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Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994
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Archive for the ‘History’

If you want to read a novel about Dunkirk…

July 24, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History 1 Comment →

(One-fifth of a novel, to be exact.)

Dunkirk is a big, impressive, very accomplished film about an event little known outside of Britain. I leave you to read the critics spraining their fingers to praise it, many of them using the K-comparison, which almost certainly guarantees a backlash.

I did not know about the Dunkirk evacuations until I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement, in which Robbie Turner, who is imprisoned on the false testimony of the child protagonist, is let out of jail when he volunteers for the army. The middle chapters of the novel follow Robbie and other stragglers as they try to make it out of the town and to the sea, where they hope to board the ships that will take them home. It’s an elegant portrait of chaos and fear.

A real-life monster tale: The Beast of Gevaudan

June 28, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History No Comments →


The beast was known for killing mostly women and children, who would’ve been easier targets. (Musée Fantastique de la Bête du Gévaudan)

The monster’s first victim was Jeanne Boulet, a 14-year-old girl watching her sheep. Her death was followed by others, almost exclusively women and children. Throughout 1764, the brutal attacks—victims with their throats torn out or heads gnawed off—riveted France. The violence was so shocking, news of it traveled from the countryside all the way to the royal palace in Versailles. What was this beast of Gévaudan, and who could stop its reign of terror?

It sounded like a fairy tale monster, but no one imagined marrying it.

Read When the Beast of Gevaudan Terrorized France.

Remember The Brotherhood of the Wolf with Mark Dacascos as the Native American companion of the knight sent to capture the beast?

Now I have to read some Angela Carter.

My father lost me to The Beast at cards.

Read The Tiger’s Bride.

Albert Einstein on our mightiest weapon

June 19, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, History, Science No Comments →

In a long life I have devoted all my faculties to reach a somewhat deeper insight into the structure of physical reality. Never have I made any systematic effort to ameliorate the lot of men, to fight injustice and suppression, and to improve the traditional forms of human relations. The only thing I did was this: in long intervals I have expressed an opinion on public issues whenever they appeared to me so bad and unfortunate that silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity.

Read about Einstein and the duties of the individual in Brain Pickings.

The Lost City of Z: Meanwhile, another Amazon casts a spell

June 08, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History, Movies No Comments →


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How the Manila galleon trade gave rise to both the Chinese yuan and the US dollar

May 26, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Money 1 Comment →


The Silver Way is available at National Bookstores (check the Glorietta branch), Php335.

“The Silver Way” refers to the Manila galleon trade, in which spices, silk and other goods were carried on ships from China to Mexico, via Manila. It was the first transoceanic shipping line, and it replaced the Silk Road in which goods were carried overland from China to Europe. This was possible because Andres de Urdaneta (as in Urdaneta Field, Urdaneta Village) figured out the return route from Asia to the Americas through the Pacific. (When Spain and Portugal divided the world between them, our islands were in the Portuguese half so a deal had to be struck.)

The Chinese didn’t really need anything from the Americas—then as now, they produced pretty much everything—so the galleons that went from Mexico to China would carry tons of silver in payment. The trade was so profitable that every year, only one galleon would leave from Mexico and one from China, and the investors would still become incredibly rich. It was the main reason the Spanish stuck around the Philippines so long, so I have wondered why we know so little about it. (Yes, there’s plenty of the information in Blair and Robertson, the 50+ volumes. My friend has read almost everything about the galleon trade, which makes him an expert, but if he does anything with the knowledge it would imperil his lead in the lifetime underachievement awards.)

This 100-page book from Penguin Specials is a crash course on those early days of globalization. It explains how the galleon trade led to the first global currency, and why the Chinese yuan and the US dollar are cousins if not siblings. If you want to understand the current world economy, you could start here.

Monday Links: Nazi drug use, Nobel Prize in Literature bets, and a wonderful takedown of Tom Wolfe’s attack on Darwin

October 10, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History No Comments →

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Workers at the Temmler factory in Berlin produced 35m tablets of Pervitin for the German army and Luftwaffe in 1940. Photograph: Temmler Pharma GmbH & Co KG, Marburg

Read High Hitler: How Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history.

The story Ohler tells begins in the days of the Weimar Republic, when Germany’s pharmaceutical industry was thriving – the country was a leading exporter both of opiates, such as morphine, and of cocaine – and drugs were available on every street corner. It was during this period that Hitler’s inner circle established an image of him as an unassailable figure who was willing to work tirelessly on behalf of his country, and who would permit no toxins – not even coffee – to enter his body.

“He is all genius and body,” reported one of his allies in 1930. “And he mortifies that body in a way that would shock people like us! He doesn’t drink, he practically only eats vegetables, and he doesn’t touch women.” No wonder that when the Nazis seized power in 1933, “seductive poisons” were immediately outlawed. In the years that followed, drug users would be deemed “criminally insane”; some would be killed by the state using a lethal injection; others would be sent to concentration camps. Drug use also began to be associated with Jews. The Nazi party’s office of racial purity claimed that the Jewish character was essentially drug-dependent. Both needed to be eradicated from Germany.

Some drugs, however, had their uses, particularly in a society hell bent on keeping up with the energetic Hitler (“Germany awake!” the Nazis ordered, and the nation had no choice but to snap to attention). A substance that could “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists and whiners” into the labour market might even be sanctioned.

Read Tom Wolfe’s Reflections on Language. It’s long, but worth your time. Haay mahirap talagang magmarunong kung kayabangan lang ang puhunan mo.

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