Archive for the ‘History’ Category
Americans mostly don’t realize it yet, but a tidal wave of unemployment is building on the horizon. This is because a second wave of unemployment due to industrialization is going to roll over the USA. The first wave was in the 19th and early 20th centuries when factories and tractors put countless millions of workers out of work in traditionally labour intensive occupations like weaving and farming. The result was a massive growth in cities around the world, and ultimately what we call the “modern world” in the west. While huge numbers of jobs were lost in fields involving manual labour, the growth of factories and the rise of the middle class ensured that ultimately industrialization was a good thing. At least until the 1980s when the middle class started losing ground, but I digress. It’s going to get much worse in the USA with tens of millions of jobs disappearing in the next few decades:
- Driving. The robotic car is now a reality. It won’t happen overnight, but virtually all occupations that involve driving are going to go. Truck drivers and bus drivers will be the first to go. Delivery people, taxis, and pretty much all other driving occupations will follow. Trains and airplanes won’t be far behind. Why pay a chopper pilot and a news guy when a drone can do the same thing?
- Clerks/checkers/baggers. Automatic checkout lines are becoming common in the big chain stores, this trend will only increase. Toll booth operators are soon to be a thing of the past. Basically any time a customer hands someone money, that job is at risk.
- Farming and landscaping applications. Tractor drivers and just in general people who operate equipment will slowly be phased out. Robotic lawn mowers are already being used on golf courses. Machines to robotically weed fields are in development.
- Answering phones. This is already well underway, but soon enough all phone calls will be handled by software. Even the guys in call centres in India will be out of work. And sales calls will eventually be replaced by robots, especially the low grade ones where they are targeting seniors and such. If someone’s job is to make or take phone calls, their job’s days are numbered.
- One can add to this list things like prisons, schools, and the Post Office … all of which will likely be privatized within the next decade. And cutting staff is the first and last thing that happens when corporations take over a private function.
I am sure there is plenty I am missing. There’s other factors to be considered. brick and board businesses moving to an Internet base will continue to happen. Lastly, many of the above jobs when they go will also put other people out of work. Robotic truck drivers will only be buying gas at truck stops for starters. A whole history and culture of truck stop waitresses, cooks, and other people providing service to truck drivers will be gone. And of course there will be indirect job losses, every time someone loses a job, they have less money to spend and other businesses suffer. On the flip side, some new jobs will be created building and servicing robotic technology. Even without drivers trucks will still need regular maintenance and repair. Still, that won’t last forever, we’ve had robotic car washes for decades, robotic repair and maintenance facilities will eventually be built.
My main point here is that simply in the natural order of things, industrialization and robotics are going to destroy huge numbers of traditional jobs in the decades to come. This is the elephant in the room that the rich and powerful take pains not to bring up. Because they and their government minions are working very hard to ensure that when these jobs are eliminated, that the salaries get redirected into the ever increasing coffers of the rich. There are plenty of things government and society could do to encourage a healthy middle class, small businesses, and self-employment … but alas the opposite is the case. Instead they have concentrated on convincing people that the destruction of the middle class is because of immigrants, unions, welfare cheats, and the like. In effect convincing people to support policies that are actually making them poorer and the rich richer.
The next few decades are going to be interesting indeed.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is a bread line during the great depression. The men are all obviously welfare cheats and scammers, look, most of them even still have hats and shoes! Democrats no doubt.)
Well, Syria is still in the news. Well, the colonial propaganda that passes for news in the west. Let’s see, Syria is another of the countries that was made up after World War One by the British and French as they carved up the Ottoman Empire for their own colonial exploitative purposes. Since Syria had no resources worth bothering with, it was ruled by a series of more-or-less independent dictators until the present day. With the arrival of the Arab Spring a few years back, serious opposition to the Assad dictatorship broke out, and the country is essentially in full blown insurrection. It’s not however a civil war, since the rebels are not united into a single faction by any stretch of the imagination. Since the Assad dictatorship posed a clear danger to colonial rule in the region, IE the possibility that Syria would evolve into a modern secular state, the west has been almost gleefully providing the rebels with support. And it’s certainly made a bloody mess of the country, if nothing else.
Where to start. Chemical weapons. This is a propaganda term used by the west to claim that someone is as bad as Hitler. Chemical weapons are just that, weapons. There’s nothing magically evil about them, and for most purposes have limited military applications. IE a nation with chemical weapons isn’t anymore threatening than a nation without them, they are weapons, that’s all. Sure, they can be used to commit atrocities, like any other weapon. So when Obama makes a big deal about Syria’s use of chemical weapons, it is just a propaganda device to justify further US meddling in Syria. Which leads us to a sad observation, the west isn’t even giving lip service to national sovereignty anymore. The fact that Syria is an independent country doesn’t even register in the western media.
