Sunday 29 October 2017

Taking The Stage

Those who stray into the culture pages of the press which has articles and reviews on drama will be aware that there is a new theatre in London. It is "The Bridge" built by The London Theatre Company and is a handsome auditorium for modern audiences and equipped for up to date hi-tech staging.

Among the first productions is a play directed by Nicholas Hytner, a leader in the field, and written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman, titled "Young Marx". They have appealed to the audience in depicting Karl Marx as a person of his age and time in 1850 as well as being a writer and thinker of new ideas proclaiming a future for the masses.

It is the period when he was living at Dean Street in Soho which gives a chance for some fun as well as his patronising the local public houses. I wonder how different or not they were from when I was doing the same. One thing missed there will be that one had as the publican in Marx's time a George Gissing. I have tried to connect him to the author of the same name rather later, but failed.

The writers appear to have been faithful to the family and household of Marx at the time, notably the maid servant and have Friedrich Engels visiting, an obvious choice. But there is more to it than that. One curiosity is that in the 1851 Census he is listed as Charles Mark.

Whether this was the enumerator getting it wrong or Marx being careful given the fact that whether or not he was right, he might be have been under surveillance we shall never know. Because the maid servant and others are given the correct names.

But there is a name missing from the play and a very important one. I have written on this before, it is Morgan Kavanagh, of the Kavanagh's of Carlow, Ireland, an older man and a published expert in philology, the history of religion, cults and sects and society as it might and should be. Was he in effect Karl's mentor at the time?

Was there music for the play? If so, what kind? Despite his origin I doubt that "Prussian Glory" would be quite right. But the one that would be is this from Balfe's The Bohemian Girl "I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls", first performed at Drury Lane in 1843. Balfe was Irish and I could see Karl and Jenny up there in the balcony loving every bit of it, possibly with Kavanagh providing the tickets.

What is little understood these days is that in the period of the 1840's and 1850's there had been mass migration from all the upland areas of the Atlantic Isles, including England, arising from the conditions in climate and agriculture.

This meant many coming into London either by choice or because they failed to make it onto the boat to somewhere else. It was the same in other urban areas. So "the masses" were not simply the basic workers but hordes of mobile displaced poor looking for any work at almost any price.

As in my time, in the search for living space the windows and doors of properties would often have signs saying no this or that of one race or faith or another or some. After my stay in one the item "rugby players" was added. The exclusions were many and various.

One that was very common was "No Irish". Nowadays this kind of thing is forbidden for the most part. But it seems that The Bridge still feels that way about its drama.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Books Do Furnish A Room

It was typewriters that began this one. I am of an age when going to museums and stately homes etc. tells me not only of other pasts but reminds me of my own. So when I was at Bateman's by Burwash and the guide wafted a hand around Rudyard Kipling's study he told us that this was the typewriter used by the author to write his great works.

But I told him it wasn't. First of all, the Imperial Typewriter Company was not founded until 1908 and second the model in question was not produced until the 1930's when Kipling was writing very little. I was reminded of this by another museum again with an Imperial model.

This was a writer of the Left who began his work in the late 1950's and with whom we are all familiar from his work for TV, I spare you his name. I felt obliged to tell the museum that the model was not produced until 1969 and in 1965 the Imperial had been taken over by Litton Industries .becoming just another brand name.

This company was one of the most ruthless asset stripping and destructive financial organisations of its time; capitalism that might explain a lot of the drift to the Left, especially in out sourcing production and closing down British manufacturing, including the old Imperial firm, the wreck of a once great company.

I could write a book about this and perhaps about some other things, despite being, as Noel Coward might have said, of excessively humble origins. Enter stage an interesting collection of people that the accidents of personal history entailed. It might be Liverpool before The Beatles and during wartime, Yorkshire in the 70's and 80's, London in the '50's, scope for fiction, fact or the more usual faction.

