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The most important battle you’ve probably never heard of

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Exactly 800 years ago on Sunday, in a field next to what is now the airport of Lille, a battle was fought which determined the history of England.

Today few people in the UK have heard of Bouvines. It has none of the ring of an Agincourt or a Crecy. Probably that is because England lost it. But the battle of 27 July, 1214, was just as significant as England’s later victories over the French. Maybe more so.

“Bouvines is the most important battle in English history that no-one has ever heard of,” says John France, professor emeritus in medieval history at Swansea University.

“Without Bouvines there is no Magna Carta, and all the British and American law that stems from that. It’s a muddy field, the armies are small, but everything depends on the struggle. It’s one of the climactic moments of European history.”

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How old are false teeth?

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Grave find may be Western Europe’s earliest false tooth

The iron pin may once have held a false tooth, but it’s impossible to know for sure

Archaeologists have identified what could be remains of the earliest false tooth found in Western Europe.

The dental implant comes from the richly-furnished timber burial chamber of an Iron Age woman that was excavated in Le Chene, northern France.

The woman, who was between 20 and 30 years old when she died, had an iron pin in place of an upper incisor tooth.

It is possible the pin once held a false tooth made from either wood or bone, which could have rotted away.

The findings have been published in the scholarly journal Antiquity.

The grave was one of four adult female burials in an enclosure dating to the third century BC that were discovered during the construction of a housing development in the Champagne-Ardenne region.

The burials, which contained a rich array of grave goods, show all the hallmarks of the Celtic La Tene culture, which flourished across Central and Western Europe at the time.

“The skeleton was very badly preserved,” Guillaume Seguin, who excavated the young woman’s skeleton in 2009, told BBC News.

“But the teeth were in an anatomical position, with the molars, pre-molars, canines and incisors. Then there was this piece of metal. My first reaction was: what is this?”

The teeth were bagged and taken away for analysis. Mr Seguin later realised that the woman had 31 rather than 32 teeth, and photos taken at the excavation site show the iron pin in the place where the missing tooth would have been.

This photo shows the teeth in position during excavation. The iron pin is visible on the left

“The fact that it has the same dimensions and shape as the teeth means that the best hypothesis is that it was a dental prosthesis – or at least, an attempt at one,” said Mr Seguin, from the Bordeaux-based archaeology firm Archeosphere.

There are reasons to doubt whether it was successful, says Mr Seguin. Firstly, the propensity for iron to corrode inside the body makes it unsuitable for use as a dental implant; titanium is the material of choice today for modern versions.

Secondly, the absence of sterile conditions during this period mean the pin could have caused an abscess, followed by an infection that could potentially have ended the individual’s life.

However, the poor preservation of the remains means it is impossible to say whether the implant played any role in the woman’s death.

While the find may be the earliest dental implant known from Western Europe, prosthetic teeth dating back 5,500 years have been found in Egypt and the Near East.

Source: BBC News – Read more

Quintessential Stupidity

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Yes, the textbook stupidity of an Englishman and a Frenchman are probably the main cause of the current Middle East crises…

Why border lines drawn with a ruler in WW1 still rock the Middle East

The original secret Sykes-Picot map of 1916: “A” would go to France, “B” to Britain.

A map marked with crude chinagraph-pencil in the second decade of the 20th Century shows the ambition – and folly – of the 100-year old British-French plan that helped create the modern-day Middle East.

Straight lines make uncomplicated borders. Most probably that was the reason why most of the lines that Mark Sykes, representing the British government, and Francois Georges-Picot, from the French government, agreed upon in 1916 were straight ones.

At a meeting in Downing Street, Mark Sykes pointed to a map and told the prime minister: “I should like to draw a line from the “e” in Acre to the last “k” in Kirkuk.”

Sykes and Picot were quintessential “empire men”. Both were aristocrats, seasoned in colonial administration, and crucially believers in the notion that the people of the region would be better off under the European empires.

Both men also had intimate knowledge of the Middle East.

