Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘greece

Through Thick and Thin: This is not a Difficult Concept

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Image brought to Doug’s Darkworld inspired by the Oklahoma Senate, which just passed a bill claiming that a fertilized egg is a human being. We live in an interesting age, but when one tries to enforce a bronze age morality on a  21st century nation, the going really gets weird. Bottom line: It’s OK for people to have sex for reasons other than procreation. Really, try it some time, you’ll be surprised. As soon as we get that settled, the sooner we can go about sensible ways of making sure that every child is a wanted child, but sadly the evangelicals are never going to give up on sex. It’s how cults control people. It would be like a government giving up taxation, aint gonna happen.

Whitney Houston died. Whitney who? This  story got vastly more press than it deserved, but that’s the corporate fawning media at work, real news get short shrift, dead celebrities get top billing. Yes, the mainstream media is now little different that  the celebrity magazines by the checkout counter at Safeway. The state of New Jersey is even going to fly its flags at half mast for Whitney, so yes, it can always get weirder. Some aren’t exactly thrilled by this, who can blame them?

The UN has condemned the Syrian government and asked them to step down. Yes, an organization touted as being a way for states to avoid conflict with each other is now simply the enforcer of western hegemony, the US and its allies get to decide what a legitimate government is. The usual burblings about it being about human rights, like the bloody sores that are Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya were. Only tyranny and discord can be imposed on a country from outside, freedom can only be had when a people chose to be free … which of course is what the west is so freaking terrified about in the Middle East. They aren’t afraid of terrorism, that’s to distract the rubes. The real fear is powerful sovereign governments running their countries in their own best interests. Can’t have that, it makes it almost impossible to exploit them for their resources.

Speaking of fake scary again, Iran made its heralded nuclear announcement. Which got zero news coverage because they announced that they had installed their first domestically produced fuel rod in a reactor, and that they had made a breakthrough in medical radioisotopes. All under constant western supervision of course, since Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is carefully monitored as per its obligations under the NPT. Iran being a peaceful responsible player isn’t part of the crazy mullahs meme, so I doubt anyone even saw this in the news. No, just the stories about purported amateur Iranian plots to kill Israeli diplomats, stories so fishy one has to hold their nose while reading them.

Greece. What a mess. My current understanding is that the crux of the whole Euro thing, is that everyone borrowed beyond their means on the assumption that the world and national economies would continue to grow forever and outpace the debt. Yes, basically every nation in the west acted like a crack head with a  credit card, and now the bills are coming due. All in collusion with the bankers of course. If people really understood that,  capitols would burn. So instead a fall guy has been found, Greece. If the bankers can just get the population of one county to agree to be serfs to pay off the bankers debt, maybe others will follow. I don’t think it’s gonna work, people may be sheep, but they are going to notice if serfdom is brought back.

One would hope so at least. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s all over the Internet, I have no idea who to attribute it to. Redefining reality to promote social control, that’s religion in a nutshell.)

Ten World War Two Allied military blunders (Part 2)

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This is the second part of ten Allied military blunders of World War Two. The comments I made at the beginning of the first article still apply. The only thing I would add is that I have tried to select lesser known blunders, especially ones that made for an interesting story. With no further ado:

6. The British campaign in Norway. This one is complicated. Basically at the beginning of World War Two Germany invaded Norway to secure important bases and transport routes for Swedish iron ore. The British (and French) hastily assembled forces to prevent the Germans from occupying all of Norway. Carefully laid plan vs hasty slapdash plan, guess who won? While the Germans lost ships they could ill afford to lose, British losses were significant too. And, basically, pointless. Wikipedia: Allied Campaign in Norway

7. The sinking of the HMS Glorious. This one is still a mystery. The British Aircraft Carrier Glorious was ferrying planes out of Norway after the failed British intervention there, and was given permission to travel essentially alone back to Britain through an area where German surface ships might be operating, no convincing explanation of why this was allowed has ever surfaced. More puzzling, even though visibility was excellent, the Glorious had no planes in the air, and didn’t even have anyone in its crow’s nest to scan the horizon! And as a result, they were caught completely by surprise by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The two escorting British destroyers made basically suicidal attacks to lay smoke screens and delay the Germans so that the Glorious could get some planes in the air, they were both blown out of the water as destroyers are simply no match for battlecruisers. And the Scharnhorst’s gunner then made a direct hit on the Glorious at a distance of nearly 15 miles, one of the longest range hits ever made with naval guns, destroying the two planes that were being readied and blowing a big hole in the carrier’s flight deck and making it impossible to launch planes. Within two ours of sighting the Germans, the Glorious and its escorts ere sunk, with a loss of over 1500 men, fewer than 50 survived. As one last clusterfuck, either the Glorious didn’t radio for help, or no one received the message, because the British didn’t know the Glorious had been sunk until they heard it on German news broadcasts. Wikipedia: The sinking of the HMS Glorious

