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

Lesser-Known “Mothers of Invention”

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The Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector, an experimental flamethrower used twice by the British during WW1. Four were deployed in 1916 at the Somme and one in 1917 near Diksmuide. It took 300 men to take it to the front and assemble them and eight to operate it.

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Biosphere 2: It was build as airtight closed ecological system with plants, insects and animals over 13000m². Between 1991 – 1993 eight people lived in there to prove that life is possible isolated from the earth’s biosphere. The system became quickly unstable – in the end the experiment failed.

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Biosphere 2 was a weird project.

It was created by a group of environmental fanatics / improvisational actors who had no concept of how to design an experiment. The biomes were chosen more on aesthetics than function, and the plants and animals were chosen on whim rather than any actual attempt to design an ecosystem where the organisms complemented each other. As baffling as the fog desert is, what kind of enclosed ecosystem needs a coral reef? They also ignored all advice from experts, such as “hey your crops need this kind of soil to grow” or “don’t use UV-treated glass or all your bees will die”. And to top it all off, these untrained people were the ones who lived inside the biosphere, rather than choosing a group of people who were psychologically stable and/or suited to the tasks required. Eventually all the scientific advisors the project did have resigned because they were sick of dealing with the bullshit.

However, despite all the trouble, there were some pretty interesting results. After the bees died out, cockroaches and then ants (both of which had breached the “seal”) took over pollination of plants. It was discovered that trees basically require wind to push them around while they grow, so that they gain structural strength, otherwise they’re unable to support their own weight later in life. The biospherians ended up having a very sparse diet, and coupled with the oxygen troubles a lot of things were learned about human health. Just imagine what else we could have discovered if people who knew what they were doing had designed this thing!

(Here’s a page about it which cites some sources.)

From the inside:

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Biosphere 2 with dead vegetation:

crisisincrisislg-617x462From the air:

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A British Mark series tank, Péronne, France; ca. 1917.

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M1895 Colt-Browning Machine Gun (aka the “Potato Digger”).

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The Maxim Machine Gun, operates by harnessing the power of recoil to chamber and fire the next round. One day firearms genius John Browning was out shooting with some friends, gas from a shooters muzzle moved the bushes and Browning wondered if said power could be harnessed. He went, drilled a hole in the barrel of a lever action rifle, attached a flap over the hole and ran a spring to the lever, when he fired the gas pulled the lever and reloaded the rifle. The first gas operated firearm, but not the last.

He put the concept to work designing a crude prototype machine gun which he showed off to the Colt company. After firing a few belts through for the company and army it was put into production as the Colt-Browning M1895. One of the first guns to compete with Maxim in the market. It was adopted by the Navy and Marine Corps but not by the Army, at least not officially, a number were purchased. It was also sold to Mexico, Canada and Uruguay.

The Colt-Browning M1895 differed from the Maxim in several ways. It was a lighter gun weighing only 30-35lbs with a 50lb tripod compared to Maxim’s which weighed 40-60lbs before water often with heavier mounts. It was air cooled with a finned barrel to absorb heat. It loaded by way of a swinging lever (shown here) that would be hit by the gas and then sent back on a spring firing the gun until interrupted or there were no more cartridges to power it. It was fed by belt and the rate fired varied 400rds per minute and 650. The gun used a simpler pistol grip instead of the more common spade grip. The gun had some minor problems as well. If you set the tripod to low the gun would dig into the ground, earning the nickname potato digger. If the barrel heats up to much after firing and you leave ammo in there, it had a tendency to go off. To manually eject rounds you had to reach around to the front of the gun and pull the lever.

Sales of the Colt-Browning were slim, a couple thousand at most, then the First World War started and every army realized Machine Guns were a big thing. Canada made heavy use of gun early in the war before switching to the Vickers. Italy ordered some in 6.5mm to replace domestic supplies lost after a retreat, they actually converted them to water cooling. Thanks to guns light weight and small size, a popular variant by Marlin served in tanks and aircraft. The US ordered thousands more in WW1 as well but used them mostly for training. In WW2 Britain ordered thousands of the guns now out of service in the US to beef up their home guard after the fall of France.

The biggest user Russia was in a particular lurch being more agrarian than industrial at the time while having its WW1 army grow in magnitudes, they ordered around 15,000 in their standard caliber. After the war these guns didn’t just disappear. They were used by the Russians in the Civil War and the Soviets wars that followed their rise, sometimes by both sides. They even went on into WW2 in limited numbers.

One could say this gun, revolutionary in nature, while not met with the same level success of the Maxim, it was certainly well served and while Browning went on to make a very successful water cooled gun, it helped helped pave the way for lighter air cooled guns.


François-Noël Babeuf: The First Revolutionary Communist.

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François-Noël Babeuf was born in 1760, in Saint-Quentin, to a desperately poor family. He was born in filth, in his own words. He was given an education by his father, and had a hell of a mind. His intelligence, thirst for knowledge, and independent thinking complemented the short and informal education he received, and paved the the way for his future. He began working, digging a canal, at the age of twelve. A few years later, he worked for a notary specializing in feudal law. His job was to help the aristocracy claim as much as possible of their ancient privileges. Around the same time, he married Marie-Anne Langlet.