It might be printed, but apparently there is no hope of it entering the lists of books to be read or even publicised in the media. I do not meet the criteria of colour. All those brown blobs and scars do not count, or diversity, despite having Scots, Irish, Welsh, English, French, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Mulatto and sundry other ancestry, even Yorkshire.

All I can ask is "what about the workers", to which the answer will be "get lost".

Thursday 26 October 2017

Reading By Degrees

There have been ructions at Oxford University about which authors should be dealt with in English Studies. It has always been necessary to be selective because many scribble but few are chosen.

Sales figures are not one of the key reasons for some obscure reason despite the economic implications and the fact that the big sellers are the ones who keep the literary world afloat.

May I nominate as one who fits the bill, Leslie Charteris, 1907-1993, author of the very popular "Saint" novels of which so many made it on to film and TV?

Perhaps it might be hokum for the most part but for spotty teenagers of the mid 20th Century it was worth pawing through the pages.

He was born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin in Singapore and after a short stint at Cambridge took off for an interesting life living off his literary earnings.

He changed his surname legally in 1928 taking the surname of a Colonel Francis Charteris, 1675-1732, a Scotsman who also lived an eventful life. Wikipedia has the basic information on both of them.

I suspect that if faced with a detailed study of the life, times and essential philosophies of these men our present students may find it all a little too much.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

One For The Family Album

For a change, a longer one, but ancient history, about Eric Bloodaxe one of the leading figures in Viking history who left his mark. He is still remembered in Castleford in Yorkshire, which should tell you enough.

What's in a name?

Eric Bloodaxe is probably one of the best-known names in Viking history, at least in the British Isles. The favoured son of Harald Finehair, who was credited by the Viking sagas (composed mostly in Iceland, in the 13th century) with the unification of Norway, he became king of Western Norway after his father. However, when his younger brother Hakon claimed the kingship with the support of Athelstan of Wessex, Eric moved to the British Isles.

There he divided his time between raiding in Scotland and around the Irish Sea, establishing himself as ruler of the Viking kingdom of Northumbria. His death in 954 brought the independence of Viking Northumbria to an end, but his sons later succeeded in establishing themselves as kings in Norway.

Eric is mentioned briefly in a number of contemporary or near contemporary sources, and he also left visible traces of his own - in the coinage issued in his name at York. He also features in a number of later sagas, along with his wife Gunnhild, who is generally portrayed as an evil witch.

The sagas use the 'Bloodaxe' nickname, and this is generally seen in the context of his Viking raids in Scotland, and his glorious end as the last independent king of Northumbria. Like his near contemporary, Thorfinn Skullsplitter of Orkney, the name Eric Bloodaxe conjures up an immediate image of the archetypal Viking warrior; huge, hairy and heroic, and the proud owner of a large axe.

More careful examination of Eric's story suggests that things were rather more complicated. Despite his reputation as a warrior, Eric apparently abandoned Norway to his brother Hakon without a fight, and he was subsequently driven out of Northumbria at least twice.

The sagas represent him very much as a henpecked husband, and the likely origin of his nickname is both murkier and less glorious than the obvious explanation of his prowess in battle. So what do we really know about Eric Bloodaxe?

Exile to England

Extensive excavations at the Coppergate, York, have provided us with a good understanding of what Jorvik (York) would have been like at the time of Eric's rule.  Our knowledge of Eric's life in Norway relies exclusively on the sagas, which are unreliable for the early tenth century. However, although we have to be sceptical of all the details provided by the sagas, there is nothing inherently unlikely in their broad outline of events.

Together with the sagas, there are two Latin accounts of the history of the kings of Norway. Like the earliest of the sagas, they were written in the late 12th century, and there are some textual relations between the Latin histories and the Icelandic sagas. However, the Latin texts are both briefer and less fantastic than the great kings' sagas of the early 13th century.  Eric was the favourite, and probably the oldest, of the many sons of King Harald Finehair of Norway.

