Europe’s first female engineer.

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Galway girl Alice Perry was the first woman in Europe to graduate with a degree in Engineering.

Born on this day in 1885 she graduated from Galway Queens College in 1906.  She replaced her father in his role as Galway County Surveyor, and remains the ONLY woman to work as a County Surveyor in Ireland.

Alice moved to Scotland where she met and married John (Bob) Shaw in 1916, coverting from Presbyterianism to Christian Science.

As a factory inspector in this time Perry enforced laws that protected the many women working in armaments and war industries who were handling some very dangerous substances and chemicals.

Bob Shaw died in WW1 on the Western Front only a year later.  Alice became interested in poetry in the early 1920’s.  She left her job in Glasgow and moved to Boston, the HQ of the Christian Science Foundation where she wrote and edited poetry.

Sadly there seems to be none of her poetry easily available online.  Some volumes of her poetry were donated to NUIG library.  Perhaps some poetry nut will transcribe a few of them onto the internet thingy and give me a link.

Galway University is suitably proud of their first in engineering and named their Engineering Centre the Alice Perry Building in 2017.  Now we need to see to the task of appointing the second woman in Ireland to the post of County Engineer.

Rules for breaking the rules

Protesters in Hong Kong have learned a thing or two as protests escalate against the erosion of the 1997 agreements by the Chinese government.

Rule 1:  You need your colours.  Protesters have adopted black outfits and yellow items.  The supporters of the authorities adopted blue to represent the police.

Rule 2:  Break your colour rules.  People wearing black and yellow were being arrested on the subway on the way to protests.  So you mix things up.

Rule 3:  Steed knew what he was doing.  The front man from the Avengers never left home without his umbrella.  Protesters use umbrellas to keep off the rain, to express solidarity, and to deflect tear gas canisters and plastic baton rounds.  They also protect you from the irritant and blue dye in the water sprayed from police water cannon.

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Rule 4:  Gas masks are great if you can get them to the protest.  You can buy a gas mask online.  But if the police find it in your backpack in a random search you will be arrested.  So many protesters opt for the less effective surgical mask.  Someone just needs to invent a backpack with a sneaky gas mask sized false bottom.

Rule 5:  Understanding how Roman Maniples interchanged during conflict.  Protest organisers are understanding that you can only be at the front for so long.  You need to rotate your front line troops.  The Roman legionary maniple system is a great model.  It was “a phalanx with joints”.

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Rule 6:  Some armour is better than no armour.

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Rule 7:  Non-violence hurts.

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Rule 8:  If you keep it up, and keep it up, and keep it up, you will win.

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Rule 9:  The police do what they do with our permission.

A totally lawless society cannot be kept in check by the police.  The police rely upon well meaning citizens to keep society running.  Police are specialists who are appointed by society to deal with the worst crime, the worst violence.

Politicians who believe that the police are a tool they can use to oppress the people are forgetting that the police too are the people.  Once the police (and the military) awaken to the fact that the groundswell of opinion lies with the people, and not with the rulers, the police and military act on behalf of the people.

The politicans can order the security forces against the people for a short time, but when they lose that authority they lose it for all time.

UPDATE:  31st October

Rule 10:  Protest in unexpected places and unexpected ways.  Turn up everywhere.

HongKong

Guy Fawkes – the Hong Kong Gunpowder Plot

Napoleon died in Moscow!

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Napoleon by Delaroche painted in 1845 long after his death.

Claude François de Malet, a general of the French revolutionary wars, resigned his commission when Napoleon became Emperor.  On Oct 23rd in 1812 Malet presented papers that showed Napoleon was killed in Russia.

Malet attempted to take control of France, but his coup was defeated by supporters of Napoleon.  As we all know Napoleon was still alive and returned from Moscow.  Or did he?

Before Moscow Napoleon was the undefeatable General.  Yes his marshalls lost battles, but not the master himself.  One month before his supposed death he defeated the Russians at Borodino.  After Moscow what do we see?  French forces driven backwards out of Russia.  Then defeat after defeat in Prussia and Germany culminating in the disaster for the the French at Leipzig.

A year on Elba and this weak copy of the Emperor raises his army again in the 100 days to Waterloo, and is again defeated.

Which begs the question; was Malet correct?  Did Napoleon Bonaparte die in Moscow.  Did the Napoleonic inner circle hide the truth and replace their leader with a body double?  A double who looked the part, but with none of the military genius.

“But wait” you say “everyone knows what Napoleon looks like”.  Really?  Do they?  His most famous painter Jacques-Louis David could not get Bonaparte to sit as a model.  He reported the following conversation with the Emperor:

Napoleon: ‘[Pose?] For what good? Do you think that the great men of antiquity of whom we have images posed?’

