Category Archives: history

Summer Gossip – Was Queen Anne Bi?

Queen Anne (1665 – 1714) is not a historical figure that we often think about these days. But she was important in her day.

Her father, James II was a disaster as king, a tyrant who tried to impose his Catholic religious beliefs on a country that had gone Protestant long before. He was kicked out in the so called “glorious revolution” of 1688, which was not a revolution at all but an invasion that was welcomed.  This brought to power Mary  (Anne’s older sister) and her hubby, King William of the Netherlands.

James II, then made a nuisance of himself, trying to stir up plots and attempts at assassination to get the crown back. His most elaborate attempt was to stir up the Irish who did indeed get stirred up. But James abandoned them and they were defeated at the peculiar Battle of the Boyne in 1690. That is why James II is sometimes called “James the Shit” in Ireland. As a further aside, the “orange men” of Belfast have held an annual celebration of the Battle of the Boyne which very much annoys Irish Catholics. You can imagine how that has worked out.

Mary died in 1694, and then William in 1702.  By then, no one wanted another Catholic on the throne, and so Parliament took it on itself to say how succession would be implemented. That, in turn, led to the Hanovers coming over from Germany after Queen Anne’s death without issue.

The point of all this is that in her early years, no one thought Anne would rule. And therefore, Anne was not prepared at all to rule. She was poorly educated (not uncommon for women those days) and she was not all that healhty. So it is not a surprise that she would need …. errr … some help. And her friend from childhoo, Sarah Churchill was there to pvoide that in spades. There is still some speculation that their childhood friendship was more than just patting each othe ron the shoulder.  I will not delve into this sort of scandalous rumor here, excpet to say that I sincerely doubt that any garments were passionately removed for purposes of pleasure.

Sarah thought she could dominate poor Anne in order to advance the career of her brilliant husband (who was to become the Duke of Marlborough for his great military victories on the continent). BTW, the great Duke was a forebear of Sir Winston Chruchill who wrote a biography of him that no one reads anymore. For a while, Anne may have succeeded. But that would not last, and the story of what happened next has some dramatic appeal.

In case you want to learn more, an article appears in “History of Royals” magazine entitled “Crossing the Line”.



IS America in Decline?

Many would argue that the Roman Empire started its decline during the reign of the Emperor Commodus who ruled for around 12 years from 180 to 192 AD.

The reason is that Commodus intensified the process where emperors and others in power lost interest in maintaining the empire in favor of exploiting their power to gain more for themselves. For example, Commodus was interested mainly in becoming a gladiator and had no interest in the affairs of the empire. Indeed, he had two brothers, who were experienced generals, murdered so that he could take over and live in their villa just outside of Rome. Ewwww! There he created a gladiator training ring where he enjoyed abusing his servants. Ewwww! After his own murder in his bath —- no he was not killed in gladiatorial combat with Russell Crowe in the Colloseum — the praetorian guard started selling off Roman provinces to the highest bidder.

So perhaps the question for Americans is are we losing interest in the factors that make America great?  Errr … what has made America great anyway?

Great Satell argues that it has been our scientific achievement in the 20th century. And he argues that this achievement was only in part an accident. The accidential part was the flood of great thinkers who emigrated to the US because of the second war. People like Bohr and Einstein. The non-accidental part was the enlightened policy of the federal government in how to put those minds to work for the public good.  We can thaink a guy by the name of Vannevar Bush for that.

If Greg is right, the question then, is whether we are continuing this enlightened policy. His answer is that our commitment seems to be weakening.

Bad news! I wonder what the Donald would say about that.

Obsessed with the Iron Duke?

I am and I gladly admit it.

Arthur Wellesley was elevated to the peerage and eventually made Duke of Wellington on his victory over French forces in the peninsula war. that drove them from Portugal and then Spain.  he was known as the “Iron Duke”. The Iron Duke fought many battles and ultimately defeated Napoleon (along with Blucher) at Waterloo. In many ways, he represented what was best about Britain at the time. Not just as a great field marhsall, but as a great leader of men.

So what is the best short biography of Wellingotn? According to History Extra, this is the book you want.

Richard Holmes’ Wellington: The Iron Duke (Harper Collins, 2002) … mixes readability with some acute insights, (and) is the best (relatively) short modern biography of Wellington.

The above History Extra post also reviews a much longer biography of Wellington if you really want to get into it.


Thinking about Ötsi’s Axe

Ötsi is the name given to the mumfied corpse found some years ago as glaciers retreated in the Swiss Alps. Scientists have discovered much from Ötsi and most recently that his copper axe came from Tuscany.

So what? Well, Tuscany is over 300 miles away from where Ötsi was killed and his mummy found. It is likely, therefore, that Ötsi did not travel to Tuscany to get it. It is likely instead that it was something he bought or traded for. And it was a thing of some value.

Which brings us to one of the great mysteries concerning Ötsi. We know that he died from an arrow wound that severed an artery in his neck. But whoever killed him did not strip the body of valuable stuff, like the axe. Why not? We have no idea.

Some have specualted that the killer did not do this because the artifacts might hvae been recognized as belonging to Ötsi and he did not want anyone to know about what happened. Possibly.

We are not likely to find out.

It’s Raining Money in the AI World!

Some rather clever folks proposed a while back that the 21st century may be rather different than its predecessor. That might seem strange to us, living now in 2017.  We have not seen these differences just yet. But one of these changes is apparent. That change has to do with access to capital.

There was a time when only governments could afford to make large capital investments, like wars. But the amounts needed to fund transatlantictic exploration dwarfed what governments could offer. New legal tools enabled private capital to enter the market and the world took a turn that shocked many. Still, access to capital was limited. Investing was a game for the rich and powerful. The rest of us relied on salaries to find the good life.

But in the late 20th century things started to change. In the digital world, it costs a lot less to starup a new venture that might scale. And while the risks of investing in these starups are huge, the potential gains are as well. I am reminded of the story of an early internet investor who put money into 100 firms. 99 went bust. The 100th was Google. Enough said. Welcome to the wonderful world of venture cpaital and angel investing.

It was not so obvious back in the 1990’s that this was just a starting point. Expectations that clever folks can come up with new ideas to add enormous value are rising faster than a Dubai high-rise overloaded with Pakistani construction workers. And so, folks are expanding access to capital to encourage those explorations. Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon all have established investment funds to do so.

And this is not the end point either. We are about to see yet another extension of this access to capital. E tokens make it possible for just about anyone to set up markets for new ideas  You might think of each token as a tradable share in a concept.

Since the beginning of the year, 65 projects have raised $522 million in these offerings, according to Smith & Crown, a research firm focused on the new industry.

It is, as they say, a “frothy” market. That means you can easily loose your shirt by putting your money in these vehicles and many will. If this interests you, check out this podcast where William Mougayar offers his thoughts on where things are headed.

BTW, the same cautionary tales were told about web IPO’s, Kickstarter and AirBnB. There were and are scams galore in each. But they thrive despite them.

So where is this headed? My guess is that the real innovatoin here will be far better platforms where ideas are discussed and shared so that they can be turned into inventions that add value. These new platforms — that don’t yet exist — will enable high value conversations to instantly generate investment funds.

And where will that lead us? Instead of kids fighting over wheter they can get a high paying job at a bank, kids will be fighting over whether they can elbow their way into these high value added conversations.

Over time, this will reduce the risk of early stage investing. That means we will once more dramatically reduce the cost of innovation. And in turn, the 21st century will generate value added that we can only dream about now in 2017.

Hold onto your hat! Things are going to speed up!