The saga tradition credits Harald with a round total of 20 sons, as well as the unification of Norway. Modern historians now agree that Harald's kingdom was more limited, and probably confined to the west and south-west, although he may have exercised some power in other areas through alliance with other rulers.  Eric secured the succession by gradually murdering all of his brothers.

Harald's kingdom was not sufficient to provide much of an inheritance for so many sons, and Eric secured the succession for himself by gradually murdering all of his brothers in turn. It was probably this that earned him his nickname. While the sagas call him 'Bloodaxe', one of the Latin texts calls him fratris interfector (brother-killer), so it seems likely that 'blood' in this context refers to family, just as today we refer to 'blood relations' as distinct from relations by marriage or adoption.

Eric's rule in Norway was apparently harsh and unpopular, and his kingship was challenged by his one surviving brother Hakon. Hakon is said to have been brought up in England at the court of Athelstan, and this fits well with Athelstan's recorded policy of fostering the sons of potential allies. Hakon sailed to Norway to claim his inheritance, and Eric fled to England. According to the sagas, he was welcomed by Athelstan, because of the the friendship between Athelstan and Harald Finehair, and was made sub-king of Northumbria under Athelstan's authority.
Invader or Guest?

The suggestion that Eric first became king of Northumbria at Athelstan's invitation seems at first sight to conflict with English and Irish sources. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and various Irish Chronicles, Eric was taken as king by the Northumbrians in 947 or 948, some years after Athelstan's death, and in defiance of Athelstan's brother Eadred.

Certainly the saga tradition is confused on some points. It places Eric's death in the reign of Eadmund, who ruled between Athelstan and Eadred, and does not recognise the existence of Eadred at all. However, confusion between two very similar names does not mean that everything is wrong.

It is also important to note that while there is no mention of Eric in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle during the reign of Athelstan, there is no mention of who did govern Northumbria on Athelstan's behalf during the later part of his reign, so it could just as well have been Eric as anybody else.

There is also some circumstantial evidence to support the saga accounts. A later chronicle by William of Malmesbury recalls diplomatic relations between Athelstan and Harald Finehair, which fits with the saga tradition. There is also a reference to Eric in an account of the life of a Scottish saint, Caddroe, probably written in the late tenth century.

According to this, Caddroe visited Eric and his wife in York, and from other details in this account, the visit seems to have taken place around 940-41. Certainly it must have taken place some years before Eric's first appearance in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The evidence of Eric's coinage is ambiguous. The first of Eric's two coin types is of a standard Anglo-Saxon type used by Athelstan, Edmund and Eadred. The same moneyers issued coins for the Anglo-Saxon kings and the various Viking rulers of Northumbria, and Eric's first type could equally well date from the late 930s or the 940s.

Conquest and Reconquest

The sword design is copied from an earlier type from Viking Northumbria. Eric's use of this design may have been designed to promote his image as rightful ruler of an independent Northumbria.

The kings' sagas tell us that Athelstan made Eric ruler of Northumbria to protect the land against 'Danes [ie Scandinavians] and other marauders', and Egil's saga tells us specifically that his role was to defend the land against the Scots and the Irish. Again, this is completely consistent with the broader picture of Athelstan's reign.

The expansion of the authority of the kingdom of Wessex posed a threat to all the smaller kingdoms in the British Isles, and Athelstan faced a repeated alliance between native rulers such as the kings of the Scots and Strathclyde with Viking rulers of the Dublin dynasty. Northumbria changed hands frequently during the 940s as different factions tried to control the kingdom.

The kingdom of Northumbria provided a useful buffer zone for both Athelstan and the Scots, and both were anxious for it to be controlled by allies. In this context the appointment of Eric as sub-king would make perfect sense. What is certainly clear is that Northumbria changed hands frequently during the 940s, as different factions tried to control the kingdom.

On Athelstan's death in 939, the kingdom was seized by Olaf Guthfrithsson of Dublin, and thereafter the kingdom was contested between Athelstan's successors Edmund and Eadred on the one side, and kings of the Dublin dynasty on the other.

