Sunday, 31 May 2015

Turkey: Istanbul; Hagia Sophia

In Turkey the elections are going on as noted by Reuters. The big man, now close to becoming dictatorial, has been everywhere holding rallies and calling for a return to prayer and alike. His core base are religious conservatives. Attatturk, the founder of modern Turkey, secularised Turkey taking religion out of politics. Erdogan has done his best to put it back in. His AK party released a video to commemorate the conquest of Istanbul which culminated with the Muslim call to prayer being recited from a minaret of the Hagia Sophia, Christendom's greatest cathedral for 900 years until the Ottomans turned it into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia is an incredible place. Astounding. Impressive. As indeed is the "blue mosque" also in Istanbul.

The Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, "Holy Wisdom") is a former Greek Orthodoxpatriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.

The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December, the commemoration of the birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia being the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom, its full name in Greek is Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God".

Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture". It remained the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having both been destroyed by rioters. It was designed by the Greek scientists Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles.

The church contained a large collection of holy relics and featured, among other things, a 15-metre (49 ft) silver iconostasis. The focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years, the building witnessed the excommunication of Patriarch Michael I Cerularius on the part of Pope Leo IX in 1054, an act which is commonly considered the start of the Great Schism.

In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered this main church of the Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque. By that point, the church had fallen into a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, the Christian cathedral made a strong impression on the new Ottoman rulers and they decided to convert it into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels and other relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, his Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were also removed or plastered over. Islamic features—such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets—were added. It remained a mosque until 1931, when it was closed to the public for four years. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the Republic of Turkey. Hagia Sophia is currently (2014) the second-most visited museum in Turkey, attracting almost 3.3 million visitors annually.

From its initial conversion until the construction of the nearby larger Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul) in 1616, it was the principal mosque of Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia served as inspiration for many other Ottoman mosques, such as the Blue Mosque, the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.

Source: Wikipedia





Friday, 29 May 2015

North Korean Hackers ‘COULD KILL’

A high-profile defector from North Korea, Prof Kim Heung-kwang, has warned that the country’s 6,000 military hackers are capable of attacks that could damage critical infrastructure and even kill people. The former computer science professor told the BBC the hackers had designed malware to "destroy a city".:

Can't feed their people but can attack a PC from thousands of miles away. Strange old world.



Thursday, 28 May 2015

Political Betting: EU Referendum wording

We now have the actual wording of the referendum question

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union”

As expected the wording of the EU referendum question makes remaining in the EU the YES option while leaving the NO one.

There’s a view that people prefer to vote Yes to things than be negative and the planned wording therefore favours staying in the EU. I’m not so convinced. The last two big referendums, AV in 2011 and the IndyRef in Scotland, both saw No sides win.

What will be interesting is how the question plays out in the polls. The latest finding by YouGov last weekend had the wording “Do you think that the UK should be a member of the European Union?”

This was neutral in relation to the status quo and had Yes 12% ahead.

We don’t know yet about timing though reports overnight suggest that the government is aiming for May next year when the devolved government elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland take place. There is also the London Mayoral election.

Source: Mike Smithson - Political Betting website

Well David Cameron is off on a flying tour of Europe as he starts to convince people of a need for change. I think he has a difficult task but it's made easier by the above and by the fact we aren't sure what he wants (what is the negotiating platform?) and aren't sure what we ourselves want.


Currently the feeling is a referendum in 2016 would lead to Britain remaining in as there wouldn't be enough time for the Brexit people to organise etc etc. I just don't think it's as simple as framing the question as above, getting a few minor concessions and selling it as great change in a quick referendum in 2016. There is too much going on in the rest of the EU and I don't think people will be fobbed off easily.


However at this early stage the odds are seemingly against Brexit. Suddenly people who have spent decades asking for a vote on the EU have it and they may not be ready for it.


There does need to be a vote. That much is clear to me. The rest is going to get murky and mucky which will fascinate us political anoraks.


The stakes are high but overturning the status quo would be tough.




Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A whole new world - Wallesea Island

Below is a press release from Crossrail on Wallasea Island. More information can be found on the RSBP website. It's a vast project. Vast.


