Posts Tagged ‘Cars’

Theremin Hero Plays Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ on Laser Harp

April 20, 2017

This is a bit of light relief after some of the grim politics. The past few days I’ve been putting up some of the electronic music I’ve found on YouTube. This has included Russian SF Rock, and Dr Who played on theremin and laser harp. I’ve also found this video of Theremin Hero, who I think was one of the contestants on Britain’s Got Talent, playing Gary Numan’s classic ‘Cars’ on laser harp in Glasgow in 2014. It’s awesome. Over the years, there have been some great acts on the show. Unfortunately, I still don’t think I could cope with having to wade through an hour of Simon Cowell and Ant and Dec just to see them.

Who Really Wants Driverless Cars and Further Automation

March 30, 2017

This follows on from my last article, where I commented on a piece by Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski about a report produced by the accountancy firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers. This predicted that by 2030, a third of all jobs in Britain, Germany, and America would be lost to automation. Japan would also be affected, losing roughly a fifth of all jobs. Kulinski in his piece quoted a report by the BBC. This came out about a year ago, and the issue was the subject of a documentary, possibly on Panorama. I think it’s very likely to come true. One of my friends watched it, and was really frightened.

This is an issue I feel passionately about, but don’t think it’s really being taken at all seriously. And I’m very much unimpressed by some of the reports, which uncritically hail every new development in automation as a benefit, without taking cognisance of the possible drawbacks.

One example of this is the issue of driverless cars. The car industry has been trying to create one of these since the late seventies. They’re mentioned in the Usborne Book of the Future, a children’s book about the possible developments in technology and space I can remember reading as far back as 1979. More recently, the companies developing them have been testing them on the road. These have had disastrous results. Several of the driverless vehicles have crashed, and there has been at least one fatality.

I don’t know a single person, who actually wants one of these. And certainly there are no end of people, who feel that these machines would actually be less safe than those driven by a real, flesh and blood human being. But nevertheless, whenever they’re mentioned, it’s always in terms of how wonderful they’re going to be. A few months ago Points West, the local BBC news programme here in Bristol, did a little piece on research into these cars at UWE, complete with a brief interview with Tassi, one of the scientists working on the project. This annoyed me, because there was absolutely no suggestion at any point of the possible down side to the project.

There are about 40,000 truckers in Britain. These are the people, who are most likely to lose their jobs to driverless vehicles, as haulage companies introduce them to cut labour costs. Other professional drivers likely to be affected will include taxi and bus drivers, possibly ambulance men and women. Thus we’re looking at 40,000 plus losing their jobs, for the profit of their companies. And if other areas of the economy are also losing jobs to automation, it’s unlikely that they’ll find other employment. But no hint of that from the Beeb.

Also a month or so back, Points West also did a piece about James Dyson’s decision to set up a centre for technical innovation in an old army base in Wiltshire. This was hailed as good news. The programme and the presenter on this segment, Will Glennon, also reported the establishment of a place where inventors and businessmen could meet to make deals in one of the old engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads Station, and similarly celebrated the technological advances being made at the city’s university. They also talked to the head of the Institute of Directors, or a similar organisation. In actual fact, this captain of industry really didn’t say anything controversial. What I found infuriating was the complete absence of any kind of awareness that this could have a massive detrimental effect on the employment of ordinary people in the city and beyond. Glennon simply took the line that this was all wonderful, and something we should look forward to and be proud of.

But clearly, if it leads to nothing but one third of the working population being thrown out of their jobs, with no means of support except Jobseekers Allowance – and what a farce that is, if there are no jobs – this isn’t. And I found it actually insulting that the team at Points West should think it was.

Now I’m not a luddite. I can see how the scientists working on these projects are interested in them as scientific problems. But they have social consequences. Kevin Warwick, the cyberneticist and quondam cyborg at Reading University, actually states in his book The March of the Machines that one of the five reasons he lists for automation is to save on labour costs. Which means employing fewer people. In the current social arrangement, this means more poor unemployed people, with the benefits going to the rich and the technicians and engineers responsible for producing these machines.

And if that’s the case, ordinary working people have absolutely no reason to welcome or celebrate these advances. They may lead to cheaper products, but if you don’t have a job that will pay you enough to purchase them, then there’s no point.

But this seems lost on the producers of the programme in question, and a media and corporate environment which sees these very much as benefiting the rich middle class to the exclusion of everyone else.

As I said in my last post, welcome to the nightmare world of Megacity 1.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 1

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

By Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

This is another book I managed to pick up from a cheap bookshop, in this case the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street. Although published nine years ago in 2007, it’s still very acutely relevant, with the plan of the current education minister, Thicky Nicky Morgan, to try to turn most schools into privately run academies. According to the back flap, Beckett was the education correspondent of the New Statesman from 1997 to 2005, and also wrote on education for the Guardian. The book’s strongly informed by the findings of the NUT and other teaching unions, whose booklets against academies are cited in the text. And its a grim read. It’s an important subject, so important in fact, that I’ve written a long review of this book, divided into four section.

