Save Bletchley Park!

The UK equivalent of these museums is Bletchley Park and the National Museum of Computing which is housed there.

Bletchley Park is an example of British brains and British thinking at its best. Have we no national pride? Is the UK government ashamed of British achievements? Where is our debt of gratitude for the efforts of so many to achieve so much? In Britain we can’t even manage to preserve what we have.

Well, yes, there is indeed something there worth saving.

The Mansion house was bought by Sir Herbert Leon in 1883 and was requisitioned by the government in 1938.

In fact, what is worth saving is the very best of British.

We\’re the people who invented the concept that even the Government was not above the law. That private property really is private property.

The government of the time nicked it off Sir Herbert Leon\’s family citing urgent national need. They should now restore it to the state it was and give it back.

Reinforcing the idea that what is ours cannot be simply taken by bureaucratic fiat is far more important than a museum of computing. Indeed, a far better memorial to those whose war service there was to protect us from that most un-British of ideas, that we and what is ours belong to the State.


Me, I welcome this news:

Paying for the right to work for nothing is one of the more interesting economic concepts to have come out of this downturn. Time was in the US when spring would come and a young man\’s fancy turned lightly to thoughts of a summer internship. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students migrate to the big cities over the long break to get their first step on the career ladder with a few weeks of negligibly (if at all) remunerated filing, dogsbodying and sporadic sexual harassment.

One might have expected this sort of chattel system to thrive in a recession but, apparently, quite the opposite. There is so much competition for internships that some parents – those, it must be said, of the controlling "helicopter" persuasion – are reaching for their chequebooks. Others are hiring consultants to promote their little darlingsby sending a blizzard of CV-shots to likely targets.

Meanwhile, fund-raising websites have reported a sharp increase in supposedly sexy media companies – including Rolling Stone and Elle magazines, and Atlantic Records – auctioning their internships. A week polishing CD boxes for a music-production company went last month for $12,000.

A welcome return to Victorian values: where the apprentice paid his apprentice master for the value of the training he received. And of course, when people are indeed paying for something then the value of what they receive is likely to go up, is it not?

Robert E Lee

A comment seen elsewhere:

Robert E. Lee\’s sins are well-known, and heavily-paid for; besides, Obama was telling a wicked joke which was actually funny…. but what the hell, a Lee story that OUGHT to be more widely known:

One thing that Americans sometimes undervalue is being a good loser. Lee lost badly, after all, in every way (stroll through his family\’s old rose garden sometime), but after Appomattox when Mosby proposed to Lee that he could take his men up into the hills and kill Yankees until Kingdom Come, Lee told him to give it up — and he had the moral clout to make it stick. That\’s not nothing.

But of course the biggest problem in the Confederacy was race, what to do with emancipated slaves: a whole society, centuries old, turned upside down. That it healed to scab doesn\’t mean it couldn\’t have been worse — and there were moments when it looked like it might have been better.

There was a famous incident right after the war, when an incredibly courageous black man dared to walk up to the rail at Christ Church in Alexandria (it\’s still there) to receive communion — a literally unthinkable outrage. The terms "segregation" or even "civil rights" don\’t do justice to the immediate post-slavery environment — there was stunned silence in the church, nobody knew what to do.

And then Robert E. Lee got up, walked to the rail, and knelt next to the man. IIRC, the minister served the black man first.

Is that an image, or what?

Great description

The reason Towton hasn’t come down the ages to us may be in part that it was in the middle of the Wars of the Roses, that complex internecine bout of patrician bombast, a hissy fit that stuttered and smouldered through the exhausted fag end of the Middle Ages like a gang feud.

Knife Crime

It\’s all the fault of markets. If we\’d remained in our cloth caps huddled around the mine or factory we worked in, grateful for the annual day out on the charabanc to the seaside, this would never have happened.

Yet the terms on which the better life was granted did involve the undermining of collective communal values. The growth of the market was at the expense of society. If the market has favoured individuals, it may also have injured society, even "broken" it, as Conservatives claim. How is the connection to be traced between perpetual economic growth and the social fracturing everyone deplores? It seems the social cost of things does not appear at the point of purchase, but manifests itself slowly, insidiously, over time.