  • Excavated material from Crossrail’s tunnels and stations being used to create RSPB nature reserve at Wallasea Island, Essex
  • 1528 shipments have delivered 3 million tonnes of excavated material
  • Nearly 80% of material transported by rail and water, removing approximately 150,000 lorries from London
  • Partnership with RSPB is a key part of Crossrail’s sustainability strategy

The last shipment of excavated material donated by Crossrail to one of Europe’s largest nature reserves has arrived at Wallasea Island in Essex.

In a landmark partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), 3 million tonnes of material excavated from deep below the capital is being used to create a flagship wetland nature reserve twice the size the City of London, and one of the UK’s most innovative flood defence systems.

The delivery marks an important countdown for Crossrail and the RSPB. With over 40km out of 42km tunnels complete, Crossrail is on track to link all its rail tunnels with the big east/west breakthrough at Farringdon. At Wallasea, the last load of excavated material will be used to complete the first area of the reserve and allow the sea wall to be breached and controlled flooding to take place this summer.

Mike Clarke, the RSPB's Chief Executive said: "Wallasea Island is the biggest wetland creation project the RSPB has embarked upon and one of the most significant across Europe to date. As well providing the material that makes this project possible, Crossrail has demonstrated a bold and inspired vision for the way in which industry and conservation sectors can work together for the benefit of people and wildlife.

"As the pressures on our natural world continue to grow, it is crucial that we recognise a world class economy and a world class environment go hand in hand. We hope that our partnership with Crossrail will inspire many more groundbreaking projects in future."

Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail Chief Executive said: "Crossrail is delighted to be involved in delivering this major new wetland at Wallasea. This trailblazing partnership with the RSPB is a key part of Crossrail’s sustainability strategy and shows that by working together, the construction industry and environmental groups can benefit both the economy and the environment."

A total of over 6 million tonnes of material will be excavated by the Crossrail project – enough to fill Wembley stadium 3 times. 99% of the material has been reused or recycled with half being donated to the RSPB for Wallasea and the remainder used for agricultural land and recreational facilities.

Nearly 80% of Crossrail’s excavated material has been transported by train and ship on a tonne per kilometre basis, removing 150,000 lorries off the streets of London.

Excavated material from Crossrail’s stations was transported to the Docklands Transfer Site at Barking Riverside before being shipped to Wallasea. Material from Crossrail’s western tunnels was transported by rail from Westbourne Park to Northfleet in Kent before being shipped to Wallasea.

The Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project is using excavated material from Crossrail’s tunnels to re-profile the land to allow for a mosaic of lagoons and raised islands once the sea wall is breached later this year. It will transform 670 hectares of farmland back into coastal marshland as it was 400 years ago. It will provide a thriving wetland for tens of thousands of migratory birds and help to combat future impacts of climate change on people and wildlife including coastal flooding.

The RSPB will require more than 10 million tonnes of excavated material to create the reserve and is currently seeking partners to provide the remaining 7 million tonnes.

Gallery - Wallasea Island construction

  • Crossrail signs agreement with PLA to move excavated materials via river, September 2009
    About Crossrail

The total funding available to deliver Crossrail is £14.8bn. The Crossrail route will pass through 40 stations and run more than 118 km (73 miles) from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new twin-bore 21 km (13 miles) tunnels to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

When Crossrail opens it will increase London's rail-based transport network capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city. Crossrail services are due to commence through central London in 2018.

Crossrail is being delivered by Crossrail Limited (CRL). CRL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London. Crossrail is jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and Transport for London.



Tuesday, 26 May 2015

ExtremeTech: MH370 - Update

Update article from Extreme Tech website.

MH370 search and rescue, helicopter and ship

The ongoing search for missing Malaysia Airliner MH370 took a turn for the worse this week as investigators were forced to greatly expand their target search area, while shifting the area currently under investigation further to the south. The search vessels were forced to change the target area by inclement weather. It’s now winter in the southern hemisphere, and the rough seas make it impossible for the research vessels to perform their work. Moving the search area southwards will give the team time to take advantage of the last useful weather.

Authorities claim that they remain confident of finding the aircraft. But mathematically, there’s no way to refine the current search projections. The image below shows the area searched through April 2015 in red, with the planned search extension shown in the bounded box.

