Newsnotes 2013 03

Notes On The News

by Gwydion M Williams

The Closer To Rome, The Less Christian [Resignation of Pope Benedict]

Weak Britain

Finance Is a Gun

Hedge-Funds Delinda Est

Die Hard With China Dogs

Cameron of Amritsar

Muslim Male Violence

Old Bones [Digging up King Richard the Third]

Watching The Skies [Chelyabinsk meteorite]


The Closer To Rome, The Less Christian [Resignation of Pope Benedict]

Sensible religions keep their leadership well away from power and wealth, which corrupt even the most well-intentioned. But after the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire, there was a distinctive Latin-Christian culture without an obvious centre. The Bishop of Rome was the only one of the recognised Five Patriarchs within this culture, and so had vastly more prestige than any rival bishop. By stages the Roman Patriarch was redefined as a Universal Father (the original meaning of Pope, Papa.) And popes tended to sabotage the strong impulse that existed to unify the shared Latin-Christian culture as a new Empire.

Charlemagne had been planning to proclaim himself Emperor, the normal method for anyone strong enough to make good the claim. The pope sprung a coronation on him and established the notion that it was somehow under papal control. And the office of Emperor was kept weak, while the popes tried and eventually failed to establish themselves as theocratic rulers of the various Latin-Christian kingdoms.

The Reformation began as a protest against malpractices within the existing Latin-Christian Church. This was combined with some new doctrines, or arguably a revival of old doctrines. There was mostly a belief that the church had too much worldly power and property, which was attractive to secular rulers. It was indeed a mediaeval saying, “the closer to Rome, the less Christian”. The fringes believed, but those who saw the core increasingly doubted.

The Counter-Reformation did clean up existing corruption, but also affirmed some doctrines that contradicted common-sense, such as Transubstantiation. And the Council of Trent also affirmed papal power. This made many secular rulers uneasy, even if they liked tradition and ended up on the Roman Catholic side of the divide. Those who opted for Protestantism had an easier time of it, mostly, since the various Protestant traditions were at odds with each other and often accepted the secular ruler as legitimate Head of the Church.

In this ideological confusion, a lot of new thinking was able to flourish. Modern science began in Italy, in as far as it began in any single place. (Earlier Islamic advances had been stifled by orthodoxy well before that.) But science could not develop without contradicting traditional belief. The Pope who had Galileo condemned probably didn’t believe in anything much, but he did know that his authority depended on keeping traditions in place. By the same token, a lot of secular rulers were happy to let science flourish as an alternative belief system that weakened the authority of the priests and bishops.

Scientists in the 17th century were mostly still devout Christians, but with a different viewpoint from the professional churchmen. Newton was a serious alchemist and he also privately came to believe in Unitarianism, that the whole doctrine of the Trinity was false and Jesus was not divine. Objective study of the Bible and the early controversies would indeed lead in the direction of heresy or disbelief.

In the 18th century, disbelief won out. Most scientists were privately Deists – they believed in a very distant God who was not connected with Christianity. But this was not a coherent belief system and did not address people’s emotional needs. Enlightenment Rationalism had a way of treating people as fungible, interchangeable and valued only for their value in terms of cash or selfish pleasures. They distrusted emotions, and believed (wrongly) that ‘Rational Self-Interest’ would lead automatically to good behaviour.

Aristocrats also failed to see that their own privileges were just as irrational as religious oddities. Edmund Burke pointed this out in his 1795 essay “Letter to a Noble Lord”. His solution – the basis for Toryism and other successful forms of conservatism – was simply to live with all of the absurdities and not claim logic for them.

To be more exact, Burke’s ideas were the basis for Toryism down to the rise of Margaret Thatcher. As Prime Minister, she showed herself clever but rigid-minded and unimaginative. (The same qualities that led to the failure of her initial career as an Industrial Chemist, before she started making progress within the Tory Party and got herself a rich husband.)

Thatcher failed to realise that short-term benefits might have enormous long-term costs. If her sort of Toryism fails – and it seems to be falling apart right now – there will be nothing of substance remaining. No basis for Toryism re-inventing itself, as it has done many times before in its history of more than three centuries as a governing party.