In order to sell more and more to people in the 1950s and 60s, inner, psychic spaces had to be cleared so that we would be receptive to whatever was on offer. This required the dismantling of older ways of answering need, which involved dependency upon others. Networks of kinship and neighbourhood had to be swept away in order to create markets; just as in the colonial era, "undiscovered" lands had to be "opened up", so that "natives" might learn the value of a handful of coloured beads in exchange for the ruin of their cultural traditions.

OK, let\’s be very crudely reductionist here. There are something like 1200 murders a year in the UK (rough number). We\’ll also assume that in that golden age there were none.

Hands up everyone who would rewind the clock: back to a 1950s standard of living, back to a stultifying society (the 60s really were rebelling against something) but 1,200 people a year not being murdered.


Or is the collateral damage worth it (obviously not to the 1,200 of course, but to the 60 million of us)?

Despite Where the Idea Comes From

This might in fact not be all that bad an idea.

Silvio Berlusconi\’s wife added her voice yesterday to the growing calls for Italy to be partitioned.

It\’s only been a united country for what, 140 years or so? Is there anything about the current system of internal borders, the current situation of the world, which has to be kept for all time?

Maybe Garibaldi was wrong and the Risorgimento was itself a bad idea?

Baedeker Raids

I\’m not entirely convinced by this, you know?

Plans to deploy to the Eastern Front had been delayed for what became known as the Baedeker Raids because Hitler chose his targets from the popular tourist guides. Richard Flohr-Swann, Mr Schludecker’s translator and co-pilot on what he expects to be his final mission to Bath, said: “The rumour in his unit was they were trying to kill Churchill. They thought that was why they had been ordered to bomb the city centre.”

Churchill was rumoured to be staying at the Abbey Hotel in Bath. Although the bombs damaged 19,000 buildings, the hotel was not among them. Mr Schludecker, a pilot with Kampfgeschwader 2, stationed in eastern France, had never heard of Bath before the pre-mission briefing.

19,000 buildings in Bath alone? I\’m afraid I\’m hugely, hugely, unconvinced.

The population of the City now is about 80,000 and given the Georgian architecture of the centre, that part is pretty much all multiple occupancy. I expect (but don\’t know) that the population 65-70 years ago was lower.

I do know where at least some of the bomb damage was: Bear Flat, Queen Square, bottom of the Wells Road, Southgate and where the Tech is now (although at least some of that was caused by the City Council later), top of the High Street and so on, but 19,000 buildings would have been what, a quarter, half, the City?

As I say, hugely, hugely unconvinced.

Home News

A Second World War Luftwaffe pilot who last saw the city of Bath from the cockpit of a Dornier bomber is to return for the first time in 66 years next month to apologise.

Willi Schludecker, now 87, took part in three raids on the city that killed 400 and destroyed scores of Georgian buildings in April 1942.

The damage done by those bombing raids (it was a legitimate target though: much of the Admiralty was based there during the war) was as nothing to that done by the City Council in the years after it.

One of the bombs actually fell about 100 yards from the parentals (now) house. Got redeveloped at The Bear pub after the war….just gone bust as a result of the smoking ban too.

Another snippet: a bomb or two fell on the south side of Queen Square, destroying the Gerogian terrace there. Rebuilt after the war though (as the Francis Hotel), to complete the square again. You can still see the shrapnel damage on the other side of the square though.

It has been known for German exchage students to have this all pointed out to them.


What goes around comes around.

The artist\’s impression looks like something out of a science fiction film. But a hypersonic passenger plane that could fly to Australia from northern Europe in less than five hours has been designed in Britain. With funding from the European Space Agency, a team of engineers and scientists has come up with the A2, a plane they believe could carry 300 passengers at a top speed of more than 3,000mph.

This looks to me like a retread of the HOTOL concept: it\’s even got the same person designing the engines, Alan Bond. The thing is though that we now know that hypersonic engines do indeed work: we\’ve even supplied bits for a US military version of one that has been tested. Whether they are economic is of couse another matter.

Have to admit I don\’t get this:

A spin-off is that liquid hydrogen is potentially much greener than conventional fuel – rather than producing vast amounts of carbon emissions it gives off water vapour and nitrous oxide.

Given that NOx has a carbon equivalenteffect 296 times greater than CO2 I\’m not sure that\’s much of an advance. But, umm, how does burning H2 in O2 from the atmosphere create NOx?

