“Knights” Didn’t Exist in the Dark Ages

So you’re in your friend’s Dungeons and Dragons campaign, set in a fantasy version of medieval Europe. You haven’t come across any guns, feudalism is everywhere, there have been Monty Python and the Holy Grail references every ten minutes for the last three hours. Your character is a paladin, a holy knight in shining armor. Sure, there are plenty of anachronisms to be expected in this situation, but one of them you might not expect is the existence of a knight in shining armor at all.

“Knight” as a word started out meaning “servant,” and didn’t even necessarily mean a soldier until 1100 AD, 700 years after the beginning of the dark ages and only a couple hundred years out from the Rennaissance. Even then, it was a loosely-defined word, basically just “cavalryman,” and didn’t carry any connection to nobility until the medieval period was already ending in the 1500s. That is after Columbus discovered America. There are similar timelines for chevalier and caballaro and other translations, too. If you ever imagine a person getting “knighted” and then insisting on being called “sir” like a title, and that person doesn’t know where Florida is, you’re picturing history wrong.

Image Source: By Saffron Blaze [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons


Meaning “military follower of a king or other superior” is from c. 1100. It began to be used in a specific military sense in the Hundred Years War, and gradually rose in importance until it became a rank in the nobility from 16c.
Online Etymology Dictionary: Knight

 

cavalier (n.): 1580s, “a horseman,” especially if armed, from Italian cavalliere “mounted soldier, knight; gentleman serving as a lady’s escort,” […]
Online Etymology Dictionary: Cavalier

 

chivalrous (adj.): mid-14c., “pertaining to chivalry or knight-errantry,” from Old French chevaleros “knightly, noble, chivalrous,” from chevalier (see chevalier; also compare chivalry). According to OED, obsolete in English and French from mid-16c. Not revived in French, but brought back in English 1770s by romantic writers with a sense of “having high qualities (gallantry, courage, magnanimity) supposed to be characteristic of chivalry.” 
Online Etymology Dictionary: Chivalrous

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cost Effective Treatment for Criminals and At-Risk Teens

In an experiment in Liberia, researchers took 999 of the most violent, high-risk criminals in their capital, and for only $535 of expenses per person (nothing to these kinds of programs or compared to the cost of crime and prisons), they bought 20-50% lower incidents of crime in that population for a year. The treatment was asking 1500 candidates if they wanted therapy – 2/3 of them said yes – and they ran a cheap cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) course with them.

CBT was then brought to Chicago youths with similarly positive results in three separate randomized controlled trials. Graduation rates rose and crime rates fell, crucial in bringing a new generation out of poverty with access to better opportunities.

Image By Jty33 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0


In the two studies participation in the program reduced total arrests during the intervention period by 28–35%, reduced violent-crime arrests by 45–50%, improved school engagement, and in the first study where we have follow-up data, increased graduation rates by 12–19% […] These large behavioral responses combined with modest program costs imply benefit-cost ratios for these interventions from 5-to-1 up to 30-to-1 or more. 

If the improvements in participants’ high school graduation lead to other future benefits such as increased earnings or longer life expectancies, these estimates may understate the full value of the program’s social benefits
“Thinking, Fast and Slow?” Heller, et al

 

To investigate, we recruited 999 of the highest-risk men in Liberia’s capital, generally aged 18 to 35. Most were engaged in part-time theft and drug dealing, and regularly had violent confrontations with each other, community members, and police.

Men who received therapy reduced their antisocial behavior dramatically. Within a few weeks, for instance, drug dealing halved and thefts fell by a third, compared to controls. With therapy alone, these effects diminished after a year. When therapy was followed by cash, however, effects were lasting. For example, a year later, those who received both therapy and cash were 44% less likely to be carrying a weapon, 43% less likely to sell drugs, and reported lower aggression. In the control group, men reported stealing almost once per week on average, and with therapy and cash this fell nearly 40%—equal to 25 crimes per year, per person. 
Poverty Action Lab

Trial By Combat: It May Be Legal

Trial by combat may technically be legal in the United States. Like Schrödinger’s Cat, it both is and isn’t while it waits for someone to try it in the courts.

When the 13 English colonies in North America formed the United States of America, they needed a starting point for their judges to work from while they got to passing all their laws. So unless specified otherwise, they went off of English common law as it was in 1776 when they declared their independence. 