The Papacy has held power for far longer than the Tory Party, which itself is much the oldest party to have been continuously the ruling party or the main opposition. The Papacy did itself immense damage by surrendering to the brief hegemony of liberal-capitalist and corporatist values in the period 1950-1975. The reforms of Vatican Two seemed to assume that the well-balanced order that existed within the non-Communist portions of Latin-Christian culture would last forever, and that it needed to come into line if it was to survive. So when this system fell into chaos, Catholicism was badly placed to offer an alternative.

One realistic alternative was Liberation Theology, an adaptation to 1970s radicalism. It suffered the general decline of a radicalism that lacked realism and failed to consolidate itself. Thereafter there has been a vague wish to undo Vatican Two, but to do so now might just lose a lot of the remaining believers. Those who still value Catholicism are also inclined to view traditional authority as “just a bunch of old men in Rome”. And a lot of those old men morally very imperfect, if even half the rumours are true. (‘About half true’ is a good rule-of-thumb for rumours from credible sources.)

It has been aptly said that by resigning, Pope Benedict was admitting that it was just a job. It might be logical if Christianity was inherently logical, which he seems to believe. But not many others take this view. If the religion not tradition, the obvious alternative is to view it all a holdover from an ignorant and authoritarian past.

By resigning as Pope, Benedict has further damaged the notion that it is somehow a special role under Divine Protection. And he wasn’t ever up to the role of promoting the Pope as a global celebrity with wide appeal. This was wholly the fault of those who elected him: they had many alternatives and chose an elderly intellectual with no clear idea of what he should be doing.

And what next? Ethnic balance would suggest a Latin American, but there seems a lack of strong individuals among them. Maybe too many of the best were tainted with Liberation Theology. They could decide to go beyond the College of Cardinals – in theory any unmarried Catholic could be chosen – but this is unlikely.

A bold choice would be Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. At 64 he could be another celebrity pope and another black man in high office over people who are mostly not black. His taking a strong line that homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible obviously offends influential homosexuals clinging onto the Catholicism they know and love. They should stop clinging to a Church that wishes to be rid of them: there are branches of Buddhism that have no particular objection to homosexuality, even though Buddhists see celibacy as the ideal. That would be a more honest choice.

Catholicism isn’t going to be taken seriously if it remains weak and indecisive. Still less if it were to suddenly say it had been wrong on a fundamental part of its doctrine for the past 2000 years.

It also isn’t sensible to say that dropping celibacy would end abuse. In the wider world beyond the clergy, some of the worst abusers have been married men, as indeed have some rapists, sometimes with the wife helping.

Catholicism would be wise to stick to what it is. Being demonstrably wrong about the universe lost the faith lost the faith the majority of scientists. Being demonstrably wrong about personal morality would mean Roman Catholicism becoming like the Church of England, a fading body of nostalgic feeling.

On past form, I would expect a weak and ineffective choice, like the last one. But anything is possible.


Weak Britain

The rich control enough of the media to have shifted the blame for the 2008 crisis away from the global speculators and back onto state spending. Austerity for everyone except the banks has been the rule in the West. They worry vaguely about China’s rise and the 20-year stagnation of Japan. But the consensus is to do nothing too risky and hope that something will turn up.

In this game of global power, it looks like Britain is the weakest link. Britain is a financial superpower based on a medium-sized economy. An economy that has lost a lot of its manufacturing basis since Thatcher took over.

Tony Blair had a viable strategy, play a Death Eater role to the USA’s Lord Voldemort. In particular keep the European Community confused and aligned with the USA. This is now falling apart. Blair had a rather docile set of back-benchers. Cameron is faced with a bunch of fools who think that Britain’s loss of global status is down to their wise advice not being taken. Simple arithmetic should show them otherwise: the UK is 63 million in a global population of 7 billion, about 0.89% of the total.[A] It would be less than that if the Tory back-benches had had their way on immigration, their other main concern. But most Tories grew up with a set of comfortable illusions about British superiority, and will probably hang on to their cherished foolishness to the bitter end.

It was Britain’s rise that was the oddity. It was the fixed belief that this rise was due to Inherent Superiority rather than good luck that ensured that the British Empire would fall apart again. Britain’s rise was mostly Georgian: the Victorians inherited a global empire that dominated a fast-changing world where their advantages were likely to be lost. Victorians made a whole mass of bad decisions: run the Empire on the basis that every white man was superior to any non-white, let the Irish starve in the Potato Famine, let the British working class stay undernourished rather than tax the prosperity of the Middle Classes, pay no attention to the rise of a United Germany, lag behind Germany in developing science and in applying science to industry. It was all bound to crash eventually.

