Category Archives: History

Rants and raves about topics relating to history.

It’s April Fools Day, citizen

A magnificent range of April Fools Day japes for you this year.
1. Food banks. In the UK. And not organised by the Disasters Emergency Committee after an unexpected tsunami in Kent.
Organised by charities and churches and individuals who find themselves disturbed to live in a society in which so many of their fellow citizens are going hungry.
So hungry that they first have to swallow any residual pride they have somehow maintained – in the face of a media that’s hellbent on demonising anyone who’s sick or disabled or poor, and then go to beg for donated tinned goods and dried pasta.

2. A Bedroom tax… This sounds charmingly antique, like the window tax that existed from 1696 to 1851.
(You’d think the conservatives would have learned their lesson about the folly of reintroducing historical taxes after the Poll Tax but it appears not. )
The bedroom tax will mean an average £14 a week cut to people who are – by definition – so poor that they are already turning up at food banks in droves.

3. NHS reform reorganization carve-up. Pissup/brewery, enough said.

4. Many many more, ad nauseam. These are no longer funny.

5. Oh, yeah, a potential rerun of the Korean war with nukes.

Where is a bloody Atheist Rapture Index when you need it?

History lesson – WMD

This is an object lesson in how to get WMD. Don’t worry, you won’t get in trouble or anything. Well, this chap didn’t.
Public records, released under FOI for a 2006 BBC TV Newsnight programme and discussed in a New Statesman article, showed how the ~1960 Israeli government managed to get its hands on nuclear weapons materials.
The BBC reported that the programme has shown “Secret sale of UK plutonium to Israel “ Secret indeed. Even secret from government ministers and quite probably the sitting Prime Ministers, and over the objections of Defence Intelligence, the MOD and – sometimes – the Foreign Office.
The New Statesman has the fullest account. Read it.

Kelly and his colleagues .. (i.e. the Defence Intelligence staff who mounted a pretty spirited attempt to uncover what was going on and try to block it) .. however, found their views were being challenged. Chief of the challengers was Michael Israel Michaels .. who was a senior official at the science ministry under Lord Hailsham during the Macmillan government, and went on to serve at the technology ministry under Benn. He was also Britain’s representative at the IAEA.(my emphasis) quotation is from New Statesman

Mr Michaels was in fact so keen on the idea of supplying Israel with bomb-making materials that he just carried on doing it, even after Tony Benn became Energy Secretary. Michaels just didn’t think to bother ministers with the knowledge.

Mr Benn told the programme that civil servants in his department kept the deals secret from him and his predecessor, Frank Cousins.
He had always suspected that civil servants were doing deals behind his back, but he never thought they would sell plutonium to Israel. He told Newsnight: “I’m not only surprised, I’m shocked. It never occurred to me they would authorise something so totally against the policy of the government. (From the BBC)

“Michaels lied to me, I learned by bitter experience that the nuclear industry lied to me again and again.” He thought Wilson may not have known that Britain was helping Israel to get the bomb. (From the Guardian)

Astonishingly, Michaels had the effrontery to complain to the BBC Trust about the programme, rather than to give disbelieving thanks that he hadn’t been arrested for treason.
From the Trusts’s ruling on his complaint about Newsnight

Summary of the finding
The complaints concerned an investigation carried out by Newsnight, and presented by Michael Crick, that looked into the British government’s involvement in assisting Israel with its development of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. The item was based on recently released government papers suggesting that Michael Michaels, a senior civil servant and the British government’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, had acted with dual loyalties when he had ensured the supply of plutonium and other radioactive materials to Israel without the knowledge of the Minister responsible, and possibly without the Prime Minister’s knowledge.
Both complainants felt that the inclusion and repetition of Mr Michaels’ middle name (Israel) was unnecessary and, therefore, anti-Semitic.
They also objected to the suggestion that he had dual loyalties, which they felt implied disloyalty……..
The Committee concluded as follows:
The use of Mr Michaels’ middle name did not breach the guidelines on harm and offence.
It was satisfied that there was no intention to endorse a stereotype, and it was not anti-Semitic. In general, the use of the name had been as a form of shorthand to highlight Mr Michaels’ association with Israel.
With regard to “dual loyalties”, the Committee was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence put forward to suggest that Mr Michaels might indeed have had dual loyalties in his dealings with Israel. However, the Committee concluded that this was not the same as suggesting that Mr Michaels had been disloyal.
The Committee also felt that the report had raised the possibility that the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, might have known about the shipment to Israel. The item therefore did not breach guidelines on impartiality…
The Committee did not uphold the complaints.

