Malleus Maleficarum: Good times, then and now

inquisition flow chart

Above is a flow chart detailing the precarious path for those accused of witchcraft, as outlined in the Malleus Maleficarum.

The Malleus Maleficarum, translated into English as “Hammer of the Witches,” is treatise on the prosecution of witches written in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer, a German Catholic clergyman.

Interestingly, just three years the publication of Malleus Maleficarum, the Catholic Church condemned it as false. A half century later the Spanish Inquisition cautioned its members not to believe everything written in the Malleus Maleficarum, even when it presented apparently firm evidence, according to the 2002 work, Witchcraft and Magic in Europe, Volume 3: The Middle Ages.

While Kramer was described by some contemporaries as eccentric and a “senile old man,” personal experience leads me to believe that the above process has been adapted by more than one US company as a means of conducting performance reviews.

There’s nothing like the review that goes something like “Did employee do well on this, this and this?” which then leads to, “Must find negative items to balance out positives.”

(HT: Waldo Lydecker’s Journal.)

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‘Coming a cropper’ on a cranky camel along the River Nile

camel corps

While there’s no question that European colonization of Africa in the second half of the 19th century left permanent scars, it’s easy to forget that many of those who planted flags of various imperialist regimes had a variety of reasons for doing so, and not all were self-serving.

The so-called three “Cs” of colonialism – civilization, commerce, and Christianity – were the driving force, along with grabbing strategic lands to enable various European powers to be positioned in case they came into conflict with one another.

Thomas Pakenham’s sprawling work, The Scramble for Africa: The White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912, details how Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Portugal carved up Africa with little regard for its inhabitants.

The 738-page book has been out for more than 20 years, yet it remains one of the definitive descriptions of the colonization of Africa.

While Pakenham’s book is full of somber topics such as diplomatic squabbles, political maneuvering and bloody clashes between natives and Europeans, it also has its light moments, delivered in Pakenham’s Anglo-Irish style.

Among the best is his description of Gen. Garnet Wolseley’s effort to relieve Gen. Charles George Gordon, besieged beginning in March 1884 at Khartoum by forces led by a self-proclaimed messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith, Muhammad Ahmad.

Wolseley’s relief expedition consisted of 10,000 men, led by a picked force of 1,600 officers with 2,500 camels, the former described as “the flower of the British army led by the flower of London society – including eleven peers or peers’ sons.”

By mid-November 1884, the camel-borne soldiers were plodding along the banks of the Nile, strung out in groups of 150, stretching 240 miles from Aswan to Wadi Halfa.

Unfortunately, the “flower of the British army” and their beasts of burden weren’t particularly well suited for one another, according to Pakenham:

What confirmed the air of a charade was the outlandish uniform of the new Camel Corps, a hybrid of the seventeenth century and a circus: red jumpers, breeches and bandoliers, sun goggles and white helmets. ‘Fancy a Life Guardsman clothed like a scarecrow with blue goggles on, mounted on a camel, over which he has little control. What a picture!’ was Wolseley’s comment. The camels, too, were a strange collection, raked up at the last minute from as far away as Aden, beasts of all colours and sizes, from the great brown baggagers, each as large as a rhinoceros, to the elegant fawn-coloured racing camels from Arabia. The men found that mounting a frisky camel was exciting work, and they often came a cropper. Wolseley himself fell off, painfully hard, on a piece of gravelly sand, in front of his army. He hated camels. ‘They are so stupid; they begin to howl the moment you put a saddle on them and they smell abominably … ‘

Perhaps not surprisingly, Wolseley’s force arrived too late to save Gordon, who was killed and beheaded by Ahmad’s men in January 1885 amid a general massacre of Khartoum.

(Top: Photograph of two Sikh members of Camel Corps, taken during Nile Expedition to relieve Khartoum in either 1884 or 1885. Source: National Archives, United Kingdom.)

Austria’s fights to preserve its own form of German

Vienna-Schönbrunn Palace

Pulling a page from French efforts to keep their language “pure,” Austria is undertaking a major new endeavor to preserve its own unique tongue.

The difference is that while the French seek curtail the use of phrases imported from English, Austrians aren’t fighting against a foreign language, but against German, the same tongue spoken in Austrian.