MH 370 search area

The search grid as of April, 2015.

The new search area would be 2x the size of the previous one, at a total of 46,000 square miles. In a brief statement, the Australian Safety Bureau’s Joint Agency Coordination Center said, “The search into the expanded area has already commenced, with search efforts focused in the south to take advantage of the last of the usable weather in that area,” it said. “The search plan has been modified to enable continuous search operations during winter and to ensure that the entire [46,000 square mile] area is searched as quickly and effectively as possible.

The statement added: “Expert advice is that the highest probability of locating the aircraft is within the [46,000 square mile] search area. Beyond that, it is not possible to refine the search area to one of greater likelihood.”

What if we can’t find the plane?

If the searchers can’t find the plane directly, is there any hope for indirect methods? The short answer is, “Not much.” Wreckage from the plane could still conceivably wash up on a shoreline somewhere across the world. Detritus from the Fukushima earthquake is still washing up on US shores, four years after the disaster. An estimated million tons of debris still lingers in the Pacific Ocean.

Knowing where wreckage washed up might tell us something about the location of MH370 in the most general sense, but such slender threads would still rely on people 1) finding the wreckage in the first place and 2) recognizing it as part of a downed aircraft. A simple armrest, plastic tray, or a tangle of wire might well go unnoticed. Depending on where the plane went down, the wreckage might have drifted southeast and been caught by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. That current races, nearly unobstructed, around the bottom of the Earth — debris caught in it could eventually end up buried in ice on the coasts of Antarctica.

Whether Australia and Malaysia will commit to searching the full mathematical search area (much of which was deemed unlikely to contain the plane) is still unclear. MH 370’s disappearance into the ocean could become another Marie Celeste.


Monday, 25 May 2015

'Dancing Man' Sean O'Brien parties in Los Angeles

Sean O'Brien

A British man who attracted global support after "fat-shaming" images of him were posted online has attended a party in his honour in Los Angeles.

Liverpudlian Sean O'Brien, who now lives in London, was trolled in March after being spotted dancing at a gig.

He was dubbed "The Dancing Man" by a social media campaign to uncover his identity and offer support.

During his LA trip he has been feted by stars, appeared on TV shows and thrown the first pitch at an LA Dodgers game.

Campaigner Monica Lewinsky, musicians Andrew WK and Moby attended his party, while Pharrell Williams recorded a special video message of support that was played at the party.

Mr O'Brien's story has become popular in the US after the social media campaign brought his story to the public's attention.

Pictures of him dancing and then looking upset after he was mocked were posted online, first on message board 4chan and then to the website Reddit.

They were posted with the caption: "Spotted this specimen trying to dance the other week. He stopped when he saw us laughing."

This led to a mass outpouring of support from Twitter users, who managed to track him down.

More here

I think whoever had a go at him behaved appallingly. You simply never know what others are going through. Try not to be so quick and so callous in judgement.

Source: BBC


Sunday, 24 May 2015

ISIS leader: 'Islam was never a religion of peace'

The Islamic State on Thursday released an audio message purportedly recorded by leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who called on Muslims around the world to join the terror group's fight in Syria and Iraq. The speaker says there is no excuse for Muslims not to join the battle against "infidels," declaring, "Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting."

Multiple news sources reported that Baghdadi, in fact, appears to be the speaker, which would mark the first time he has been publicly heard from in months. Previous reports indicated that he had been wounded — or even killed — by a coalition air strike.

The Islamic State drew new attention this week as its forces drew closer to the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, fueling fears that the group could destroy the city's treasured antiquities. Ryu Spaeth

Source: The Week Magazine


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Digital Trends: Paper Thin TV

Good article From Want a paper-thin OLED TV that sticks on the wall with magnets? LG’s got it


There are a lot of reasons OLED displays are revered by video experts as the superior display technology over LEDs, and even plasmas. But one of the most intriguing design traits of OLED tech is the ability to create ultra-thin, malleable displays. LG Display showed off the scintillating possibilities of the technology last year with a rollable 22-inch OLED display. Now, as reported by Yonhap News, the company has unveiled a detachable 55-inch display that you can literally stick to a wall using nothing more than a magnet.