8. Operation Menace. After the fall of France one of the major issues was where would France’s colonies go, with the Free French or with the German installed Vichy government in France. Dakar, an important West African port in the now nation of Senegal went with the Vichy government. De Gaulle insisted that the French forces there would quickly come over to the Free French if he showed up, Churchill believed him, and a hastily assembled force was sent to Dakar: Operation Menace. It was a comedy of errors from the beginning, secrecy as so poorly kept that African natives in fishing boats called out “You’re going to Dakar?” to the fleet as it passed by. When they arrived, it turned out their maps were hopelessly out of date and the French defenders were far better armed than had been thought. And they had no intention of surrendering to a British fleet, De Gaulle, or anyone. Even after the British had arrived, a small fleet of French ships was able to slip by and reinforce the defenders! For several days the British tried to knock out the French shore batteries and a French battleship that was operating as a floating gun battery in the harbour. Several small ships and a few French subs were sunk, but the French defenders kept fighting. An invasion force landed, but in the face of strong resistence it as withdrawn, as De Gaulle wisely didn’t want Frenchmen killing Frenchmen. The fight ended when a French sub managed to torpedo and heavily damage a key British ship, a heavy cruiser. De Gaulle’s reputation was badly tarnished by the whole pointless affair. Wikipedia: Operation Menace

As an aside to this story, a few years later the captain of the French submarine, now fighting for the Allies, was personally decorated by the captain of the British cruiser he had torpedoed at Dakar. He mentioned this during the ceremony, and in a wonderful example of British aplomb, the cruiser captain’s reply was “Good shot!”

9. The British intervention in Greece. One would think that the failure of the intervention in Norway would have taught the British a lesson. Nope. When Germany and Italy invaded Greece, Churchill insisted that the bulk of forces in North Africa be rushed to Greece. Yes, a handful of British troops would stop the by then massive German armies; it was, basically nuts. The British forces in Greece were routed, and large numbers of them captured. And worse, the British forces in North Africa had just routed the Italians and were poised to capture all of Italian North Africa. Instead, their withdrawal meant the Germans had time to send Rommel and the Afrika Corps to Libya, and the rest is history. Wikipedia: Operation Lustre

10. Exercise Tiger. OK, four mistakes where Churchill was partly (or wholly) responsible for is enough, now one where Churchill wasn’t involved, Exercise Tiger. This took place in April 1944, and a was full scale practice run for the D-Day landing on Utah Beach two months later, as Eisenhower thought that the troops needed realistic training. Well, they got it. Blunders were made from the start. The British and Americans were using different radio frequencies for one, and communication between the two sides was compromised. So that when one of the two British warships escorting the invasion convoy broke down, the American troop ships weren’t informed. The other British ship led the convoy in a line, making them an easy target for German torpedo boats, or E-boats as they were called. One reference even states that when the E-boats were sighted, they were mistaken for friendlies. The E-boats attacked, and sank several troop ships. It gets worse, of the nearly seven hundred men who died, hundreds drowned becasue they hadn’t been trained on how to properly wear their life vests, so that when they inflated their vests, they were flipped upside down and drowned. The exercise continued, and as part of the realism, Eisenhower had ships using live fire shelling the beach past where the invading troops were supposed to go. There was some confusion at this point, because another nearly 300 men were killed by this fire. Basically nearly a thousand men died rehearsing the landing on Utah beach … where only about 200 men died. There’s a rumour that the survivors were sworn to secrecy forever, which isn’t true. They were sworn to secrecy for the duration of the war, but the news was quietly released even before the end of the war. The whole embarrassing mess isn’t very well documented, but the reasons for that seem pretty obvious to me. No one wants to remember a world class screw up. Wikipedia: Exercise Tiger.

And that’s that. No, I didn’t get all my information from Wikipedia, I just provided those links so people curious to know more have a place to start. As always when talking about historical events, they are subject to interpretation and debate. I’ve noticed that sometimes historians weigh in and correct or add information my history posts, such comments are welcome and appreciated.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law as far as I can tell. It’s the HMS Glorious under fire taken from the deck f the Scharnhorst. People are dying in this photo, an aspect of wars that isn’t appreciated enough.)