In the 1970s, it was correctly noted that British workers were quite good and that there were lots of excellent British ideas that could be turned into marketable products. The failing was in management, which mostly preferred power-games within existing industries to bold investments that might create something new. It was also noticed that too much of what talent there was went into finance, with the possibility of quick wealth but nothing new or solid created for the society as a whole.

Thatcher managed to get this reversed. British managers were wonderful, it was the workers who were to blame. Finance was splendid and should be freed from the unreasonable rules that had been imposed in the wake of the Great Depression. The Mixed Economy and the policies of tax-and-spend that had been created after World War Two were an abomination and must be removed as quickly as possible.

Thirty years of this have not really restored vigorous independent capitalism. It did produce a variant of the Mixed Economy that was much more favourable to Big Business. And now another Great Slump.

Britain’s loss of its AAA credit rating is just a detail, as is the slide of Sterling against the dollar and the euro. These may reverse. The main problem will not.


Finance Is a Gun

In The Godfather: Part III, the chief villain Don Lucchesi says “Finance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger.[B] True as far as it goes. But Italy lost its original Renaissance position as leader of Latin-Christian culture because of the selfish violence and vanity of its leading men. The Mafia as romanticised in the Godfather films are just the tail-end of this nasty and self-defeating tradition.

Gangsters are much less powerful in real terms than the media tends to show them. Also much more dangerous on their own home ground: anyone who hasn’t got the power of a modern state reliably behind them should stay well away from them. Whatever they are close to, they blight.

Britain owed its rise to a shared understanding by the ruling class that there were very definite limits to allowable dishonesty, with murder totally unacceptable. Sadly, there were also limits to how this was applied. No widespread acceptance that it applied globally: a more common view was “East of Aden, where the Devil rules and their ain’t no Ten Commandments”, which was why the Empire was lost. But for Britain, it worked well.

Finance was one of the internal blights. If your Empire had the most guns and some habits of honesty, you could become the world’s financial hub. Britain was that for a time, but lost out as the Empire fell apart. And then briefly recovered some of its old importance by Deregulation, allowing all sorts of complex financial games. Games that made a few people rich but created no real wealth.

The Heavenly Creatures of finance do nothing of obvious benefit to the wider society. The justification from economists is that their activities keep the money proper, maintained at the correct price. To someone not schooled in Transcendental Mammonism, might seem complete disorder and accidental prices, even when there is not intentional cheating. But most economists keep the faith with a stoical indifference to sufferings imposed on people other than themselves.

“Rational economics” says that profit and loss for individuals can not be far different from increase or decrease in the social wealth. Reality shows otherwise. Also the theory isn’t that rational: it gets relatively simple maths by making some absurd assumptions. Among other things it assumes fungible humans, one person much like another, which is nonsense.

Spill someone’s coffee and you can usually make amends by buying them another. Run over their dog and it is another matter. And it counts very much more when it comes to relationships between humans. “Rational” economics suggests that if one person can split a fairly small sum of money between themselves and a friend or close associate, they should take as much as possible for themselves. Researchers seemed genuinely puzzled when they found most people preferred a fair split, even with strangers. Actually we do have an inherent sense of fairness, reinforced in most cases by the understand that it’s wise to maintain a relationship rather than cause offense for a small gain. Only with a mix of large rewards and weak relationships is this likely to break down. A nice example of the process is shown in the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Being honest with other humans – or at least the “in-group” – has an individual cost and a general benefit. Not caring about the relationships damages the common interest, though smart and ruthless individuals will usually make a personal profit.

There was an interesting comment on the current “Success Persons” in Economist Letters:

“SIR – The claim that people succeed through brains and hard work is what we (or rather, the successful) like to believe, because it makes the world seem fair and lets those who reach the top think they have done so on merit.

“From my experience in business I have found that there are two elements which best distinguish the highly successful from the unsuccessful: good looks and controlled aggression in abundance.

“Success based on the old man’s money is contrary to meritocracy, but are the above two criteria any better?” [C]

The “Success Persons” are clever, but not unusually so. And they are an Overclass, lacking much fellow feeling. Quite likely they don’t expect their system to last much longer, and each is concentrating on grabbing as much as he or she can while they can.