Academies: Another Secondhand Tory Policy

Much of New Labour’s threadbare ideology was just revamped, discarded Tory ideas. This was clearly shown before Blair took power in the early 1990s, when John Major’s government dumped a report compiled by the consultants Arthur Anderson. This was immediately picked up, dusted off, and became official New Labour policy. Similarly, PFI was invented by the Tories man with a little list, Peter Lilley, who was upset ’cause private industry couldn’t get its claws into the NHS. This again was taken over by New Labour, and became the cornerstone of Blair’s and Brown’s ideas of funding the public sector. Academies, initially called ‘city academies’, were the same.

Basically, they’re just a revival of the City Technology Colleges set up in the mid 1980s by Thatcher’s education secretary, Kenneth Baker. Baker decided that the best way to solve the problem of failing schools was to take them out of the control of the local education authority, and hand them over to a private sponsor. These would contribute £2 million of their own money to financing the new school, and the state would do the rest. Despite lauding the scheme as innovative and successful, Baker found it impossible to recruit the high profile sponsors in big business he wanted. BP, which is very active supporting community projects, flatly told him they weren’t interested, as the project was ‘too divisive’. Another organisation, which campaigns to raise private money for public projects, also turned it down, stating that the money would best be spent coming from the government. It was an area for state funding, not private. The result was that Baker was only able to get interest for second-order ‘entrepreneurs’, who were very unwilling to put their money into it. From being a minimum, that £2 million funding recommendation became a maximum. And so the scheme was wound up three years later in 1990.

After initially denouncing such schemes, New Labour showed its complete hypocrisy by trying out a second version of them, the Education Action Zones. Which also collapsed due to lack of interest. Then, in 2000, David Blunkett announced his intention to launch the academy system, then dubbed ‘city academies’, in 2000 in a speech to the Social Market Foundation. Again, private entrepreneurs were expected to contribute £2 million of their money, for which they would gain absolute control of how the new school was to be run. The taxpayer would provide the rest. Again, there were problems finding appropriate sponsors. Big business again wouldn’t touch it, so the government turned instead to the lesser businessmen, like Peter Vardy, a car salesman and evangelical Christian. Other interested parties included the Christian churches, like the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelical educational bodies like the United Learning Trust. There were also a number of universities involved, such as the University of the West of England here in Bristol, and some sports organisations, like Bristol City Football club. Some private, fee-paying schools have also turned themselves into academies as away of competing with other private schools in their area.

Taxpayers Foot the Bill

While the sponsors are supposed to stump up £2 million, or in certain circumstances, more like £1.5 million, in practice this isn’t always the case. The legislation states that they can also pay ‘in kind’. Several have provided some money, and then provided the rest of their contribution with services such as consultation, estimated according to a very generous scale. For Beckett, this consists of the sponsors sending an aging executive to give his advice on the running of the new school. This particular individual may actually be past it, but the company can’t sack him. So they fob the new school off with him instead. Sometimes, no money changes hands. The Royal Haberdashers’ Society, one of the London livery companies, decided it was going to sponsor an academy. But it already owned a school on the existing site, and so did nothing more than give the site, generously estimate at several millions, to the new academy. Other companies get their money back in different ways, through tax rebates, deductions and the like.

But if the private sponsors are very wary about spending their money, they have absolutely no reservations about spending the taxpayer’s hard-earned moolah. An ordinary school costs something like £20 million to build. Academies cost more, often much more: £25 million, sometimes soaring to £37 million or beyond. Several of the businessmen sponsoring these academies have built massive monuments to their own vanity, using the services of Sir Norman Foster. Foster was, like Richard Rogers, one of the celebrity architects in favour with New Labour, whose ‘monstrous carbuncles’ (@ Charles Windsor) were considered the acme of cool. One of these was called ‘The Learning Curve’, and consisted of a long, curving corridor stretching across a quarter of mile, off which were the individual class rooms. Foster also built the Bexley Business Academy, a school, whose sponsor wanted to turn the pupils into little entrepreneurs. So every Friday was devoted exclusively to business studies, and the centrepiece of the entire joint was a mock stock exchange floor. The school also had an ‘innovative’ attitude to class room design: they only had three walls, in order to improve supervise and prevent bullying. In fact, the reverse happened, and the school had to spend more money putting them up.

Unsuitable Buildings

And some of the buildings designed by the academies’ pet architects are most unsuitable for the children they are supposed to serve. One academy decided it was going to get the local school for special needs children on its site. These were kids with various types of handicap. Their school was not certainly not failing, and parents and teachers most definitely did not want their school closed. But closed it was, and shifted to the academy. The old school for handicapped youngsters was all on the same level, which meant that access was easy, or easier, for those kids with mobility problems. The new school was on two floors. There was a lift, but it could only be used by pupils with a teacher. The parents told the sponsor and the new academy that they had destroyed their children’s independence. They were greeted with complete incomprehension.

HM School ‘Belmarshe’

In other academies, conditions for the sprogs are more like those in a prison. One of the schools, which preceded an academy on its site, had a problem with bullying. The new academy decided to combat that problem, by not having a playground. They also staggered lunch into two ‘brunch breaks’, which were taken at different times by different classes. These are taken in a windowless cafeteria. The result is a joyless learning environment, and the school has acquired the nickname ‘Belmarshe’, after the famous nick.