Sleepwalking into the pit

There’s a truly chilling article in the Guardian. These are the headlines.

US officials believe Iran sanctions will fail, making military action likely
• Growing view that strike, by Israel or US, will happen
• ‘Sweet spot’ for Israeli action identified as September-October
• White House remains determined to give sanctions time

Could there be a less appropriate use of the word “sweet”?
If the “White House remains determined to give sanctions time” sub-heading suggests that there is still some hope of avoiding the next world war, don’t get your hopes up. The article implies that the delay is only intended so that sanctions will render Iran too weak to resist full scale attack.
I’m trying to comprehend this but I keep failing. In terms of simple logic, here are a few analyses.
A Iran has lots of oil.
B Israel doesn’t have lots of oil.
C The US has an overpowering interest in getting access to oil.
ergo - you would think that making friends with the country with the oil would be the pragmatic thing to do.
or
A Israel has nuclear weapons.
B Iran may possibly be developing nuclear weapons.
C Israel apparently plans to invade Iran.
D Iran would therefore be insane not to develop nuclear weapons if it doesn’t want to be invaded by Israel.
ergo – the aggressive actions of Israel are bringing about the very actions it allegedly fears
or
A Iran needs allies.
B Israel’s allies are experiencing slow-burning financial disaster.
C The other current or emergent global powers are doing quite well economically and they also need oil.
D These powers are finding they can get a lot better access to oil by befriending Iran.
ergo - Every other global superpower and any emergent nations with any ambitions to superpoweriness will befriend Iran.
or
A The US and its allies have wasted billions of dollars and ended the lives of enormous numbers of their own and other countries’ citizens in recent wars.
B Oil still costs a fortune in the USA.
C Huge numbers of citizens have tried everything to stop their governments going to war
ergo – these wars don’t even begin to achieve any rational objectives.
…. and so on.

Unlike wars before the 21st century, there’s not even any prospect of profit for capital as a whole in it, although a few companies like Blackwater will prosper. It won’t solve the recession. The US and its allies are now so dependent on the imaginary wealth from “finance” that their economies are more likely to be completely destroyed, as the emperor is finally revealed to be naked.

Whichever way you try to look at it – not only will it be a terrible evil, it doesn’t even make sense for any country on earth.

This might seem OK to jihadi warriors or believers in the Rapture or in God’s chosen people or other lunatics for whom the destruction of the world can’t come soon enough.

I just wish there really was a god who would vacuum the warmongers up now and throw them in the Pit and show them some ruthless smiting for having no respect for life and trying to take those of us who do along with them.

Dale Farm (not the yoghurt)

Tomorrow there will probably be a mass eviction of 86 traveller families at Dale Farm, Basildon, despite the opposition of bodies like Amnesty International and the UN’s expert on minority rights.
This eviction will apparently cost £18 million. Not a misprint. £209,302 plus change for every family evicted. About ten year’s wages at £20k, which is well above minimum wage. Financial crisis, my bum. There seems to plenty of spare public money for racial harassment. (Which, as far as I understand it, makes Basildon Council an international rogue council and potentially fair game for some sort of international invasion task force.)
If the historical parallels of where the new Euroracism seems to be heading aren’t clear enough, look at jewify.com. They’ve had the brilliant idea of rewriting newspaper pages and headlines by replacing words like “gypsy” and “traveller” with the word “Jew”.
Just look at the headline examples on the home page. I hope your blood runs cold.

Dystopia, UK

You just try getting to sleep in an undeclared war zone. Given the noise of helicopters and exploding vehicles, I suspect that there must be a film crew remaking Apocalypse Now outside my house.