While both the Anglo-Saxon and the saga accounts agree that, after Athelstan's death, Eric was acting on his own account, rather than as a sub-king for the Wessex dynasty.  It seems clear that Eric's brief periods of rule c.947-8 and c.952-4 were the result of his ability to contest the kingship of Northumbria with his rivals.

And indeed the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that on both occasions he was 'taken as king' by the Northumbrians. It is equally clear, however, that he lacked the force to maintain his position in the face of opposition from both Dublin and Wessex.

The end of the story

A battle reconstruction: Eric's defeat and death at Stainmore in 954 brought an end to the independence of Viking Northumbria.  While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle makes it clear that Eric was periodically driven out by rivals, the sagas tell us that Northumbria was not wealthy enough to support Eric and his following, so he often went raiding in Scotland and around the Irish Sea.

Although this may well have been partly a desire for plunder, it also fits with Eric's ongoing contest for power with the kings of the Dublin dynasty, who had influence all around the Irish Sea area.

Both English and saga sources agree that Eric was killed in battle. The sagas tell us that Eric was accompanied by five kings from the Hebrides and the two earls of Orkney. This receives some support from later English chronicles, although no such details appear in contemporary sources.  Later sources also tell us that Eric was killed in an ambush by Maccus, son of Olaf.

 This Maccus is otherwise unknown, but the name Maccus does appear in the dynasty of the kings of Man, probably an offshoot of the Dublin dynasty. It is also possible that Maccus was a son of Olaf Cuaran, king of Dublin, and Eric's rival as king of Northumbria in the late 940's.  Eric's death at Stainmore in 954 brought an end to independent Viking rule in Northumbria.

In either case, Maccus would appear to have been acting at least partially on behalf of Eadred of Wessex, who was apparently using the established tactic of setting one Viking leader against another. And whoever Maccus was, Eric's death at Stainmore in 954 brought an end to independent Viking rule in NorthumbriaThis is sometimes taken as the end of the first Viking Age, although Viking raids on England resumed in the 980's.

However, raiding and settlement in Ireland, Scotland and Wales continued throughout the period in between, so this date is only significant in a purely English context.  A final note on Eric is provided by the skaldic poem Eiríksmàl ('The Lay of Eric'), which describes Eric's heroic entrance into Valhalla and his welcome by the gods after his death at Stainmore.

However, since this seems unlikely to be a reliable eyewitness account, it adds little to our understanding of the historical figure behind the legend of Eric Bloodaxe.

There could be a gene or two in your DNA that is shared with him, it might explain a lot.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Gone To Earth

Long ago a character in a radio programme, "Beyond Our Ken", called Arthur Fallowfield, a farmer, played by Kenneth Williams who was an unlikely tiller of the earth, had as his catch phrase "the answer lies in the soil" when asked a question about anything.

Michael Gove, at present, at least for a few weeks, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has stated that if we go on as at present then we might have only thirty to forty more crops from our fields.

The Guardian reports this as "Eradication of soil fertility" down among UK items and rated below the management of Everton FC, the Harvey Weinstein grope latest and the question of which boxers deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But at least they carry the story, you will not find much said elsewhere.

It is possible to imagine the news rooms, "Michael Gove, what? Oh dump it, it might do if there is a slow New Year." What all forget and what most historians know little about it that we have been here before once or twice. "The tragedy of the commons" is covered in Wikipedia and other sites.

Essentially, it means that the ideal of common land shared among the community by reason of individual selfishness and concern only with the very short term can result in the destruction of a resource, notably the land. When England once had many commons this happened and hunger followed. A basic reason for the waves of enclosure was to rescue the situation and allow better fertility.

This is not the case at present, albeit indirectly. What is the case now is that we have a population which wants its food but is ignorant of land use; and governments which subsidise and encourage extreme intensive use. It suits the landowners pockets and even more the fertiliser firms and other interested parties.

