Posts Tagged ‘history’

300th post. Who’d have thought it would last this long eh?

I think I deserve an introspective piece as a result. A bit of self indulgent navel gazing.

There’s a piece in the Indy regarding the destruction of historically significant artifacts by religious extremists. Most recently the libraries containing ancient manuscripts in Timbuktu by Malian Islamisists, but they are just following a long and proud tradition of destroying knowledge. The Taliban were famously responsible for blowing up giant statues of Buddha, but if we go back further even Henry VIII had a good go at erasing monastic seats of knowledge.

As a person of a more scientific than religious slant it occurs to me that as a species we are just following scientific principles.

Physics and the laws of thermodynamics state that all systems tend towards an entropy maximum, where entropy represents disorder in a system. It takes work to resist entropy.

It appears that humans are hell bent on reversing the gains we have made and dragging ourselves back to an archaic level of ignorance, a maximum level of chaos and disorder. The technology we congratulate ourselves for inventing merely acting as a catalyst in a chemical reaction speeding the process of change within the system. From the AK wielding shouty nutters of sand blown disaster zones to the creationist hobbled science classes that are supposed to educate our children we are losing ground on every front.

Ultimately one of the possible end states of the universe is called the heat death of the universe. A flat uniform sea of entropy, not of any specific level, but a minimum of activity in a bland featureless void.

Perhaps we hurtle headlong into the heat death of civilisation. Sped along by hyperbole and hypocrisy, riding the back of the silicon age. Our ability to advance gradually slowing to a retreat into a moribund state of ignorance and intolerance. Forever to stagnate until nature finally takes pity and through famine, disease or the sun going nova finally puts us out of our misery.

Hopefully we can do it with the minimum of fuss and leave the cockroaches to their turn in peace.

Just read an article today lamenting the cost of operations in Afgahnistan, thought to be in the region of £18bn. It’s a lot of cash. Especially on a day when they’ve released the figures on public sector pensions and how an extra £1.2bn per year needs to be found to meet the commitments. We now face strikes as they ask those earning over £15,000 to pay more in contributions. (BBC says consulations suggesting around 0.6% for those on up to around £26,000 – or a whole £156 extra a year for a final salary pension scheme, wish I could find one at that price)

A thought did occur where a considerable amount of cash dissapeared to, perhaps we should be able to ask Gordon Brown to make good the shortfall when the financial fuckwit blew all our gold reserve?

He sold 395 tons of the stuff in 1999 at an all time low price of an average $275.60/ounce. By way of comparison gold prices hit $1,628.80/ounce last week.

So how much did we lose adjusted for currencies and inflation?

Price sold at
per ounce $275.60
per ton $8,819,200.00
total sale value (395 tons) $3,483,584,000.00
convert to £ (1999 rate 0.62$ per £) £2,159,822,080.00
adjust for inflation (x1.5) £3,239,733,120.00

High Price Value
per ounce $1628.80
per ton $52,121,600.00
total sale value (395 tons) $3,483,584,000.00
convert to £ (current rate 0.61$ per £) £12,599,875,584.00
adjust for inflation (x1) £12,599,875,584.00

Total losses adjusted for inflation and exchange rate

(£12,599,875,584.00 – £3,239,733,120.00) = £9,360,142,464.00

…or to put it another way it went for 34% of it’s current value.

….or to put it another way it would cover the public sector penions contributions until 2020 without even adjusting for interest earned on it. If that was factored then it would probably make the current pensions pot sustainable.

Think on that next time Gordon claims to have saved the banking adn financial world. No wonder the treasury is so screwed.

The world is paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of Yuro Gagarins epic voyage into the unknown. His flight on the 12 April, 1961 began with his shout “Poyekhali! (Let’s go!)”. This video beautifully combines archive footage, radio communcations and video shot from the International Space Station to relive the view he would have had, in real time, of his pioneering flight.

What struck me is what an exciting time the 50’s and 60’s were. We had leapt from the first flights in 1903 to landing on the moon 65 years later. By comparison what have we acheived since? I know that many of these developments were driven by wars both hot and cold, and manned exploration is expotentially more difficult as we reach further into the universe. But take a look at a few of these significant firsts…

First successful heavier-than-air machine flight.

First cross-Channel flight

First transatlantic flight.

First piloted supersonic flight in an airplane

1957 A busy year!
First round-the-world nonstop jet plane flight.

Soviet Union launches Sputnik I.

Sputnik II launches, with ill-fated Laika the dog on board.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to enter space and return safely.

Astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong become the first men to walk on the moon.

1972 Launch of unmanned Pioneer 10: Earth’s first space probe to an outer planet, Pioneer 10 sent its last communication back to Earth on January 22, 2003, while 7.6 billion miles from home

1973 United States launches the first experimental space station, the Skylab.

First regularly scheduled commercial supersonic transport (SST) flights begin.

Aboard the space shuttle Columbia, Robert L. Crippen and John W. Young make the first mission in NASA’s space shuttle program.

Mir space station launches.

The crew of Expedition One, astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, dock at the International Space Station. They are the first people to take up residence at the ISS, staying there for several months.

Spirit and Opportunity arrive on the Martian surface. They continue to explore the Red Planet today.

SpaceShipOne becomes the first privately built craft to reach outer space.

What is striking is the slow down in exploration. What achievements have been made in the last 5 years for instance? We are still riveted by the Mars explorers which are still producing new data despite being designed for a 3 month mission. NASA is retiring the shuttles and the workhorses of Russia and the ESA seem dedicated to servicing the ISS, which although a magnificent acheiviement is still in a low earth orbit that we bettered decades ago.