The UK media has reported the riots with instant guesses about what’s happening and/or repeats of each other’s copy. The posh papers have been full of instant punditry. Online, these stories have been twat magnets for the far right’s minor army of hangers and floggers.

The BBC site provided a selection of UK riot stories from around the globe. Among the quotes, there were quite a few perceptive ones, such as this from the Chinese Renmin Ribao

“The Olympics will be hosted next year; the security situation in London, which has always been a first-choice site for terrorist attacks, will be even grimmer. British police now face two main problems. First, as the government cuts police funding in order to reduce the deficit, British police will carry out massive layoffs. With insufficient manpower and financial resources, they will inevitably be overwhelmed with problems in maintaining social order. Second, after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, the credibility of the British police has declined and there is still a very long way to go in rebuilding the credibility of the police and restoring public support, says Qu Bing, Institute of European Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.”

Obviously, there’s an element of irony there, for anyone who can remember the build up to the Beijing Olympics. But this one from Iran takes the irony biscuit:

Iran called for London police to exercise self-restraint in dealing with protesters in Tottenham, north of London. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast referred to Saturday night’s massive protests in Tottenham, which came following [the killing] of a young black man by Scotland Yard police and called for the UK government to avoid any police’s harsh treatment with protesters.

Mass killer apparently rewarded

Murder over 90 Norwegians and you’ll get a platform to explain why. WTF? The killer’s ludicrous and hate-filled “document” is already being spread across the world’s media. His lawyer said that he’ll make a full statement tomorrow, setting out why he felt that he had to carry out that act.

What sort of message does this send? In the face of the suffering of countless Norwegians – the dead, the wounded, their friends and families – the bastard is getting rewarded. He’s achieved worldwide fame, with a global platform to express views that you’d assume would empty a pub if he was spouting them at the bar.

Surely, he forfeited any freedom of speech right to spread anti-social propaganda with the death of the first victim, let alone when the death toll was coming up to 100.

And his views won’t just be spread by the man himself. They’ll be filtered through the very media that have already responded to the atrocity by feeding us an almost uninterrupted stream of anti-muslim nonsense. i.e. already serving his purpose. Here is particularly risible-if-it-wasn’t-serious US example.

At a time when you’d think that maybe the British media would be a mite humbled – in the face of the ongoing NewsCorp corruption scandals – the British press and tv have covered this story with their customary shamelessness. (Eg., the Sun initially described the far-right islamophobic nutter as “a muslim convert”.) There seems no way for the media to see any atrocity as not being somehow linked to Islamic extremism. Even if they have to invent the connection from whole cloth.

Charlie Brooker nails this perfectly, so, over to you Charlie Brooker.

Make your excuses and leave

The UK is daily seeing revelations of levels of institutional corruption that would have raised eyebrows in Amin’s Uganda. News International seem to have gone for full-scale subversion of any British institution they can get their hands on.

There’s an embarrassment of revelation riches. Scandals are spilling out at a rate that reminds you of the way that a convicted criminal might ask for hundreds of offences to be taken into consideration when he knows he’s going to jail anyway.
As a random instance: The Sun targeting Gordon Brown’s family. Including getting access to his disabled child’s medical records. And even having to invite the buggers to the funeral.
Hacking Brown was not even a well kept secret. It should have been the subject of a court case.

An unexpected ruling by a judge six years ago effectively covered up the chance to publicly expose evidence of the illegal targeting of Gordon Brown, which had been unearthed by a startled team of provincial detectives.
Operation Reproof, by Plymouth police, revealed the first of what became many systematic attempts to gain illegal confidential information on the prime minister and his family, but their findings were suppressed.
The Guardian has now been able to document the facts.
Files buried in police archives detail the discovery of an extraordinary nationwide network of private investigators, whom a corrupt local police officer was feeding with information filched from the police national computer (PNC) (from the Guardian)

Unlike Plymouth Police, the Metropolitan Police were allegedly so entangled in NI’s web of corruption and blackmail that they couldn’t do anything except contribute to the cover-ups.