Murdoch’s Editorial Interference and Right-Wing Bias

June 7, 2016

The phone hacking scandal has been rumbling on for what seems like forever now. For a moment it looked like Murdoch himself was going to end up in court, because of allegations that he personally interferes in editing his newspapers. According to Private Eye, he almost appeared before the beak a few years ago on a libel charge, after Michael Foot sued the Times for claiming that he was a KGB agent, based on the unlikely word of Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a former KGB agent, and self-confessed liar. From what I recall, a number of the Times’ staff were highly sceptical of the allegations, with the exception of the editor, David Leppard. And so the paper printed the story that Foot, a principled democratic socialist, whose loyalty to his country should never have been in doubt, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

Murdoch’s managed to escape these scrapes with the law, and wriggle out of them when he has been forced to appear before public enquiries and parliamentary committees, by claiming that he doesn’t interfere with his papers’ editorial policies. Mark Hollingworth, in his book The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, points out that Murdoch largely doesn’t need to. He appoints editors he knows will follow his political line, like Andrew ‘Brillo Pad’ Neil, who before he became editor of the Sunset Times was one of the editors on the Economist. Neil told his staff at a meeting of the Gay Hussar pub in London that he fully supported Thatcher’s policies on monetarism and privatisation, although on macroeconomic policy he claimed he was further to the left, and more like David Owen. (p. 18).

The News of the World

But Hollingworth makes clear that the Dirty Digger does interfere with the editor’s running of his newspapers, and certainly did so when he took over the News of the World at the end of the 1960s. Hollingsworth writes

However, when Murdoch was faced with an editor who didn’t share his political views and wanted a semblance of independence, the situation changed dramatically. when he took of the News of the World in 1969, Murdoch told the incumbent editor, Stafford Somerfield: I didn’t come all this way not to interfere.’ According to Somerfield, the new proprietor ‘wanted to read proofs, write a leader if he felt like it, change the paper about and give instructions to the staff’. As the paper’s long-serving editor, Somerfield was used to a fair amount of independence and he tried to resist Murdoch’s interference. In 1970 Somerfield was dismissed by Murdoch.

A similar fate befell another News of the World editor a decade later. Barry Askew had been appointed by Murdoch in April 1981 after a successful career as the crusading editor of the Lancashire Evening Post during which he published a series of stories about corruption among local public officials and institutions. However, when Askew and the News of the World declined, like the Times under Harold Evans during the same period to give the Conservative government unequivocal support, Murdoch took action. ‘He [Murdoch] would come into the office,’ said Askew, ‘and literally rewrite leaders which were not supporting the hard Thatcher monetarist line. That were not, in fact, supporting – slavishly supporting – the Tory government.’

Askew believes the big clash came over an exclusive story about John DeLorean, the car tycoon. A freelance journalist, John Lisners, had persuaded DeLorean’s former secretary, Marian Gibson, to reveal details about her boss’ business practices and alleged irregularities. It was a superb story, backed up by other sources and also cleared by Gibson’s lawyer-Clarence Jones.

However, just after noon on Saturday 3 October 1981, Murdoch telephoned Askew, as he invariably did every week, to discuss the main stories. Askew told him about the DeLorean scoop and Murdoch appeared initially to be enthusiastic. Later that afternoon Murdoch arrived at the office in Bouverie Street and went straight to the ‘back-bench’ to read the DeLorean material. One of the key sources was William Haddad, who had worked for Murdoch on the New York Post. On learning of Haddad’s involvement, Murdoch said: ‘He’s a leftwing troublemaker’, although he later denied saying this. ‘I may have referred to Bill’s love of conspiracy theories.’

Murdoch then consulted his legal advisors and they decided the story was legally unsafe. The story was killed. The next day the Daily Mirror published the same story on its front page and the rest of the media followed it up. Interestingly, according to Ivan Fallon and James Srodes’ book DeLorean, it was Murdoch who arranged for Lord Goodman to act as DeLorean’s lawyer to discourage the rest of Fleet Street from pursuing the story. Within a year DeLorean’s car firm was bankrupt. Within two months, in December 1981, Askew was dismissed and he returned to Lancashire a bitter man. ‘I don’t think Fleet Street gives a damn about ethics, morality or anything else. It gives a damn about attracting a readership that will attract an advertising situation which will make a profit which will make the press barons powerful politically.
(pp.18-20).

The Times

This editorial interference did not stop with the News of the World. It also extended to the Times, when that august paper was under the editorship of the highly respected journalist, Harold Evans. Hollingworth continues

But by far the most revealing example of Murdoch’s desire to set the political line of his papers also came during 1981 when the Conservative government was very unpopular because of high unemployment. when Harold Evans was appointed editor of the Times in March 1981, he was given official guarantees by Murdoch about editorial freedom. On 23 January 1981, the new owner of Times Newspapers had given formal undertakings that ‘In accordance with the traditions of the papers, their editors will not be subject to instruction from either the proprietor of the management on the selection and balance of news and opinion.’

Within a year, however, Evans had been dismissed, claiming he had been forced to resign over constant pressure by Murdoch to move the paper to the Right. Evans’ added: ‘The Times was not notably hostile to the [Conservative] government but it wanted to be independent. But that was not good enough for Rupert Murdoch. He wanted it to be a cheerleader for monetarism and Mrs Thatcher.’ Murdoch denied the charge: ‘Rubbish! Harry used to come and see me and say, “Rupert, it’s wonderful to have you in town. What do you want me to say, what do you want me to do, just let me know.”‘ On this crucial point, Evans told me: ‘Lie plus macho sneer with a useful ambiguity. It is a lie that I ever asked him what to say… It is true that I asked his view from time to time on developments of the paper. The truth is that far from asking Murdoch “what to say”, I followed an editorial policy often in opinion at variance with his own Thatcher-right-or-wrong view.’

