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1. A hidden pillar of the modern world economy

By David Gugerli and Tobias Straumann


In September 1965, Hurricane Betsy devastated parts of Florida and the central United States Gulf Coast. The damage was estimated at $1 billion – so far the costliest natural disaster in US history. In August 1992, Hurricane Andrew made havoc to towns and cities on The Bahamas and in Louisiana and Florida. This time, the damage amounted to $26.5 billion – again so far the costliest natural disaster in US history. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the United States Gulf Coast. The proud and old city of New Orleans was inundated. The total damage from Katrina amounted to $81.2 billion, twice as much as the damage from Hurricane Andrew, when adjusted for inflation. So far, Hurricane Katrina has been the costliest natural disaster in world history.

In other words, extreme events have caused increasingly extreme damage, and each time the jump in costs came as a surprise. Yet, although not anticipated, these extreme events did not cause any major economic disruption in the US or global economy. This is not to say, that the regions and people most affected by the hurricanes were not suffering from unemployment and economic hardship thereafter. But given the huge losses and the importance of the United States for the global economy, the lack of serious negative economic consequences is rather striking. The hurricanes were followed by bankruptcies of insurance companies, but the sector as whole stayed firm.

The Swiss Re Building in London, more commonly known as The Gherkin.

How can we explain this resilience? Why was the insurance sector not overwhelmed by these extreme events? The main reason is that an innovation that was introduced in Central Europe about 150 years ago has fundamentally transformed the risk landscape. It is called reinsurance. With the growing complexity of the economic system in the 19th century, the reinsurance industry provided a backstop for the increasingly large insurance deals with industrial firms, shipping companies or government agencies. By providing huge reserves for extreme losses, the reinsurance industry enabled entrepreneurs, managers or bankers to take risks that would have been out of reach without the reinsurance industry. In the second half of the 19th century and ever since, the reinsurance industry has become as essential to the modern economy as the credit system, the transportation network or the energy supplies.

The oldest reinsurance company that has kept its original name is the company Swiss Re whose headquarters are located in Zurich, Switzerland. Its historical records are exceptionally rich and cover all the major themes in the history of the reinsurance industry since 1863, in particular the strong growth and internationalization in the late 19th and early 20th century, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the impact of booms, busts and wars between 1914 and 1945, the challenges emanating from new technologies such as atomic energy after 1945, and the transformation of the reinsurance industry by the rise of financial capitalism in the last thirty years.

These rich archives shed light not only on the development of the modern world, but also on the exciting dynamics of an industry which remains ostensibly invisible while collecting dozens of billions of dollars in net premiums, every single year. In 2012, they amounted to nearly $150 billion. The reinsurance industry is perhaps the biggest hidden pillar of the modern world economy.

David Gugerli is a Professor of History at the Department of Humanities, Social and Political Sciences of the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. His main interest is in the history of technology and science, social and economic history and cultural history. Tobias Straumann is Lecturer in the History Department of the University of Zurich and the Economics Department of the University of Basel. Dr. Straumann has worked in the fields of Swiss business history and European financial and monetary history. They are two of the co-authors of The Value of Risk: Swiss Re and the History of Reinsurance.

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Image credit: London Swiss Re Building. By Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The post A hidden pillar of the modern world economy appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Life Goes On, with additional Awesome, the aftereffects of a hurricane & a firestorm

posted by Neil Gaiman
I am typing this on a plane on my way to Australia. I had planned to go to Australia to keep Amanda company. Amanda is, however, now not going to Australia until Autumn. Life is odd, sometimes. She will be in Cambridge, dreaming of the warmth and missing Australia, and I'll be in Australia, performing on stages -- even doing something unlikely with David Byrne -- while being a bit wistful for home.

I was on the stage of the Carnegie Hall last night. It wasn't my show -- it was more fun that that. It was John and Hank Green's show, An Evening of Awesome, and I felt like I was going to their party (and boy, can they throw a party). I had quite possibly the best time that any author except John Green has ever had standing on the stage of the Carnegie Hall, and I hugged Kimya Dawson and hugged Hannah Hart, and the Mountain Goats played and...

...ah, just watch the video if you want to know what it was all about. It starts 35 minutes in. (And my first bit starts about 1:43).




I gave copies of Chu's Day to some of the people on the stage who had very small children.


Chu's Day went straight onto the New York Times list at #2 today, which is good.

But... there was a problem.  I had noticed on the Amazon page that people were reporting that they were getting copies with water-rippled interior pages. And some of them were sending them back and getting more water-warped copies to replace them with. This was odd. I asked on Twitter and discovered that, yes, this had happened to people who got their copies of Chu's Day in places other than Amazon. I let Harper Children's know, and they did some SherlockHolmesing around. My editor Rosemary told me what they discovered. She explained,

...we believe that when the copies left the bindery in China, they were fine, but they arrived in the U.S. during Hurricane Sandy. The cartons of books were stuck on the ship, as the ship was unable to come into port, and so the tremendous humidity in the air caused a ripple effect on the pages of some of the books. The ship was unable to dock until November 9. There is no actual water damage on the books, or water-to-paper contact, but we have seen some ripples in a few copies that would be caused by humid air. The copies that shipped to us by air from the bindery were all fine, so the problem must have occurred on the ship.

