Category Archives: Interesting Stories

‘We were just a normal family’: Che Guevara’s daughter remembers her father – Sophie Haydock. 

On the right is my father, cigar in hand, talking to his lifelong friend Fidel Castro, a fellow communist revolutionary. 

The angle makes it look like my father is holding out his cigar to me, but that’s not the case. It was unusual that he’d smoke around me. I don’t remember this picture being taken, or by whom; I was too young. I’d have been around three at the time. I was born in November 1960, and I’ve since been told it was 1964 in Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

I am the eldest of Che’s four children with my mother. Papi was known around the world as the Argentine revolutionary, a guerrilla leader and major figure of the Cuban revolution, but we were just a normal family. I never felt special as his daughter. Where I did feel special was as the child of a couple who loved each other dearly.

As children, we enjoyed Papi very little. I was only six when he was executed in Bolivia 50 years ago, on 9 October, 1967. Our mother formed our values and kept him alive in our memory long after he died. She never used him as a way to tell us off or threaten us. Papi was always the good guy.

We never enjoyed any privileges: my father was opposed to that, and my mother maintained the line. When she became a widow with four small children, my father’s friends wanted to help. They couldn’t replace the affection that had been lost, so tried to give us material things. My mother wouldn’t permit anything at all. She told us, “You must have your feet firmly on the ground, and let pass everything you haven’t earned yourselves.” That was an important lesson.

We went through difficult periods. In my teenage years, she’d make trousers for my brothers with material from her old blouses. But we were happy: we’d play, we’d laugh. We grew up like Cuban children, alongside the people in our community.

I was close to Fidel and comfortable with him. I have very fond memories – I would call him “mi tío”, which means “my uncle”. I maintained a relationship with him right up until the end of his last year. 

He’s holding me and I’m relaxed, smiling. My father and Fidel were always happy and joking together; there was much mutual respect and confidence there.

Fidel wanted to break the news to us children when Papi died, but my mother insisted it was her duty. But he told us that Papi had written a letter saying that if one day he fell in combat, we were not to cry for him: when a man dies trying to achieve what he wants to achieve, one doesn’t need to. The next day, I was called in to see my mother, who was in tears. She sat me on the bed and pulled out the farewell letter from Papi.

“When you see this letter,” it said, “you will know that I am no longer with you.” I started crying, too. The letter was very short. It ended with the words: “Here is a big kiss from Dad.” I understood I no longer had a father.

I still live and work in Havana, as a paediatrician, and feel hopeful for the future of Cuba. Do I have hope for humanity? None of us has a crystal ball, but if we want a different world, we need to work to achieve it. We can’t wait for it to fall out of the sky. We have a duty to forge that future ourselves.

The Guardian 

Wild at heart: how one woman and her husband live out in the woods – Stefanie Marsh. 

For seven years, Miriam Lancewood and her husband Peter have lived a nomadic life – she is the hunter and he is the cook. Now they’re walking across Europe to Turkey, with a tent and little else. Stefanie Marsh meets them to hear why. 

Miriam Lancewood has been living off grid, in the wild, for seven years now and she can still pinpoint the exact moment she knew she had truly broken with social norms. “It was when the idea was born to wash my hair with urine,” she recalls.

She had just started living wild, in the New Zealand Alps, when she developed a persistent dandruff problem. Luckily, she remembered reading about an ancient remedy. “I sat in the sun for a horrible, stinky half-hour to let it soak in.”

I’d expected Miriam to look bedraggled, maybe with a couple of teeth missing, but she’s immaculate and smiling broadly, her teeth shiny white (she usually cleans them with ash); no dandruff, legs shaven, she smells of campfire. She is powerfully built; almost the double of Sarah Connor from The Terminator. A Dutch Sarah Connor – she was born in Holland. Her husband, Peter, proudly tells me she could beat most men in a fight: “Miriam is the hunter and I’m the cook. She’s much stronger than me. Women are better shots,” he says. “And they’re more careful,” adds Miriam. “They are less driven by trophy hunting. They have less of a need to prove themselves.”