The evidence certainly gives credence to Evans’ interpretation of events, although he also fell out with some of the staff. According to leader writer Bernard Donoghue, features editor Anthony Holden and executive editor Brian Macarthur, there was political pressure on Evans because of what Mrs Thatcher called ‘the Times centrist drift’. When unemployment had reached three million in the summer of 1981 Murdoch and Gerald Long, Managing Director of Times Newspapers, wanted the Times to emphasize the number of people in work. Evans declined and Murdoch snapped at him: ‘You’re always getting at her [Mrs Thatcher].’ The Times editor and his proprietor continually argued over economic policy and on one occasion Evans received an extraordinary memorandum from Gerald Long: ‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer says the recession has ended. Why are you have the effrontery in the Times to say that it has not.’

Evans believes the Times was simply taking a more detached, independent editorial position. But by early 1982, Murdoch was clearly losing patience. According to Bernard (now Lord Donoghue, a leader writer and now a stockbroker at Grieveson & Grant, Murdoch had promised Mrs Thatcher that the Times would be back in the Conservative camp by the Easter of that year. But the editor refused to submit to what he later called ‘political intimidation and harassment’. On 12 March 1982, Evans wrote the following editorial: ‘ Unemployment is a social scandal… We favour a more competitive society as against one which is subject to the monopoly power of capital or the trade unions. Three days later Evans was dismissed.

Such lack of sovereignty and independence by the editor has been prevalent throughout the Murdoch empire. ‘I give instructions to me editors all round the world, why shouldn’t I in London,’ he told Fred Emery, home affairs editor of the Times, on 4 March 1982. However, since 1983 all four of Murdoch’s London papers have taken a consistently pro-Conservative government line and so there has been no need to interfere. According to a report on the Sunday Times’ ‘Insight’ team, this is how the system works: ‘Murdoch appoints people who are sympathetic to him. Thus most of the senior staff like Hugo Young have left or been completely emasculated or replaced… To survive you have to self-censor. You approach a story in a different way than if you’d run it in the way you wanted to.’ (pp. 20-1).

The Sun

Hollingsworth concludes that Murdoch actually rarely interfered with the Sun, as under its editor Larry Lamb, who was knighted by Thatcher in 1980, it had already moved to the Tory right, a policy that was continued by the succeeding editor, Kelvin MacKenzie. (p. 21).

So while Murdoch may not interfere in the day-to-day editorial matters of his newspapers any more, they do reflect his personal political opinions and his own personal style of journalism, as carried out by compliant, sympathetic editors.
There was an outcry when he tried to buy the News of the World in 1969. The paper’s then-management were worried about how he would change the paper. And the same fears were raised again when he went off and bought the Times in the late ’70s or first years of the ’80s. There were indeed plans to refer his proposed purchase to the monopolies and mergers commission, though that might have been when he bought the Daily Herald and turned it into the Scum.

And his critics were right. He is not a fit and proper person to own a paper, and he should never have been allowed to buy them. It says much about Thatcher’s grubby, domineering leadership that he was.

Inventions by Black People

January 21, 2016

A few years ago I put up a post about Blacks and African civilisations, which got a heated response from a White racist. He stated that Black people hadn’t invented anything since the discovery of fire, and challenged me to refute this by posting anything invented by them.

Well, I found this list and salutary fable, posted by King-emare listing about eleven or so of them over at 1000 Natural Shocks on Tumblr (over 18s only).

LIFE WITHOUT BLACK PEOPLE

A story is told about a group of white people who were fed up with African Americans, so they joined together and wished themselves away. They passed through a deep dark tunnel and emerged in sort of a twilight zone where there is an America without black people.

At first these white people breathed a sigh of relief. At last, they said, “No more crime, drugs, violence and welfare. All of the blacks have gone!”

Then suddenly, reality set in. The “NEW AMERICA” is not America at all — only a barren land.

1. There are very few crops that have flourished because the nation was built on a slave-supported system.

2. There are no cities with tall skyscrapers because Alexander Mils, a black man, invented the elevator, and without it, one finds great difficulty reaching higher floors.

3. There are few if any cars because Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gearshift, Joseph Gambol, also black, invented the Super Charge System for Internal Combustion Engines, and Garrett A. Morgan, a black man, invented the traffic signals.

4. Furthermore, one could not use the rapid transit system because its procurer was the electric trolley, which was invented by another black man, Albert R. Robinson.

5. Even if there were streets on which cars and a rapid transit system could operate, they were cluttered with paper because an African American, Charles Brooks, invented the street sweeper.

6. There were few if any newspapers, magazines and books because John Love invented the pencil sharpener, William Purveys invented the fountain pen, and Lee Barrage invented the Type Writing Machine and W. A. Love invented the Advanced Printing Press. They were all, you guessed it, Black.

7. Even if Americans could write their letters, articles and books, they would not have been transported by mail because William Barry invented the Postmarking and Canceling Machine, William Purveys invented the Hand Stamp and Philip Downing invented the Letter Drop.