One little-used – but not yet outlawed – piece of English common law was the right to determine your guilt or innocence in a case by fighting for it and letting God decide the winner. This was legitimately legal in England at the time (though, again, like, never used). We know for sure, because it was successfully used to get a man acquitted in 1818. The outrage over this led to it being outlawed in 1819, but – fun fact – 1819 is after 1776.

Therefore, until a US court reviews a case that attempts to use this piece of English common law and finds it unconstitutional (probably under the 5th amendment right to due process, unless fighting your accuser to the death is considered due process), it is technically an option open to anyone accused of a civil charge. 

Try it next time you get a traffic ticket. Let us know how it goes.

ImageBy Jörg Breu d. Jüngere (died 1547), Paulus Hector Mair (died 1579) (Bayrische Staatsbibliothek Cod. icon. 393) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 


[…] a British man tried to invoke his “ancient right to trial by combat” in 2002 to avoid paying a £25 fine for a traffic ticket […] with “samurai swords, Ghurka knives, or heavy hammers.” Court Magistrates for the town of Bury St. Edmunds disagreed […]
American Bar Association

 

At the times of the independence in 1776, trial by combat was still legal in the United Kingdom, and the United States inherited British common law on independence. The question of whether trial by combat remains a valid alternative to civil action has been argued to remain open, at least in theory.
Wikipedia entry on Trial by Combat

 

While the U.S. Constitution does not specifically mention trial by combat, some scholars argue citizens should possess rights until the government specifically limits them. […] a defendant in the U.S. could at least make an argument for trial by combat. […] no United States citizen has yet attempted to invoke the right of trial by combat to win their freedom.
The Bowen Law Group

The Second Life of a Cell Phone, and How it’s Saving the World

One of the best ways get rural impoverished farmers and fishers out of poverty: getting a cheap cell phone in their hands. Study after study shows the benefits of having access to a mobile phone so that they can better coordinate farming life and check market prices to find the best places to sell their stuff.

The best thing about this is that it is easy and profitable to help this. At least in the US, your cell provider is required to take your old phones for free, if not pay for them, and even pay for shipping if you want to mail it in. They then sell phones too old to be sold in their stores to e-cycling companies that then refurbish and ship them to the developing world. So the takeaway is – don’t let your old iPhone sit in your desk or chuck it in the trash.

Image by Bilco at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


“An emerging body of research shows that the reduction in communication costs associated with mobile phones has tangible economic benefits, improving agricultural and labor market efficiency”
Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa, Jenny C. Aker, Isaac M. Mbiti

 

” However, when a previously missing informal-financial sector component is integrated into the definition, mobile phone penetration has a positive correlation with informal financial development. ” 
How has Mobile Phone Penetration Stimulated Financial Development in Africa?, Simplice A. Asongua

 

“This study investigates the use of mobile phones among farmers in rural Tanzania in order to supply empirical data on the developmental role of this technology. The results show that the improved access […] has resulted in considerable changes in the entire livelihood constructs, increased opportunities and reduced risks for rural farmers.”
The Developmental Contribution from Mobile Phones Across The Agricultural Value Chain in Rural Africa, Bjorn Furuholt and Edmund Matotay

 

Recycling Disclosure to Maryland Customers: Device recycling is always free. […] and often customers can be paid to recycle. […] If you choose to return a device by mail, shipping is free. Trade in returns are automatically provided free packing for shipment. 
Verizon Trade-ins

 

“You’d be surprised, but these wholesalers find demand for those items around the world — usually in developing countries where there’s not a lot of supply for those products,” said Israel Ganot, CEO of Gazelle. […] Gazelle said about 90% of its devices are resold.
CNN

Circumcision to Fight HIV Transmission

Voluntary male circumcisions (VMMC) in high-risk areas reduce HIV acquisition among men by approximately 60%, for only about $6 per treatment. The evidence is strong enough that the treatment has gotten heavy hitters like the CDC, WHO, the Gates Foundation, and the White House (at least the last one …) onboard.

Kenya made it its long-term goal to circumcise 80% of its male population in 2008. In the first couple years, they circumcised almost 400,000 people. Since then, 13 African countries have followed suit, getting 3 million done from 2008 to 2012, and doubling from 2011 to 2012.