Hedge-Funds Delinda Est

Contrary to what was said by both Adam Smith and Karl Marx, Britain’s Industrial Revolution was not made by capitalists. Sophisticated capitalists existed in London, benefiting from the principle of “finance is a gun”. But the spectacular industries that briefly made Britain the “workshop of the world” were almost all created well away from London. They benefited from sales to the Empire, and also throughout the whole of Britain, which had free trade internally and strong tariffs against foreign goods. But they seemed to need to be far away enough from London to have a life of their own. And their outlook tended to be commercial rather than capitalist: they were in a particular trade and it was the centre of their interests, with money seen as just one of many factors in production.

Some of these areas also had geographical advantages, coal or water power. But the most remarkable growth was Birmingham, which had none of these things.

The Dutch had elements of modern society before Britain. But if you look at a map, you’ll see that the Netherlands are about as big as the part of Britain that didn’t develop major new industries. Beyond their borders, various other powers ruled with no interest in a radically new economy.

Even in Britain, London proved too big and dominant. As travel and communication became better, more and more power shifted towards the capital, and it went hand in hand with a decline in British industry. And it’s the thing that never happened in Germany, where manufacturing continues to flourish.

Thatcherism understood none of this: commerce that was not properly capitalist was an aberration and deserved to perish. Finance was beautiful and clean, though not yet perfectly capitalist, an imperfection that was being gradually removed right up until the crisis of 2008.

You might call it commercial beriberi. Beriberi was a disease caused by lack of Vitamin B1, occurring in Asia in countries where polished rice had become popular. Removing the husk etc. undoubtedly made the rice taste better, purer, more digestable. But it also removed the vital Vitamin B and produced a degenerative disease.

Pure capitalism has been a blight on authentic wealth-creation. And the current horse-meat scandal is a nice illustration:

“A Dutch meat trader has emerged as a key suspect in Europe’s spiralling horse meat scandal following allegations that he was convicted as recently as last year for passing off horse as beef.

“Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Jan Fasen, a director of Draap Trading Ltd, confirmed he bought a consignment of horsemeat from two Romanian abattoirs and sold it to French food processors. He insisted he had clearly labelled it as horse.

“But on Wednesday Dutch broadcaster NOS reported that Fasen was sentenced in January 2012 for deliberately marketing South American horsemeat as halal-slaughtered Dutch beef and falsifying documents.

“Draap Trading Ltd is a Cypriot-registered company, run from the Antwerp area of Belgium, and owned by an offshore vehicle based in the British Virgin Islands. Draap spelled backwards is the Dutch word for horse…

“Draap Trading Ltd delivered meat to the French company Spanghero, which in turn supplied another French company, Comigel. The Findus lasagne products found in Britain containing horsemeat came from a Comigel factory in Luxembourg. Spanghero insisted that the meat delivered to its Castelnaudary plant in southern France had arrived labelled ‘Beef – originating in EU’. The company said: ‘The meat received was beef meat. This was the order that had been placed. Spanghero did not treat or do anything to the meat.'” [D]

Frederick Forsyth in his 1974 book The Dogs of War detailed how easy it was to use Luxemburg for criminal purposes. He had a half-arsed view of mercenaries, who were insignificant when they had to face authentic home-grown armies, as in Indochina. But he was accurate with his facts, so why was nothing done about Luxemburg allowing such abuse? What they do internally is their business, but with lousy laws against fraud they should not be allowed to operate globally.

But that would be to impose limits on the Heavenly Creatures of finance and wheeler-dealing. Thatcherism was convinced that prosperity depended on them, and New Labour has never been confident in challenging this view.

Routine testing of meat for horse DNA was stopped in 2003.[E] No doubt it was called Red Tape, a senseless limit on the wonderful world of commerce.

Findus have been a major offender. They used to be about good food, but now they are wholly about money. According to the Wikipedia:

“The Swiss food company Nestlé owned the Findus brand from 1962 to 2000; it sold the rights to the brand in most of Europe in 2000 whilst retaining ownership in Switzerland.

“As of 2013 Findus Group (formerly known as Foodvest and owned by Lion Capital LLP, Highbridge Capital Management and JPMorgan Chase) owns the Findus brand in most of Europe including the Nordic countries, France, Spain and the United Kingdom.”


Die Hard With China Dogs

Britain has GCHG to spy on the rest of the world, the USA has the National Security Agency. China obviously has something similar. But it’s doubtful if it justifies the hysteria of recent reports. Hysteria in part drummed up by an American private security firm called Mandiant.[F]

Data security is a good idea, if you have commercially valuable data on your computers. But immediate competitors are much more likely to be a threat than the Chinese.

