Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Back from Whitefish Bay

June 3rd, 2010 · 15 Comments

Though there were moments during our vacation when we were tempted to chuck it all and reboot our lives as laborers on the Soo Locks, we finally managed to make it back to world headquarters yesterday. It might take us a day or two to shake off the mental dust, but Microkhan should be back in full effect shortly. Thanks for your forbearance, which shall be rewarded with a summer chock full of the most incredible polymathism imaginable.

We’re gonna start by directing your attention to one of the most esoteric corners of medalophilia—the collection of British temperance medals, which were used to reward the raj’s soldier’s for abstaining from the drink. There’s an entire book dedicated to such baubles, from which Mr. Mustache’s photo is taken. The author breaks down the history like so:

In the British Army in the 1800s drunkenness among the soldiers was a constant problem, particularly in India where there was little attempt to provide alternate amusements and recreation for the troops. Several of the more enlightened officers established Temperance Societies in their Regiments to encourage sober habits, but it was not until 1862 that the Army in India organised the “Soldiers’ Total Abstinence Association”. The men were encouraged to sign a pledge to abstain entirely from alcohol. Similar organisations were formed for the Royal Navy in 1868, and for soldiers in Britain and Colonies outside of India in 1893. All of these organisations issued medals for varying lengths of time that a man had retained the pledge, from 6 months to 20 years, as well as additional medals for anyone who had rendered a special service in the cause of temperance.

We find this interesting because, at least from a purely logical perspective, medals strike us as a poor inducement. They had little or no monetary value when they were awarded—in fact, it appears that recipients were charged a small fee to obtain the decorations. Yet medals tap into a very basic psychological drive—the human need to engage in games. And how can one tell if the game is being won if there isn’t some sort of tangible evidence of success?

Our odds of having earned one of these medals would have been positively nil, of course. We believe we came close to setting a record of Huma-Lupa-Licious consumption during our Great Lakes adventure.

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15 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    If you’re not drinking gin & tonics, how do you get your quinine? At the least, alternative methods would be significantly less tasty.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    I’m actually all about Atabrine these days. Gotta be prepared in case the world’s cinchona trees are destroyed by overly aggressive beetles.

  • Jordan

    There’s actually a lot of work being done here in Portland on new anti-malarial drugs. They’re targeting some new elements of the parasite’s life-cycle and might even be able to deal with it in the hepatic phase rather than when it hits the bloodstream. Definitely exciting stuff, though it’ll obviously be a long time before anything comes to market.

  • scottstev

    I’d be curious to hear your guys thoughts on DDT revival. From what I understand from my very biased sources (pro-DDT libertarian) limited indoor DDT use is effective and not harmful. It was the widespread agricultural spraying that caused all the problems in the 50’s. From what I understand, its chemical stability is DDT’s strength and danger, but I’ll leave the details to Jordan, our resident chemist.

  • Capture Shadow

    Jordan might know better, but my understanding is that it lost favor in mosquito fighting as DDT resistant mosquitoes spread. Lots of countries would use it now – if it worked.

  • Jordan

    DDT use is definitely complicated. The Wikipedia article is actually pretty comprehensive and presents both the potential benefits of use and the costs. Capture Shadow is right that DDT resistance is pretty widespread. It’s not very useful in much of Asia and Central America because overuse in agriculture rather rapidly created resistant strains of mosquitoes.

    Basically, it’s going to come down to a cost-benefit analysis. On the one hand, DDT spaying in homes has been shown to reduce malaria (in some areas). On the other hand, it is a persistent pollutant (as scottsev noted), has genotoxic and endocrine disrupting effects in humans and may not be any cheaper than other methods. So it’s a tough call, but it’s one that will have to be made in a fairly fine-grained fashion because we can’t make blanket statements about it anymore.

    Bizarre note: there was a cocktail in the 40s and 50s called the Mickey Slim that was made with gin and a pinch of DDT.

    Yum!

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    Interesting that a post about 19th century temperance medals should spark a discussion about the costs/benefits of DDT. Sorta love how that played out.

    More on this topic soon. Been interested in anti-malarial research for ages, ever since a mag turned down one of my proposals re: the transgenic mosquito approach. I’ll try to look into the DDT issue soonest.

  • Captured Shadow

    The transgenic mosquito is one of my big hopes for genetic engineering. I can’t wait for mosquitoes to start delivering vaccines instead of disease. The other one is that someone figures out how to make my jaws think that I am six again so I can grow a second set of adult teeth as these are wearing out. While we are at it, can we incorporate some harder material into the tooth surfaces.
    Maybe if we offer the genetic scientists some medals to wear……

  • The DDT Equation

    […] post about temperance medals somehow got the Microkhan community meditating upon whether DDT deserves to have its reputation […]

  • Jordan

    @Captured Shadow

    It’s not like we get paid a lot (at least in academia), so that just might work.

  • Ell

    The Temperance movement was responsible for some my home town’s most elaborate architecture and significant buildings – http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2009/02/coffee-palaces-temperance-and-melbourne.html

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Ell: Thanks for the info. The teetotalers were also responsible for one of my favorite East Village landmarks:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/501178466/

  • Ell

    Great fountain! Am very fond of fountains too. :) You might like this one – my port home was was once awash with rowdy pubs and this drinking fountain was offered up as an alternative to the wicked beverages so freely available – http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/heritage/5460

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Ell: V. nice! Love the fact that it’s cast-iron–and from Glasgow, to boot.

  • The Myth of the Mickey Slim

    […] week, the long discussion spurred by this post led one of our most trusted readers to offer this startling factoid: Bizarre note: there was a […]

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