And now Israel is getting its licks in. Israel respects no limits in its quest for control of all of Palestine. They routinely wage war in other countries when it suits their military. How this will help matters in Syria is difficult to grasp. How it will help Israel is also a mystery, but Israeli foreign policy long ago ceased to make sense. Apparently they plan to live behind a wall forever, periodically waging war on their neighbours and occupied territories. The claim is that it is trying to prevent arms from being transferred to Hezbollah. Since Hezbollah is both well armed, and strictly defensively oriented toward Israel, it’s hard to see why this would be necessary … especially since it risks widening and already ugly war. That’s how countries get when they are hyper-militarized though, like the USA and Israel, military action is not only the first option, it’s the only option.
And of course the UN is playing its now well established role as the enforcer of international rule, IE western rule. It’s a safe bet that the Arab League’s request that the UN stop Israel’s attacks on Syria won’t go anywhere. Granted its more a less a symbolic gesture by the Arab League, since most of their governments are western satraps. The UN is also questioning whether or not the rebels used chemical weapons. The west isn’t all too excited about the rebels either, they are hardly the secular (IE can be bribed) freedom fighters the west prefers to bankroll. I’m not even sure the west has much of a strategy at this point, other than the usual fall-back, let the locals kill enough of each other and maybe we will get back in somehow someday.
God only knows what is going to happen to Syria. We are seeing a weird combination of trends in the world now. The military might of the west continues to grow, though it is purely the ability to wage destruction from affair. At the same time the proliferation of weapons in the world and the rise of social media and modern communications networks is making revolt against dictatorships both more effective and more likely. We’re seeing the post World War One colonial edifice in the Middle East collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. The old fashioned personal based dictatorships seeming to be the most vulnerable to this collapse. Even if a regional war doesn’t break out, I suspect in ten years the Middle East will look nothing like it does today. Good times.
At least this isn’t another Obama post.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s a Syrian tank destroyed during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the last World War Two styled war in the region. With a dead Syrian soldier beside it. So so many people die in the endless madness in the Middle East, but it’s what the west wants. And what the west wants, it gets.)
That was the plan at least. I was going to write this as an alternate history post, but remembered I’d written one like it before. So no messing around, just the facts ma’am. The beauty pictured above was one of Hitler’s secret weapons. That’s a Heinkel 162 Salamander. So what’s its story? I’ll start at the beginning …
In 1944 Germany was in big trouble.The Russians were advancing from the east. They were pissed. The Allies had landed in France, and also were heading for Berlin with malign intent. And over Germany itself, the Allies had seized control of the very skies. The Luftwaffe had plenty of planes, but very few experienced pilots anymore. Many had been lost trying to defend the skies of Germany, and Hitler hadn’t given pilot training any priority until 1944. Allied planes were pounding Germany’s factories, roads, and armies into ruin. Something had to be done. And thus a number of secret weapon’s projects were frantically launched in an effort to find some super-weapon that could allow Germany to drive the American Army Air Corps from Germany’s skies. I’ve written about at least one of these before. And while they failed in their goal, they did some amazing things.
One of them was the Heinkel 162 Volksjäge. That’s People’s Fighter. This little plane was supposed to be the Volkswagen of jet fighter aircraft. Cheap and easy to build, mostly made of wood, and could be assembled quickly and in large numbers by unskilled labour. Lastly, it had to be easy to fly, since Germany had no pilots. The plan was that scores of teenagers in the Hitler Youth program would fly the planes! It was hoped their bravery and youthful reaction times in combination with a jet aircraft would tip the balance in the skies over Germany. It was a great idea! Pause for thought. No, it was a crazy idea, and hopefully the discerning reader can come up with all sorts of reasons why planning to save the day with Boy Scouts flying disposable jet fighters wasn’t likely to end like a Hollywood movie. Boy though, what a fun movie that would make. Reader’s having trouble discerning the flaws in this plan should take a moment know to review the Evil Overlord List. You’ll thank me later.
Oddly enough, the German engineers working on this project gave it their best. The He-162 went from design to operational prototype in less than 90 days! That’s remarkable and likely almost unequalled in the creation of a new aircraft. There were some problems in development and several crashes, no surprise in a rush job, but in December 1944 production of the He-162 began in earnest. It was indeed an wonderful plane, in fact it was the fastest of the world’s first generation jet fighters, cruising around 800 km/h (500 mph) and capable of flying at nearly 900 km/h (560 mph) for short bursts. For comparison the US P-51 Mustang maxed out at about 700 km/h (425 mph.) It was nimble and climbed quickly, and mounted a pair of 20 or 30 mm auto cannons. The He-162 was also the world’s first aircraft to have an ejection seat. Pilots loved flying it, and it did very well in what little combat it saw, some few squadrons were equipped with it before the war ended.