8. The lawns were brown and wilted because Joseph Smith invented the Lawn Sprinkler and John Burr the Lawn Mower.

9. When they entered their homes, they found them to be poorly ventilated and poorly heated. You see, Frederick Jones invented the Air Conditioner and Alice Parker the Heating Furnace. Their homes were also dim. But of course, Lewis Later invented the Electric Lamp, Michael Harvey invented the lantern and Granville T. Woods invented the Automatic Cut off Switch. Their homes were also filthy because Thomas W. Steward invented the Mop and Lloyd P. Ray the Dust Pan.

10. Their children met them at the door-barefooted, shabby, motley and unkempt. But what could one expect? Jan E. Matzelinger invented the Shoe Lasting Machine, Walter Sammons invented the Comb, Sarah Boone invented the Ironing Board and George T. Samon invented the Clothes Dryer.

11. Finally, they were resigned to at least have dinner amidst all of this turmoil. But here again, the food had spoiled because another Black Man, John Standard invented the refrigerator.

Now, isn’t that something? What would this country be like without the contributions of Blacks, as African-Americans?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “by the time we leave for work, Americans have depended on the inventions from the minds of Blacks.” Black history includes more than just slavery, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois.

Further information can be found in the book, Black Heroes of Science and Invention.

Without wishing to detract from the genius of the men and women mentioned here, I think that many of the inventions discussed were probably the result of successive developments by many people, rather like the process described by James Burke in his ’70s science programme, Connections, where he challenged the common idea that one single person had been responsible for a particular invention. The combs is a case in point. You can find combs through out history going all the way back to the Iron Age in Europe, if not before. But this shows how deeply Black people were involved in the creation of modern America and the inventions that sustain it.

Modern Reconstruction of 1802 London Steam Carriage

December 7, 2015

This is also extremely cool. It’s modern reconstruction of the 1802 London steam carriage. I found it on the Tumblr site, Specialcar, at http://specialcar.tumblr.com/post/113877452739/london-coach-engine-1802. I find it really interesting as this is one of the pioneering attempts to build a steam-driven automobile that led to the invention of the modern car. It’s really like the depictions of the alternative Victorian pasts you find in Steampunk SF novels, which make you wonder what the world would have looked like if the inventors had succeeded and their machines become economically viable.

London Coach Engine

Steampunk Visions: 19th Century Designs for Steam-Driven Carriages and Cars

November 15, 2015

One of the most fascinating SF subgenres is Steampunk. Based on the massive expansion of science and technology in the 19th century, and the early, pioneering works of Science Fiction that was inspired by these, and in particular the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, Steampunk is based on what might have been, if the Victorians had developed aircraft, cars, tanks and spacecraft. One of the genre’s classic, founding works is Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine. Gibson and Sterling were two of the inventors of Cyberpunk, the type of SF centred around Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, and computer hacking. The Difference Engine was set in an alternative 19th century, where Charles Babbage’s early computer, the Difference Engine of the title, had been built.

Today’s cars are powered by the internal combustion engine, fuelled by petrol and diesel. They were developed in the late 19th century, and really became the dominant form of road transport in the 20th. But as far back as the late 18th century European inventors were trying to develop road vehicles driven by steam engines. In 1771 the French inventor, Nicholas Cugnot, created a steam carriage intended to pull heavy cannon. It was unsuccessful, but during the 19th century a series of engineers and inventors continued to try and develop one that worked.

There’s a chapter on this part of the history of the age of steam in the book, 250 Years of Steam, by Allan Bloom (Tadworth: World’s Work Lt 1981), complete with contemporary illustrations of what they were intended to look like.

These include Richard Trevithick’s steam carriage of 1803.

Steam Carriage 1

This was unsuccessful. The frame became twisted during trials. The carriage section was sold off, and the engine re-used in a rolling-mill for hoop iron.

W.H. James’ design, which would travel at speeds of 8 to 12 miles an hour, have 15-20 horsepower, and carry 18 passengers, six inside and twelve outside.

Steam Carriage 2

The machine developed by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, demonstrated on 12th August 1829, carrying the Duke of Wellington.

Steam Carriage

Walter Hancock’s machines, who built his first steam carriage in 1824. He wanted to use them to provide a passenger service in London. These had a crew of three – the driver on the steering wheel at the front, and engineer at the back, and a boy to stoke the engine.

Steam Carriage 3

There was also Rickett’s experimental steam carriage, which had its boiler behind the driver and passengers. It was so successful that the Earl of Caithness order a similar vehicle.

Steam Carriage 5

These first attempts to create steam-driven cars were unsuccessful. They couldn’t compete against the stage coaches and railways. The experimental nature of many of these machines made them dangerous. For example, the Glasgow Court of Session ruled that the steam carriages used by James Naismyth and John Scott Russell to run a passenger service between Glasgow and Paisley were unsafe and could not be used on the roads after the vehicle overturned crossing a covering of loose stones deliberately put there to block the route by the town’s Road Trustees. Bloom considers that what really made them uneconomical was the high costs of the tolls charged on the turnpike roads.

There was considerable public opposition to the vehicles as well, as Bloom’s book has a contemporary satirical drawing of what one 19th century cartoonist feared the roads would be like, if the new machine was taken up. Looked at now, it seems very much like Albert Robida’s ideas of what the 20th century would be like from his point of view in the 19th. Here’s the satirical depiction of steam-driven automobile mayhem.