Any chemists out there?


Leave aside that Winston Churchill nationalised BP

When did that happen?

I know there was a large shareholding, but nationalisation? Did I miss something?

Silly Question About George Orwell

OK, I know George Orwell died of TB. Looking it up it was in 1950.

I\’ve also been aware that although penicillin had been discovered in the late 20s (? That right?) it wasn\’t in anything like regular supply until after WWII. Looking around I see that he first antibiotic for TB treatment was Streptomycin

The first randomized controlled trial to be completed and, therefore, the first to be published, it was run by England\’s Medical Research Council and pitted streptomycin and bed rest against bed rest alone, which was then the standard TB therapy. It accrued its first patients in January 1947.

So Orwell was alive at around the time that the first effective treatment became available… least, available to some.

So, does anyone know whether he was treated with it? Or was it just one of these things, he died while the treatment was still in testing, not in general use: a little like if Freddie Mercury had kept going another year or two he would probably still be with us?

Not hugely important, I know, just be interesting to find out.

Donald Rumsfeld

I agree, I\’m not as knowledgeable about the minutiae of American politics as some others, but thi really did surprise me:

The invitees included two young anti-draft Congressmen, Robert Kastenmeier (D-Wisconsin) and Donald Rumsfeld (R-Illinois), and one pro-draft Senator, Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts).

Don Rumsfeld? That Don Rumsfeld? Unknown Unknowns Rumsfeld? Was anti-draft in the 1960s?

That Kennedy would have been pro-, hateful statist creep that he is, doesn\’t surprise me.

Humans and Harems

News that a close relative of Homo Sapiens had harems, rather like the modern gorilla:

An ancient human relative may have had a love life much like the modern gorilla, with single dominant males keeping “harems” of females, research has suggested.

A study of 35 fossilised specimens of Paranthropus robustus – a hominin that lived between 1.5 million and 2 million years ago – has revealed large differences between male and female growth that shed light on its probable mating habits. Paranthropus males continued growing for much longer than do modern human beings, well into adulthood, and eventually reached sizes that made them very much larger than females, according to the analysis led by British and Italian scientists. Most would still have been growing long after their female contemporaries had started to breed.

Such disparities in size between males and females, known as sexual dimorphism, is usually associated throughout the animal kingdom with mating structures in which a single dominant male secures access to plenty of females, while smaller, subordinate males have few opportunities to breed. The gorilla has just such a sex life, with males growing for many years before they develop into fully mature “silverbacks” that start to dominate and acquire a troop of females.

But, er, no, this is not an excuse for you all to go out and get a harem (which, in our long lived species, also means a multiplicity of mothers in law, a somewhat unfortunate side effect).

Paranthropus robustus was not a direct ancestor of modern Man but lay on a separate branch of the human family tree that is now extinct.

Evolutionary dead end, you see?


We adjusting for inflation here or not?

Cotton is trading at 53 cents a pound. It fetched 30 cents in 1860.

1860 New York prices appear to be around 12-13 cents a pound, another estimate is 15 cents for 1857.

Given the inflation rate over the past 150 years it\’s difficult to see it coming out at 30 cents in any way at all. Then again, if we\’re not adjusting fo inflation, it does show that cotton is extremely cheap compared to what it was: as you would expect, given the mechanisation and increase in yields over the time period.

Walter Williams

Very nice indeed:

Whereas, Europeans kept my forebears in bondage some three centuries toiling without pay,

Whereas, Europeans ignored the human rights pledges of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution,

Whereas, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments meant little more than empty words,

Therefore, Americans of European ancestry are guilty of great crimes against my ancestors and their progeny.

But, in the recognition Europeans themselves have been victims of various and sundry human rights violations to wit: the Norman Conquest, the Irish Potato Famine, Decline of the Hapsburg Dynasty, Napoleonic and Czarist adventurism, and gratuitous insults and speculations about the intelligence of Europeans of Polish descent,

I, Walter E. Williams, do declare full and general amnesty and pardon to all persons of European ancestry, for both their own grievances, and those of their forebears, against my people.

Therefore, from this day forward Americans of European ancestry can stand straight and proud knowing they are without guilt and thus obliged not to act like damn fools in their relationships with Americans of African ancestry.