So why didn’t fleets of wooden jet fighters manned by Boy Scouts save the day? Alas, the He-162 was not easy to fly. It was extremely tricky to fly, and required a skilled pilot to even take off and land, let alone fly in combat. I think we can all agree that this is a good thing. Only just over 300 were built. A few of them survived the war and were flown by other nations, a few still exist in museums. The Canadian Aviation Museum is looking into the feasibility of making one of their two He-162s airworthy again. There’s some truly boring footage of the He-162 flying in this Russian film, I was so numbed I had to stop before two minutes were up. Russians are a funny people. Here is footage of other captured German jet and rocket fighters being flown, much more interesting. There’s even a few views of the controls. They were … scary, and the He-162s would have been similar.
Lastly, I wonder about the mind set of the people working on these projects. Most of them must have known that their projects were not going to stave off the inevitable. Yet they laboured on, brilliantly even, and produced some amazing killing devices. That seems to be what humans do when they are under a lot of pressure. It’s a gift I guess. What, you were expecting another kitten post?
(The above image is almost certainly public domain, and I’m claiming it as such until informed otherwise. Not making any money off of it, etc. Tomorrow, a guest post.)
I’m back! I was going to post a picture of a zombie cat to announce my return, but I couldn’t find a suitable one. I stumbled upon this picture in the search and it seemed like it would do. Thanks for all the inquiries about my health and well being, this is the longest break I’ve ever taken from Doug’s Darkworld. There wasn’t any particular reason for it, it was a combination of things. Mid blog crisis I suppose. Part of it is that I have achieved new levels of cynicism and objectivity. So my world view has become much bleaker. Although in some ways less bleak. I’m not worried about North Korea for example. North Korea seems to be in the news, so that will be my first topic. OK, my only topic.
I really only have a few observations. North Korea poses essentially zero threat to the USA in any objective measure. That alone highlights the egregious nonsense being spewed in Washington. Anyone who is actually worried about a North Korean attack on the US mainland is worried about something less likely than lightning strike or shark attack. It’s sad that some people are actually scared. On the other hand, I hear plenty of people saying the USA could defeat North Korea in days. There is a term for people like this. Idiots. North Korea isn’t Grenada, Panama, or even Iraq. It’s a country that has spent more than fifty years preparing for another attack by the USA, after a war where the USA bombed their entire nation flat without them surrendering. But now they would roll over in a few days? Like I said, idiots.
On the flip side, many people, possibly the same people, are convinced that North Korea could never strike the US mainland. Yes, it’s unlikely, but not impossible. They probably don’t have missiles that can reach us, but they do have nuclear weapons. Enormous amounts of contraband are smuggled into the USA every year, could North Korea sneak a nuclear bomb into San Francisco harbour? Sure, why not? This is why starting a wear with North Korea might be a bad idea, among many other reasons. Giving a nuclear armed country a reason to try and nuke the USA is a really dumb idea. The overall point of course is that no one knows how wars will turn out, although there is that word for people who think they know. Idiots. Lastly, it needs to be understood that the situation with North Korea is entirely the USA’s creation. The USA insists that its enemies surrender to it unconditionally, and oddly enough North Korea doesn’t want to do that. North Korea has offered perfectly reasonable terms for ending the war since the 1950s. The USA refuses to even consider that.
In any event I hope cooler heads prevail. Sadly any serious study of history shows that nations can and do start utterly senseless wars that spiral out of control as the politicians involve try to save their own bacon. There’s always a chance that war with Iran will break out somehow too, but that’s a whole other story that I’ve discussed many times. And in other world news, nothing much is happening. There was a plague of locusts somewhere. The NRA is going to start flying armed drones over schools. Joe Biden announced he will be changing his sex. The usual fluff.In Doug’s Darkworld a post on the best roller coaster ever proposed is coming up, plus a solution for spontaneous human combustion, and another reason why Bigfoot is a myth. The unusual fluff in other words. Oh, yeah, and how Boy Scouts almost saved Hitler’s Third Reich.
Welcome back, have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image is blatantly ripped off and being posted without attribution or copyright notice. I will remove it or attribute if the copyright owner so requests. And no, there’s no such thing as zombie cats. In fact, there’s no such thing as zombies! Who knew?)
One of the hardest things about trying to keep up with what is going on in the world is that things change. Sometimes very quickly. Yet the model of the world we have in our heads changes a lot more slowly, or not at all in some people. Things that were stable for decades do eventually change, and if we don’t update our mental models to reflect this, our understanding of the world becomes flawed. Frankly most people’s understanding of the world is a more reflection of their prejudices than any true understanding, but still, some of us are trying to make sense out of it all. And in trying to make sense of it all, a huge shift has taken place over the past few years. Illustrated above. That’s the USA from space. See the big lighted splotch near the upper left middle of the image? That’s in North Dakota. How many huge urban areas are there in North Dakota? None. So what the hell is that huge lighted area? That, dear readers, is fracking. More specifically, that’s the Bakken Formation being exploited for oil. Even five years ago the expert opinion was that the Bakken Formation wouldn’t be producing oil any time in the near future, I even blogged about it. Then a breakthrough was made in oil extraction, fracking as it is known, and the Bakken Formation is now a major and expanding oil producer. The lights by the way are excess natural gas simply being burned off.