While both Austrians and Germans speak German there are many words and phrases that mark Austrian German as different from standard German.

Austrian German traces its beginning to the mid-18th century, when Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II introduced compulsory schooling and several administrative reforms. They chose to adopt the already standardized language of Saxony, which was based on the standard language used for administrative purposes in cities such as Dresden.

Austrian German is spoken by approximately 8.5 million people and is recognized as an official language not only in Austria, but also in nearby Italy.

Austria’s education minister this week announced plans to preserve the unique Austrian form of German, amid increased intrusion from words and expressions from neighboring Germany, according to The Telegraph.

“What is heard in movies, on TV or the internet, is often produced or dubbed in our neighboring country Germany,” the education minister, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, wrote in a 64-page booklet distributed to schools. “One consequence is that specifically Austrian peculiarities and expressions of our language slowly but surely fall into the background.”

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France’s regional languages fight for parity

Breton village

The French language has long been held sacred in France, which has led hard feelings among groups within the country whose first tongue is something other than the lingua franca.

France is home to more than 2 million individuals who speak regional languages such as Alsatian, Breton and Corsican, but the French government has refused to change its constitution, which states that “the language of the Republic is French.”

So while France actually signed the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages – adopted in 1992 under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe – the French government has never ratified it.

As a result, the nation’s regional languages have failed to receive support required by the charter.

In fact, the policies of the Paris government have had the deliberate effect of greatly weakening the prevalence of native languages in France that are not “French.”

The second-class status afford languages other than French has not set well in regions where regional tongues are still prevalent, such as Brittany, the Basque country and Corsica.

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Bees’ value to agriculture underestimated

bee strawberries

The economic importance of bees is significantly undervalued, according to a European study released this week.

Strawberries pollinated by bees were of far higher commercial value than fruit that was self-pollinated or pollinated by the wind, researchers in Germany reported Wednesday.

Bee pollination strongly increased the commercial value of strawberries by producing well-shaped fruit of increased weight, according to the study.

In addition, it increased shelf life, enhanced coloring and lowered sugar-acid ratios of most varieties of strawberries.

The study, by a team at the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Göttingen in Germany, comes on the heels of a 2011 report by the UN Environment Program that showed that pollination by bees and other insects contributed about a little more than $204 billion, or 9.5 percent, of the total global value of food production.

But the most recent analysis offers evidence that the 2011 estimate could have substantially devalued the agricultural impact of the bees.

The Germany team conducted its study by planting nine commercial strawberry varieties in an experimental field. Plants were either covered with special gauze bags to allow pollination by the wind or other parts of the plant, or were left open for visiting by bees.

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Campaign begun to find last Nazi war criminals

operation last chance poster

Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, a campaign has been inaugurated in Germany to track down the final remaining Nazi war criminals and bring them to trial.

Some 2,000 posters featuring the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp are being displayed in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne.

They ask individuals with information to contact the Simon Wiesenthal Center, according to the BBC.

The US-based Wiesenthal Center estimates there are five dozen war criminals – ranging from death camp guards to members of Einsatzgruppen, mobile death squads responsible for mass killings – still alive in Germany and fit to stand trial.

“Unfortunately, very few people who committed the crimes had to pay for them,” according to Efraim Zuroff, a leading international Nazi hunter and the center’s Jerusalem branch director. “The passage of time in no way diminishes the crimes.”

As part of its “Operation Last Chance II” project,” the center is offering rewards of as much as $33,000 for information which helps in the prosecution of war criminals in Germany.

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Bikers, bulldozers and puppies: It’s all good

flying dog

Occasionally one comes across a news report that cries out for additional information. Given that journalism has been called the “first draft of history,” it’s not surprising that reporters aren’t able to always get complete answers to every question that arises.

Sometimes, though, one has to wonder if an article’s author is an actual living human being, or simply an automaton devoid of curiosity and an awareness of the surreal.

Take this story from the BBC:

A German student “mooned” a group of Hell’s Angels and hurled a puppy at them before escaping on a stolen bulldozer, police have said.

The man drove up to a Hell’s Angels clubhouse near Munich, wearing only a pair of shorts and carrying a puppy.

He dropped his shorts and threw the dog, escaping on a bulldozer from a nearby building site.

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