Steam Carriage 4

In the 1880s, Amadee Bollee Senior, le Compte de Dion, constructed a series of successful steam cars in France. These look very much like the early cars of the period, using the internal combustion engine, and eventually de Dion switched over to using petrol and paraffin as fuels, rather than coke, before finally abandoning steam altogether and concentrating on the internal combustion engine.

Steam Car

Above: De Dion’s single-seater 1887 steam tricycle.

The book also covers the early 20th century steam cars, like the Stanley Steamer. These look very much like the motor cars of the period, as indeed does de Dion’s 1887 steam tricycle. The technology is obsolete, though Bloom suggests it may yet make a come-back. The invention and development of these engines in the 19th century, and the drawing made of them, do make you wonder what the world would have been like, had they taken off.

And they also show just how close to reality some parts of Steampunk are. It’s a pity they never actually got around to inventing space and time travel, however. That’s very much confined to fictions of Wells, Verne and their fellows.

And finally, here’s this footage from Youtube of a recreation of Cugnot’s steam carriage, displayed at the 2011 car exhibition in Dearborn, Michigan. Enjoy!

Radical Balladry: John Clare, the Enclosures and the Destruction of the Environment

May 18, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Jess also posted up this poem by John Clare, the 19th century poet and agricultural worker, in her comment to one of my pieces on radical working class music and poetry, as another piece that continues to speak to modern needs and issues today from over a hundred years ago. In this instance it’s the threat to the environment from intensive commercial agriculture.

The Mores

Far spread the moorey ground a level scene
Bespread with rush and one eternal green
That never felt the rage of blundering plough
Though centurys wreathed spring’s blossoms on its brow
Still meeting plains that stretched them far away
In uncheckt shadows of green brown, and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
Nor fence of ownership crept in between
To hide the prospect of the following eye
Its only bondage was the circling sky
One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds
Now this sweet vision of my boyish hours
Free as spring clouds and wild as summer flowers
Is faded all – a hope that blossomed free,
And hath been once, no more shall ever be
Inclosure came and trampled on the grave
Of labour’s rights and left the poor a slave
And memory’s pride ere want to wealth did bow
Is both the shadow and the substance now
The sheep and cows were free to range as then
Where change might prompt nor felt the bonds of men
Cows went and came, with evening morn and night,
To the wild pasture as their common right
And sheep, unfolded with the rising sun
Heard the swains shout and felt their freedom won
Tracked the red fallow field and heath and plain
Then met the brook and drank and roamed again
The brook that dribbled on as clear as glass
Beneath the roots they hid among the grass
While the glad shepherd traced their tracks along
Free as the lark and happy as her song
But now all’s fled and flats of many a dye
That seemed to lengthen with the following eye
Moors, loosing from the sight, far, smooth, and blea
Where swopt the plover in its pleasure free
Are vanished now with commons wild and gay
As poet’s visions of life’s early day
Mulberry-bushes where the boy would run
To fill his hands with fruit are grubbed and done
And hedgrow-briars – flower-lovers overjoyed
Came and got flower-pots – these are all destroyed
And sky-bound mores in mangled garbs are left
Like mighty giants of their limbs bereft
Fence now meets fence in owners’ little bounds
Of field and meadow large as garden grounds
In little parcels little minds to please
With men and flocks imprisoned ill at ease
Each little path that led its pleasant way
As sweet as morning leading night astray
Where little flowers bloomed round a varied host
That travel felt delighted to be lost
Nor grudged the steps that he had ta-en as vain
When right roads traced his journeys and again –
Nay, on a broken tree he’d sit awhile
To see the mores and fields and meadows smile
Sometimes with cowslaps smothered – then all white
With daiseys – then the summer’s splendid sight
Of cornfields crimson o’er the headache bloomd
Like splendid armys for the battle plumed
He gazed upon them with wild fancy’s eye
As fallen landscapes from an evening sky
These paths are stopt – the rude philistine’s thrall
Is laid upon them and destroyed them all
Each little tyrant with his little sign
Shows where man claims earth glows no more divine
But paths to freedom and to childhood dear
A board sticks up to notice ‘no road here’
And on the tree with ivy overhung
The hated sign by vulgar taste is hung
As tho’ the very birds should learn to know
When they go there they must no further go
Thus, with the poor, scared freedom bade goodbye
And much they feel it in the smothered sigh
And birds and trees and flowers without a name
All sighed when lawless law’s enclosure came
And dreams of plunder in such rebel schemes
Have found too truly that they were but dreams.
John Clare
http://ecohist.history.ox.ac.uk//readings/clare-poems.pdf

Firth and Arnove include it in the section, ‘Land and Liberty’, in their The People Speak, as an example of popular protest against the Enclosures, which saw thousands of tenant farmers and agricultural workers forced off their land as they were enclosed and developed by the landlords.

Historians now take the view that before the rise of the Romantic movement, and particularly before Shell published their motoring guides to the British countryside in the 1920s and 1930s, people had a much more utilitarian attitude to the environment. Rather than seeing it simply or primarily as a place of beauty, it was seen instead as a working environment, valued by the people who lived there for the resources they could exploit.
This changed when Shell published their motoring guides, which opened the countryside up to city dwellers, who were now able to travel by car into the countryside to enjoy its beauty and quaint, historic buildings.