OK, so what does this mean? I think it means we’re screwed. We were already in trouble, but this is a huge change, and I think it’s going to have some disastrous consequences. First, the huge change part. Remember peak oil? Well, despite decades of expecting peak oil to hit around 2010, it hasn’t. And now, with fracking, peak oil has been put off for decades. And instead of being an oil importing country, the USA will soon be an oil exporting country once again. These are huge changes and futurists must be scrambling to adjust their models and forecasts. Oil is at the centre of modern civilization, so these changes will ripple outwards and affect everything. And yet this huge change in where our civilization is headed is taking place almost unnoticed. That’s a topic for another day, most people miss anything less than sudden catastrophic rates of change. And as a codicil to my following two points, I don’t think much could derail this. Keystone pipeline or no, the fracking accessible oil deposits in North America will get used, they are way too valuable and the oil industry is already the most powerful industry on the planet, weapons possibly excepted. Of course the weapons industry also wants these deposits exploited, since one can’t fight modern high tech wars without oil. And if one is at all familiar with American politics, big oil has huge influence. Not to mention more or less corporate control of the mainstream media, so opposition to massive fracking will be marginalized. Whether we like it or not, oil is going to be the prime mover in the USA for decades to come.
Speaking of opposition to fracking, that’s where the first major problem rears its ugly head. A massive new wave of oil exploitation is going to be the death knell for any serious mitigation of global warming. Just the lights in the image above illustrates that. We’re talking a mind numbing amount of CO2 being added to the atmosphere just from the production of oil in the first place, and then of course that oil will almost inevitably be used in such a way as to also add to the CO2 in the atmosphere. I don’t even blog about global warming any more. The people who are in denial about it are no more rational than people who deny evolution or the Big Bang. Eventually it will get bad enough that maybe something will be done, but by then it will be far too late. Fracking just means it will get worse sooner.
OK, so fracking means global warming is going to destroy civilization even sooner than was feared, there’s something worse than this? Yes, yes there is. War and oil. Or more specifically, it takes oil to build and run tanks. If one has lots of oil, one can build a lot of tanks. Yes, that’s the simple version. Let me try a different approach. The rich of a country come into a huge pile of money. They are urged to spend it on consumer goods or war to make even more money. They already have all the consumer goods they need. War it is! I posit that the USA will do what every imperialistic power in history has done when it came into some profound new source of wealth … go on an orgy or war and conquest. And since the USA has been on an orgy of war and conquest since 1900 at least, it’s just going to get much worse. I think in the 21st century the USA is going to try and reassert western colonial control over the entire world, at the point of a drone if need be. That’s certainly been the path we’ve gone down under Obama.
So, world war and world climate catastrophe all because of some lights in North Dakota? Yeah, that’s pretty much my theory for today. Earth is a strange planet.
PS: The day after I posted this, I got this link in email: Geologist’s provocative study challenges popular assumptions about ‘fracking’ Who knows?
(The above image is by NASA and is Public Domain under US copyright law. Yes, I’m blogging again after a hiatus due to odd events in my life. Future posts will get back to weird history and such, I’m getting all my negatively out on this post. For the moment.)
Ah, those wacky Victorians, what will they think of next? All sorts of stuff actually, the late nineteenth century saw an explosion in new military hardware as modern technology and the industrial revolution got into full swing. And in the days before air power, navies were the ultimate weapon, so they got a tremendous amount of innovative thinking as nations vied for a military advantage. And the Novgorod pictured above is one of the more creative ideas put into action in this flurry of creative ship building. It was a circular warship armed with two giant (for their time) cannons. The thinking behind it was twofold. By having a circular hull, the ship’s draft would be very shallow, allowing the ship to operate close to shore. Using ships to shell shore positions was very popular in the Victorian era, and not unknown today. Secondly, it was thought that the wide flat hull would provide a very stable gun platform, making the ships that much more useful for accurately shelling forts and such. Even Tsar Alexander II was persuaded this was a great idea by Vice Admiral Popov, one of Russia’s greatest ship designers, which was why such a radical departure from traditional ship design was built. Hell, the tsar was so impressed with the idea that he had a royal yacht, the Livadia, constructed on the same principles.
