Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Blitz

September 8, 1940, was the first full day of a new strategy by the Luftwaffe as part of Nazi Germany’s plan to invade Great Britain. Starting at tea time on September 7 and lasting until May 10, 1941, German bombers specifically targeted major British civilian and industrial centers. London was attacked for 76 consecutive nights and over 43,000 civilians were killed across the country.

The Blitz originally began as part of the Battle of Britain which lasted from July until October 1940. In July, the Luftwaffe targeted shipping centers and fleets but by August they had shifted their focus to RAF airfields and later the industrial centers producing planes and parts for the RAF. The Battle of Britain was the first all-aircraft battle in history and is generally seen as one of the decisive battles in WW2 as the German failure to obtain air superiority effectively prevented any possibility of invasion of the Home Islands. And it was a stunning victory for the British. Outnumbered, the British employed various tactical advantages to make up for their deficiencies — the small area which they had to defend, the establishment of overlapping radar detection stations all along the coastline, and the recruitment of experienced pilots from other nations.

You might recall that last week, I mentioned that a significant number of Polish soldiers and pilots escaped to Britain. Over 35,000 in total, around 8,500 of whom were airmen. However, only 145 of them served as fighter pilots in the RAF (along with over 400 other non-British pilots — New Zealand and Canada also had over 100 pilots in the RAF each) during the Battle of Britain. The Polish pilots were notable for their experience, most having already fought in the September Campaign, and several in the Battle of France. The first two fully Polish squadrons, the 301 and 303, went into action in August 1940. The 303 was known as the Kościuszko Squadron, after a Polish patriot (who also served with distinction with the American colonial forces during the American Revolution), and despite entering the battle on August 30, claimed 126 kills, the highest of any single squadron during the war. And their losses were 70 percent less than other RAF squadrons.

Because of the RAF’s outstanding efforts and the continuing increase in British industrial production, the Luftwaffe was never able to obtain air superiority, so in September, they shifted their attacks to general industrial targets and civilian centers to attempt to reduce the British morale. But because of the lack of air superiority, bombing attempts were mostly limited to night time when fighter planes were less effective — in the days before on-board radar and other targeting systems, fighter pilots had to be able to see what they were shooting at. The early part of the Blitz focused almost entirely on London, with targets spreading to other industrial cities and ports from November 1940 to February 1941 and then shifting almost exclusively to ports from February until May to assist the German Navy during the Battle of the Atlantic.

By May, the increasingly heavy air and ground defenses began to take a significant toll on the Luftwaffe, and the Germans decided to cease the bombings as being ineffective and began shifting their bomber units to the Eastern Front to support the attack on the Soviet Union. The Blitz is perhaps the most significant part of the war in the British collective consciousness. It has been depicted in numerous movies and books even in stories produced recently. As much as we owe to the soldiers and sailors and pilots who fought in WW2 (“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” — Winston Churchill), we also owe a great deal to the civilians who resisted the psychological warfare and organized and defended their homes, and today we should remember them and those who lost their homes and lives during the Blitz. And let them know that it was indeed Britain’s finest hour.

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us now. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ — Winston Churchill, Speech to the House of Commons, June 18, 1940

Burning the Quran supports terrorism

So, by now you’ve probably heard about the church in Florida which is planning on holding a party on September 11 where they intend to burn large numbers of Qurans. Clearly, like Fox News’ attacking the guy funding the “Ground Zero Mosque” who also happens to be a primary stock holder in Fox News’ parent company, these folks really haven’t thought this out. Because, as my title suggests, burning the Quran supports terrorism.

As the people who are participating in this literary roast are pious and good Christians, I’m certain that they don’t have a vast multitude of copies of the Quran laying around. This means that they will be purchasing most of the books they will be burning. So, they will be paying bookstores for these books. To get the books, the bookstores will be paying the publishers who printed the books. In that legitimate copies of the Quran have to be attested as correct printings and translations, most such publishers are likely to be Islamic organizations. As such, it is entirely possible that there will be some wealthy Muslim backers for these organizations and some of those backers and organizations will likely have possible connections to the extreme factions of Islam and might even directly support the spread of Sharia Law. That means that some of those organizations must be partially funding and supporting terrorist activities.

So clearly, paying money to bookstores for copies of the Quran means that those bookstores are paying publishers, some of whom are Islamic and some of whom have contributed money or other support to terrorists. Clearly buying copies of the Quran to burn them is supporting terrorism! And that’s even before the action promotes violence against America and it’s troops.

Darwin’s other “secret”: terraforming Terra

Imagine you’re exploring the remote islands documenting aspects of the various ecologies you encounter. One of these islands is used as a waystation by the British Navy, but due to its volcanic history and remoteness is woefully lacking in significant vegetation and wildlife. What do you do?

If you are Charles Darwin, you encourage a friend of yours, who you know will be visiting the same island, to establish a series of shipments of trees, grasses and bushes and other forms of flora from botanical gardens from all across Europe to be planted on the island to flesh out the ecosystem on the island.

Why would you do that? To increase local water supplies. The trees and other plants capture rain and reduce evaporation, even with the dry prevailing winds in that area of the ocean. Over time, the plants turn the volcanic rocks into extremely rich soils. Now, the island is a cloud trap and home to a full-fledged forest, albeit one unlike any other on the planet — playing home to eucalyptus, pine, bamboo and banana trees and many others.

And why is this significant? One of the biggest problems with human exploration of the other planets in the solar system is that they aren’t “habitable” — they lack liquid water and breathable atmospheres. The science fiction and science of changing those worlds is “terraforming”: “making like Terra”. But it is rare for scientists to have real world examples of how terraforming can work. The island of Ascension is one of those examples. While it isn’t a completely isolated system the way that Mars is, there are significant ideas that can be applied to the concept of terraforming Mars.

The more we learn about Mars, the more we learn that it is potentially terraformable. But it will likely take more than the few generations. We can’t start with trees, ecologies are much too complex and trees have too many large requirements. We’d have to start with extremophile bacteria and other simple life forms such as lichen to begin creating usable soils and adjusting the atmosphere and then working our way up. One of the better looks at the process in science fiction is Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars.

Until we get to Mars though, we can continue to be amazed at the wonders of nature of planet Earth.

This was done with a slide rule

This. So hard, this.

Though I have to admit I was quite bad about doing my homework. But I learned HOW to do the math anyway. If and when I have kids, I’m going to be teaching them basic math outside of school, because I don’t want them to be stuck using crutches to solve simple problems.