David: ‘But I am painting you for your century, for the men who have seen you, who know you: they will want to find a resemblance.’

Napoleon: ‘A resemblance! It isn’t the exactness of the features, a wart on the nose which gives the resemblance. It is the character of the physiognomy, what animates it, that must be painted. Certainly Alexander never posed for Apelles. Nobody knows if the portraits of great men resemble them. It is enough that their genius lives there.’ 

When we look at the traditional image of Napoleon we see a short dark haired and defeated man.  How different from images captured from early in his life.  A tall, slim man with flowing blonde hair.  Could it be true?  Could the French Emperor have died in Moscow?  Could this be one of the great conspiracy theories of history?

 

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Young Napoleon by Antoine-Jean Gros

Happy Birthday Doris Lessing

Taq-e Gara

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass
                       from “You, Andrew Marvell”  by Archibald Macleish
Kermanshah, known as the “Gate to Asia” lies in the Zagros mountains of Iran.  It is the largest Kurdish city in Iran.  It was here, on Oct 22nd 1919 that Doris Lessing was born.
In 1925 her family moved to Southern Rhodesia and it was in Africa that the Nobel Literature Laureate found her unique voice. An Africa that exists no more, where Robert Mugabe renamed the country Zimbabwe and chaotically dismantled the productive economy.
Twice married and twice divorced she left Africa in 1949 leaving her children behind because “There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn’t the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother”.
Banned from returning to Rhodesia (or South Africa) for her views on apartheid, she was also closely monitored by the British Secret Service for her support of Communism.  A supporter of Communism who was not afraid to denounce Soviet aggression .  She was vocal in criticism of the Hungarian and Afghan invasions.  Also a lifelong anti-nuclear campaigner and vocal feminist.
My favourite thing about Lessing is that she evolved into a writer of Science Fiction.  She moulded her Science Fiction from Sufi Philosophy, a throwback perhaps to the place of her birth, and the sinful Sufi poets of Persia.
Lessing stoutly defended speculative fiction against literary snobs.  You can do that when you have won every literary prize worth having!

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart; by Doris Lessing

Oh Cherry trees you are too white for my heart,
And all the ground is whitened with your dying,
And all your boughs go dipping towards the river,
And every drop is falling from my heart.’

Now if there is justice in the angel with the bright eyes
He will say ‘Stop!’ and hand me a bough of cherry.
The bearded angel, four-square and straight like a goat
Lifts a ruminant head and slowly chews at the snow.

Goat, must you stand here?
Must you stand here still?
Is it that you will always stand here,
Proof against faith, proof against innocence?

Celtic Tiger Relic

Vernacular

On a quiet lane in Rural Tipperary stands a tiny two story cottage of a vernacular very common in the Golden Vale.  It harks back to an older age when people lived simple lives, subsisting envionmentally on the land.  It was a live devoid of any excess in materialism.  Consumer culture was a distant dream, something you might hear hints of from distant American relatives in the Christmas letter they sent home with cast off clothes that became brand new again for poor Irish kids.

In these days of McMansions it is hard to believe that a tiny cottage like this might be home to a Catholic family in an era before family planning.  Granny slept in a settle near the range for the warmth.  A half dozen boys and girls topped and tailed in an old double bed in what should be the parlour.  Mother and Father slept in the attic with the babies nearby.  As children became teenagers they were farmed out, the boys to labour on farms, the girls to service in big houses.

The cottage is a lovely design, proportiate, sitting gracefully in its environment, built well, built to last.  No longer fit for the lives we lead.

The original single glaze wooden sash windows were torn out and replaced with double glaze uPVC.  Less environmentally friendly, less pretty,  less drafty, more energy efficient, a balancing act of confusing priorities.

And so, in the era of the Celtic Tiger when property madness struck the nation, the owner attempted to extend the old girl.  He slapped on a blockhouse to the back.  The first floor sills speak of an ambition to go up to the level of that elegant apex roof.

Extension

The floorplan will be doubled at the expense of any attempt to preserve the original design.  But the work stopped a long time ago.  I would love to know why.  Was it the market crash and the 2008 recession?  Did the funds dry up?  Did confidence in the ability to secure a sale wane?  Did the bank choke it off stillborn?  Or did some diligent planner leap in just in time to preserve the existing building?

Back at the front the door is secured by a pink girls bicycle lock, a head nod to the most crass aspects of the consumer madness that struck this country.  The pink aisle at Smyths Toy Superstore in the run up to Christmas.  A temple to cheap Chinese manufacturing and dodgy work practices.

This building should be preserved, in its current state, to serve as a symbol of that madness, and a warning to future generations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corsairs

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Corsairs were a peculiarity of naval warfare who acted like pirates, but had the protection of Letters of Marque to give them a legal standing.  Also called privateers, if captured they could claim prisoner of war status instead of being hanged as pirates.

