The Great Pyramid Looked Really Great

Back in the day it probably looked absolutely amazing in it’s polished limestone facing:

” The current outer surface of the Great Pyramid at Giza is made of rough limestone blocks, colored a dark sandy brown from hundreds of years of pollution and weathering. But when it was first built, there was a smooth layer of fine white limestone on the outside of the structure, all cut to the same angle and polished to a shine so bright it almost glowed. “


Margaret Hamilton: Pioneer Software Engineer

Enjoyable, if brief, interview with Margaret Hamilton, who lead the software team for the Apollo moonshots. I can’t help but notice how few men are ever asked how their lives as parents ever collides with their work.

Q: Did your life as a software engineer and a mother ever collide?
A: Often in the evening or at weekends I would bring my young daughter, Lauren, into work with me. One day, she was with me when I was doing a simulation of a mission to the moon. She liked to imitate me – playing astronaut. She started hitting keys and all of a sudden, the simulation started. Then she pressed other keys and the simulation crashed. She had selected a program which was supposed to be run prior to launch – when she was already “on the way” to the moon. The computer had so little space, it had wiped the navigation data taking her to the moon. I thought: my God – this could inadvertently happen in a real mission. I suggested a program change to prevent a prelaunch program being selected during flight. But the higher-ups at MIT and Nasa said the astronauts were too well trained to make such a mistake. Midcourse on the very next mission – Apollo 8 – one of the astronauts on board accidentally did exactly what Lauren had done. The Lauren bug! It created much havoc and required the mission to be reconfigured. After that, they let me put the program change in, all right.

Children do make good testers – no fears about pressing the wrong buttons! Also, reassuring to know that even the ‘well trained’ make mistakes.

Catholic Adoption

In the news, more adoption issues in a case that further illustrates the attitudes and social mores of catholic Ireland as detailed in The God Squad. The fudged adoption papers, un-vetted placement, obfuscation and misdirection of the supposed Sisters of Charity is sadly unsurprising yet still awful to read:

His client became pregnant shortly before her 21st birthday. It was then arranged for her to travel to Ireland, for work experience and she ended up at a house in Clontarf in Dublin through the St Patrick’s Guild, which was run by the Sisters of Charity Nuns.

Counsel said she gave birth to a boy on 13 March 1961 at the Marie Clinic in Clontarf.

She was “sternly warned”, not to touch the newborn as it would be “bad for the child”, who was to be put up for adoption.

However she defied this warning, counsel said, and baptised him with holy water she had in the home in the hope that someday she would find him.

Shortly afterwards she was taken away and signed various forms consenting to the adoption. Counsel said the form was “false”.

Counsel said the documents she signed were legal nullities and had none of the normal safeguards required.

In addition, counsel said the contents of the form about the mother’s details were fudged and lacking in detail.

Counsel said that over the years his client, following her marriage and the birth of her other children, made visits to Ireland in attempts to get information about her son without much success.

She was brushed off by the nuns she dealt with at the Guild, it was said, and a person who worked at the place where she gave birth to her son suggested the boy was among those infants who went to the USA.


The week that contained years

Lenin once said that “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

This has been one of those weeks. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a sense of compressed events; news breaking like waves. The fallout from this week will last years.


Politically, most of the action, or perhaps inaction, has been in the Westminster parliament (and I feel a strong need to  differentiate between components of the UK now given that the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is playing a blinder).

In some ways the real decisions are being taken outside of Westminster. The U.K. Government has disappeared into a Tory leadership fight that could shatter the party in two. The only decision they’ve taken is not to invoke Article 50 yet.Sturgeon and Juncker. The future is now?

As for the pretenders to the throne, Boris Johnson, after staring the future in the face, suddenly remembered that his number one priority is Boris and quit. Allegedly he was stabbed in the back by Gove, but I suspect he was looking for an excuse to go since he won the referendum he didn’t want to win. Gove has thrown his hat in the ring, in a surprise move given that he always denied any aspirations in that direction. Meanwhile, Theresa May, who wants to drop the Human Rights act, sounds like she’d use EU citizens in the UK as some sort of bargaining chip, no guarantees until she negotiates with the EU. A fair point but hardly helpful to the rising number of people facing rascist abuse on a daily basis. Now the race seems to be how right wing the Tories can go to prevent UKIP eating their lunch. The (disgraced) Liam Fox (those two words are indelibly associated in my head now) has also put himself forward.