HarperChildren have already gone back to press on the book twice, with the first reprinting due in to the US this week, and they are shipping out pristine copies of Chu's Day to their accounts to replace any Sandy-damaged copies. As Rosemary continued,

[the new printing] will ship directly from the bindery to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others. We are not wasting time by shipping to our warehouse and then to our accounts...

So if you got a hurricane-marked copy, you should be able to replace it very easily very soon. And we are very sorry.

...

Two Australian things: There are still tickets left for Sydney on the 25th. The first half of the evening will be all about Ocean at the End of the Lane. The second half will be stories and Q&A, and FourPlay and possibly even some songs. Tickets at this link.

More importantly, on the 21st, it's the Mona Bushfire Fundraiser Concert. The Tasmanian fires have been terrible things, and I've already been working with my publishers to get books to students at this school:



Probably you want to see me and Jherek Bischoff with special guest David Byrne doing some weird and wonderful stuff on stage. (We have over an hour to fill. We have plans. They will be weird. They will be wonderful.)  But we are only a very small part of the entertainment:

MONA is pleased to announce a Mona Bushfire Fundraiser Concert to raise funds for the Australian Red Cross Tasmanian Bushfires 2013 Appeal. http://www.mona.net.au/
Buy tickets: https://www.mona.net.au/shop/bushfirefundraiser.aspx
THE ARTISTS:
The Hoodoo Gurus
The Break
Kate Miller-Heidke
Evan Dando & Spencer P Jones
Neil Gaiman and Jherek Bischoff (special guest David Byrne)
Taiko Drum
WHEN & WHERE:
Monday January 21, 2013
Princes Wharf 1 (PW1), Hobart
Doors open 5.30pm for 6pm, until late
TICKETS:
$33
On sale now: https://www.mona.net.au/shop/bushfirefundraiser.aspx
All profits from the concert go to the Australian Red Cross Tasmanian Bushfires 2013 Appeal. Production costs kept low by the generous donation of time and services by dozens of companies and individuals. 
Mona and MONA FOMA staff are hosting the event. Suppliers will provide equipment and services, including artist accommodation; volunteers will staff the concert, and artists are performing for free. Mona has waived ticket booking fees and is giving all food and bar profits from the evening to the Red Cross.






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3. Hurricane Teaching Activities

As the hurricane season keeps blowing, take advantage of the great hurricane resources on the Sylvan Dell website! Play a hurricane crossword puzzle, learn hurricane vocabulary, and all about how to prepare for a hurricane.  Check out the hurricane activities here, or visit the Ready, Set…WAIT! book homepage on our website.

Ready, Set…WAIT!

Hurricane . . . just the word brings to mind the power of these natural disasters. Humans watch the news and know of impending arrival. We board up windows and gather supplies. We might huddle in our homes or go inland. Then we wait for the storm to arrive. But what do wild animals do? Do they know when a storm is coming? If so, how do they prepare? This book explains how nine animals sense, react, and prepare for a hurricane. Based on research or observations, the brief portraits are explained in simple, poetic language for children of all ages.


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4. Storm's Coming

We had an earthquake this week -  the second one in my whole life and I am over half a century old.  It caused such a stir that it was the only thing people talked about for a day or two after.  This photo of a plastic lawn chair on its back has been floating around Facebook as the aftermath of the Great East Coast Earthquake and it represents the "damage" we felt around here.  The tremor was about what you'd expect if a really big truck dragging a heavy trailer came by your house.  Ooooooo!!  Scary!

Sad, isn't it?  We're suffering from the great earthquake of '11.
I thought it was pretty darn cool!

And NOW, we are going to be hit dead on by a hurricane.  My husband is running around putting batteries in things and otherwise battening down the hatches.  I have my own preparations to make.

I have unearthed a mound of unread ARCs left from BEA!  Yeah!  Bring it on, rain and wind!  I have BOOKS!!  And flashlights.  Oh and lots of water and I've packed the freezer with water jugs in case the power goes off.  And I am powering up my Nook.  Because what if I read The Predicteds and Bluefish and The Traitor's Smile-French Revolution anyone? - and the power's still off?  I have a couple of books on the Nook, waiting.   Like Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump I can rail at the wind and the storm.  "You don't scare me!"........ yet....much.....ulp.

Jack Gantos giveaway - still on.

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5. Memo from Manhattan: Eye of the storm

By Sharon Zukin Everyone knows by now that Tropical Storm Irene, which blew through the East Coast last weekend, flooded the beaches, suburbs and some inland towns but did little lasting damage in New York City. I have seldom felt so lucky to live on a high floor with no river view and on a street with very few trees.

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6. Helping libraries damaged by Hurricane Irene


Image, which I hope is self-explanatory, by Darien Library.