The story reminded me of similar stuff that has come out of the USA in the past. The supposed Viet-Cong headquarters COSVN in Cambodia, the excuse for the US-backed coup that overthrew Sianouk and led to massive suffering. (Pol Pot was an accidental beneficiary, for a time, of a process that was wholly US-made.) Then there was the shocking matter of Kuwaiti babies tossed out of incubators during the Iraqi invasion, repeated by President Bush Senior and later admitted to be false. And the whole saga of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, eventually shown to be nonsense. Short of a successful US invasion, we may never be 100% sure about Iran’s supposed nuclear program, but it seems likely that they have followed the original decision that nuclear weapons kill innocents and are therefore not compatible with Islam.

Since the USA makes or controls most of the world’s computer hardware and software, it must find it much easier to steal it. Likewise it owns the Internet, which was a US creation and which has “root servers” at its core that are under US control. It began with military work, a flexible system that could survive a nuclear war, but turned out to be efficient for normal usage. And the USA chose to make it open and relatively free, ensuring that alternative systems like Prestel and Mintel would fail to spread. Global dominance was achieved by a system with the core control belonging to the USA. And it proved a suitable communication system for the World Wide Web, a relatively easy-to-use system of Hypertext that was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, the international centre for particle physics.

In a globalised world, everyone spies on everyone else. No doubt the Chinese security services make use of thousands of teenage hackers whom the West thoughtlessly delivered into their hands by spreading the damn-fool notion that the internet made you invisible to the authorities. I’m not an internet expert, but I know quite a bit about mainframe computers, including the fact that users are leaving “footprints” they are probably not aware of. I also know enough about internet matter to be aware that your standard Microsoft Internet Explorer includes a History which shows where you have been. A history which you can erase if it makes you nervous, but I’d expect the same data to be found in other places, including files scanned by the bosses if it is a work connection. So when the idea of electronic subversion was publicised a fey years back, I said very definitely this is not going to work. China made its own satellites and thermonuclear weapons and can certainly cope with such half-arsed subversion. The failure in the case of China is now admitted, which may be a motivation for half-arsed bitching about Chinese spying and cyber-attacks.

Something like an Internet Passport would make life much easier for everyone honest. So would a very small charge for each e-mail, which would cut out most of the junk. But the early pioneers of the Internet had a naïve anarchic view and thought it was best all left free to find its own level. The result has been an internet dominated by advertising and dishonesty, where the only sensible response is to distrust anyone unless you know them “in the flesh”. And only to have business dealings with big corporations that would find you too small to be worth cheating. (But you also need to beware of clever mimics.)

The USA has not yet given up hope of world domination via the Internet. They can’t so far crack China, but the Social Media did help bring about the Arab Spring. Except that this gave brief power to some ill-organised liberals with little hope of taking power once they had undermined the existing state. The replacement of mild authoritarianism by militant Islam based on popular support seems to be proceeding very smoothly, as should have been expected.

My view of the Globalisers trying to spread Sub-American values everywhere has been consistent over the years. These are not good people, and they are not even intelligently wicked. The Heavenly Creatures of the New Right are greedy and destructive, but not realistic or effective outside of their own small areas of experience.


Cameron of Amritsar

In Britain’s North American colonies, in Ireland and in the British Raj that ruled India, British policy successfully created a strong and vibrant community of people who thought somewhat like their British masters. Which meant it was high time to stop behaving as masters and be content to be just Senior Partners, creating a shared framework for these new communities when that was their main ambition. But each time, there were enough fools with enough votes in the Westminster Parliament to stop this happening.

The Amritsar Massacre of 1919 was just part of the Indian end of this process. India wanted self-rule, which would have meant some non-whites being senior to white people living there. This was more or less unknown in the British Empire until its last days, and it was the sticking point. Most Indians at that time did not want a future outside of the British Empire, they just wanted to be less unequal. Protests were limited and mostly peaceful, but that mattered little if no compromise was possible. Either protest had to be met with massacre or it would succeed.

Reports of David Cameron’s visit try to whitewash what happened. Yes, there was some criticism of the massacre in Britain, but mild. Not much more than “shooting wogs was rather naughty of you”. Official British Indian sources gave a figure of 379 identified dead, the Indian National Congress said maybe 1000. It was certainly not minor, but nothing much was done about it. And there was a lot of British support for what the commanding general had done.