So where’s the opposition been? Labour, amazingly enough and at a time like this and all, has suffered a leadership challenge, and nobody really seems to know what is going on at all. Sort answer here is that while entertaining, there’s no official opposition in the UK right now.

There’s been a special session of the EU parliament on Monday, where Farage was roasted and Alyn Smith gave a rousing speech to standing ovation that exhorted Europe to stand by Scotland (which voted remain). Somewhat ominously, Marine Le Pen made great mileage out of the referendum result. Europe is under pressure like never before – suddenly the European project needs to defend itself, which could be the making of it. It’s had a somewhat easy ride since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

In a surprise turn of events, Farage has resigned from leadership of UKIP. I don’t think there’s anyone of substance left to resign from something anymore in the UK.

Most of Europe is either quietly trying to work out what the hell is going to happen in the future, or strongly suggesting that the UK ‘press the button’ on article 50 and get on with it.

In an interesting change to Irish foreign policy (we were strictly neutral Untitledduring the first Scottish independence referendum), an Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke on behalf of Nicola Sturgeon at the full 28 member heads of state summit this week, the first since Brexit. This move drew fire from the Spanish, wary of any Catalonian moves in a similar direction to Scotland, and from the Scottish and English Tories (and UKIP, as you’d expect). We are probably aiming to capitalise on the goodwill Scotland has in Europe just now, but traditional Irish Foreign policy has been to support other small nations. Significantly, this summit was followed by an informal meeting of the 27, the UK is already being left out in the cold.

The impact on Northern Ireland, the peace process, Scotland, Gibraltar and so on seems to have been forgotten or ignored by the mainstream in the UK. England is turning in on itself, we may yet see the breakup of the U.K. Perhaps this is the end stage of the long retreat from empire – after the First World War the Empire shrank, up to the Suez Crisis in ’56, when the UK finally had it spelled out to them that they were no longer a Great Power, able to dictate events on the world stage. I think this is the greatest existential crisis to hit them since. The rump of empire was finally lost in 1999 with the return of Hong Kong to China. Now, if Scotland leaves, England will shrink back to being England once more, for the first time in the 309 years since the Union with Scotland in 1707.

David Low, 1940,
“Very well, alone”

Some week.

Equality Forgotten

Fascinating op-ed in the NYT:

On a speaking tour in 1917, Ireland’s foremost suffragist, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, told audiences that “it is the only instance I know of in history when men fighting for freedom voluntarily included women.”

The progressive leanings of the Rising’s leaders were evident in the language of the Proclamation of an Irish Republic read aloud by Pearse on the steps of the General Post Office. Addressed to “Irishmen and Irishwomen,” it guaranteed “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.” At a time when women in most of the world had yet to secure the right to vote, this guarantee was no trivial thing.

It took six days for British troops to quell the rebellion. Sixteen rebel leaders were executed soon after, among them Pearse and the movement’s greatest champion of equality, the socialist leader James Connolly. It would take six more years and much more bloodshed before Ireland won limited independence in the form of the Free State, in 26 of the country’s 32 counties. Although activism by women expanded rapidly during this tumultuous period, with membership of Cumann na mBan, the Irish nationalist women’s paramilitary organization, growing from between 650 and 1,700 in 1916 to as many as 21,000 in 1921, they were not rewarded for their efforts.

The equal rights language of the Proclamation did make its way into the 1922 Constitution, and Irish women over 21 achieved full voting rights that year. But with the progressives dead, the Free State government, heavily influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, began rolling back these rights almost as swiftly as Elizabeth O’Farrell’s boots were erased from that photo.

Laws in 1924 and 1927 largely excluded women from sitting on juries. In 1932, a marriage ban was introduced that forced women who worked as teachers or civil servants to retire upon marriage. The 1935 Conditions of Employment Act limited women’s ability to work in industry.

But it was the 1937 Constitution, drafted under Prime Minister Eamon De Valera’s leadership, that sealed women’s fate for decades. As commander of the Boland’s Mill outpost in 1916, De Valera had been the only leader to refuse women’s participation in the Rising. Now with Article 41 of the Constitution, which reads “by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved,” he closed the door on women’s progress in a more definitive way.