Related: EC9700 4K OLED TV review

Short for organic light-emitting diode, one of the main ways OLED displays differ from LED-lit LCD displays is that they don’t need a backlight to brighten up your living room. Simply applying electrical current lights up each OLED pixel individually, which not only allows the displays to offer unparalleled black levels, rich colors, and vivid contrast, but also allows OLED displays to be remarkably thin; LG’s EC9700 4K OLED TV, for instance, is about as thick as an iPad.

The design gets even thinner when you remove the brains of the TV from the equation, as LG Display has done with its fascinating wallpaper display prototype. Dubbed a “future display” by the company, the panel is a remarkable .97mm thick, and weighs just over 4 pounds (1.9 kg) allowing it to be placed virtually anywhere with ease.

Such a display probably won’t be used in a TV anytime in the near term; it’s more likely to end up in wearable technology, automobile manufacturing, and commercial applications. Still, we could conceivably see such technology (paired with an outboard processing unit) becoming the TV of the future. Imagine being able to detach your screen along with a small hardware accessory, and mount it virtually anywhere.


In addition to the new ultra-thin 55-inch OLED, LG Display also showed off a new convex OLED display that will primarily be aimed for commercial applications.

Related: HDR TVs: Everything you need to know

While virtually every other brand on the market has all but given up on OLED as an expensive, fickle display technology that proved too difficult to manufacture en masse (including Sony, Panasonic, and Korean rival Samsung), LG has essentially staked its future on it. The company unveiled its first commercially viable OLED TV last year in the EC9300 HDTV ($3,500), and has continued to ramp up production, unveiling several new models for 2015, all of which will pack 4K UHD resolution.

According to the Yonhap report, LG will ramp up toward the release of a 99-inch OLED display to accompany the 55, 65, and 77-inch displays LG has already made available for purchase. And LG TVs may be just the beginning.

“We should be able to supply a satisfactory volume to our clients from July or August, which means we’re hoping to buckle down production as well as promotion from the third quarter,” said the head of LG Display’s OLED division Yeo Sang-deog at a press conference.

To be clear, LG Display supplies the panels — which are used in LG TVs, as well as in other applications outside the company. In theory, the Display wing could sell its panels to other TV manufacturers as well — after all, money spends the same whether you’re selling OLED panels, or full-on TVs. However, exactly which companies LG Display is supplying with OLED panels is unclear.

The company did say that it expects to sell 600,000 OLED panels this year, and 1.5 million next year as it has created higher yields in the complicated process. For now, however, LG Electronics is the lone brand waving the OLED flag among the major players in the TV biz.

Just when (or if) the rest of us will get our hands on one of those futuristic, ultra-thin OLED displays that can be peeled off the wall with ease remains to be seen.


Friday, 22 May 2015

HS2 Folly - I agree with Paxo

Jeremy Paxmans excellent article in the FT is set out below. Surely HS2 is indeed madness.

Folly of a £50bn HS2 project must hit the buffers

Illustration for Jeremy Paxman in WeekendFT comment - issue dated 16.05.15

You might think that the biggest infrastructure project in modern Britain would have merited a few minutes discussion in an election campaign. Dream on. All three of the main parties decided that the planned HS2 high speed railway line from London to Birmingham, and then — if things go to plan — on to Manchester and Leeds by about 2033 was A Good Thing. Despite living in an age of austerity, they were as one in believing it a brilliant way to blow a projected £50bn of public money. It was left to the UK Independence party and the Greens (who generally love railways) to point out that HS2 is a grotesque waste of taxpayers’ money.

It will not be £50bn of course, because that is just the estimate, and cost controls on public spending projects such as this are laughable.

Overlook the fact that the Welsh Assembly building came in 300 per cent above budget and the Scottish parliament almost ten times more expensive than the original estimate. The first high speed rail link, from London to the Kent coast, cost one-third more than its initially projected cost, the channel tunnel almost twice as much as expected, and for heaven’s sake don’t mention the ill-fated National Health Service IT project.

But let us play Fantasy Railways and assume for a moment that cost is no object. At the end of years of digging and disruption (I live some 10 miles from the proposed line) we shall have a railway service that enables us to get from London to Birmingham 30-odd minutes quicker. This will, apparently, make the country much more efficient.