I want to be excited about exploration. But as a species we seem to only have resources for parochial political gambits and as a population we seem more interested in whatever phone vote is on Saturday night.

Perhaps Yuri was better off not seeing what we became. His thirst for knowledge and experience was summed up in a note he left to be sent in the event of his death (which was estimated as 50/50 at best!)

“I trust the hardware completely. It will not fail. But it can happen that a man trips at ground level and breaks his neck. Some accident may happen. If it does, do not waste yourself with grief. Life is life, and nobody is safe from being run over by a car.”

Bravo Zulu Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, 9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968

Whilst we have elected officials managing to show as much disrespect to our armed forces as possible, we also have a government which seems intent on crippling them.

The recent Defence Review seems almost suicidal in its decisions. We have helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft being cut in favour of low level bombers, compounded with reductions in our ability for defence posturing overseas by the delay and mothballing of our replacement carrier capability. Not to mention the 100% capability shortfall in our capacity to operate combat air patrols for fleets at sea.

I simply cannot foresee what type of strategic planning our pitifully small number of low level fighter bombers could be useful in? Designed for a cold war where they had to penetrate Russian defended airspace they are now an asset without a cause. In any serious total war scenario they are too few in number, and largely superfluous given the ICBM capability for nuclear counter attack, and now becoming obselete as a defence force with the advent of the Typhoon. Far more useful, flexible and deployable would be an expanded helicopter fleet backed up with an intelligence and reconnaissance capability. This is about the only part of the defence review I do whole heartedly agree with. The Nimrod fleet was vastly over budget, delayed and based on the Comet airframe! Similar equipment could easily have designed into and mounted on a more recent Boeing or airbus airframe without the expensive requirement for bespoke parts required for upkeep. Even better, mount this on AUV platforms for increased endurance, reach and stealth. By way of comparison the MRA4 has cost around £4.1bn for one airworthy aircraft which we have now trashed – compare that with around £1.75bn for a new space shuttle.

The reduction in carriers and helicopters is almost unforgivable at the strategic planning level. The US Navy describe the big Nimitz class carriers “4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory” And essentially that what a carrier is. It is more than the simple organic fleet protection capability. It is more than being able to control the airspace of the littoral without any host nation support, it is even more than the ability to loiter of a coast as an aid to diplomatic discussions .It is sovereign territory that you can use an airfield, receiving station, accommodation, evacuation point and command platform. It can flex muscle without committing to a war. It’s presence alone is a negotiating tool that does not require UN resolutions, and allows the pre-staging of men and equipment in safe, secure and above all British territory.

The reach of the carrier is in the helicopter force accompanying it. And these Helos are simply so versatile they are esential for modern forces. They allow troops to avoid ambush laden dangerous road trips, or give commanders the ability to rapidly reorganise or deploy forces to wield them to best effect. They give the capability to quickly and efficiently move large quantities of kit or people without the need for specialist infrastructure. Such as in a civilian evacuation, as we’ve seen before

Now I can’t imagine where one of those might come in useful?

All of this, to ensure the RAF has a reason for existing. Madness.

or be forever doomed to repeat it!

1981. Sir John Knot defence review
In a still infamous Defence White Paper announced his response to the massive recent increases in the size of the Soviet Navy – massive naval cuts for the RN! His plans included the sale of the small but brand new VSTOL harrier-carrier HMS Invincible to Australia, the two Fearless Class LPD’s to Argentina (amazingly!) and the withdrawl of the Ice Patrol vessel Endurance. This action contributed to the Argentine belief that Britain was unwilling and unable to defend her possessions in the South Atlantic

April 1982
At the beginning of the Falklands War, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, had told British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher: “If we pussyfoot in our actions and do not achieve complete success, in a few months we shall be living in a different country whose word counts for little”.

Fast Forward to the present.
A massive cut in defence spending is imminent, the forces are facing an ever increasing demand for ever reducing manpower and equipment. For the last decade the Army has been at the forefront of an ongoing conflcit with no clear objective whilst the RN provides support. New Aircraft carriers may well appear like expensive status symbols to politicians eager to find headline catching items to cut. HMS Endurance faces an expensive repair bill in order to maintain an RN presence in remote regions the other side of the world. It would appear to the casual (or indeed foreign) observer that the UK is again signalling its intention to relinquish its rights in South Atlantic and Antarctic, along with a reduction in its amphibious and seabourne air power.

We are already seeing the results

It is upon the Navy, under the good providence of God, that the Wealth, Safety and Strength of the Kingdom do chiefly depend.

This was laid down in the first Articles of War. It is carved into the edifice of the Britannia Royal Naval College for every Officer under training to stare at whilst on parade (trust me on this, you have little else to do for hours on end). It is as valid a doctrine now as it ever was.

The population of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and other dependencies are British. They were born British, are fiercely loyal to the UK, and deserve our support whether there are natural resources under their land or not. Yes, they are few in number, but if this is a simple game of arithmetic then why not hand the Channel Islands to France? or Northern Ireland to Eire?

We must retain the ability to act militarily without host nation support. These are skills and infrastructures that take generations to build and develop, and a single defence review to destroy. There will not always be friendly convienient airfields to fly from, or friendly ports to ship supplies to. The ability to project power from a fleet into the littoral is vital and we surrender it at our, and our dependencies peril.