The key tenets of the agreement they had negotiated in relative haste amidst the turmoil of the World War One continue to influence the region to this day. But while Sykes-Picot’s straight lines had proved significantly helpful to Britain and France in the first half of the twentieth century, their impact on the region’s peoples was quite different.

The map that the two men drew divided the land that had been under Ottoman rule since the early 16th Century into new countries – and relegated these political entities to two spheres of influence:

  • Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine under British influence
  • Syria and Lebanon under French influence

The two men were not mandated to redraw the borders of the Arab countries in North Africa, but the division of influence existed there as well, with Egypt under British rule, and France controlling the Maghreb.

A secret deal

But there were three problems with the geo-political order that emerged from the Sykes-Picot agreement.

First, it was secret without any Arabic knowledge, and it negated the main promise that Britain had made to the Arabs in the 1910s – that if they rebelled against the Ottomans, the fall of that empire would bring them independence.

When that independence did not materialise after World War One, and as these colonial powers, in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, continued to exert immense influence over the Arab world, the thrust of Arab politics – in North Africa and in the eastern Mediterranean – gradually but decisively shifted from building liberal constitutional governance systems (as Egypt, Syria, and Iraq had witnessed in the early decades of the 20th Century) to assertive nationalism whose main objective was getting rid of the colonialists and the ruling systems that worked with them.

This was a key factor behind the rise of the militarist regimes that had come to dominate many Arab countries from the 1950s until the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Tribal lines

The second problem lay in the tendency to draw straight lines.

 

Sykes-Picot intended to divide the Levant on a sectarian basis:

  • Lebanon was envisioned as a haven for Christians (especially Maronites) and Druze
  • Palestine with a sizable Jewish community
  • the Bekaa valley, on the border between the two countries, effectively left to Shia Muslims
  • Syria with the region’s largest sectarian demographic, Sunni Muslims

Geography helped.

For the period from the end of the Crusades up until the arrival of the European powers in the 19th Century, and despite the region’s vibrant trading culture, the different sects effectively lived separately from each other.

But the thinking behind Sykes-Picot did not translate into practice. That meant the newly created borders did not correspond to the actual sectarian, tribal, or ethnic distinctions on the ground.

These differences were buried, first under the Arabs’ struggle to eject the European powers, and later by the sweeping wave of Arab nationalism.

Brutality

In the period from the late 1950s to the late 1970s, and especially during the heydays of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser (from the Suez Crisis in 1956 to the end of the 1960s) Arab nationalism gave immense momentum to the idea that a united Arab world would dilute the socio-demographic differences between its populations.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Arab world’s strong men – for example, Hafez Assad and Saddam Hussein in the Levant and Col Muammar Gaddafi in North Africa – suppressed the differences, often using immense brutality.

But the tensions and aspirations that these differences gave rise to neither disappeared nor were diluted. When cracks started to appear in these countries – first by the gradual disappearance of these strong men, later by several Arab republics gradually becoming hereditary fiefdoms controlled by small groups of economic interests, and most recently after the 2011 uprisings – the old frictions, frustrations, and hopes that had been concealed for decades, came to the fore.

Identity struggle

The third problem was that the state system that was created after the World War One has exacerbated the Arabs’ failure to address the crucial dilemma they have faced over the past century and half – the identity struggle between, on one hand nationalism and secularism, and on the other, Islamism (and in some cases Christianism).

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Consumating History

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The French have Lost the Plot

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The Roma are gypsies, we all know that. We know that many Roma cause problems, but not all.

Does this look like a gypsy family to you?

Leonarda and her family posed for a picture on the stairs to their home – Photo: BBC News

I see a relatively normal happy family, well cared for and fed.

Yet the French government see ROMA! in big red letters and that is all, they have thrown away any semblance of humanity and expelled the family from France after their application for refugee status was denied.

areject

Row over Kosovo Roma expulsion grips France

AFP visited Leonarda in a house in Mitrovica

France’s government is embroiled in a row over the repatriation of a Kosovo Roma schoolgirl, who was removed from her school bus.

The 15-year-old, Leonarda Dibrani, was expelled along with her parents and five siblings after they lost their battle for asylum in France.