(Even where NI misbehaviour involved a police detective, Detective Chief Superintendent David Cook, a Crimewatch presenter targetted for daring to investigate the murder of a NI-employed private detective, whose partners – also NI-employed private detectives were suspects. )

You can’t really blame them when it seemed that every member of the British establishment was either cowed or complicit (or, more likely, both.)

Thus, it’s been left to people like comedian Steve Coogan and actor Hugh Grant to mount almost the only serious challenges to the evil empire.

I am pleased to see that the BSkyB bid finally looks unlikely to go through unchallenged. The Murdoch machine has almost brought the BBC to its knees in pursuit of its tv ambitions, so – blameless as Sky channels might be, in terms of hacking dead teenager’s phones – I’d like to see it fail.

Also, it’s nice to see that News Corp investors are finally questioning the company, although it seems a mite hypocritical for institutional investors to insist that Murdoch must have known what his papers were doing. Can investors really have been unaware of the nature of the business they were investing in? If so, I suggest sending them 412 scam letters immediately, because they have money to invest and are naive enough to believe anything.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher signed some Faustian deal with Murdoch, British society has been paying the price. Maybe, as Harriet Harman implied in an interview this week, all UK political parties should get together and ask News Corp “Can we have our country back, please?”

Turning away

Last night’s UK Channel 4 Dispatches was entitled Iraq’s Secret War Files.

I tried to watch it. A few minutes in, I had to switch off. There’s only so much harrowing you can take on a work night. And the few minutes I saw were too harrowing….. A crying child drenched in the blood of the two adults who had been shot in the front seat of a car with 5 children in the back.

The Dispatches web page for this programme starts with:

…exposes the full and unreported horror of the Iraqi conflict and its aftermath, revealing the true scale of civilian casualties; and allegations that after the scandal of Abu Ghraib, American soldiers continued to abuse prisoners; and that US forces did not systematically intervene in the torture and murder of detainees by the Iraqi security services. The programme also features previously unreported material of insurgents being killed while trying to surrender.

I can’t even begin to list the catalogue of horrors that follow on the rest of the page, let alone in the programme.

As I said, I had to turn away from the programme. (And watch the more relaxing repeat of Jim Al-Khalili’s Atom on BBC4.)

So, total respect to those people who don’t just turn away. Who don’t feel it’s like knocking your head repeatedly against concrete to keep speaking up about outrages. Because someone has to have the courage to keep on doing it

Like wikileaks. If ever there would be a well-earned Nobel prize, that would be one given to wikileaks and – even more so – to those people who put the good of humanity before their own fear of arrest and provided the information.

Some sort of tribute

Benoit Mandelbrot died on 14th October.

(Non-breaking news from me. i.e. Probably 4 days after everyone else knows it. A good tribute on the BBC by the way but the images are poor.)

He was the main man for making maths beautiful, even to mathematically challenged people like me.. Fractal mathematics is the mathematics of life. In fact, for atheists, fractal maths is pretty much a direct route to what simpler people call looking at the face of “god” .

Here’s a beginner’s guide to what fractals are with links to some image galleries.

In the mid-nineties there were any number of graphics packages that let you play around with creating fractals, from a standing start, on a 486…. Especially the venerable and respected fractint.

I found a version that’s still online. version 20. It’s been updated to work on Windows 3.0…. Hmmm, even my PC isn’t quite that elderly.
(Wahay. I found a 2008 ftp site. Must try it out again.)

Here are a few fractal image links from tinterwebs.

* The classic Mandelbrot set.From a site that explains why it isn't evidence of Intelligent Design

I like the source that I got this image from. It points out that someone might see a visual representation of a Mandelbrot set as evidence for “Intelligent Design” and answers

But in fact, the Mandelbrot set is the product of a relatively simple mathematical equation.

That’s the non-divinely miraculous nature of fractal images. A few simple changes in start conditions and/or a slightly different equation and another infinite set of magical things appears.

* A fractal vegetable.

from wikipedia- image of a romanesco broccoli
Romanesco broccoli

Ok that’s cheating. Pretty much any living thing is “fractal.” The difference is that romanesco broccoli LOOKS like a generated fractal.