Five years into their nomadic life in New Zealand, Miriam decided to write a book about her experiences. The couple have since relocated to Europe, where they’re spending the year walking to Turkey; part two of their life’s dream of never returning to “civilisation”. So here we are in Bulgaria – three hours west of Sofia, upstream from a river where the couple can bathe, sitting around a campfire in a wood (the photographer met up with them earlier in their journey, in Bavaria). I’ve been invited for dinner and Peter is standing over a cast iron pot containing a bubbling bean stew. There are foraged wrinkly plums to start. It’s an exciting occasion for them: they haven’t seen another human being for 11 days. It’s 5pm. What have they been doing all day? “Nothing much. Waiting for you.” In the first few months of their primitive life, Miriam thought she’d go mad with boredom but she soon fell in sync with nature. Half of any given day is spent collecting firewood. They sleep as long as it’s dark. They’ve never had more energy.

It’s a stark contrast to when Miriam was still working as a special needs teacher in New Zealand. Those were grim days: “I was always stressed. And so bored. And depressed about thinking I’m going to do this forever and ever.” She’s learned so much since she’s been out here but one question remains unanswered: “Where are all the women?”

continued in The Guardian

Photos The Guardian 

A Brief History of Book Burning, From the Printing Press to Internet Archives – Lorraine Boissoneault. 

As long as there have been books, people have burned them, but over the years, the motivation has changed. 

When Al-Qaida Islamists invaded Mali, and then Timbuktu in 2012, among their targets were priceless manuscripts, books that needed to be burned. But the damage could’ve been much worse if not for men like Abdel Kader Haidara, who risked their lives to protect the medieval works. He and others succeeded in smuggling out 350,000 manuscripts, proving not only how much the books were valued, but also the lengths to which ordinary people were willing to go to save them. It was a remarkable victory in the long history of books threatened by would-be arsonists, and a relatively rare one at that.

Books and libraries have been targeted by people of all backgrounds for thousands of years, sometimes intentionally and sometimes as a side-effect of war. In 213 B.C., Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang (more widely remembered for his terracotta army in Xian) ordered a bonfire of books as a way of consolidating power in his new empire. According to historian Lois Mai Chan “His basic objective was not so much to wipe out these schools of thought completely as to place them under governmental control.” Books of poetry, philosophy and history were specifically targeted, so that the new emperor couldn’t be compared to more virtuous or successful rulers of the past. Although the exact amount of information lost is unknown, Chan writes that the history genre suffered the greatest loss.

Qin was only one in a long line of ancient rulers who felt threatened enough by the ideas expressed in written form to advocate arson. In Livy’s History of Rome, finished in the 1st century A.D., he describes past rulers who ordered books containing the predictions of oracles and details about celebrations like the Bacchanalia be outlawed and burned to prevent disorder and the spread of foreign customs; philosophers Giordano Bruno and Jan Hus both took positions counter to the Catholic church, the former for his work on Copernican cosmology, the latter for attacking church practices like indulgences. Scholar Hans J. Hildebrand writes that the executioner charged with killing heretics like Bruno and Hus was often the same person who put flame to their books.

But for Rebecca Knuth, author of Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century and Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction, Qin and religious leaders like him are only a small part of the early book-burning equation. “A lot of ancient book burning was a function of conquest,” Knuth says. Just look at one of the most famous examples of burning, the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. The famed building had its contents and structure burned during multiple periods of political upheaval, including in 48 B.C. when Caesar chased Pompey to Egypt and when Caliph Omar invaded Alexandria in 640 A.D.

What changed everything was the printing press, invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440. Not only were there suddenly far more books—there was also more knowledge. “With the printing press you had the huge rise of literacy and modern science and all these things,” Knuth says. “And some people in authoritarian regimes, in a way they want to turn back the effects of the printing press.”

According to Knuth, the motives behind book burning changed after the printing press helped bring about the Enlightenment era—though burning through the collateral damage of war continued to arise (just consider the destruction of the U.S. Library of Congress during the War of 1812 or all the libraries destroyed across Europe during World War II). People saw knowledge as a way to change themselves, and the world, and so it became a far more dangerous commodity, no longer controlled exclusively by the elite. What better way to reshape the balance of power and send a message at the same time than by burning books?