The warships, there were two of them, were built in St Petersburg on the Baltic Sea and then disassembled, shipped by railroad to the Black Sea, and reassembled in Sevastopol. The Novgorod was complete in 1874, the Vice Adm. Popov in 1879. They were in fact the first ironclads on the Black Sea, and on paper at least gave the Russians an advantage over their mortal enemies, the Ottoman Turks. And soon enough they got their chance to prove their worth in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, they were assigned to the Danube flotilla and sent into action. And due to their stunning success, dozens of navies also built circular warships, and today they still dominate the seas. In other words, no, they didn’t quite live up to their promise.
For one thing, it turns out that boats need a keel to stay stable in the water. These ships rocked all over the place and were almost impossible to steer. In fact if often proved easier to tow them than to have them travel under their own power. Even veteran sailors got seasick on them, that’s how bad they were. And as for their stability as a gun platform, well, it was better in theory than in practice. In fact if only one gun was fired, the recoil would send the ship spinning in circles. Which they had a tendency to do anyhow. As one might imagine, spinning in circles isn’t conducive to aiming and firing a cannon. Their war service a fiasco, the Novgorod and the Vice Adm. Popov spent the rest of their years tied up in harbor as coastal defense forts. Even worse, they proved popular with tourists for their novelty. Instead of being intrepid warriors of the sea, they ended their days as basically circus freaks.
And the Livadia, the Royal Yacht, how did it fare? Built in Scotland, lavishly appointed, it was supposed to transport the terribly seasick-prone tsarina in style and comfort. In sea trials at least it proved to be a decent ship, handling far better than its ill-fate predecessors. On its first voyage though it took almost two months to sail from Scotland to southern Spain, that’s longer than it took Columbus the cross the Atlantic in his primitive sailing ships centuries before. The grand duke Alexis and his entourage never made it to the Crimea, their ultimate holiday destination. They staggered ashore as soon as the ship made port in northern Spain, seasick to the bones. And shortly after the Livadia made it to the Black Sea, the tsar was killed and Russia was entering its long slide into anarchy and revolution. The Livadia was looted and stripped of its engines, and spent the rest of its career a coal barge. It sure was a beautiful thing to behold in its brief and ignominious heyday though:
And that was the brief unheralded circular ship era. All three ships worth. About as successful as the mid twentieth century’s experiments with flying saucer shaped aircraft. Maybe that will be the next post.
(The above images are all claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They aren’t being used for profit, are central to illustrating the post, and are being used for educational purposes. The period photograph is public domain due to its age, the other images came from this fine site which has many more pictures and more details on the careers of these un-illustrious vessels. In any event this was just a fun post. PS: I noticed that sources differed on some of the history and details above, often a problem in doing historical research. C’est la vie.)
Ah, the Phaistos Disc. (Click on image above for full size version.) It’s a fired clay disc about 5 1/2 inches wide with symbols pressed into each side in a spiral pattern. There are 45 unique symbols, comprising a “message” of 241 symbols. It was discovered in 1908 in Crete, and apparently dates from around 1500BC, give or take a few centuries. It was found in the basement of a Minoan Palace, where apparently it had lain since the basement collapsed in an earthquake. OK, kinda cool I guess, what is its significance? The significance is that no one knows what it says. The Phaistos Disc is indeed one of the greatest mysteries of archeology, despite a century of scholarship, the disc remain unreadable.
Is anything known about it? Not much. For a number of reasons scholars think it was meant to be read from the outside spiraling in. There are some other marks that may represent paragraph breaks, and a certain amount of editing and correction was done. So it’s pretty certain it is writing of some sort, not just decorative markings. It bears little resemblance to any other known writing, so scholars don’t really have much to go on. A few scholars still think it might be an early 20th century hoax, but most think it’s provenance is pretty solid. And a votive axe of similar age that was found in 1934, the Arkalochori Axe, shares some of the same symbols. Though they are of no help in deciphering the Phaistos Disc because scholars concluded that the symbols carved on the axe were carved by an illiterate and were just strung together for looks. The bottom line is that 241 symbols simply isn’t enough text to decipher an unknown language written in an unknown alphabet. Until more examples of the text or a Rosetta Stone is found, it is unlikely the Phaistos Disc will be understood.
Of course this hasn’t stopped people from trying. Scholars of all stripes have made various stabs at it through the years. One particularly creative translation claims that the language is Basque, and the Disc reads as follows:
Side A: The lordling threshing the back of the vessels, the water-pitchers, the wine-holding olpe; | the lordling, fish with a pair of thongs, foul-skinned, leather scourge footed; | the lordling, horned reptile, the lordling of (or plying) the shuttle, | who smites the threads; the lordling, star holding a fowl | covertly (or in a bunch of flowers); the panting lord of the arrow, Rain-lord; | the lordling, little-horn, the lordling with plenteous-foaming hide, holding a fish; | the lordling, little-horn, the panting lord of the arrow, Rain-lord; | the lordling, little-horn; the lordling walking on a horseman (or hide), flaxen-coated; | the little horned one, sucking at the teat; the lordling, the thresher, | who holds a dewy spray, twin horse-head star; | the lordling with plenteous-foaming hide, the thresher, twin horse-head star.