When the order was enacted, she was on a school field trip and was removed in view of the other children.

Leonarda told French radio she was being denied education in Kosovo.

She said she wanted to return to France to finish school.

The government is conducting an inquiry into how the case was handled.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told parliament that if a mistake had been made, the family could return to France to have its situation reassessed in respect of French “laws, practices and values”.

His Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, defended the expulsion. Last month he declared Roma people incompatible with the French way of life.

Mr Valls is voted France’s favourite politician in opinion polls but he has been strongly criticised by human rights campaigners and figures within his own party for his strident comments.

Critics accuse President Francois Hollande’s administration of following the hard line on the Roma taken by his conservative predecessor as president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The new row has deepened the rift within the ruling left on how to tackle the issue, the BBC’s Christian Fraser reports from Paris.

‘Pupils shocked’

The Dibrani family left Kosovo for France five years ago and were living in Levier, in the Doubs region of eastern France. They cited discrimination in Kosovo as grounds for asylum.

An order for their expulsion was issued after they lost their battle for asylum. After two postponements, it was rescheduled for this month and the father, who was detained in a different town, was expelled on 8 October.

A blog posted by the French news website Mediapart describes in detail what happened next.

Arriving at the family’s home on 9 October, border police found that Leonarda was on the field trip – she had stayed the night at a schoolfriend’s house in order not to miss the bus – and they contacted one of the teachers on the bus, through the school.

The indignant teacher, Mrs Giacoma, argued with the police over the phone before finally stopping the bus and getting off with Leonarda, when police took her into custody.

“My colleagues then explained the situation to some of the pupils, who thought Leonarda had stolen something or committed an offence,” she was quoted as saying by Mediapart.

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Opinion:

Come on France, there are ways and ways. The callous treatment of this family by French authorities is a blight on humanity.

The girl wants an education… criminal offence.

It’s not as though she was a gypsy living in a ramshackle encampment.

 

‘Beer goggle’ study wins Ig Nobel award

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Drinking alcoholic drinks makes people believe they are more attractive

A team of researchers who found that people think they are more attractive when drinking alcohol, have scooped an Ig Nobel prize for their work

The researchers from France and the US confirmed the “beer goggle effect” also works on oneself.

Ig Nobel awards are a humorous spoof-like version of their more sober cousins, the Nobel prizes.

Winners have 60 seconds to make a speech to avoid being booed off stage by an eight-year-old girl.

Titled “Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder”, the team were awarded one of the 10 awards (listed below) at a packed gala ceremony at Harvard University, US.

Other winners included a patent for trapping and ejecting airplane highjackers and a UK team scooped an Ig for observing that a cow is more likely to stand up the longer it has been lying down.

Penile amputation

The Peace Prize went to the president and state police of Belarus for making public applause illegal and having arrested a one-armed man for the offence. They did not attend the ceremony.

Penile amputations were the focus of the Public Health Prize. A team from Thailand recommended how to manage an epidemic of such amputations, but said their technique was not advised in cases where the penis had been partially eaten by a duck (after amputation).

Ig Nobel Prize The awards are presented by past Nobel laureates

Representing archaeology was a study that observed which bones dissolved when swallowing whole a dead shrew.

Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, US, and one of the five co-authors of the alcohol attractiveness study, said he was honoured that his team’s work had won an Ig.

In the study, people in a bar were asked how funny, original and attractive they found themselves. The higher their blood alcohol level the more attractive they thought they were.

Attractive drunks

The same effect was also found for those who only thought they had been drinking alcohol when in fact it was a non-alcoholic placebo drink.

“People have long observed that drunk people think others are more attractive but ours is the first study to find that drinking makes people think they are more attractive themselves,” Prof Bushman told the BBC.

“If you become drunk and think you are really attractive it might influence your thoughts and behaviour towards others. It illustrates that in human memory, the link between alcohol and attractiveness is pretty strong.”

Judges were also asked to rate how attractive they thought the participants were. The individuals who thought they were more attractive were not necessarily rated thus by judges.