The unifying factor between all types of purposeful book-burners in the 20th century, Knuth says, is that the perpetrators feel like victims, even if they’re the ones in power. Perhaps the most infamous book burnings were those staged by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who regularly employed language framing themselves as the victims of Jews. Similarly, when Mao Zedong took power in China and implemented the Cultural Revolution, any book that didn’t conform to party propaganda, like those promoting capitalism or other dangerous ideas, were destroyed. More recently, the Jaffna Public Library of Sri Lanka home to nearly 100,000 rare books of Tamil history and literature, was burned by Sinhalese Buddhists. The Sinhalese felt their Buddhist beliefs were under threat by the Hinduism of Tamils, even though they outnumbered the Tamils.

Even when the knowledge itself isn’t prevented from reaching the public, the symbolic weight of burning books is heavy. “Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them as to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are,” wrote John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, in his 1644 book Areopagitica. “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature… but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself—” an idea that continues to be espoused in modern culture, like in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door,” one character warns another in Bradbury’s story, arguing for why they must be burned and their knowledge erased. “Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”

Or, as author Barbara Tuchman said in her 1980 address at the Library of Congress, “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible.”

Today, with new technological advances offered by the Internet, the possibility of digitizing written documents seems to offer books a new immortality. But not so fast, Knuth says. “We have technology to preserve so much knowledge, we just have to be careful. If you don’t keep morphing it to an updated form of technology, it doesn’t matter if you made copies if you can’t access them.”

This is a problem archivists at the Smithsonian Institution regularly tackle, including electronic records archivist Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig.

“There are software companies that have gone away or gone out of business, and some of that software just stops being used,” Schmitz Fuhrig says. “And there’s not only the issue of software, but also hardware and operating systems that may not work with these older files.”

The archivists try to use formats that have been around for a long time and stood the test of time, like PDF for documents, but even keeping up with the changing technology doesn’t guarantee safety. Schmitz Fuhrig says one of the biggest challenges now is storage space. “A few years ago we were talking about gigabytes and then terabytes and now we’re getting into the area of petabytes.”

Even though the technology exists, transferring written documents to digital archives requires time and money—resources that aren’t always available. Sometimes doing so is counter to the beliefs of whoever happens to be in power. Just consider that under President George W. Bush EPA libraries were threatened with closure in 2006, spurring the American Library Association and scientists working at the EPA to put pressure on Congress to ensure the EPA’s budget could cover the cost of maintaining the libraries (although some libraries were closed, they reopened in September 2008). Or look at the scientific research documents that were locked away or destroyed under the Stephen Harper government in Canada in 2014, which had a chilling effect on the topics that could be researched and the studies that were published. As scientist Steven Campana, who spent decades working for Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told Smithsonian.com, “Although we still kept our jobs, we basically were prevented from actually doing any science.” Though the methods may be different (and less visible) than in the past, the results are the same: knowledge is purposefully taken from the public.

Technology has undoubtedly changed the way we share and save information, but Knuth argues that the core motivations for book burning, in whatever form the act takes, remain the same: prioritizing one type of information over another.

“That’s why power is so scary,” Knuth says. “Because power allows you to put into effect the logic of your own beliefs.”

***

Lorraine Boissoneault is a staff writer for SmithsonianMag.com covering history and archaeology. She has previously written for The Atlantic, Salon, Nautilus and others. She is also the author of The Last Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle’s Journey Across America. Website: http://www.lboissoneault.com/

Smithsonian.com

Out of The Depths: An unforgettable WWII story of survival, courage and the sinking of the USS Indianapolis – Edgar Harrell USMC. 

Shortly after midnight on July 30, 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II, the Japanese submarine I-58 launched a spread of torpedoes at the USS Indianapolis. Two of the “fish” found their mark. In less than fifteen minutes, the heavy cruiser, a battle-scarred veteran of the bloody campaigns for the Marianas, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, went down without a trace, and without anyone but the survivors knowing the ship had been lost.

Some nine hundred of the ship’s 1,196-man crew, cold, oil soaked, many with injuries, were suddenly alone in the shark-infested waters of the Philippine Sea. For five horrific days after the sinking, their numbers were cruelly depleted by shark attacks, saltwater poisoning, hypothermia, and dehydration. When they were finally spotted and rescued, only 317 remained alive.