Side B: The lordling skimming the girdle-tracks; the lord clenching the fist, bruising the skin | with delight, hewing at the flower of the teeth, | smiting with cestus, driving home; the lord walking on wings the breathless path, the star-smiter, | the foaming gulf of waters, dogfish smiter on the creeping flower; | the lord, smiter of the horse-hide (or the surface of the rock), the dog climbing the path, the dog emptying with the foot the water-pitchers, | climbing the circling path, parching the wine-skin, | the tall jars, the high-stemmed vessel, climbing the circling path, the solitary rocks; | the lord clasping to the breast the pillars; the dog holding and seizing the pitchers.
Well, that clears things up. As the gentle reader may surmise, this translation has not been accepted by the scientific community at large. And being an “unexplained” item, the Phaistos Disc has gotten plenty of attention from, shall we say, the more creative interpreters of all things ancient. Yes, some have seen signs of ancient aliens on the disc. One of the symbols even “looks like” a UFO on its side. And the Atlantis crowd finds support for their “theory” as well. It really is amazing to me that people with essentially no credentials whatsoever in a field actually think they will succeed where the experts have failed. Granted I’m sure it’s happened a few times in history, but still, we’re talking ancient languages and such, this is pretty arcane and academic stuff. Until actual evidence for UFOs or Atlantis is found, I think we can safely leave the Phaistos Disc out of that debate.
Lastly, the Phaistos disc does have one other unusual attribute. It apparently was made using movable type, IE the symbols weren’t carved by hand, they were pressed into the clay from stamps with raised symbols on them. This predates the next known invention of movable type by about 1500 years! In other words, some unknown and unsung genius invented a labor saving way to write more than a thousand years before anyone else hit on the same idea. My theory is that this is more proof of “Doug’s Theory of Laziness.” I posit that all of civilization’s great advances have been made or inspired by lazy people. In this case probably a bored slave who said “There’s got to be an easier way to inscribe all these fucking clay discs.”
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. Credit and copyright: Wikipedia User PRA. Coming soon, more ancient and archeological mysteries. The Hinterkaifeck pickaxe massacre. The Hollingsworth dog mummies. The Crocker Land expedition. Or whatever takes my fancy.)
OK, it has wings, it must fly. There’s no propeller or air intakes, so it glides or has a rocket engine. Judging from the small wings it must have a rocket engine. It has a cockpit so it has a pilot. It does not appear to have landing gear, nor does it have any obvious weapons. One of the men has a gun, the men appear in uniform, and the vehicle has what looks like military markings on it. It’s a likely a military flying device of some sort, but what sort exactly? Stop reading here if the gentle reader wants to guess.
Yeah, I can never be bothered to guess on stuff like this either. If the gentle reader noticed it looks kind of like a cruise missile, they were onto something. That’s exactly what it is, a cruise missile. Typically launched from a Betty bomber, though submarine and cave launched versions were also planned. It only had enough fuel to fly for 20 miles or so, so it had to be launched pretty close to its target. And yes, it had a pilot. This was World War Two, electronically guided missiles were still a dream, if a cruise missile was going to hit any thing smaller than a city, it had to be piloted. Yes, this bad boy was the Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka (Cherry Blossom) purpose-built suicide plane. It had a 2,000 lb high explosive warhead, and could fly at over 400 mph (650 kph) in level flight or over 650 mph (1,000 kph) in a dive. This was considerably faster than the fighters of the day, and made them almost unstoppable if they got into a final approach. And yes, this was built by Japan in the last years of World War Two. It’s a kamikaze plane.
So, how did they do? Over 800 of them were built, and most of them saw action. Unfortunately, at least from the Japanese point of view, most of the action they saw was being shot down while attached to the Betty bomber long before they got close enough to be launched at a target ship. Still, a number of them did get close enough to US fleets to be launched. Very few though, most of the time the planes carrying them were intercepted long before they launched their Chery Blossoms. And what few Cherry Blossoms actually attacked only managed to sink or damage seven small allied ships, destroyers mostly. No American capital ships (carriers, cruisers, battleships) were hit by Cherry Blossoms. That’s around 1600 planes and their flight crews (very few of the launching bombers got back to Japan safely) for seven minor ships and a few hundred killed and injured Americans. Not a good trade at all. The Cherry Blossom was a military failure.