As ever, the short term trumps the long term, buying votes now is cheaper than ensuring long term productivity and care of the soil and the environment required for that care to be maintained. In many cases the actual farmer, in effect, is a middle man who does what is needed to get by from year to year.

If we look at our social structure and ask which generation is the one that knows least about where the food etc. comes from, is most concerned with the media as it is, has ideas about the self that preclude much co-operation or sacrifice and is unready either to deal with or understand the problems, it is the one who will first feel the impact of the mounting failure of food supplies.

As the UK is not alone in this situation then it will not be possible to source the food needed from elsewhere and England is one of the most intensively populated places on the planet. The emigration of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries from Europe was massive. It will be as nothing compared to that to come.

Perhaps Arthur Fallowfield will turn out to be right if only a century ahead of his time.

Saturday 21 October 2017

Blowing In The Wind

At least the air is fresher. But we are hardly into autumn yet given the way that the weather has been so the storms are a reminder of what can happen. Avoiding speculation about climate etc. it allows to think what this winter might be like around the Atlantic Isles.

With so much information out there on the net and so many more scientists etc. making inputs and people reading and guessing what might happen it means that rather than knowing we could be more confused than ever in the past.

Is it now the rule that if the winter is "good" that is not much disruption or problems then people take it for granted. But when the weather turns bad or nasty then a blame game starts. We have become much more impatient of the slings and arrows of misfortune when we cannot just travel when and where we want and the heating bills go into four figures.

"It's the govenmunt!" could be the reaction. In the late 1940's the Attlee government elected with a huge majority hit the buffers in more ways than one with a crucial railway system nationalised at the same time as it was paralysed by dreadful weather.

I was happy making snowmen and throwing iceballs at the teachers and creating slides on the pavement for all to fall, but for ordinary people who already had had enough of the shortages etc. since 1939 it was a winter of sacrifice too far.

In the years since bad winters have usually caught us well short of being either prepared or tolerant of the consequences, some predictable, some not. What could a long nasty spell of rough or bitter or both conditions do to our modern economy, especially if the net goes down for any length of time?

Think, ten to twenty days with few or no flights in and out? Think, the motorways blocked with hundreds of trucks stuck or smashed. Cars going nowhere, heating systems out, electricity gone, just in time supermarkets out of time, traders marking up by the day.

Then Mrs. May telling us it will all turn out for the best while Mr. Corbyn promises to nationalise and ration snow production.

Now where did I put those packs of tinned meat I bought after 9/11?

Thursday 19 October 2017

Fancy A Bit Of Health?

The voice was stern, the thought was oops what I have said, done, or forgotten now. Although early in the morning there was still a rich choice of errors of judgement.

But no abject confession was needed. It wasn't me it was the Prince of Wales what done it according to the bit on the label saying "Supporting The Prince's Charities".

The pack was a Waitrose Duchy Organic Orange Juice; well not quite juice a concentrate. Other words told me that it was made from oranges grown without reliance on artificial chemicals or fertilisers.

This could mean camel dung, but let us not quibble about sourcing these substances. Turning over the box gave the ingredients, the usual stuff with a good whack of Vitamin C, just to keep us happy. Also a enough of sugars to satisfy those who like it sweet and strong.

But wait! Another thing, in rather fainter type "Orange Juice From Concentrate With Added Non-Organic Aromas". So it is organic but if you smell it or smell the smell it is not organic. So what has the nose done wrong then?

It seems that all that concentrating, distilling and organic peasants treading the oranges leave it with a smell which is not nice. And we humans are fussy about smells. Scientists tell us that if we do not like a smell there may be good reason found in the brain parts served by the nasal receptors.

The orange juice which is allowed to call itself organic by law is also allowed by law to be non-organic in the way it smells and no indication or information of the substances, possibly synthetic or brewed in a laboratory filled with cackling aliens bent on taking over Earth.