“On his return to Britain, Brigadier Dyer was presented with a purse of 26,000 pounds sterling, a huge sum in those days, which emerged from a collection on his behalf by the Morning Post, a conservative, pro-Imperialistic newspaper, which later merged with the Daily Telegraph. A Thirteen Women Committee was constituted to present ‘the Saviour of the Punjab with the sword of honour and a purse’.” [G]

Cameron took notice of the event, but stopped short of an apology. Weak and foolish, but he has a bunch of fools on the back benches who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. He himself may be almost as foolish.


Muslim Male Violence

A man who’s been humiliated and cannot strike back immediately is likely to take it out on someone weaker, most often a women. They will also be eager to join up with anyone offering a real prospect of revenge on the original object of their wrath. In this, male humans do not differ greatly from male baboons, and males in the Anglosphere do not set a good example. But it tends to be Third World targets of US hegemony that get the bad publicity.

A bad cause always tries to sign up good people. Failing that, have it fronted by a nice-looking woman, as with Thatcher and Sarah Palin New Right economics could not be sold as “Feed the Rich”, though the rich are good at noticing their gains and losses and responding sensibly. New Right economics could be sold on a pretext of attacking waste, red tape and shirkers exploiting ordinary people. It wasn’t necessary for the New Right to actually fix such problems, and they mostly have not been fixed. Discontent was all that was needed, so that the real policy of “Feed the Rich” could be carried through.

Home-grown radicalism was moderately successful in equalising the position of women in many societies, including much of the Islamic world. Home-grown radicalism was also distinctly too ‘uppity’ for the tastes of the rulers of the Anglosphere. They had the bright idea of invading and slapping down these regimes, or possibly subverting them through the Internet and social media. But it had to be sold as something else, partly the establishment of nice liberal parliamentary democracies and partly as a defence of women’s rights.

It’s a simple program. Humiliate the men and let them stay unemployed, feeling useless. Harass governments to cut education and health, repay debts and open up to foreign goods. Then point to the resultant mess and use it as an excuse to invade.

There is also a genuine cultural struggle. In the Republic of India, women have had some of the top jobs, but ordinary women are at risk. There was bound to be an ongoing struggle when women claim the right to a respectable existence outside of traditional roles and claim the option of sex before marriage or without marriage.

In Anglo society, this was for decades a radical demand by a small number of left-wingers. It arguably went mainstream with a 1962 book called “Sex and the Single Girl” and has now triumphed in the Anglosphere and most of Europe. Also China under the post-Mao leadership, which also legalised homosexuality in 1997. But things have mostly gone backwards in places where the Anglosphere has been successful in slapping down uppity home-grown radicalism.


Old Bones [Digging up King Richard the Third]

Tudor propaganda exaggerated the faults of King Richard the Third. But it seems unlikely he was the decent fellow that some of his fans are now claiming after the discovery of his body.

Richard had been at war all his life, in the series of brutal struggles known as the War of the Roses, though it was nothing like as simple as a struggle between two factions and treachery was common. He was born two years after his father made a bid to seize effective power from the weak Henry 6th. Eight years old when his father was killed in pitched battle during that power-struggle. The following year, 1461, his elder brother Edward restored the Yorkist cause with victories at Mortimer’s Cross and then Townton. 18-year-old Edward became king, with Henry 6th alive but imprisoned and his heir sidelined. Young Richard became Duke of Gloucester and began to be given important independent commands.

Peace broke down in 1469, with the middle brother George Duke of Clarence uniting with Warwick the Kingmaker. A series of ding-dong battles included a brief restoration of the ineffective Henry 6th. This culminated in the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, where the son of Henry 6th was killed in battle. Henry 6th died soon afterwards, perhaps of grief but more likely removed as the only significant Lancastrian left, apart from Henry Tudor. Shakespeare has Richard murder him, but it is unlikely that Richard would have dared do such a thing without his elder brother’s permission.

The victorious Yorkists then quarrelled. Edward had earlier annoyed many of his supporters by marrying Elizabeth Woodville, whose family were rated inferior to most of the English nobility. This unwise move had helped turn George Duke of Clarence and Warwick the Kingmaker against him and led to his brief overthrow. Old hatreds lingered on. Elizabeth Woodville was in fact the first non-royal to marry an English monarch: the norm was to wed foreign princesses. She was seen as an upstart, and resented it.