In point of fact, Japanese kamikaze attacks in general were a failure. Over 4,000 were used, they sank about 50 Allied ships and damaged about 300 others. 3 escort carriers were the largest ships sunk, the rest were small support ships like destroyers or troop transports. The losses the Allies suffered from kamikaze attacks at this late date in the war were insignificant. The Japanese had hoped the tactic would be so successful that it would blunt the US advance towards Japan, and make a negotiated settlement to the war possible. It was a clever idea, though only made possible by Japan’s traditional society and Bushido code, at least on such a large scale. Germany and Italy also had some efforts at suicide aircraft and such, but nothing like the scale of the Japanese kamikaze program.
Suicide attackers have been known since at least the 11th century. Occasionally soldiers of all stripes would themselves commit the ultimate sacrifice. A German officer tried to hug Hitler while he had two bombs set to go off in his pockets, the attack failed. When suicide attackers were organized, which was rare, it was usually in defense of the homeland in the face of an invader or occupier. Almost all modern suicide bomber fall in the later category. While popular belief in the west ascribes suicide attack to religious fanaticism, this is largely propaganda. Suicide attackers are certainly motivated by their faith, but almost all soldiers are motivated by their faith. Properly deployed, modern suicide attackers have achieved some stunning results, the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 being possibly their biggest success. Suicide attacks are a tactic, not an ideology, and as such fall into the broad spectrum of horrific behaviors that warfare encourages.
Of course most people think that their side’s forces are fighting the good fight for God and country, while their enemies are Godless barbarians with no respect for human life. In most cases both sides are both wrong and right … neither of them is fighting for anything worthwhile. Wars are almost always senseless. But they’re so interesting! More weird weapons of war will be covered as the spirit takes me. Have a great weekend everyone!
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. I got it from Wikipedia so it’s more than likely public domain of one sort or another. Here’s a youtube video montage of Japanese kamikaze attacks during World War Two. It’s pretty horrible actually, lots of people are dying in these images.)
The conventional answer is yes, yes they did. In fact a quick web search will reveal any number of web sites touting this or that Neanderthal burial. They were almost human, they had stone tools and other implements of human culture, they were clearly human enough to mourn their dead. Apes, dolphins, and elephants mourn their dead. Neanderthal skeletons have been found in what appear to be graves, what’s the problem? The problem is that some academics with excellent credentials challenge the view that Neanderthals deliberately buried their dead in the manner of humans. The claim is that because we bury our dead in a ritualistic fashion, we have projected that behavior onto the scant evidence that exists for Neanderthal burials.
So, what is the evidence? Well, here is where the crux of the debate is. There are a few dozen cases where deceased Neanderthals appear to have been wholly or partially buried. The problem is that none of these cases is a “smoking gun” case. There is no such thing as a Neanderthal grave that was indisputably a grave. IE, body carefully laid out surrounded by tools, adornments, food, and other obvious items placed with the the dead in their grave:
The is the Amesbury Archer. Pretty hard to call that anything but a grave. There is no comparable Neanderthal site. Some of their graves might have had flowers and such buried with the body, but even that is debatable. A few did have a few grave goods, but again, it’s debatable. Worse, much worse in my opinion, there isn’t even a Neanderthal grave where it is clear a hole was dug, the body placed inside, and the hole refilled with the dirt from the hole. In what cases were properly investigated (archeology has made a lot of progress since the 19th century,) the bodies appear to have been placed in natural depressions, and the dead weren’t always completely buried. Well, what does it matter? It matters because scientists are trying to answer the age old question, were Neanderthals human? IE could a typical Neanderthal have learned English and conversed with us? I’ve blogged about the Neanderthal speech debate here. If Neanderthals buried their dead as humans do, wouldn’t this mean they also believed in an afterlife of some sort? At the very least it would seem to indicate an understanding of individuality and life and death in a way that humans do. That’s the argument as I understand it, and the majority of Neanderthal researchers find it reasonably compelling.
The counter argument? The Neanderthals may have been simply disposing of the bodies. Aside from the smell, they would attract carnivores and scavengers. The picture is also muddied by the fact that Neanderthal skeletons have been found with marks where meat was carved from the bone. Cannibalism or ritual defleshing? No one knows. It’s also possible that the burial-like Neanderthal “graves” that have been discovered might simply have been Neanderthals mimicking their far more successful cousins, Homo sapiens, with no clear intent other than a vague idea that copying what they do might lead to more success for their hunts. Of course this gets into another muddy area, why did the Neanderthals eventually get wiped out when they came into contact with Homo sapiens? Current thinking, which is by no means definitive, is that they simply couldn’t compete with Homo sapiens much more sophisticated hunting and food gathering abilities.
In any event there’s no overarching point to this post, other than to point out that what we know about our closest known cousins in the human lineage is still subject to debate. And while the current consensus is that Neanderthals were humans (speaking figuratively,) it’s by no means cut and dry. Complicating the debate about Neanderthal cognizance even further, they had bigger brains than humans. Yet somehow their tool use remained rather simple and primitive right up to the very end. And then of course there is the messy business of humans and Neanderthals breeding with each other. Most people alive today have some Neanderthal genes, and we didn’t get them through cannibalizing Neanderthals. What was up with that?