The web yielded this one:



"Dirty Little Secret. Orange juice is artificially flavored to taste like orange juice."

How do you make orange juice? Simple! Squeeze oranges and drink. How do big box companies make orange juice? Complicated! Squeeze oranges, remove oxygen, re-flavor the now flavorless orange juice with artificially orange "flavor packs" and...drink?


I never thought about it but it makes incredible sense now. Orange juice from Tropicana, Simply Orange, Minute Maid, Florida's Natural, etc.—they're all ridiculously consistent in their flavor. And the trick isn't to get the most delicious tasting oranges but rather to create their own unique artificial flavor.

It all starts with the stripping of the oxygen. Once the juice is squeezed and stored in gigantic vats, they start removing oxygen. Why? Because removing oxygen from the juice allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling.

But! Removing that oxygen also removes the natural flavors of oranges. Yeah, it's all backwards. So in order to have OJ actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that make perfumes for Dior, to create these "flavor packs" to make juice taste like, well, juice again.

The formulas vary to give a brand's trademark taste. If you're discerning you may have noticed Minute Maid has a candy like orange flavor. That's largely due to the flavor pack Coca-Cola has chosen for it.

Some companies have even been known to request a flavor pack that mimics the taste of a popular competitor, creating a "hall of mirrors" of flavor packs. Despite the multiple interpretations of a freshly squeezed orange on the market, most flavor packs have a shared source of inspiration: a Florida Valencia orange in spring.

The flavor packs aren't listed in the ingredients because they're technically derived from "orange essence and oil", whatever the hell that means. So just remember, when you buy Orange Juice next time, even though it says 100% juice (which it is), it's still 100% artificially flavored. [Food Renegade via Hacker News]


The best thing is to buy oranges and make your own juice and take it neat or with water or something stronger to taste.

The Prince of Wales can be left to stew in his own orange juice.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

A Big Bang

Some of the world's volcanoes are a little twitchy at the moment and  experts say that the super one at Yellowstone in North America may be sooner than we think. For us that is OK, we will be all long gone.

But if two or three substantial ones were to go up in series in different places in the world the net effect could be substantial. The article below from ten years ago tells us of the major one of 1816, Mount Tambora, which had major effects in Europe.


Michael Sullivan, October 22, 2007.

The biggest volcanic eruption ever recorded in human history took place nearly 200 years ago on Sumbawa, an island in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago.  The volcano is called Tambora, and according to University of Rhode Island volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson, the eruption is one of the most overlooked in recorded history.

Tambora's explosion was 10 times bigger than Krakatoa and more than 100 times bigger than Vesuvius or Mount St. Helens. Approximately 100,000 died in its shadow.  "The eruption went up about 43 kilometers into the atmosphere.

That is about 30 miles — much higher than any airplane flying today — and emitting a volume that is about 100 cubic kilometers of molten rock in the form of ash and pumice," Sigurdsson says. "That volume is by far the largest volume of any volcanic eruption in life on earth."

Global Cooling

But it was the enormous cloud of gas — some 400 million tons of it — released by the eruption that produced the "year without summer."  When the gas reacted with water vapor in the atmosphere, it formed tiny little droplets of sulfuric acid that became suspended in the stratosphere, creating a veil over the Earth, Sigurdsson says.

This veil of gas acted like a mirror, bouncing radiation back into space and decreasing the amount of heat that reached the Earth's surface, causing global cooling, he says.  Of course, no one knew that at the time, and few people know about it even now. It wasn't until the early '80s, Sigurdsson says, that he caught the Tambora bug. In that decade, researchers taking core samples in Greenland's ice made an amazing discovery.

"You drill down through the ice, and you can count the rings just like in a tree. And people started doing research on the layers, and they found there was a whacking great sulfur concentration at one particular layer: 1816," Sigurdsson says.   "That was first evidence that Tambora had global reach … and that it was unstudied," he says, adding, "We needed to get much more info on what really happened here."