Corsairs had the protection of being recognised combatants without having to carry out orders that might put them in danger.  They could behave as legitimate traders, but if they saw a target ripe for the picking they could sieze it and sell it at auction giving a portion to the crown, but retaining a portion of the “prize” for the Captain and crew.

Robert Surcouf from Saint-Malo in Brittany was the most famous of the French Corsairs of the Napoleonic wars.  He began his life as a slave ship sailor, rising to the captaincy.  During the revolutionary war and the subsequent Napoleonic wars he operated in the Indian Ocean.  He amassed a great fortune by capturing 40 British and Allied ships.

Napoleon awarded him the Légion d’Honneur and offered him a senior Naval posting.  Surcouf refused the commission, preferring his independence of action.

in 1796 as Captain of Émilie, a small schooner rigged corvette with 4 6-pounder guns and a 32 man crew Surcouf captured a number of prizes in the Bay of Bengal.  One was the Pilot Brig Cartier.  Brigs are sturdy two masted vessels rigged with square courses on both masts.

Surcouf had already detached 9 of his men to sail his captured prizes home, and boarded the Cartier with his remaining 23 men, bringing his four guns with him.  He renamed the capured vessel “Hasard”.  He then encountered the Triton, a British 26 gun East-Indiaman with a crew of 150.  Against all odds the French corsairs boarded the larger vessel and engaged in a hand to hand fight on the deck.  The British crew lost their captain and first officer in the savage fighting and surrendered to the French.

 

If you win you lose.

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Israel and Egypt have a peace treaty that was signed by Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel in 1979.  The peace was made possible by the Egyptian gains in the Yom Kippur War which began on October 6th 1973.  The real-politik of that “victory” is a crucial lesson on a path to peace.

Egypt was humiliated by Israel in the 6 day war of 1967.  Their air force was wiped out by the Israelis and they lost the Sinai all the way back to the Suez canal.

A weak power which has just lost a war cannot negotiate a peace.  Whatever is negotiated will be seen as a surrender by both sides.  In order to negotiate a peace nations require a parity of gain or loss.  They need a stalemate of sorts.

In 1973, on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, when many Israeli soldiers were given holiday leave, the Egyptians and Syrians caught the IDF napping.  It was during Ramadan, the muslim holy month, and the Israelis thought they were safe.  The military build up by the Arabic forces was observed by the Israeli military intelligence, but Egyptian disinformation was excellent.  They sent streams of misleading communications about missing spare parts, malfunctioning equipment and lack of training on new weapons.  They also dismissed their Russian military advisors in the months leading up to the war.

Then, in the summer of 1973 the Egyptians mounted huge military exercises along the Suez canal and the Israelis were forced to mobilise defence forces, at great expense, to shadow the Egyptian movements.  As the exercises went on, month after month, the natural inclination for the Israelis was to downgrade the alert levels.  By the time Yom Kippur arrived many of the soldiers were overdue some leave.

The Arabs made good early gains, the Egyptians especially, retaking large parts of the Sinai.  The inevitable Israeli response was swift and furious.  Within 3 days the fronts were stabilised.

This is when things get really interesting.  Israel was able to throw the Syrians back to the pre-attack lines on the Golan Plateau.  The Syrian attack was a failure and the battle lines remain in contention to this day.

In the Sinai the Israelis were unable to dislodge the Egyptians and a stalemate ensued.  The Israelis had to hold up their hands and admit they had been caught off guard.  The Egyptians were able to sell the conflict as a victory to the Egyptian people.

This perception of a victory allowed Anwar Sadat to underscore his position to the people of Egypt as a strongman.  As a victorious General he could go to the negotiation table and forge a peace with Israel.  Without some form of victory in the Yom Kippur war he could never have agreed the peace treaty with Israel.  The Egyptian hawks would have portrayed any deal as a surrender.

The peace between Egypt and Israel holds to this day.  Although it has its skeptics, those who describe it as a “Cold Peace” akin to a Cold War, the fact is that it has stabilised the region.

What I find interesting is that the Israelis had to give up on victory to secure an enduring peace.  Sometimes when you win you lose, because your victory weakens your opponent, who must then fight on.  The result is decades of conflict.

On the other hand, as in this case, by losing a bit you win the bigger game.  Accept a defeat, give strength to your opponent, and they can sue for peace that will endure.

Anwar Sadat began the Yom Kippur war on this day in 1973.  On this day in 1981 he was assassinated by an islamic fundamentalist group of his own military officers during the annual victory parade celebrating the crossing of the Suez Canal.  Sometimes if you win you lose.

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