In 1478, with George and Richard quarrelling over the inheritance of the dead Warwick the Kingmaker, whose daughters they had married, George was arrested for plotting against his elder brother and was executed. Shakespeare has Richard guilty of that as well, but at least in public he protested. He was quarrelling over land, but that was different from wanting his brother dead, and he may have blamed Edward’s queen.

In 1483, Edward 4th suddenly died. His son Edward 5th was officially heir at 12, with Richard as official Regent. But he must have worried about his future, this nephew would soon be King with full powers. Richard was still a young man: he was only 32 when he was hacked down in his final battle. When he found himself Regent with his respected elder brother no longer there, the idea of spending the rest of his life taking orders from a nephew whose mother he’d view as a social inferior and probably enemy can’t have seemed nice. He also had to wonder how long he’d last even if he behaved perfectly, because he was both a large landowner and the heir after his two nephews until they in turn married and had children.

What he did is not in dispute: he arrested several of the Dowager Queen’s relatives and supporters and had one of her brothers executed. He claimed they had started it: possibly they did. A fight had anyway been likely. And having gone that far, Richard must have realised that he could not afford to have either of his nephews become king with full powers, resentful over the execution of their Woodville uncle. Yet he could not prevent this unless he could discredit their inheritance.

Two methods were tried, probably with Richard’s approval. It had long been noticed that Edward and George were tall and blond, unlike their short dark father, whom Richard much more strongly resembled. The issue had been used in propaganda, but since Edward had brought victory to the Yorkist cause it mattered little. But it was briefly revived before fading out again.

The second and successful method was the claim that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid because of Edward’s earlier union with Eleanor Butler, making “Edward V” and his siblings illegitimate. This was accepted by Parliament and Richard became king, but with a very uncertain base. He lasted two years, amidst growing claims that the deposed Princes had been murdered. Quite likely they were: deposing was not enough, the previous wars had showed that any living clamant was a threat. It’s also unlikely that the younger brother survived to become the individual known as Perkin Warbeck: the time to have declared himself would have been in the uncertainty after Richard’s death, had he been real. But it is possible that the princes drowned accidentally during a covert rescue to take them overseas. Or were killed by agents of Henry Tudor or one of the other nobles with ambitions for the throne.

Richard 3rd might as well be buried in Leicester Cathedral close to where he was found, he was a pretty nasty character. But I’m not surprised that the proposal to do DNA testing on the supposed bones of the two Princes in the Tower has been turned down. It might show that their father Edward was only half-brother to Richard, i.e. he was not the son of the Duke of York with royal blood that matched that of Henry 6th. Not only would this partly vindicate Richard, it would also be a slur on all subsequent monarchs. Henry Tudor wed Edward’s daughter, the mother of both Henry 8th and Margaret Tudor, grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots, whose son James 6th and 1st inherited when the Tudor line failed. Henry Tudor’s own claim was rather weak, it needed her link back to the Duke of York to make it plausible.


Watching The Skies [Chelyabinsk meteorite]

Imagine that the citizens of Chelyabinsk had been warned even 20 minutes in advance of the big falling meteor. Everyone would have known about the pressure wave and stayed away from windows – or perhaps opened or protected them. It would have been a much smaller incident with far fewer people hurt.

The Science Fiction scenario of diverting oncoming asteroids is beyond present technology. Keeping a close look out is another matter: this could be done, though not easily. If you doubt the difficulties, NASA’s astronomical calendar for February 17 shows an asteroid passing the Earth, unusually close and a lot bigger than the unrelated Russian meteorite.[H] Obvious because it is moving, but stop the video and notice how hard it is to spot. Leave the video stopped, wait 10 minutes and see if you can spot it again without re-starting the motion.

As it happens, we now have some space-based protection – NEOSSat, Canada’s Sentinel in the Sky, a relatively small and cheap satellite launched on February 25th.[I] That it should be so timely is coincidence, it has been years in the making and was not the first. Nor the last: there are other projects in hand.[J] Overdue, but a menace at last being taken seriously.



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[C] []

[D] []

[E] []

[F] []

[G] [], as at 24/02/2013

[H] []

[I] []

[J] See New Scientist, 20 February 2013New satellite will be first asteroid sentinel in space.

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