The Year Without Summer

The year after Tambora erupted, Europe was trying to cope with the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars.  There was a mass demobilization of soldiers flooding into the labor market.

Patrick Webb, a dean at Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science, describes the socio-political climate after the wars.  "You had economies disrupted, infrastructure damaged, governments in limbo," Webb says. "And so the conditions were already ripe for something to go wrong."  And something did go wrong in 1816, known as "the year without summer." Temperatures dropped, crops failed and people starved.

"Hundreds of thousands of people died. People were reduced to eating rats and fighting over roots," Webb says. "Most of these people were killed by epidemic disease, [such as] typhus and other things related to starvation. They simply couldn't find enough food."   In America, New Englanders saw snow well into the summer — the average temperature in July and August was 5 to 10 degrees below normal, according to Webb.

A Bad Vintage Year

Even the wine from 1816 was bad.  Alain Vauthier, who owns one of the oldest vineyards in Bordeaux, France, keeps a fair bit of wine from each vintage in the cellar. He has an impressive collection, which stretches back to the beginning of the 19th century, but there are only a few bottles from 1816. Vauthier says that's as it should be.

"It is not a good vintage," Vauthier says. "It is a bad time, bad weather, bad summer."  Daniel Lawton is the owner of Bordeaux's oldest wine brokerage house. His assessment of the 1816 vintage is even less charitable.  "Detestable, you understand? Horrible," Lawton says. "A quarter of the normal crop. Very difficult to make good wine. Just a terrible year." All of this was triggered by a volcanic eruption that happened on the other side of the world.

Reading the Layers of Earth

For more than two decades, Sigurdsson, the volcanologist, has been gathering information from the Indonesian island. His first trip to the volcano, Tambora, was in 1986, and his most recent trip was just a few months ago. His task is made easier, he says, by the scrupulous record keeping done by the earth itself. The layers of the soil on the island are not unlike the layers of ice in faraway Greenland.

"Each layer is like a page in a book. These layers are really a graphic representation of the eruption," Sigurdsson says. "They are drawing out for us, writing down for us, the history of the volcano. And they don't lie." 

While he was digging, Sigurdsson discovered something else: artifacts and remains carbonized when Tambora erupted. He calls his excavation site "The Lost Kingdom of Tambora" — a find he also refers to as "The Pompeii of the East."

"I have studied deposits in Pompeii and Herculaneum, from the great destruction of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. It's the same mode of destruction, the same mode of death. But [the] difference here is that the human remains are much more carbonized—almost entirely carbonized," Sigurdsson says.

"The bones are a piece of charcoal," he says. That tells scientists that it was a much bigger explosion — with much higher temperatures.  The explosion was hot enough to melt glass, and it happened so fast, Sigurdsson says, that people living on the island had no chance to escape. The carbonized remains of one woman recovered at the site confirm this.

"She is lying on her back with her hands outstretched. She is holding a machete or a big knife in one hand. There is a sarong over her shoulder. The sarong is totally carbonized, just like her bones," Sigurdsson says. "Her head is resting on the kitchen floor, just caught there instantly and blown over by the flow."

The Lessons of Tambora

All the big volcanic eruptions — Tambora, Krakatau, Pinatubo — have ended up cooling the Earth, causing temperatures to drop. And that, Sigurdsson says, has some people thinking about replicating the Tambora effect in an effort to slow global warming.

"People have proposed that we induce artificial volcanoes by bringing sulfur up into the stratosphere to produce this effect," Sigurdsson says.
But, he warns, "Do you want to counter one pollutant with another one? I don't think so. But that's been proposed."

Still, Sigurdsson thinks that lessons from eruptions like Tambora can be applied to models used to study global climate change. Global warming is viewed by many as the most pressing, most dangerous threat. But Sigurdsson warns that catastrophic climate change might come from an unexpected, yet familiar, direction.