One of the first places I went after the storm was over was the local library. I was supposed to work the day earlier because our librarian literally couldn’t get to work, but then wound up not working because there was no power at the library. My local library suffered no storm damage. Other libraries weren’t as lucky. The Department of Libraries in Vermont has been terrific both in trying to contact every library as well as informing the other librarians statewide about what needs to be done, who is in trouble and how to apply for FEMA grants now that libraries are an essential service (again thanks thanks thanks to all the people who lobbied to have that done). Here are some links to people doing things that may be instructive or useful for you either in figuring out who to help or in managing crises like this in the future.

I’ve spent a lot of the past few days checking out the pages on Facebook where a lot of the communication about the recovery efforts are taking place. In case you’re curious, here are some of the pages where a lot of the local recovery work and information dispersal is actually happening

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7. All New Warrior of the Night Page!

The Ajan Warrior of the Night

Ranko Yorozu an athletic and strong girl
“Well now we know why Miss Shannon had that big silly grin on her face a couple days ago. She’s got herself a brand new warrior page!”


Jessica Hoshi a cheerful and optimistic girl

“Ooh, it’s got everything! Let’s see, there’s Kishi and her ring, and her cape and arrows and it’s even got three different kinds of earrings!”

Shannon Ka Yoru an artistic and thoughtful girl
“It is a pretty nice page, huh?”

Ranko Yorozu an athletic and strong girl
“Okay ladies, me and hunter girl over here have got our warrior stuff together. Let’s get with it! Where’s your new pages?! We’ve got four to go!”

Talitha Hayashi a shy and brilliantly intelligent girl
“Oh my goodness”


Jessica Hoshi a cheerful and optimistic girl

“Heheee.. Ooh, if you wanna read one of the stories from Shannon-sama’s book when she’s the Huntress and fights monsters with her magical cat named Kishi, you should go see the Call of the Huntress page, ’cause we gots lots of neat stories! Have fun minna!”

free comics to read online free adventure stories about myth and legend powerful magic spells and fantasy crown princess

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8. Great Abaco Island, Bahamas

bens-place.jpg

Great Abaco Island, Bahamas

Population: 14,000 (2005 est.)

Coordinates: 26 25 N 77 10 W

Think of the trade winds, steady equatorial air currents, and you might imagine early European explorers drifting across the Atlantic towards a cluster of lush islands strung across the Caribbean Sea like a necklace of pearls. But it is these same winds that also bring an annual average of six hurricanes to this region between June and November—tropical storms that are beginning to make the news once again. In fact, just yesterday, the National Hurricane Center announced that Bertha, the second named storm of the 2008 season, had graduated to Category Three on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. So you’ll want to steer clear of Bertha, but if you’re searching for a “Hurricane Capital,” look no further than Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas; since 1851 it has endured 18 severe hurricanes (Category 3, 4, or 5) and 40 altogether which works out to about one every four years.


9780195334005.jpg

Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.

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9. Hurricane – Podictionary Word of the Day

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The first time I looked at the etymology of the word hurricane was in August of 2005.

At that time I don’t think I had really begun to consult Urbandictionary.  I do now, because I think it’s a good vehicle to show how slang usages are evolving.

I just checked now and I see that definition two and three tie the word hurricane to drugs and alcohol.

To some degree this shows that slang is slang is slang because according to The Oxford English Dictionary about the time of Samuel Johnson, 250 years ago, the word hurricane referred to a rip roaring house party.

Of course both the new and the older uses of hurricane in this way are pulled from the “blowout” meaning associated with the main meaning of the word.

That’s what the first entry at Urbandictionary refers to “A temporary alliance formed between the ocean and the sky…”

hurricaneI posted a podictionary episode about the word hurricane on August 28th, 2005 and listened to news reports over the days and weeks following August 29th when Katrina hit New Orleans.

I look back now at the Google trends data for the use of the word hurricane and see regular blips of search activity every August-September hurricane season.

I guess it’s a reflection of human nature that the highest peak of hurricane searches was around the period of Hurricane Rita, the storm that came right after Katrina.

The word hurricane is a word that evolved from local languages in the Caribbean, was picked up by the Spanish before it made its way into English.

In other parts of the world such a storm is called a typhoon.

Neither the words typhoon, cyclone, or tornado have such a marked regular annual beat, or come anywhere close in frequency of use as hurricane on Google trends.

I suppose this reflects the dominant use of Google by Americans who care more about storms in their part of the world.

The word hurricane appeared in written English in 1555 and coincidentally the word tornado appeared only one year later.  For some decades these two words both applied to Caribbean storms, until hurricane came to dominate and tornado withdrew to a meaning of a more localized blowout by the early to mid 1600s.

The word cyclone was an invented word by a fellow named Henry Piddington in 1848.

Piddington took it upon himself to figure out what the heck was happening out there at sea when one of these big blowouts took place.  He became very respected and valuable in India and England because what he found out saved a bundle in shipping losses.

He named the storms cyclones and most etymologies give the Greek root of this as cyclos meaning “circle.” But he actually visualized the storms like a giant snake coiled up on itself and the appropriate Greek word for that was cycloma.


Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of several books including his latest History of Wine Words - An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.

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