Enough has already been said about the charmingly unworldly idea in the minds of those at the top of the Department for Transport: that, since no one can do any work on trains, they have to be whizzed through the countryside as fast as science will allow, the sooner to sit down on a different seat to the one they occupied in transit.

Perhaps the new line will, as has been predicted, turn Birmingham into a suburb of the capital, though presumably that will only be for those wealthy enough to afford tickets.

The point that seems not to have been much recognised by huge numbers of the poor saps who will have to pay for this project is that at the end of their journey north, the happy business folk will not be alighting in the centre of Birmingham, at New Street station, but will have to take a 10-minute walk to get there from the planned HS2 terminus.

It is unarguable that Britain has suffered a terrible sedimentation of power and wealth, to the benefit of London and the detriment of points north. Chancellor George Osborne (a Cheshire MP) repeatedly protests his faith in a “northern powerhouse” stretching across the Pennines. Yet to get from Leeds to Manchester on HS2 you would have to travel south to Birmingham and then north again on the other side of the country.

How on earth are we even contemplating this scheme? Perhaps now it has untrammelled power the Conservative party will jettison this Labour party project, which was anyway based on not much more than back-of-an-envelope calculations.

The story goes that Mr Osborne was seized with enthusiasm for the idea when he went to China and travelled on a high-speed train.

His thought — “Why haven’t we got one of these?” — crossed my own mind briefly when I travelled on a very fast train from Beijing to Tianjin. Mercifully for everyone, I am not the chancellor of the exchequer. We must be thankful that Mr Osborne did not go to Venice and ride in a gondola.

There are, incidentally, one or two minor differences between China and England, such as landmass, rate of economic growth and, critically, a gerontocracy running things which does not need to worry about people’s rights.

Britain, by contrast, is notorious for its shuddering transport policy. When was the last time you heard an MP say, “I’m begging the prime minister to let me go to the Department for Transport and stay there forever, so we can get this country moving properly”? Building a decent infrastructure is serious, unglamorous work with little political dividend, so our system is hopeless at long-term planning. David Cameron, the prime minister, has reappointed Patrick McLoughlin as transport minister to see through this hugely costly project that has been largely overlooked in the public scrap between Heathrow and Gatwick over where London’s next runway will be built (if it is built at all).

For most of the postwar years, the Department (or Ministry) for (or of) Transport — changing nameplates is a lot easier than building railways — was a department that ministers travelled through on their way somewhere else. Between 1947 and the 2015 election there were by my count 38 different politicians at its head — an average stay of less than two years. Since major transport projects take well over a decade to plan and implement, it is indeed no way to run a railroad.

Instead, we have a perpetual tugging of the forelock to countries such as France, where the state can merely decree that something must happen for dissent to be ignored. It is like admiring 1930s Germany for expanding the autobahn network.

On the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta it would be a great deal more dignified to acknowledge the glories of a system that requires government to take account of its citizens’ back gardens. The need for endless planning hoopla is something we should celebrate, not denigrate.

But an obsession with leaving a 21st century “legacy” by embracing 19th century technology will not be balked. The line offers the promise of overcoming the emptiness of most human achievement.

Politicians are correct in assuming that future generations will not remember a single line of their speeches. But unless someone comes to their senses soon, future generations will definitely be able to look at great tracts of concrete laid across the countryside to enable a slightly quicker journey through our overcrowded island. More than likely, they will still be paying for it.

The writer is an FT contributing editor

 . . . 

Letter in response to this column:

Upgrading rail network will boost productivity / From Sir David Higgins

Thursday, 21 May 2015

ISIS: Palmyra; sad news

Islamic State militants seized the desert city of Palmyra in central Syria on Wednesday. The town is home to a complex of 2,000-year-old ruins that are considered one of the most splendid historical sites in the world. The city of 50,000 also is a strategic prize. It straddles a network of roads crossing Syria's central desert, flanked by oil and gas fields. A monitoring group said ISIS now controls half of Syria. The victory came just days after ISIS fighters seized the Iraqi provincial capital of Ramadi.