Maybe someday, a post on recently discovered Neanderthal art as a follow up to this post about a Neanderthal “sculpture.” More posts on weird weapons of war are definitely coming up. And no, not a single person caught the smurf reference joke. I will not be posting about smurfs.
(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They aren’t being used for profit and are central to illustrating the post. For the top image, credit and copyright: Shanidar Burial. Image: JohnConnell, Flickr. The second image, I don’t know who holds the copyright, it’s posted all over the web. I’m guessing credit and copyright: Wessex Archeology. For more thinking on Neanderthal cognizance, this is interesting.)
Well, that’s an interesting looking plane, nu? Anyone know what it is? Guesses? Note the small size and compactness of the aircraft. Note the complete lack of landing gear. Is it a plane at all, maybe it’s a carnival ride? Wait, look at the tail, it’s the batplane! No, actually, it’s a McDonnell XF-85 Goblin. OK, that’s not terribly helpful, what is a McDonnell XF-85 Goblin? Give up? The McDonnell XF-85 Goblin is what is called a parasite fighter. This is a fighter aircraft that is attached to a larger aircraft, or in this case, carried completely inside the bomb bay of a larger aircraft. In this case three or four of them would be carried inside a B-36 bomber, making the bomber a flying aircraft carrier. For that was the idea, the Goblins would ride in some of the bombers in a bomber formation, be dropped when needed to defend them, and then re-board the bombers when the fighting was done. This was because the fighters of the day didn’t have the range to escort long range bombers, especially jet fighters. It was an interesting idea, though the requirement that it fit inside a bomber severely limited its size and thus fuel load, a Goblin was only good for about 30 minutes of flight time.
So did it work? Well, sort of. In 1948 one was launched on a number of test flights and successfully deployed and flew around. However, re-attaching to the hook that would haul it back inside the bomber proved very tricky in action. Buffeting from the airflow around the bomber made it a very tricky procedure, and it was only successfully accomplished on three occasions. Many attempts to reconnect were failures, often damaging the plane or the hook in the process. On one try the Goblin hit the hook so hard that not only was the canopy knocked off, the pilot of the Goblin’s helmet was knocked off! He managed to safely belly land it on a dry lake bed anyhow. In fact he (only one test pilot ever flew the Goblin) had to belly land it a number of times because he was unable to reattach to the mother bomber. More disappointing, its flight characteristics weren’t as good as had been planned, and other jet fighters entering service at the time were clearly superior to it. Lastly, progress with figuring out how to refuel jet fighters in the air was rapidly increasing the range of conventional fighters. Poor performance, high skill requirements to fly, and better conventional fighters spelled doom for the Goblin, and the project was cancelled after only a handful of test flights.
The whole thing was a pretty wild idea though. Fleets of giant six engined intercontinental bombers, the likes of which Hitler dreamed of, would fly around the world. Three quarters of them would be carrying nuclear weapons, the others would carry three or four Goblins each. They would have been impervious to the anti-aircraft guns of their day, with a fighter escort as needed, and the nuclear firepower to exceed the destruction of all of World War Two in just a few dozen planes. A killing machine the likes of which the world had never seen, ready to rain down nuclear death anywhere on the planet. And the name of this giant bomber? The Convair B-36 “Peacemaker.” Yes, that’s right gentle reader, a bomber that could destroy entire cities was called the peacemaker. Wtf?
Yeah, the Cold War was nuts. World War Two was nuts, and it was catching, since the USA carried on as if the war never ended. From the Cold War till the War on Terror. The USA was always ahead of Russia in the so called arms race, and it got further ahead every year. Yet a huge percentage of Americans became persuaded that a communist conspiracy was going to take over the world if we didn’t continue to fund ever more destructive military toys. It made little more sense than Hitler’s theory about Jews being in a secret global plot to run the world. Now of course millions of Americans believe that Muslims or terrorists will take over the world if we don’t wage endless war. Right. Hitler is laughing in his grave, his armies lost the war but his ideas rule the west still. That’s what’s wrong with this picture.
I’m sure many will dissent. Moving right along, I’m going to be writing more posts about some of the weird and wacky and just plain fascinating war aircraft that were built and conceived during and since World War Two. Because, well, it’s fun. Suggestions welcome. Um, let me clarify, suggestions about what aircraft or secret weapons to write about. I will try to keep the political commentary to a minimum. Have a great weekend everyone!
(The above image came from Wikipedia so it must be OK to use. Likely it was taken by a US government employee in the course of their duties and is thus Public Domain under US copyright law. And boy, they missed a great propaganda opportunity with this plane. With the right paint job, they could have made a flying football! Here is you tube footage of the Goblin in action: Goblin away!)