Image Credit: UN AIDS Global Report 2013


Male circumcision provides a degree of protection against acquiring HIV infection, equivalent to what a vaccine of high efficacy would have achieved. Male circumcision may provide an important way of reducing the spread of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa.
Public Library of Science

 

Kenya’s 4-year VMMC target is to circumcise 860,000 (80%) of uncircumcised males aged 15–49 years by 2013. During 2008–2011, trained clinicians performed 391,383 VMMCs for HIV prevention in Kenya, of which 340,958 (87.1%) were conducted in 260 MOH sites supported by CDC-funded partners, from which the data were obtained
The CDC

 

“Providing men with information about male circumcision and HIV risk can encourage safer sexual behavior among uncircumcised men, and fears that information will lead to riskier behavior among circumcised men may be overstated. The 2008 information campaign led uncircumcised men to adopt safer sexual behavior one year after a short information session, suggesting that VMMC information can have longer-term effects on sexual behavior.”
Jameel Poverty Action Lab

 

While challenges persist in preventing new infections, opportunities to dramatically lower HIV incidence have never been more promising. In recent years, evidence has emerged that antiretroviral therapies can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by as much as 96%, voluntary medical male circumcision by approximately 60% […]
The UN

 

The number of those responding positively is below the ages of 18. Maybe this is due to peer pressure. Once school children are circumcised, they tend to influence others to undergo the procedure. I think there is need to teach everyone a lot about these programmes.
VOA Zimbabwe

On the Origin of Cuss Words

Language Warning


Cuss words are fun. But misconceptions abound about where they come from. Ever heard the “ship high in transit,” “pluck you,” or “fornication under consent of the King” myths? Total bogus. That being said, here’s a handy guide to when naughty words were first uttered (or at least written).

  • Fuck – a tough one to track down, but c. 1500. Side-note, there was a guy named John Le Fucker in 1278, but that’s probably just a (hilarious) coincidence. First appearance with this spelling was 1535, in the following passage: “Bischops … may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit” (Bishops may fuck their fill and be unmarried), which continues to be hilarious.” 
    • Fucker – 1590 (Bonus Round! Duck-fucker – 1796)
    • Motherfucker – 1928 in concept, 1956 in all its modern glory
  • Shit – oddly enough sharing an origin with “science” and “conscience” because it comes from a word for “to split off from.” This one goes back to Proto-Indo-European, English’s great-grandaddy, so I don’t have a specific year for you.
    • Bullshit – 1915
    • Chickenshit – 1947
    • Horseshit – 1935
    • Jack-shit – 1968
    • Batshit – 1967
    • Pigshit – 2017? Let’s make it a thing.
  • Damn – meaning “to condemn or convict” comes from the late 1200s. But the source can be traced back to a Proto-Indo-European prefix “dap-” which goes back well beyond ancient Rome.
    • Goddamn – late 1300s
    • Dang – 1781
  • Hell – Another one with a Proto-Indo-European ancient root going back millennia, this one coming from an ancient word meaning “to conceal.” The word is actually a Germanic pagan one, adapted by Christians while Christianity was spreading.
  • Bitch – as a curse instead of just a description of female dogs, it comes from around 1400.
    • Sonofabitch – literally comes from 1707, but the concept has been around since Old Norse, who had “bikkju-sonr,” or “bitch’s son.” So it’s been a while.

Image By David Lee from Redmond, WA, USA (Please stop yelling, I’m trying to think) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

All word origins sourced from http://www.etymonline.com/

Peacekeeping is an Investment

Every year, the Institute for Economics and Peace Research puts out a report breaking out the status of peace and war over the last year. It’s the nerdiest and most amazing thing for political science nerds who obsess over data, so I highly recommend it.

One of the findings is that war costs the world economy over a trillion dollars per year. Peacekeeping cost less than 1% of that. Peacekeeping can be hard to motivate support for. It simultaneously seems scarily globalist, abusive, rapey, and ineffective, all at once. But that’s a shame. Because despite any flaws, it’s an incredibly productive investment. Crimes committed by the police very rarely result in calls for the abolishment of the idea of having police at all.

Cost savings from peacekeeping can be over 16 times the cost. 53% of peacekeeping activities are in active warzones, and the average length of an operation is only 31 months (with a few ongoing outliers). If the world could put the resources needed into peacekeeping in the next 10 years, the cost avoidance could be almost $3 trillion. And hidden behind those sterile dollars are a lot of real human lives. 