Source: Reuters, The New York Times

I have been there and it's an incredible place. It was a sort of Roman retirement city in the sun and in such amazing condition. It will be sad if ISIS do destroy it although it is fairly well documented.



Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Why expensive wine tastes good

For wine to taste good, people just need to think it is expensive. A number of studies have shown that when people given plonk are told they’re drinking a £50 bottle, they tend to rate it more highly. Now, scientists have shown the placebo effect caused by people’s preconceived beliefs is so strong that it can change their neural processes.

For the study, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, volunteers were told they were being given five different wines, priced variously at £55, £28, £22, £6 and £3, while their brains were scanned. In fact, they were only given three different wines, with two different prices. In a second test, they were given identical milkshakes with labels designed to alter their taste perceptions in a slightly different way: some of the shakes were described as either organic or regular, others as "light" or regular. The researchers found that "price and taste prejudices" played a significant role in determining the participants’ experience: not only did they rate identical drinks more highly if they thought they were expensive, or organic, but their brains reacted differently to them too. However, some personality types were more susceptible than others to the labelling: for instance, people with low self-esteem, and those deemed to be "reward seekers".

Source: From The Week



Charity - The Amber Trust

The Amber Trust was created to help blind and partially sighted children who have a talent or love for music. The charity provides music lessons, musical therapy, equipment and concert tickets to a large number of children throughout the UK. For some, learning to play an instrument or to sing can add immeasurably to their lives. For others, many of whom have severe learning difficulties, music therapy may offer a lifeline, helping them to reach out in a dark and confusing world. With many blind children in the UK living in relative poverty, they suffer a double disadvantage. Their families cannot afford to give them the musical experiences that can transform their lives – this is where Amber can make a real difference.

To find out more, please visit
Source: The Week

Monday, 18 May 2015

Poetry Corner - Blake - The Tiger

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp,

Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears

And water'd heaven with their tears:

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

What a poem. William Blake was a legend!


Sunday, 17 May 2015

Ramadi: Iraqi forces run off - again

From the BBC: "Most Iraqi troops have abandoned their positions in Ramadi as Islamic State (IS) militants advances further into the city, officials have told the BBC.

IS has taken control of a key compound used as the provincial military command centre, they said.

The prime minister called on troops not to desert their positions, while telling Shia militias to prepare to deploy to the heavily Sunni area.

IS claimed to hold the entire city in a message posted online.

The message, which has not been independently verified, said militants had captured the 8th Brigade army base as well as tanks and missile launchers.

Muhannad Haimour, a spokesman for the provincial governor, also said "Ramadi has fallen" to IS, AP news agency reported."

I don't know what's going on on the ground in Ramadi but these Iraqi forces are getting a bad reputation for running away and leaving all the fairly decent equipment they have behind for ISIS or local militias to pick up.

The military leadership must be awful.

The ISIS battle lines will no doubt ebb and flow until the Iraqis get organised and Syria sorts itself out. Until then I suspect only the Kurds in Iraq will hold their ground and we shall hear every so often of US coalition air strikes or ground raids taking out various people and places but not controlling the ground.

What a mess. Just part of an increasingly huge Middle East mess which is even spreading to North Africa.



Saturday, 16 May 2015

The fall of Constantinople - 29th May 1453

The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire by an invading army of the Ottoman Empire on Tuesday, 29 May 1453. The Ottomans were commanded by 21-year-old Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who defeated an army commanded by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos. The conquest of Constantinople followed a seven-week siege that had begun on Friday, 6 April 1453.

The capture of Constantinople (and two other Byzantine splinter territories soon thereafter) marked the end of the Roman Empire, an imperial state which had lasted for nearly 1,500 years. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople also dealt a massive blow to Christendom, as the Ottoman armies thereafter were free to advance into Europe without an adversary to their rear. After the conquest, Sultan Mehmed transferred the capital of the Ottoman Empire from Edirne to Constantinople. Several Greek and other intellectuals fled the city before and after the siege, with the majority of them migrating particularly to Italy, which helped fuel the Renaissance.

The conquest of the city of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine Empire was a key event in the Late Middle Ages which also marks, for some historians, the end of the Middle Ages.

Source: Wikipedia

Many many songs were written about the fall of Constantinople. A well known recent album is below.