A Real Ancient Mystery: The Antikythera Mechanism

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I actually feel kind of bad arguing that things like the Ica Stones or the Bimini Road are hoaxes and such. I mean, I so so want for something like that to be real. Have been that way since my childhood and I discovered UFOs, sea serpents, the Bermuda triangle, ancient astronauts, and all the rest. Read every book on such topics I could lay my hand on, and still read the occasional one today. So when I wrote my post on the Ica Stones, in some ways it felt like I was explaining that Santa Claus isn’t real. Sniff.

Fortunately, all is not lost. There is in fact an ancient artifact that has excellent provenance, and is still mysterious and not fully understood. And it most definitely indicates that at least in some parts science and technology around 100BC was far more advanced than anyone dreamt. Yes, the ancient Greeks built at least one computer. Pictured above is a 2,000 year old computer, the Antikythera Mechanism. It’s very real and there’s no doubt about its origin. It’s not a hoax like the Ica Stones, nor is is from natural geological processes like the Bimini Road, this is the real deal.

The AntiKythera Mechanism was found on a  first century BC Greek shipwreck in 1900-01. It was found by Greek sponge divers using early forms of diving apparatus. They carried up numerous statues and other small artifacts. An archaeologist diving to the site found what appeared to be gears in a  rock, and as such, the Antikythera device was found. It then sat in a museum drawer for fifty odd years before anyone took a  serious look at it. And then, it gets exciting. X-rays revealed that it was an amazingly complex clockwork mechanism with literally dozens of gears. This was no ancient Greek egg timer, this was a serious computational device.

OK, so what was it? Well, it was a wooden box with a complex bronze clockwork mechanism inside with a number of dials on the outside:

The top is the front view, the bottom is the rear view. Basically the knob on the side was turned, and the various dials and pointers moved to show the position of the Sun, Moon, and very likely a number of planets in the sky. It may have been able to predict eclipses, and it may have been able to show when Olympic games were being held. It had a door with a huge inscription on it that was most certainly an instruction manual. The language and phrasing on it  indicate it came from Corinth, which would mean that maybe the technology behind it originated with Archimedes. There are also indications that it came from Rhodes, and Hipparchus may have have something to do with it. Bottom line is, we don’t really know who made it or why it was on a  ship apparently bound for Rome, but we do know that it was another 1400 years before complex clockwork mechanisms like this appear in the historical record.

In fact at first disbelief was so strong that it was initially suggested this was something that had fallen off a much more modern ship and wasn’t really an ancient Greek artifact at all. Modern studies have shown that it is indeed a clockwork device built around 100BC. And more importantly, it’s very clear from the complexity and elegance if its construction, that this was not some one-off device by a mad genius, there was a considerable body of knowledge and technology behind the device. Though here’s a wonderful example of the scientific method at work, people reasoned that if this was indeed a product of a body of technology … we would expect that at the very least some other fragments of such devices would have shown up in the archaeological record. And lo and behold, a search of drawers of ancient Greek “miscellaneous” archaeological finds revealed a handful of other toothed gears such as the Antikythera mechanism was made of.

And, what, exactly, was the Antikythera mechanism used for? That is still the biggest mystery of all. While initially it was thought to be a navigational device, this is no longer thought to be the case. It’s way too complex and wouldn’t really be practical as such.  It may have been simply a teaching aid, something used at an advanced school to demonstrate knowledge of the heavens and mathematics. It might also have been what would now be called a “military secret.” IE being able to predict eclipses and such could be useful knowledge for people in power. The later explanation has the benefit of explaining why such devices weren’t more widely distributed and why there’s no mention of them in what records of the era we have. On the other hand, very few bronze artifacts from ancient eras survived because bronze was valuable and most artifacts sooner or later got melted down and turned into coins and such.

What the device isn’t, is evidence of time travel or aliens. While it is an incredible device, it doesn’t contain any indication of knowledge or math that wasn’t extent at the time. Studies of the Antikythera device continue today and new discoveries are still being made.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(All of the above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They are central to illustrating the post and are not being used for profit. At some point I will write a post about why didn’t the ancient Greek and Roman world spawn an industrial revolution? I mean, they had all the technology, including a steam engine.)

Written by unitedcats

July 9, 2010 at 8:01 am