Category Archives: History

One Year Ago Today …

The United States began its plunge into the new darker ages when it withdrew from UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Today, progress is global. Supply chains are global. Relationships are global. And problems are global.

What good, and in particular, what enlightenment can possibly come from withdrawing from an organization, with 193 member countries no less, whose defined purpose, as clearly outlined in Wikipedia, is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

Now, I’m not defending the success, or achievements of UNESCO, or saying they are the most effective at what they do, or anything along those lines.

I’m deploring the fact that any country today could feel that, regardless of their viewpoint on the effectiveness of the organization, could not stay involved just in principal — given that with the exception of this country and one — ONE — peer, pretty much every other country is a member state.

Just look at history to see what happens whenever a country, any country, turns insular. The world leaves it behind.

And while leaving UNESCO is not the same as closing all the borders, it’s not a step forward. It’s a step backwards. And citizens should be writing their senators and complaining bitterly.

And yes, SI is aware of the publicly stated reason(s) why the US is withdrawing, and this just makes it worse. UNESCO is not meant to be a political platform. ‘Nuff said.

One Hundred and Thirty Five Years Ago Today

The (in)famous Orient Express made its first run, and luxury train travel became a regular thing in an age where travelling of any kind was rough and dangerous. And Parisians could reach the orient in a little over a week!

(The journey is so iconic that even though the Orient Express ceased to operate almost a year ago, The Society of International Railway Travellers still holds an annual, weeklong, luxury rail voyage on the original route on the Venice-Simpion-Orient-Express. The next trip is August 23 to August 28, 2019 and you can book a double cabin for a mere £7,600.)

This was a historic day as supply chains rely on people, who need to be able to move around the world, and this took us a leap forward in accepted train travel.

One Thousand One Hundred and Fifty Years Ago Today

A copy of the Chinese version of the Diamond Sutra was dated (before, at some point being lost to history until their rediscovery in in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang on June 25, 1900.)

So why do we care about an old book?

First of all, it’s the oldest known dated book in existence, at least 585 years before Gutenberg printed his first bible. Because, even though the invention of the printing press was attributed to Gutenberg, he was just the first person to create a press out of metal. Woodblock printing was developed in China approximately 1200 years before Gutenberg developed his press, with examples of woodblock-based cloth printing dated back to pre 220 AD and the earliest examples of woodblock-based text-printing dating back to the Tang dynasty in the 600s. However, books were not dated at that time, making the Diamond Sutra, from 868 AD the first dated book.

However, it’s not just relevant to us that this was the first dated book, which is quite relevant to copyright and legal systems — that now use dates to determine inventorship, ownership, and so on — and to those of us that want to understand the origination of a work.

What’s really relevant to us is that accompanying the date was a dedication that said “for universal free distribution”, making it the first known creative work with an explicit public domain dedication. It seems that formally dedicating work to the public domain to ensure it’s continued free usage may not be as recent an occurrence as we may think.

And its another example of just how rich and innovative the cultures of the east have been over time, and why we should learn all we can instead of putting up trade barriers.

One Hundred and Fourteen Years Ago

The United States took over, and began, construction of the Panama Canal. Then, a little over ten years later, it was completed and for the first time ships could travel between the mid-Atlantic and mid-Pacific from at least 10 days, and typically two to three weeks (depending on how fast the ship was and the weather) to less than a day, as it saves ships a 7,872 mile voyage.

It revolutionized ocean freight and although we now take it for granted, it was a historic achievement.