Snoozing cows

“It was just an illusion in their mind. Although people may think they become more attractive when they become intoxicated, other [sober] people don’t think that,” added Prof Bushman.

Prize winners tend to see the Ig Nobels as a considerable honour and indeed seven of the 10 winners (one winner died in 2006) attended the ceremony in Cambridge, US, to accept the prizes at their own expense.

Cows lying down One study looked at the time between cows standing up and sitting down

Although a light-hearted event, the awards are handed out for work that is for the most part serious research. Prof Bushman said that his study significantly contributed to the existing literature.

And the study about cows standing up or lying down was important to be able to detect health problems early on, say its authors.

“We were surprised by the prize. We thought we did a decent piece of work and did not realise it made other people laugh,” lead author Bert Tolkamp from Scotland’s Rural College, UK, told BBC News. But he added that anything that promoted interest in science was very welcome.

The full list of 2013 Ig Nobel winners:

Medicine Prize: Masateru Uchiyama, Gi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atsushi Amano, Hisashi Hashuda (Japan), Xiangyuan Jin (China/Japan) and Masanori Niimi (Japan/UK) for assessing the effect of listening to opera on mice heart transplant patients.

Psychology Prize: Laurent Bègue, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra, and Medhi Ourabah, (France), Brad Bushman (USA/UK/, the Netherlands/Poland) for confirming that people who think they are drunk also think they are more attractive.

Joint Prize in Biology and Astronomy: Marie Dacke (Sweden/Australia), Emily Baird, Eric Warrant (Sweden/Australia/Germany], Marcus Byrne (South Africa/UK) and Clarke Scholtz (South Africa), for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the milky way.

Safety Engineering Prize: The late Gustano Pizzo (US), for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers. The system drops a hijacker through trap doors, seals him into a package, then drops the hijacker through the airplane’s specially-installed bomb bay doors through which he is parachuted to the ground where police, having been alerted by radio, await his arrival.

Physics Prize: Alberto Minetti (Italy/UK/Denmark/Switzerland), Yuri Ivanenko (Italy/Russia/France), Germana Cappellini, Francesco lacquaniti (Italy) and Nadia Dominici (Italy/Switzerland), for discovering that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond – if those people and that pond were on the Moon.

Chemistry Prize: Shinsuke Imai, Nobuaki Tsuge, Muneaki Tomotake, Yoshiaki Nagatome, Hidehiko Kumgai (Japan) and Toshiyuki Nagata (Japan/Germany), for discovering that the biochemical process by which onions make people cry is even more complicated than scientists previously realised.

Archaeology Prize: Brian Crandall (US) and Peter Stahl (Canada/US), for observing how the bones of a swallowed dead shrew dissolves inside the human digestive system

Peace Prize: Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, and to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.

Probability Prize: Bert Tolkamp (UK/the Netherlands), Marie Haskell, Fritha Langford. David Roberts, and Colin Morgan (UK), for making two related discoveries: First, that the longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up; and second, that once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again.

Public Health Prize: Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde (Thailand), for the medical techniques of penile re-attachment after amputations (often by jealous wives). Techniques which they recommend, except in cases where the amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck.

Friday, 13th October 1307

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“October 1307: An Unlucky Friday the 13th”

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King Phillip IV, Pope Clement V, and the Fall of the Knights Templar

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By Christopher Hodapp and Alice Von Kannon

King Philip IV

“King Phillip IV of France set his sights on the fabled riches of the Knights Templar. His aim was to destroy the Templar Order and confiscate all their treasuries and properties in France, but he had to achieve it legally. The one surefire way was to accuse them of crimes so heinous that, if proved, no one would dare come to their rescue. It was no good to simply accuse the Grand Master or a handful of leaders. It had to be all of them, and he had to find a way to make the charges stick. And he had to be quick about it, because battle-hardened Templar knights were already returning to France, partly because of tensions on Cyprus between the Templars and the island’s king. Phillip needed no more knights to cope with.