This is their story, recounted by one of their own, Edgar Harrell, a young member of the ship’s U.S. Marine detachment. It is an unparalleled account of perseverance, courage, self-sacrifice, and faith.

Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, USMC (Ret.)

***

I remember hearing Dad talk about the war from time to time when I was a little boy. I recall his reluctant stories about the secret mission of the Indianapolis, the atomic bomb components they carried, and especially the gripping tales about the sharks when the crew was lost at sea for five days. I even remember attending some of the Indianapolis reunions and meeting Captain McVay and being awestruck by his white Navy uniform and medals.

David Harrell

***

Out of The Depths: An unforgettable WWII story of survival, courage and the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

by Edgar Harrell USMC

Every survivor of war has stories to tell, stories of triumph and tragedy, faith and fear, stories like mine, where fact is often stranger than fiction. Since that fateful night in 1945 when I stepped off a sinking ship into the unknown depths of the Pacific Ocean, there has never been a day when I have not reflected upon the horrors I experienced in the four and a half days of swimming in shark-infested waters.

The escort carrier Hollandia transported all of us from Guam back to San Diego. On September 26, over three hundred survivors of the greatest naval catastrophe at sea arrived on the shores of the country they loved and served, only to be met with a paltry Salvation Army band.

I cannot say that we knew what to expect, but we certainly thought there would be a more enthusiastic and official welcome.

The rather large crowd on the pier had assembled to welcome home the crew of the Hollandia and knew nothing of the Indianapolis survivors. To my knowledge, none of our families or friends greeted us. Most did not even know our whereabouts.

We remained on land as we were at sea, lost and neglected. We all had a mounting sense that we were somehow an embarrassment to the Navy, though at the time we did not understand why. With no official welcome, we all came ashore and invisibly made our way through the crowd, somewhat envious of the jubilant and legitimate welcome for their loved ones on the Hollandia.

My eight Marine companions and I looked in vain for an official Marine reception that would at least transport us to the Marine Corp Base. We finally located an MP who helped us find a bus.

I relate this story not to elicit sympathy, but only to underscore the realities that caused us all to become increasingly suspicious that something was wrong.

Someone has well said, “Truth and time walk hand in hand.” Indeed, over the next few months we began to understand why we experienced such a mysterious cloud of concealment and disregard. The Navy was up to something. And the story of the Indianapolis had to stay out of the headlines until they had all their political ducks in a row. 

***

Out of The Depths: An unforgettable WWII story of survival, courage and the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

by Edgar Harrell USMC

get it from Amazon 

USS Indianapolis, sunk at the end of WW2, has finally been found – AAP. 

The wreckage of the US warship Indianapolis, which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo off the Philippines in the final days of WWII, has been found.

The ship is more than 18,000 feet (5.5km) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the Navy said on Saturday.

The cruiser was returning from its mission to deliver components for the atomic bomb that would soon be dropped on Hiroshima when it was fired upon in the North Pacific Ocean by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945.

It sunk in 12 minutes, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington.

No distress signal was sent. About 800 of the 1197 crew members aboard survived the sinking, but only 316 were rescued alive five days later, with the rest lost to exposure, dehydration, drowning and sharks.

After a Navy historian unearthed new information last year about the warship’s last movements that pointed to a new search area, a team of civilian researchers led by Paul Allen, a Microsoft Corp co-founder, spent months searching in a 600-square-mile (1500-sq/km) patch of ocean.

With a vessel rigged with equipment that can reach some of the deepest ocean floors, members of Allen’s team found the wreckage somewhere in the Philippine Sea on Friday, Allen said in a statement on his website.

The Navy asked Allen to keep the precise location confidential.

Allen said that the discovery was a humbling experience and a means of honouring sailors he saw as playing a vital role in ending WWII.

“While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” he said.

The Navy said it had plans to honour the 22 survivors from the Indianapolis still alive, along with the families of the ship’s crew.

NZ Herald 

***

It was shortly after midnight, on the 30th of July, 1945, when disaster struck.

After delivering Hiroshima-bomb components to Tinian Island, the USS Indianapolis and her crew of 1,196 sailors were sailing west, toward Leyte (in the Philippines).