* The coastline of Norway
Space view of the coast of Norway

The coast of Norway looks like a generated fractal too. But, then, any coast is fractal. Zoom in and it breaks up into infinitely recursive self-similar patterns.

In fact, everything is pretty much fractal. Incredibly simple and endlessly complex. And we can see this mainly thanks to teh work of Mandelbrot.

They never learn

The Team directly responsible for the Iraq War / selling off UK public services to private companies / destroying civil liberties / turning at least a blind eye to torture losing the last election really haven’t got the message have they?

Mandelson and Blair are telling Labour party members – through the privileged medium of the public press – who to vote for in the upcoming election. Well, who not to vote for, anyway. And that is a category that seems to include everyone except David Miliband….. They both regard a potential win by Ed Miliband as a potential electoral disaster.

But then they are such popular chaps, these two – Blair and Mandelson….

Any remarks by Blair will be a mixed blessing for David Miliband: Blair has not been forgiven by many Labour activists for the Iraq war and the involvement of the private sector in public services. From the Guardian

Indeed, all the candidates united in publicly expressing distaste for Mandelson only two months ago.

Former foreign secretary David Miliband, who is believed to be Mandelson’s preferred candidate for the party leadership, described the memoirs as “destructive and self-destructive”.
He compared Mandelson’s appearance in a TV advert for the book to that of Bond villain Enst Blofeld, saying all the former minister, nicknamed the Prince of Darkness, needed was a white cat to stroke.

And he’s Mandelson’s chosen candidate….

I can detect only minimal difference between Millidum and Millidee. A conspiracy theorist might even suggest that Blair & Mandelson’s support for Milliband_A was just a cunning ruse designed to leverage (;-) the mass force of Party members’ anti-Blair&Mandelson revulsion to ensure that Miliband_B was elected.

.. Mandelson said anyone who tried to take Labour back to the era before Blair’s election as leader in 1994 would wreck the party’s chances of a swift return to power. (from the Guardian)

(I didn’t even know that any of the candidates had a time machine. )

This implies that the Labour party that is just power-seeking machine. What is supposed to be the point of seeking power? Pre-Blair Labour supporters might have said something about social justice. The Blairite camp would just snigger at your naivete for even posing the question.
In a video on the Guardian’s website, Diane Abbott talked about the massive contrast in campaign funding between her campaign (a couple of volunteers and a £1000 in the bank) and Miliband_A’s. He, on the other hand, has received over £200,000. Plus the poisoned-chalice free support of the New Labour big guns, of course.

Spot the odd one out: Candidate’s voting records…..
Diane Abbott
David Milliband
Ed Milliband
Ed Balls
Andy Burnham

Mmm. Only one of these candidates hasn’t spent the past few years kissing leadership butt and supporting the sort of policies that have brought the Labour Party into such disrepute among its natural supporters.

There’s one candidate with clean hands. And (simulated surprise) she doesn’t have big money from big business.

As Andy Hamilton said on Have I Got News For You last year (from memory)…

“I can’t be doing with these new metric politicians like the Millibands. I much preferred the old imperial ones like Michael Foot..”

Blasphemy

No doubt due to an understandable confusion between laws that might be appropriate for 1st April with legislation that comes into force on 1st January, the Irish government has introduced a law against blasphemy. With fines up to E25,000.

I can’t explain the year date so easily. There’s obviously been a mistake in the year part of the date of several hundred years.

I can sympathise, given that my PC has been under the impression that I was still living in the 12th December 2009. If it were to decide that I’m really living in the 14th century, I’d have to blame in on having accidentally bought Irish computer parts.

I doubt that the Irish government reads this humble blog with the same attention to detail as do branches of our own but if you are reading this, Taoiseach, please get some underlings to update your system clock.

( Happy New Year.)

Old Scientology News

This is ‘old news’ in 2 senses. (Sense 1) It’s old news because it’s from the the Times of 6 August 2009. (Sense 2) And it’s also really old news because it’s “formerly secret news” from 3 decades ago. The gist of it is:

L Ron Hubbard was a fraud….. No, really. (It is also rumoured the Pope is Catholic. There may be secret files on this.)