Image by Dawit Rezene, via Wikimedia Commons


IEP estimates show that the cost of violent conflict in 2013 was over 120 times higher than
peacebuilding and peacekeeping funding.
The potential benefits from investing further in peacebuilding are substantial. Based on IEP’s model of the cost-effectiveness of peacebuilding, the total peace dividend that the international community would reap if it increased peacebuilding commitments over the next ten years could be as high as US $2.94 trillion. 
Global Peace Index 2017

Low-level Bureaucrats Prevented Britain from Getting the Tank (Before WWI)

Over 10 million soldiers died in WWI, many because of outdated tactics. In 1912, an Australian, Lancelot de Mole, invented the tank and submitted it to the Munitions Inventions Department, but it was rejected three times.

First, they wouldn’t consider looking at it without a working model. He tried to get a working model, but an official on the local inventions board didn’t wouldn’t fund it because he didn’t get the idea, saying “it might fall in a hole,” leaving him with nowhere to go. He sent it again in 1915, but they failed to pass it on to the group currently working on a new tank.

After the war, the British government admitted it was better than what they came up with and apologized, lied that the plans had just gotten lost, and awarded him an honorary rank by way of thanks.

Image by Anonymous photographer, via Wikimedia Commons


The New York Times archives, May 10, 1950.
https://1drv.ms/b/s!AGyyTXi8fLtcqtwz

 

Perhaps it was all too complicated for the British War Office as they returned some of his sketches in 1913 with a letter rejecting his idea and the comment that they were no longer experimenting with chain rails… [NOTE: chain rails <> tank]
In any case, the British authorities failed to pass on his design to the Landship committee. One can only speculate why the plans were not made available to the people who were working on the tank. It’s possible the Munitions Inventions Office knew nothing of the Landship Committee because of great secrecy that surrounded what they were doing or perhaps there was some form of inter-departmental rivalry. […]
The official in charge could not understand the plans. The idea was rejected with the weak excuse that there might be a hole and the vehicle might fall in it.
http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/comment/DeMole/designnotpassedon.htm [Includes image & model]

 

[…] the commissioners considered he was entitled to the greatest credit for having made and reduced to practical shape as far back as 1912, a brilliant invention which anticipated, and in some respects, surpassed that which was actually put into use in the year 1916. The commissioners went on to say that it was the claimant’s misfortune and not his fault that his invention was in advance of its time and failed to be appreciated and was put aside because the occasion for its use had not yet arisen [in 1912].
Google Books

 

De Mole’s plans were not merely received and then pigeonholed. They were, on the contrary, examined, and deliberately rejected at least three times – once before the war and twice during the war, or, to be exact, in 1913, 1916, and 1918.
http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/37627874

Walking Barefoot in Human Poop Held the American South Back for Centuries

Hookworm is a parasite that causes lethargy and lower performance. It is transmitted when human waste (used as a fertilizer on fields) comes into contact with human feet (barefoot field workers) in climates where it can survive (the American South).

Almost half of the American South was infected with this parasite as of 1910, causing stereotypes about lower-class Southern people being lazy and dumb. It was only around then, after centuries of lives held back from their potential, that someone thought to figure out why and discovered hookworm.

Despite some pushback from Southerners who were offended by the accusation that they were all infected by parasites, improving conditions and a big campaign by the Rockefeller Foundation eventually wiped out the parasites, but only in the mid 20th century.

Image Attribution: Marion Post Wolcott [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


[…] as recently as the 1950s, hookworms were an intimate and ever-present threat for those living in the South. It was nearly impossible for the rural poor—the majority back then—to avoid hookworms […] Because iron is critical for brain function, hookworm infection could also lead to irreversible cognitive and intellectual defects. A 1926 study of Alabama school children found that the greater the number of worms that students harbored, the lower their IQ. 
PBS

 

Areas with higher levels of hookworm infection prior to the RSC experienced greater increases in school enrollment, attendance, and literacy after the intervention. This result is robust to controlling for a variety of alternative factors […]
The NIH

 

Hookworms live in the small intestine. Hookworm eggs are passed in the feces of an infected person. If the infected person defecates outside (near bushes, in a garden, or field) of if the feces of an infected person are used as fertilizer, eggs are deposited on soil. They can then mature and hatch, releasing larvae (immature worms). The larvae mature into a form that can penetrate the skin of humans. Hookworm infection is mainly acquired by walking barefoot on contaminated soil.
The CDC

 

Southerners initially distrusted RSC efforts. Many were offended by accusations of infection and refused to accept testing and the treatment of Epsom salts and thymol. Others believed that the disease simply did not exist. Regional newspaper editorials also strongly criticized RSC employees and viewed them as a Northern imposition.
The Rockefeller Foundation