In 1789 he participated in drawing up the official complaints for his area to submit to the Estates General, but without much success. When the revolution broke out in 1789, Babeuf wrote a letter to his wife

How ill that joy made me! I was at the same time alike satisfied and ill content. I said, so much the better and so much the worse! I understand that the people should do justice for itself; I approve of that justice so long as the destruction of the guilty suffices for it, but has it not to-day become cruel? Punishments of all kinds – quartering, torture, the wheel, the stake, the whip, the gibbet, executions everywhere – have demoralised us! Our masters, instead of policing us, have made us barbarians, because they are such themselves. They reap, and will continue to reap, what they lave sown. For all this, O my poor wife! will have, as far as one can see, terrible consequences! We are as yet only at the beginning!

Despite his reaction, Babeuf threw himself into the revolution wholeheartedly. He changed his name to Camille, the French form of Camillus, after the neoclassical fashion of the time. He changed the name of his son, too, from Robert to Émile, in honor of Rousseau’s book. In 1790, he was imprisoned for his writings, which were judged to incite rebellion against the government. He wasn’t held long, and soon continued his activism. In October 1790, he started his own newspaper. He argued for the actual abolition of fiefdom, where feudal property was declared invalid, instead of the process started in 1789 to phase it out by allowing communities to buy themselves free.

Who wants to hold onto equality if it is in name only? Equality can’t be the name of a meaningless transaction. It has to show itself by immense, and positive results, by effects that are easily seen, and not by imaginary abstractions.

He was arrested against in 1791, but the outcry from the community was powerful enough that he was released within days. He spent the next few years writing, holding minor administrative positions, and going in and out of prison.

His attitude to violence remained. He opposed the Terror, and welcomed the end of its leaders, for whom he coined the word “terroriste”.

In 1794, he started a new paper, called Journal of Press Freedom, and later the Tribune of the People. At the same time, he took that name Gracchus. After the end of the Terror, tolerance for political radicalism was even lower than it had been before, and Babeuf was arrested the same year. In prison, he formed new connections, with people like Augustin Darthé, Sylvain Maréchal, and Filippo Buonarroti.

With them, he began a new part of his life, politically. These new friends and allies were admirers of Robespierre and the rest of the fallen left of the recent past. Babeuf came to see things from their point of view, and attempted to rehabilitate Robespierre and his fellow “terrorists”. After the Jacobin club had been forcibly closed, Babeuf and Co. created its successor, the Panthéon Club. They were quickly driven underground. This became the start of the Conspiracy of Equals, a clandestine movement to start a new revolution. Their goals were two-pronged, on the one hand, which was the side they showed in public, they wanted to return to the constitution of 1793, which had held the beginning of a welfare state, universal suffrage, and other democratic gains which the constitution of 1795 had undone. For those who had been let into the inner circle, they wanted to abolish the current system of government entirely, and to end private property. The second side to the movement was infinitely more threatening to the authorities, but even the “public” goals could get them all sentenced to death.

They gathered support through their writings, songs, and wall newspapers. The continuing setbacks for both democracy and equality swelled the ranks of Babeuf’s supporters, as did the threat from the growing royalist opposition.

In 1796, a police spy who had infiltrated the ranks of the Equals denounced them. Many members of the group were arrested, Babeuf, Buonarroti, Darthé and Maréchal among them. The next year, they were put on trial for conspiring to overthrow the government.

The trial was held in Vendôme, as the Parisian population was seen as too much of a risk. In the end, Babeuf and Darthé were sentenced to death. They were executed the next day.

Babeuf’s ideas to abolish private property and the current state were neither new nor unique, which he himself proved during his trial, but his attempt to put them into practice was unique. The Babouvist movement became the first seeds of what would later develop into socialism, communism and anarchism.

“Babeuf, the communist Babeuf, your teacher and mine,” said Jean Jaurès, “founded in our country not only socialist doctrine, but above all socialist politics”. The manifesto of the Comintern, written by Leon Trotsky, declared that

“We Communists, united in the Third International, consider ourselves the direct continuators of the heroic endeavors and martyrdom of a long line of revolutionary generations from Babeuf – to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.”

Today, Babeuf has disappeared from public consciousness, and having been mentioned a century ago by the new faces of communism and socialism, with a name drop in the Communist Manifesto, might be his biggest claim to fame.

More:

Chanson nouvelle à l’usage des faubourgs (Mourant du faim, mourant du froid), one of the most famous songs sung by the Babouvists, written by Sylvain Maréchal, performed by Rosalie Dubois.

Collection of texts by and about Babeuf and the Babouvists, on marxists.org

Communist historian Doug Enaa Greene lectures on the French communist revolutionary Gracchus Babeuf

I don’t know what the hell this is, but I found it while searching youtube for the video above


Armored samurai with a wakizashi; ca. 1860

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Apparently, the “Arabian horses” we usually think of didn’t appear until late in Japan, where ponies were the standard. It really kills some of the samurai romance when you realize they were 4’6″ guys riding 4’6″ ponies…

(*Photo by Felice Beato (1832–1909) an Italian–British photographer who was one of the first people to take photographs in East Asia and one of the first war photographers.)