"Somewhere on the Earth, within the next 1,000 years, there will be a comparable eruption. And we'd better be aware of the consequences," he says. He notes that another giant volcanic blast would release large amounts of gases, creating interference in the atmosphere that could cause major disruptions in telecommunications and aviation.


What just went bang?

Monday 16 October 2017

Einstein Was Right

The big news today is that in the science of gravitational waves out there far away space has been warped by the collision of two  neutron stars.

It has taken 130 million news for the news to get here, so the dinosaurs missed out sadly. Also, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles did not carry the story.

Einstein suggested the possibility as this BBC Science News tells us. There is likely a lot more in the science of space, the deep past on earth and in our DNA to be found which reminds us of what a shoddy lot we are on the whole.

In the meantime the man who was to sort my TV out has gone off the radar. He was approaching the black hole of the Blackwall Tunnel in that strange universe called London when they lost trace of him.

Given that so much TV these days is known to be warped already it was only to be expected.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Colour Me Purple

A major aspect of our debates on many issues are those relating to race and the associated colours of skins. These are discussed often in relatively simple terms and assume differences or aspects that are often assumed or supported by either limited science or other evidence.

In the mean time the geneticists work on in their laboratories etc. trying to unpick the human story and year on year making advances in what is known and is evident in the DNA. This article deals with Africa and the Africans and suggests it may have been more complicated than we think.

There has been a long history of theorising about who humans are, where they came from and how they relate to one another. Our problem today is that we are carrying a lot of baggage from the past in the shape of ideas and assumptions that have not stood up to close DNA investigation.

What is a larger problem is the malign influences of some of these.

The trouble is that politically we are stuck with old ideas and opinions that influence policy and debate. Given the way this is going it could be that the science may be one of the casualties.

Call it the Copernicus Syndrome.

Thursday 12 October 2017

Free Beer For The Workers

The web today has sites saying that the Conservative Party is now the Soft Left while the Labour Party is becoming the Hard Left. Debating this could be complicated and it is either too early or too late in the day, or both.

The essence of these is that promises, promises are made that this, that,  or the other will be provided for all, most, some or a few "free". Which and what are the subjects of some shifty oratory but the idea is that you will get something for nothing.

At least what appears to be nothing to you. It may be that like the added extras which we are familiar with you will be paying but via a different route. As this might involve agencies, government departments or "services" it adds to the real cost, but this unlucky feature is never mentioned.

There is nothing new about this. The picture above is from a tablet of around 5,000 years ago in ancient Sumeria, as in Egypt, and deals with beer rations for the labouring class. Because it is old we might think it good, but I wonder what the beer was like and whether the workers might not have preferred some silver in the hand and a choice of better beers.

I recollect at a political meeting during an election in 1951 a local Layabout M.P. was asked the question of why the workers might not have free beer or at least cheap subsidised beer because of all the profits of brewing and the notorious wealth of the brewing families. This was a town then that still had an active Temperance Movement among the various congregations.

He was a barrister of some standing with a gift for words and the authority of a man who had spent quality time in the law courts and in the cabinet and government. More to the point a couple of the brewing families gave valuable financial support to the Labour Party by various means not apparent to the public albeit rather better known at Westminster.

A great deal hung on his answer, especially the size of his majority in a marginal constituency. He went into deep thoughtful mode and agreed with the questioner that is was a subject that needed examination and perhaps action. But then there were many issues and opinions. Perhaps a Royal Commission might consider it and make expert recommendations on which legislation could be made.

One of which was perhaps greater taxes on the brewers, offset by better regulation and allowances for reduced prices for their products. It would be nationalisation but under another name. This kept the party faithful happy. The State would take control of beer for the good of all.

He was lucky, the meeting had run late and the Caretaker was jingling his keys so we departed, some of us in a hurry. After all, it was getting close to closing time at the nearest pub's.

I was gasping for a quart or two of Everard's best.