Suddenly, an explosion rocked the ship.  She’d been struck by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-58.

The Indianapolis capsized and sank in twelve minutes. 

Spending days in the water, without life rafts, the men were terrorized by sharks.  With no rescue in sight, two-thirds of the original survivors died from various causes.

The USS Indianapolis (CA-35) was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 15 November 1932. The ship served with honor from Pearl Harbor through the last campaign of World War II, sinking in action two weeks before the end of the war.

On 30 July 1945, while sailing from Guam to Leyte, Indianapolis was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-58 [in the Philippine Sea]. The ship capsized and sank in twelve minutes.

Survivors were spotted on 2 August. All air and surface units capable of rescue operations were dispatched to the scene at once, and the surrounding waters were thoroughly searched for survivors.

Upon completion of the day and night search on 8 August, 316 men were rescued out of the crew of 1,199.

Survivors tell us that approximately 900 men survived the ship’s explosion and sinking. Those who died, thereafter, were overcome by exhaustion, exposure, injuries sustained in the explosion, lack of safe drinking water (instead of salt water) and shark attacks.

*** 

NOTE: There is a very significant postcript to this story.

For many decades, the surviving Indianapolis crewmen tried to get the U.S. Navy to exonerate their skipper, Captain Charles Butler McVay, III who was:

  • Not warned about lurking enemy subs;
  • Was misled into thinking his route was safe;
  • Was court martialed on two charges of improper conduct;
  • Heard the favorable testimony of the Japanese commander who sank the Indy;
  • Was found guilty of one charge of negligence (despite all evidence to the contrary); and
  • Committed suicide in 1968.

Despite the crew’s efforts, nothing happened to exonerate the Captain … until … a 12 year old school boy, working on a middle-school history project, decided to do something about it (in 1998).

The US Congress finally cleared McVay’s name in 2000 (as a direct result of Hunter Scott’s efforts). The Japanese commander – who’d testified in McVay’s court martial that he could have sunk the Indy no matter what its skipper tried to do – sent a letter to Congress reiterating his earlier testimony. Among his words were these:

“I do not understand why Captain McVay was court-martialed.  I do not understand why he was convicted on the charge of hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag because I would have been able to launch a successful torpedo attack against his ship whether it had been zigzagging or not.”

AwesomeStories.com

How the Postal System and the Printing Press Transformed European Markets – Prateek Raj. 

In the sixteenth century, the Northwest European region of England and the Low Countries underwent transformational change. In this region, a bourgeois culture emerged and cities like Antwerp, Amsterdam, and London became centers of institutional and business innovation, whose accomplishments have influenced the modern world.

For example, one of the first permanent commodity bourses was established in Antwerp in 1531, the first stock exchange emerged in Amsterdam in 1602, and joint stock companies became a promising form of organizing business in London in the late sixteenth century. The sixteenth century transformation was followed by the seventeenth century Dutch Golden Age, and the eighteenth century English Industrial Revolution. What made the Northwest region of Europe so different? The question remains a central concern in social sciences, with scholars from diverse fields researching the subject.

The medieval power of merchant guilds

Markets don’t function well if they are ridden with frictions like lack of information, lack of trust, or high transaction costs. In the presence of frictions, business is often conducted via relationships.

Until the end of the fifteenth century, impartial institutions like courts and police that serve all parties generally—so ubiquitous today in the developed world—weren’t well developed in Europe. In such a world without impartial institutions, trade often was (is) heavily dependent on relationships and conducted through networks like merchant guilds. Such relationship-based trade through dense networks of merchant guilds reduced concerns of information access and reliability. Not surprisingly, because the merchant guild system was an effective system in the absence of strong formal institutions, it sustained in Europe for several centuries. In developing countries like India, lacking in developed formal institutions, networked institutions like castes still play an important role in business.

Before the fourteenth century, merchant guild networks were probably less hierarchical, more voluntary, and more inclusive. But, with time, merchant guilds started to become exclusive monopolies, placing high barriers to entry for outsiders, and they began to resemble cartels with close involvement in local politics. There were two reasons why these guilds erected such tough barriers to entry:

  • Repeated committed interaction was the key to effectiveness of merchant guilds. Uncommitted outsiders could behave opportunistically and undermine the reliability of the system. Therefore, outsiders faced restrictions.
  • Outsiders threatened the position of existing businessmen by increasing competition. So, even genuinely committed outsiders could be restricted to enter as they threatened the domination of existing members.

