period.

The first scheme he was known for was the introduction of the Rentenmark. The currency of the Weimar Republic was normally the Reichsmark, but several things happened after World War I that caused great turmoil in the German economy. Many Germans considered the reparations to be a great outrage (as reparations are paid in “defeat,” and in the view of many Germans, Germany had not lost the war). To that extent, the Germans were willing to sabotage their own economy in an attempt to get the reparations waived or dismissed, due to a supposed German inability to pay it. This is all documented in Sally Marks’ “Myths of Reparations.”

One mechanism of their attempts to sabotage the reparations was to print large amounts of their currency. While there were several relatively sane ways that the Germans could purchase the gold and goods necessary for reparations, such as issuing bonds, raising taxes, or even taking on foreign currency debt, the Germans instead deliberately chose to print Reichsmarks, in an effort to wreck the German economy, thus bringing the Entente to the table to renegotiate the reparations. And it worked-the Dawes and Young Plans, created in the wake of the ensuing Weimar Hyperinflation, allowed to Germans to restructure and reduce the amount of reparations. This was of course at the expense of two years of German economic growth, which resulted in gross wealth destruction and was only fixed by the introduction of the Rentenmark. The Rentenmark, which Schacht was one of several economist that developed the scheme, was a substitute Reichsmark that used German land (real estate) as collateral, much in the lines several other countries used gold or silver to back their currencies. This was introduced into the German economy and helped to restore stability.

It should be noted that during this time, Schacht was only one of a handful of economists and political figures that assisted in the Weimar Republic’s return to economic growth. Hans Luther and Karl Helfferich were the main economists responsible for the Rentenmark.

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Schacht in Nazi Germany, because of his political support and his rather sketchy if not outright illegal financial maneuvering to support the Nazis, was able to become Minister of Economics. During this time, he continued the programs of the previous German administration (namely, public works to artificially lower unemployment numbers, such as the autobahn) and expanded them into a general plan for German autarky. The two main issues he had to deal with were the lack of foreign reserves (caused by the German sell off due to the Great Depression) and the means of rearmament.

Simply put, if Germany ran out of foreign reserves, it would not only be hard pressed to trade with other countries but it would also severely weaken the strength of the German mark. To get around this, Schacht helped structure several trade transactions with South American, European, and even a handful of Asian countries whereby German could acquire strategic materials necessary for rearmament in exchange for either German marks or German goods, which would allow time for the Nazis to balance the foreign reserves deficit (which they never did, instead doubling down on it to increase the rate of rearmament).

The Mefos bills that he created were another tool whereby the Germans could secretly rearm themselves using economic tricks. As president of the Reichsbank, Schacht in theory was only supposed to be a lender of last resort-namely, his job was to be independent of the government and only to step in to preserve monetary stability. However, by issuing Mefos bills, he was able to secretly (if not fraudulently) loan money directly to the German government through a dummy corporation.

This allowed the German government to take on far more debt than any sane investor would have bought on, at a lower rate of interest. For a simple finance lesson, the more debt a country has, the greater the risk. An investor would demand a higher interest rate in return for taking on this higher risk. Since the interest rate for Germany was essentially fixed around 4.50%, this meant there was a theoretical ceiling after which nobody would be willing to buy German government bonds. Through the use of the Mefos bills, in addition to hiding arms purchases from Britain and France, they were also able to bypass this ceiling.

Of course, this would have been completely unsustainable, and would have required the acquisition of large amounts of foreign reserves to balance out the fact that the ostensibly independent Reichsbank was in fact loaning money to the German government, which would otherwise cause rapid inflation as it turned out German currency wasn’t worth what people thought it was. This was part of the reason why the Nazi government chose to invade many countries-one of their most important objectives was the seizure of all the currency and reserves in the various banks, to feed the gaping maw in the German economy left by Schacht and the Nazis’ policies.

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At the end of the day, Schacht wasn’t a particularly brilliant economist, but he did participate in both legitimate economic schemes (as the Rentenmark) as well as some more fraudulent ones (like the Mefos bills) in order to keep Germany’s economy afloat. Still, the fact remains that despite his willingness to fund German rearmament, Nazi rearmament was still too fast even for him, which eventually led to his resignation and collaboration with the German resistance. This should show that he was not in fact some lone genius, but rather one of several German economists that happened to be in a position of leadership during the Weimar Republic and later the Nazi regime.


Sources:

Sally Marks, The Myth of Reparations

Adam Tooze, Wages of Destruction

 

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The men left behind on Elephant Island; ca. 1916

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After their ship became frozen in ice, 28 men and Ernest Shackleton (the expedition leader) sailed the lifeboat to elephant island, an island no one had ever stepped foot on. Knowing they wouldn’t be rescued, Shackleton took 5 men to sail 800 miles to a whaling station to get help. The remaining men stayed on the island having to create shelter, procure food etc, and hope that the others would be able to send rescue. After four failed attempts because of heavy ice, all the men were finally rescued. The men had spent 4 and a half months stranded on the island.


Fate of the crew:

Most of these men went straight into the meat grinder of WWI. Some were dead over the next few years.


The Moulin Rouge nightclub at Montmarte, Paris; ca. 1914

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The original house, which burned down in 1915, was co-founded in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, who also owned the Paris Olympia. Close to Montmartre in the Paris district of Pigalle on Boulevard de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement, it is marked by the red windmill on its roof. The closest métro station is Blanche.

Moulin Rouge is best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe.

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Prefire:

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Rebuilt:

MERIAN Paris Jasmine


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Evening on the cruiser Kalinin, the Soviet Pacific Fleet; ca. 1955

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On her last day as First Lady, Betty Ford jumped on the Cabinet Room table in the White House and started dancing; ca. 1977

This was when she was still on drugs. Afterwards ... BOR ... ING !

An ashtray at every seat. You sure won’t see that anymore.


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Lieutenant colonel Laaksonen and Eurasian eagle-owl chicks, Suokumaa, Finland; ca. July 1941

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“Cheyenne captives following the attack on Washita by Custer’s forces”; ca. 1868

Most of the Cheyenne captives are visible in this photograph, taken at Fort Dodge en route to the stockade at Fort Hays, Kansas; to the left stands U.S. Army chief of scouts John O. Austin.

Most of the Cheyenne captives are visible in this photograph, taken at Fort Dodge en route to the stockade at Fort Hays, Kansas; to the left stands U.S. Army chief of scouts John O. Austin.

The Battle of Washita River occurred on November 27, 1868 when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyenne camp on the Washita River (near present-day Cheyenne, Oklahoma), part of a major winter encampment of numerous Native American tribal bands.

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Goodyear’s illuminated tires; ca. 1961

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These illuminated tires were developed by Goodyear in 1961. They’re made from a single piece of synthetic rubber and are brightly lit by bulbs mounted inside the wheel rim. The Goodyear Tire Company intend to produce the tires in a variety of colors.
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According to LIFE magazine this is one of the 30 dumbest inventions.

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