Pope Clement V

King Phillip’s audacious plan was to arrest every Templar in France, charge them with heresy, and exact immediate confessions from them by torture before Pope Clement V or anyone else could protest on their behalf. By making the charges religious in nature, Phillip would be seen not as an avaricious thief, but as a noble servant of God.

Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, had been called to Poitiers, France, for the purpose of discussing with the new pope a new crusade to retake the Holy Land. For almost two years, he shuttled back and forth between the pope and King Phillip, essentially stamping out various diplomatic fires, such as the proposal to merge all the military orders. In June 1307, de Molay rode into Paris at the head of a column of his knights, with a dozen horses laden with gold and silver, to begin the financing of the new Crusade. For the next several months, Phillip treated the aging Grand Master with interest and diplomacy, and de Molay believed he and the Order were at a new turning point. He didn’t know how right he was.

The end began at dawn on Friday, October 13, 1307. The sealed order to Phillip’s bailiffs had gone out a full month before. It was accompanied by a personal letter from the king, filled with lofty prose about how heart-rending it was to be compelled to do his duty, while detailing frightening accusations against the Templars. The letter would have had an eye-popping effect on the king’s men, and their secrecy was undoubtedly assured. The sealed arrest order was not to be opened until the appointed day.

Templar Castle, Ponferrada, Spain

At this time, France was the most populous nation of Europe, even including Russia. And it was no tiny country either; France took up more than 40,000 square miles, an enormous area to cover from the back of a horse. Yet Phillip IV managed to carry off a stunning piece of work. Hundreds of the king’s men simultaneously opened letters all over the country ordering them to converge on every Templar castle, commandery, preceptory, farm, vineyard, or mill. It was shockingly effective, instantly chopping off the head of the Order. Phillip obviously had a hit list of the most important knights to nab. Accounts differ wildly, but the most respected ones agree that 625 members of the Order were arrested in the first wave. These included the Grand Master; the Visitor-General; the Preceptors of Normandy, Cyprus, and Aquitaine; and the Templars’ Royal Treasurer.

The arrested Templars, whose average age was 41, were put into isolation and immediately subjected to the gruesome tactics of medieval “interrogation” on the very first day of their arrest. The technique of the strapaddo was common. It involved binding the victim’s wrists behind his back, passing the rope over a high beam, pulling him off of the ground, and suddenly dropping him, snapping his arms and dislocating his shoulders. Stretching the victim on the rack was another favored method. Perhaps the most horrible was coating the victim’s feet in lard or oil, and then slowly roasting them over a flame. Subjected to these agonies, the overwhelming majority of the knights confessed to every charge that was put to them.

Phillip’s goal was to arrest all the Templars, subject them to torture immediately, and exact confessions from them on the very first day. He knew that the pope would be livid over his actions, and that Church officials would be wary of agreeing to the kinds of interrogations Phillip had in mind, so time was of the essence. He wanted to hand Clement V a stack of confessions so damning that the pope would lose his stomach for siding with the Order. The pope reacted just as Phillip had planned. His outrage over the arrests turned to dread and resignation as the “evidence” was presented to him. Phillip leaned on Clement to issue papal arrest warrants all across Europe, which were largely ignored or skirted by other monarchs. Very few show trials went on outside of France, and there were no cases (outside of the tortured knights in France) of Templars who admitted to the charges of heresy.

In an outburst of courage and remorse, most of the arrested Templars subsequently recanted their confessions and proclaimed to Church officials that their statements were made under the pain of torture and threat of death. To intimidate the remaining Templars, Phillip ordered 54 of the knights to be burned at the stake in 1310, for the sin of recanting their confessions.

In 1312, Clement finally decided to end the situation at a council in Vienna. Just to make certain the decision went the way he intended, Phillip stationed his army on the outskirts of the city. The pliant pope officially dissolved the Order, without formally condemning it. All Templar possessions apart from the cash were handed over to the Knights Hospitaller, and many Templars who freely confessed were set free and assigned to other Orders. Those who did not confess were sent to the stake. Phillip, ever the cheap gangster, soothed his loss of the Templars’ tangible assets by strong-arming a yearly fee from the Hospitallers to defray his costs of prosecuting the Templars.”

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