But, in the sixteenth century, the merchant guild system began to lose its significance as more impersonal markets, where traders could directly trade without the need of an affiliation, began to emerge and rulers stopped granting privileges to merchant guilds. The traders began to rely less on networked and collective institutions like merchant guilds, and directly initiated partnerships with traders who they may not have known well. For example, in Antwerp the domination of intermediaries (called hostellers) who would connect foreign traders declined. Instead, the foreign traders began to conduct such trades directly with each other in facilities like bourses.

Emergence of markets in the 16th century

In a new working paper, I study the emergence of impersonal markets in Europe during the sixteenth century. I survey the 50 largest European cities during the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries and codify the nature of sixteenth century economic institutions in each of the cities. In the survey, I find that merchant guilds were declining in the Northwest region of Europe, while elsewhere in Europe they continued to dominate commerce until much later, although there were some reforms underway in the Milanese and Viennese regions of Italy.

What explains the observed pattern of emergence of impersonal markets in sixteenth century Europe? I focus on the interaction between the commercial and communication revolutions of the late fifteenth century Europe. In the paper, I argue that the Northwest European region uniquely benefited from both of these revolutions due to its unique geography.

Commercial revolution at the Atlantic coast

What motivated traders to seek risky opportunities beyond close networks? If traders found partnerships with unfamiliar traders beyond their business networks to be highly beneficial, that would provide good incentives for the rise of impersonal markets. The Northwest Region was close to the sea, notably the Atlantic coast, which was at the time undergoing a commercial revolution with the discovery of new sea routes to Asia and the Americas. So, the region became a hub for long distance trade, attracting unfamiliar traders who came to its coast looking for business opportunity. I find that all cities where merchant guild privileges declined were at the sea, along the Atlantic or North Sea coast. Moreover, all cities where merchant guilds underwent reform (but didn’t decline) were within 150km of a sea port.

The communication revolution of the postal system and the printing press

What made traders feel confident about the reliability of such risky impersonal partnerships? If availability of trade-related information and business practices improved, it could increase confidence traders had in such unfamiliar partnerships. In the sixteenth century, the postal system improved across Europe. The postal system made communication between distant traders easier as traders could correspond regularly with each other and gain more accurate information. This helped expand long distance trade across Europe.

While the Northwest European region didn’t have a particular advantage over other regions in postal communication, it had an advantage in early diffusion of printed books. The Northwest European region was close to Mainz, the city where Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press in the mid fifteenth century showed how cities close to Mainz adopted printing sooner than many other regions of Europe in the first few decades of its introduction. So, trade-related books and new (or unknown) business practices like double-entry bookkeeping diffused early and rapidly in the region.

Such a high penetration of printed material reduced information barriers and improved business practices. I find that all cities where guild privileges declined or merchant guilds underwent reform in the sixteenth century enjoyed high penetration of printed material in the fifteenth century. Among cities within a 150km distance from a sea port, cities where merchant guilds declined or reformed had more than twice the number of diffused books per capita than cities where merchant guilds continued to dominate.

As a comparison, there were four major Atlantic port cities where merchant guilds declined: Hamburg, London, Antwerp, and Amsterdam; while there were four guild-based Atlantic cities: Lisbon, Seville, Rouen, and Bordeaux in the sixteenth century. The fifteenth century per capita printing penetration of the cities would stack as: Lisbon < Bordeaux < Hamburg < Seville < Rouen < London < Amsterdam < Antwerp.

The combination of both the commercial revolution along the sea coast, especially the Atlantic coast, and the communication revolution, especially near Mainz, uniquely benefited Northwest Europe, as it began to attract traders who favored impersonal market-based exchange over exchange conducted via guild networks. Rulers began to disfavor privileged monopolies when they realized the feasibility of impersonal exchange and that they could have superior sources of revenue from impersonal markets. In the region, trade democratised, as more people could participate in business.