I’m not entirely convinced by this. While people I know who’ve come from a farming background have said that the farming and agricultural community does have a much less romantic attitude to the countryside, and does indeed see it in terms of what can be used, people down the centuries have always celebrated it’s beauty. You can see it as a far back as one of the Viking romances. There is a tale where a Viking warrior decides to leave his home due to harassment from other, hostile warriors. Travelling on the road away from his farmstead, he takes one last look at it. He is struck by the beauty of the sun shining on his farm in the valley, and so changes his mind. He turns back, determined to fight for his land and his home.

And of course there are all the songs and poems written during the Middle Ages about the beauty of the countryside in spring time.

As for modern attempts to preserve the environment, these date to the late nineteenth century, when Ruskin and others up and down the country started a movement to preserve the local countryside from development so that local people could continue to enjoy it, over two decades before the Shell Guides appeared. The enjoyment of the countryside, not just as a place of work, but also as a place of leisure and beauty, goes back a long way.

Colonel La Roque and the Croix de Feu: French Fascism’s Jeremy Clarkson?

May 2, 2014

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson: Right-wing loudmouth presenter of Top Gear

Colonel La Roque

Colonel de la Roque: French Fascist Leader, who held Paramilitary Car Rallies. The Petrolhead’s Generalissimo.

Jeremy Clarkson is in the news again this morning for once again making or rather, appearing to make a racist comment. It’s from an out-take of Top Gear in which he seems to be using a derogatory expression for Blacks while quoting a nursery rhyme. He has denied he used the term, and states it is word he despises. I dare say he’s right. Unfortunately, he has form for racist comments. Only a year or so ago, he, the Hamster and James May were in trouble for making racist comments on Top Gear about Mexicans, including describing Mexican food as ‘tasting of sick’. Some of Clarkson’s stunts on Top Gear, apart from the comments for which he has been officially criticised and chastened, also to my mind smack of racism and a need to sneer at despised or low status ethnic groups. For example, on one edition of Top Gear, where the boys went round Romania, Clarkson thought it was amusing to spoof the local’s style of dress. Or rather, he decided to spoof the local Roma people’s dress sense. Noting that the men tended to all wear a particular style of hat, he decided to drive through a Roman village wearing one, while saying something suitably sarcastic about it to camera. Clarkson has little patience with the Left. He describes Guardian readers and people with similar Right-on political views as ‘yoghurt-knitters’. My guess is that he and the producers probably regarded this stunt as an amusingly cheeky bit of ‘political incorrectness’. Offensive, but not actually racist.

The problem with that attitude is that the Roma are a severely persecuted people in many parts of eastern Europe. The Nazis were determined to exterminate them, along with Jews and Slavs. There was a scandal a few years ago in the Czech Republic when an ostensibly democratic Czech MP declared that Gypsies would go either to Canada or to the Death Camps. It was also revealed that the Czech medical service had a deliberate policy of sterilising Roma women to make sure they did not outbreed ethnic Czechs. The Australian journalist, Vitaly Vitaliev, who was born in Russia, describes the extreme poverty and utter destitution of many Gypsy communities in Romania in his travel book on eastern Europe, Borders Up. And you can find the same descriptions of utter poverty and despair in plenty of other travel books about Romania. Faced with the reality of severe state persecution and genocidal hatred against the Roma by the host populations, Clarkson’s drive through a Roman village sneering at their fashion sense seems less like a piece of cheeky fun, and something far darker and sinister. It could reasonably be compared to sneering at the fashion sense of the South African Black poor during Apartheid, or Jews during the pogroms. Unlike Blacks and Jews, the persecution of the Roma isn’t quite as notorious, and so Clarkson and his producers could get away with their tasteless stunt.

One of the French Fascist groups in the 1930s also shared Clarkson and co.’s love of cars. This was the Croix de Feu under Colonel Francois La Roque. the Croix de Feu was originally a veterans’ association for soldiers, who had won the Croix de Guerre for their bravery in combat. It was taken over by La Roque, and turned into a political organisation that denounced parliamentary weakness and corruption, the Communist threat and the need for an authoritarian social order. He also demanded the establishment of a corporative state into which the workers would be incorporated on the model of Fascist Italy. Like the Nazis with the SA and SS, and Mussolini with the Blackshirts and Squadristi, the Croix also had a paramilitary wing. These were the dispos, from the French word for ‘ready’, disponible. These used to go off to remote destinations, following secret order to train in readiness for ‘le jour j’ (‘D Day’), and l’heure H’ (‘H Hour’), when they would begin physically fighting a Communist uprising. With a number of other extreme Right-wing groups, they launched a march on the French Chamber of Deputies on February 6, 1934, in emulation of Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome’. In 1933 and 1934 they set up a series of militaristic car rallies. Which makes them all sound rather like a Fascist candidate for coverage by Top Gear, rather like Clarkson in jackboots with a stormtrooper’s helmet.

Clarkson would not, however, have got on quite so well in Musso’s Italy. The Duce deliberately did not try to launch an affordable family car, like the Nazis planned to do in Germany with Volkswagen. He thought the comfort of motoring would make Italians soft, and so stop them from achieving their imperial destiny as a feared military power. He also declared that he wasn’t going to improve peasant housing for much the same reason, and that he would have liked to have planted more woodland to make the Italian climate colder and harsher, again to toughen Italians up so they could conquer the world. Or at least, the Balkans and North Africa. Whatever else Musso was, he definitely wasn’t a ‘yoghurt knitter’.

