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Posts Tagged ‘fertilizer

“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly possess”*…

 

Argument over a Card Game by Jan Steen

Before people had an image, they had their honour. For much of history, little was more valuable than individual honour. ‘Better to die 10,000 deaths than wound my honour,’ as a character in Joseph Addison’s Cato, A Tragedy (1712) put it. In his bestselling Of Domesticall Duties (1622), William Gouge declared: “a good name is a most pretious thing.”

Despite the persistence of the word and a loosely related idea, the concept of honour, as earlier eras understood it, is so foreign to moderns that it can be hard to grasp. A stereotyped account holds that in early modern England a man’s honour was associated with a willingness to use violence to defend his name, while for women honour was about the maintenance of a proper sexual reputation.

But this is a very thin and misleading idea of honour in early modern England. Personal letters and diaries of elites indeed reveal a preoccupation with honour, a sense of its almost inestimable value. They also reveal that honour wasn’t just about violence among elite men or sexual propriety among elite women. Honour concerned one’s whole person. Likewise, it was less a static, overarching code of behaviour than a loosely defined concept with an array of meanings that could be variously privileged, one over another, with fluidity depending upon the needs and objectives of an individual in a given situation…

On the complicated business of living an honorable life: “The early moderns had their work cut out curating their honour.”

See also: “Ye of ‘Bad Faith’.”

* Socrates

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As we wax nostalgic for a time when honor mattered most, we might send conflicted birthday greetings to a man whose life illustrated the early modern to modern transition from honor to image; Fritz Haber was born on this date in 1868.  The recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his invention of the Haber–Bosch process, a method used in industry to synthesize ammonia from nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas– thus enabling the production of more, more affordable, and more effective fertilizers, which in turn allowed millions to avoid starvation– Haber is equally well known as the Father of Chemical Warfare for his pioneering work developing and weaponizing chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War I, especially his actions during the Second Battle of Ypres.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“War is progress, peace is stagnation”*…

 

Even if one doesn’t share Hegel’s copacetic take on conflict, one can observe that wars do, in fact, usually encourage bursts of technological innovation.  Indeed, most of us are pretty familiar (in both senses of the phrase) with the range of epoch-defining technologies that were a product of World War II: radar, radio navigation, rocketry, jet engines, penicillin, nuclear power, synthetic rubber, computers… the list goes on.

But we are perhaps a little less familiar with the advances– now so ingrained that we take them for granted– that emerged from World War I.  Readers will recall one such breakthrough, and its author: Fritz Haber, who introduced chemical warfare (thus lengthening the war and contributing to millions of horrible deaths), then used some of the same techniques– nitrogen fixation, in particular– to make fertilizer widely and affordably available (thus feeding billions).

Five other key developments at “The 6 Most Surprising, Important Inventions From World War I.”

* Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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As we look for the silver lining, we might that it was on this date in 1917, “Army Registration Day,” that the draft was (re-)instituted in the U.S. for World War I.  Draft board selections were subsequently made, and conscription began on July 20.

These draft boards were localized and based their decisions on social class: the poorest were the most often conscripted because they were considered the most expendable at home.  African-Americans in particular were often disproportionately drafted, though they generally were conscripted as laborers.

Young men registering for conscription during World War I in New York City, New York, on June 5, 1917.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”*…

 

Historians are torn on how to judge Fritz Haber. Billions of people would not exist without him. And yet without him, World War I would have ended years earlier. Millions would have been spared a gruesome death and millions more a shattered life…

The story of the man who introduced chemical warfare, then three years later won the Nobel Prize for discovering how to capture nitrogen from the air (and thus, making fertilizer widely and affordably available): “The Tragedy of Fritz Haber: The Monster Who Fed The World.”

* Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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As we muse on Manichaeism, we might spare a thought for Paul Marie Eugène Vieille; he died on this date in 1934.  A chemist, he is best known for his invention of smokeless powder. Military commanders since the Napoleonic Wars had problems giving orders on a battlefield swathed in thick smoke from the gunpowder used by the guns. In 1886 Vieille invented a smokeless gunpowder called “Poudre B.”  Made from gelatinized nitrocellulose mixed with ether and alcohol, it was passed through rollers to form thin sheets, which were cut with a guillotine to flakes of the desired size.  Beyond clearing the view for battlefield commanders, it revolutionized the effectiveness of small guns and rifles: it was much more powerful than gun powder, giving an accurate rifle range of up to 1000 yards.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

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