Regions like Spain and Portugal that benefited only from the commercial revolution of trade through the sea to Asia and Americas had low levels of printing penetration. In contrast, regions like Germany, Italy, and France benefited from the communication and print revolution but didn’t enjoy a bustling Atlantic coast. Thus, no other region enjoyed the unique combination of both benefits of the commercial and communication revolution.

Takeaway for policy makers: democratize the market

If information access is poor (lack of transparency) or businesses don’t adopt reliable business practices (poor financial reporting or opaque quality standards), these deficiencies at the business level can make customers and investors question the reliability of new businesses. Politicians, like medieval rulers, may be more willing to enter into a nexus with dominant businesses, like medieval merchant guilds, if 1) market frictions or 2) lack of incentives make the economy dependent on such businesses.

This was the case with the taxi industry for a long time, where customers were willing to pay a high fee to get reliable taxi services as supply of drivers was low (new drivers in cities like London had to pay a high license fee and fulfill tough training requirements). But, better taxi hailing mobile apps like Lyft and Uber, by giving customers access to real time GPS tracking, have revolutionized the industry, much like the communication revolution did in late fifteenth and sixteenth century. Another area where information access has improved reliability in business is the tourism and travel industry.

While in the past the tourism sector was dominated by travel agents and their recommended offerings, now an influx of providers and travel comparison websites, such as expedia.com and AirBnB, has increased the reliability of small unknown hospitality service providers. Today, many prefer to stay at a stranger’s home over a reputed hotel chain. Such a revolution in the taxi or the travel industry is following the old historical trend where disruption in how information is made available changes how businesses are organized.

Evonomics.com

Are Books Superior to TV? How they affect our brains differently, according to science – Melissa Chu. 

Reading books is good for you. It increases your knowledge and makes you think. Watching television on the other hand kills off brain cells.

In 2013, a study was performed at Tohoku University in Japan. A team led by Hiraku Takeuchi examined the effects of television on the brains of 276 children, along with amount of time spent watching TV and its long-term effects.

Researcher Takeuchi found that the more TV the kids watched, parts of their brain associated with higher arousal and aggression levels became thicker. The frontal lobe also thickened, which is known to lower verbal reasoning ability.

The more hours of television the kids watched, the lower their verbal test results became. These negative effects in the brain happened regardless of the child’s age, gender, and economic background.

In the same year, a study was done on how reading a novel affected the brain. Gregory Burns and his colleagues at Emory University wanted to see the before and after effects of reading based on fMRI readings.

College students were asked to read Pompeii by Robert Harriss, a thriller based on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy. The book was chosen due to its strong narration and a dramatic plot based on true events.

After reading the novel, the students had increased connectivity in parts of the brain that were related to language. There was also increased activity in the sensory motor region of the brain, suggesting that readers experienced similar sensations to the characters in the book.

There are also long-term effects from reading books. Reading keeps your mind alert and delays cognitive decline in elders. Research even found that Alzheimer’s is 2.5 times less likely to appear in elderly people who read regularly, while TV was presented as a risk factor.

Six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by 68 percent, according to researchers at the University of Sussex. Reading beat out other relaxing activities, including listening to music (61 percent), drinking tea or coffee (54 percent), and taking a walk (42 percent).

Reading’s looking pretty good compared to television. We can see that it calms the nerves, increases language and reasoning, and can even keep you mentally alert as you age. TV, on the other hand, has the opposite effect.

But we still haven’t gotten to why that’s the case.

It’s not just an issue of the quality of the TV program or the book. It seems that the nature of the activities themselves is what’s causing the differences.

Television is designed to be passive. After switching to the show you like, you can just sit back and watch everything unfold without effort on your part. You’re less likely to pause to reflect on what’s happening.

TV also presents ideas and characters on a surface level. Shows don’t have the luxury of describing or explaining situations in great detail, since they need to keep viewers visually entertained. TV programs are fast-paced in order to keep people from switching.

Books, on the other hand, are a more proactive form of entertainment and learning. The reader has to concentrate on what’s being said and to think through concepts in the book. When we read, we’re forced to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps.

Books also have the advantage of being able to describe everything in greater depth. While television is mostly composed of dialogue between characters, books can walk readers through scenes, characters’ thoughts, and provide lengthier commentary.

Observer