Actually, I really don’t think Clarkson is a racist, although he has made it very clear that he wishes to stop immigration. When he actually stops making tasteless comments about foreigners, he can actually be very, very good. A few years ago, he presented a series in which he went round various European countries, Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbours. This was actually far from the car-crash exhibit of rampant chauvinism and xenophobia you might expect. He actually likes France, despite his various comments about the French. In his last programme he went round Italy, where he made admiring comments about Italian style and cars. He was also impressed by Italian sobriety. After going out with the Italian navy in their patrols looking for illegal immigrants, he remarked on the way that Italian matelots drank coffee along with the rest of the population, rather than getting drunk on booze. An Italian authority he interviewed about this told him that it was part of the Italian desire to make a ‘bella figura’ – a good figure. You don’t cut a suitable dash by getting drunk, and so Italians simply don’t drink as much alcohol as Brits, or don’t do it to get drunk. He concluded the programme by saying that Europe wasn’t like America, and shouldn’t try to be. It was better.

So, he isn’t quite the racist loudmouth he appears to be, though he is indeed a Right-wing loudmouth. He just makes racist comments as a crude form of schoolboy humour to wind people up. It’s all part of his image as the motoring world’s answer to Bernard Manning. Only sometimes it goes much too far, and strays into the genuinely racist. He’s been making offensively Right-wing comments for nearly three decades now. He was taken off Top Gear in the 1990s after making sexist comments about a particular brand of car snapping knicker elastic. His popularity and the allure of the Clarkson persona was too great, however, and he came back. When he wants to be, he can be a good presenter. It’s just that it’s about time he knew and kept to the limits of what is acceptable.

Leonardo’s Rivals

September 22, 2013

One of the most interesting series on television was a documentary the BBC screened a little while ago about Leonardo da Vinci and his inventions. It mixed drama and explanation and opinion from a variety of historians and scholars to trace the life and scientific exploration and discoveries of one of the very greatest geniuses of the Renaissance. It was fascinating viewing, particularly when they tried out da Vinci’s design for a diving suit in the canals of Venice. Da Vinci was truly a polymath, responsible for a number of amazing inventions well before his time, such as the caterpillar track and helicopter. I don’t believe, however, that Leonardo was quite the isolated figure as is the common impression of him. There were other engineers at the time working on some of the same problems.

Jean Gimpel, in his The Medieval Machine, traces some of da Vinci’s ideas back to the thirteenth century French engineer and inventor, Villard de Honnecourt. This has been challenged, and other historians have science have rejected the suggestion that he influenced da Vinci. Nevertheless, it appears that de Honnecourt and da Vinci did work on some of the same problems, even if de Honnecourt never developed his ideas to the same extent that da Vinci did his. In the 14th century another, unknown engineer, began to consider an alternative method of propulsion for ships. There’s an illustration from a manuscript of 1436 of a paddle-ship, whose wheels are turned by the oxen on board.

Madieval Paddle Ship

During the fifteenth century a number of Italian engineers attempted to design something like the modern car. Around 1410, Giovanni da Fontana produced the design below for a ‘self-driving’ carriage, operated by hand.

Medieval Car

The car designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini was powered by four capstans, each serving one of the vehicle’s wheels. It even had a steering wheel. Di Giorgio Martini called his vehicle an automobile, which is probably the earliest use of the term to describe something like the modern car.

Medieval Automobile

Roberto Valturio, who died in 1484, designed a carriage that would be driven by the wind. Mounted on each side of the car’s frame were two windmills, each with four incline sails. These turned another, large will, which communicated the power to the two wheels underneath it.

Renaissance Sail Car

In Germany, Konrad Kyeser invented a double crane, while di Giorgio Martini created a device for lifting columns. De Kyeser also invented a diving suit. Two types of these suits are shown in one of his illustrations dating to 1400. One of the suits is from a design of the fourth century Roman scholar, Vegecius. This is simply a helmet and a leather tube, through which the diver breathed, leading to a floating bladder on the surface. This type of diving suit may have already been in use long before. In 1240 Roger Bacon stated that there were ‘instruments which men could use to walk on the bed of the sea or of rivers without endangering themselves’. The other diving suit drawn by Kyeser showed a helmet with two glass holes for the eyes, fixed to a tabard belted on the wearer. This is the first known representation of a body suit. In 1582 another German engineer, Peter Morice, or Moritz, installed a tide mill near London. This operated a force pump with enough power to supply the city of London.

Unfortunately, you rarely hear about these other, fascinating medieval and Renaissance inventions. Perhaps this may change with the increasing influence in Cyberpunk science fiction, which fantastically explores the scientific possibilities of the Victorian period. Possibly this type of SF may encourage others to look even further back in time, to the forgotten inventions and inventors of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The role-playing game, Ars Magica is already set in the Middle Ages, and is based both on the world of medieval magic and their scientific worldview. Many of its players are historians of medieval science at universities. Perhaps in time knowledge of these inventions and achievements won’t be limited to the relatively small number of people, who play RPGs, and these engineers and inventors will at last receive the recognition they deserve from the wider public.

Sources

Great Inventions through History (Edinburgh: W&R Chambers 1991.

Sigvard Strandh, Machines: An Illustrated History (Nordbok 1979).