The Times filed a Freedom of Information request to access the National Archive files on Scientology. The Department of Health yielded the information on diplomats’ efforts to find out if Hubbard was really a PhD.

(Quick pause to wonder how confusing the government filing system must have been if this item ended up in the Dept of Health.)

Britain’s secret mission to expose Scientology leader as ‘fraud’
The founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, was exposed as a fraud 30 years ago by British diplomats who were investigating his qualifications.
The science-fiction writer, who invented a religion now followed by celebrities such as Tom Cruise, awarded himself a PhD from a sham “diploma mill” college that he had acquired, the diplomats found. …..

Bit of a damp squib. Given the relatively enticing headline, I was hoping for something more shocking than L Ron’s postgraduate qualifications being imaginary. I suppose at that point maybe the claim that

“…L. Ron Hubbard was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Sequoia University on February 10, 1953, in recognition of his outstanding work in the fields of Dianetics and Scientology and that the said degree was recorded with the Department of Education of the State of California,” John McMaster stated.

might have passed for academic support for the idea of the sciencey- sounding Dianetics actually being a science. It’s still hard to imagine a world in which any reasonable person would accept that, even if it turned out to be supported by a PHd or a full professorship or an NVQ Level 1 in Customer Service.

Links to the Times Scientology Archive don’t work today, but this Times link did:

Simpsons producers ‘have a cow’ as Bart lends his voice to Scientologists
Bart Simpson used to be an underachiever and proud of it. These days, it seems, he’s an Operating Thetan VII in the Church of Scientology and proud of that, too.
At least, that is what Scientologists were led to believe this week when they received an automated telephone message featuring the voice of Bart inviting them to the Scientology Flag World Tour, an event being held in Hollywood tomorrow.

Blimey, those Scientologists are real celeb-magnets. Even the voice of a cartoon character – whose defining characteristics are mischievousness and stupidity – is grist to their celeb mill.

Although, it turns out that, in the real world, Bart’s voice belongs to a woman who is an Operating Thetan VII “and therefore an individual who can operate independently of her body” (The Times). Hmm, sorry, did I say “in the real world”?

Well, it seems her body can operate independently of her mind anyway, because

Ms Cartwright, who earns an estimated $400,000 (£280,000) per episode, was recently awarded Scientology’s Patron Laureate Award after reportedly donating $10 million to the organisation

As it happens, I have a Nobel prize from Oak University, awarded for my sterling work in Camillanology. I have produced a rigorous science-filled training plan that will allow dedicated students to gain the mystical power to talk out of their bottoms. And I love cartoons.

Don’t pay out another dollar please, Ms Cartwright until you have checked out the secret system that I was taught by hyper-intelligent entities from the planet Zeta,

At last a use for the internet

Shakespeare’s Henry V was a “history play”. At the time the play was written, the events it showed were already over a hundred and fifty years in the past.

Now, anyone with access to the web can go one better than Shakespeare, whose detailed knowledge of the period must have been a bit limited (Well, OK, you can only better Shakespeare in certain specified ways. Nobody’s managed to get the monkeys to tap out the Complete Works yet. )

You can find out the names and jobs of the individual men in Henry V’s armies just by searching on The Soldier in Later Medieval England databases. Plus, you can learn any number of other details about medieval soldiers – such as the archers in the Earl of Arundel’s service.

There are now 250,000 medieval service records online, in a pilot project covering the period from 1369 to 1453.

You can have hours of history nerd fun with this, such as trying to guess which were the most common late medieval peasant surnames.

(Smiths are pretty rare, for instance, although maybe my search-criteron spelling was too specific. There are a mere half a dozen Taylors. Even FitzWilliams seem to greatly outnumber Smiths. There are many more chaps with the Archer surname, suggesting a possible failure of imagination by the clerks who kept these records.)

People with a less frivolous interest in local or family history can search on surnames or dates or leaders and extend their knowledge, rather than their enjoyment of trivia.

There are bits of the database that I can’t work out what to do with, especially the column labelled membrane which has entries like “m4d”

According to the BBC

The website is the product of a research project by Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton and Dr Adrian Bell of the University of Reading.

Bravo, respect to them and everyone who worked on it.