Archives for posts with tag: world

Over the last few weeks, I have been listening to Neil MacGregor’s terrific “Living with the Gods” BBC podcast. It has helped me to reconsider some of my views on religion and belief.

The podcast is wonderful, in that it brings you on an audio journey to places and peoples across the world. You name it, it’s there – from the dank caves of southern Germany, to the sacrificial pyramids of Aztec Mexico, to the great Kumbh Mela festival in India. Newgrange is mentioned, as is the Angelus that booms out on Irish radio each day. It considers the symbolism in religion, the common rituals, the public displays and private moments, and the relationship of religion to the exercise of power. It takes all these disparate elements and synthesizes them into a concrete, powerful narrative.

What I hear from all this is that religion is core to who we are. In all religions, our own nature is echoed back. It is a mirror, reflecting our greatest fears, our greatest needs and our hopes for the future. If you bypass the specific details of any one religion, you find the same needs there. These great longings are familiar to so many of us.

Religion doesn’t even need gods or supernatural agencies. We’ve seen in the last century the damaging power of secular belief systems gone awry. It seems that people will reach out for anything that gives them a sense of security, purpose and answers. God is just one alternative among many.

Such a pity it is that the details become so important. People will kill and die over the minutiae of their own faiths. Wars have started over trivial differences, people executed and tortured for not adhering to the orthodoxy of the day. Even today, so many people take delight in disparaging other people’s religions (and I’ve been one of them) to the point that demagogues can exact discriminatory laws and great injustices can take place with nary a whisper. Behind the details, we forget that at the core of much belief is something entirely understandable: something quintessentially human.

Such a pity that more people don’t reach out to understand religious practices elsewhere around the world, because the impression to be formed is that no matter where we are or who we are, there is a commonality that runs through us all. Having no religion or being inquisitive within one’s own religion, may be advantageous in this regard.

Thought is given in the podcast to life without religion. This is possibly the least satisfying part of the series, as it suggests that it’s unsustainable in the long run. At the end of the series, MacGregor makes the bold statement that we run the risk of society breaking up completely – this is something I would have wanted to understand more. Personally, I see many people making a good fist of living without gods or the traditional rituals of yesteryear. I don’t see how humanistic societies can’t operate for the success and happiness of their peoples: the record of countries like Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands is a case in point. Even Ireland is a happier place now that we have allowed God to fade into the background. Perhaps such states of affairs are unsustainable and perhaps communities are in peril, but at least a counter argument can be made in a world where we don’t now have to rely on revelation and traditional authority alone for matters of truth and belief.

Please give the podcast a go and let me know what you think.

Ten Years Ago (2008)

This is the year where the Global Financial Crisis came to a head. After months of worries about the state of the global economy, investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, stock markets collapsed, inter-bank lending was frozen and governments around the world were forced to bailout failing banks. Barack Obama is elected President of the USA. The Large Hadron Collider is officially opened. SpaceX Falcon 1 became the first privately developed launch vehicle to achieve orbit. 11 mountaineers die while attempting to climb K2. Ireland: Brian Cowen is elected Taoiseach following the resignation of Bertie Ahern. Ireland votes No to Lisbon Treaty. The Irish Eurovision entry that year is a turkey.

Twenty Years Ago (1998)

US President Bill Clinton is impeached following revelations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky in the White House. The Second Congo War begins, killing upwards of five million people over the following years. India and Pakistan raise the geopolitical temperature by testing multiple nuclear weapons. Al Qaeda bombs US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Hurricane Mitch kills 18,000 people after making landfall in Central America. The International Criminal Court comes into being; the United States and China vote against it. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is placed under house arrest in the UK. The first modules of the International Space Station are launched into space. Evidence is presented that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Google Inc. is founded. The movie Titanic wins 11 Oscars. Ireland: The Good Friday Agreement is signed, bringing to a close the 30 year Troubles in Northern Ireland. In August, dissident Republicans explode a bomb in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, killing 29 people. Death of “Father Ted” funnyman Dermot Morgan in London. Olympic swimmer Michelle Smith is banned for 4 years following drug tampering allegations.

Thirty Years Ago (1988)

The Soviet Union begins a program of perestroika (restructuring) which ultimately leads to its breakup. There are mass protests in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Estonia this year. 167 workers are killed in the Piper Alpha Platform Disaster in the North Sea. Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people on the ground. The Iran-Iraq War ends, having killed 1 million people in the previous 8 years. Terrorist organisation Al Qaeda is founded. The Space Shuttle flies again after a two year pause in operations following the Challenger disaster.  The Soviet Union launches a rival Buran space shuttle. It only makes one flight. George HW Bush is elected US President. Death of singer Roy Orbison. The Phantom of the Opera opens in Broadway. Ireland: British soldiers kill three IRA activists in Gibraltar. At their funeral in Belfast, UDA terrorist Michael Stone kills several mourners. During funeral procession, two British corporals are caught and killed by the IRA. The European Court of Human Rights makes a ruling against Ireland, asserting that its anti-homosexuality laws are unlawful.

Forty Years Ago (1978)

Pope John Paul I is elected and dies 33 days later. He is succeeded by Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope since 1523.  Spain formally ends 40 years of military dictatorship. The Jonestown massacre – over 900 members of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple cult take cyanide and die. Serial killers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are arrested. Film director Roman Polanski flees the US after pleading guilty to sexual abuse. The first Global Positioning Satellite, NavStar 1, is launched. The first ascent of Mount Everest is made without supplementary oxygen. The first radio episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is aired on BBC Radio 4. First airing of the US soap opera “Dallas”. The film musical “Grease”, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, is released. Louise Brown becomes the world’s first baby born via IVF.  Ireland: Rose Dugdale and Eddie Gallagher become the first people in Ireland to marry in prison. Thousands of people march in Dublin in opposition to the building of civic offices in Wood Quay, a historical Viking site. Ireland’s second TV channel, RTE 2, is launched. Cork Regional Hospital (now Cork University Hospital) is opened. Dublin Institute of Technology is opened.

Fifty Years Ago (1968)

The Vietnam War is in full swing. The North Vietnam launches the Tet Offensive, a sustained wave of surprise attacks against South Vietnamese and US allied forces.  Reports of atrocities, including the My Lai massacre and the execution of Nguyen Van Lem, lead to widespread dissatisfaction in the US about the war. Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in April. Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy is assassinated in June. Richard Nixon becomes US President in November. The Prague Spring: liberal reforms in Czechoslovakia are suppressed by a massive show of force from Soviet-allied countries. A massive wave of strikes and protests hits France, momentarily bringing the country to a halt. Enoch Powell makes his Rivers of Blood speech. Intel Corporation is founded. Premieres of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes and Oliver!. Apollo 8 enters orbit around the Moon, taking the iconic Earthrise shot. Ireland: Aer Lingus flight 712, en route from Cork to London, crashes off the coast of Wexford. A civil rights march in Derry is violently broken up by police, kickstarting The Troubles over the following years. John F Kennedy Arboretum, the University of Ulster, Coleraine and Cork County Hall are opened.

Sixty Years Ago (1958)

The European Economic Community (present day European Union) comes into being. The Great Leap Forward begins in China. Millions die of famine from subsequent agricultural and economic mismanagement. France’s Fifth Republic is established. 22 people, including 8 members of the Manchester United team, are killed when their plane crashes in Munich. Imre Nagy, leader of the Hungarian uprising, is executed. Britain’s first motorway is opened. The Lego brick is patented. NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration are founded. America launches its first satellite, Explorer 1.  Frank Kilby demonstrates the first working integrated circuit (aka silicon chip). The Jim Henson Company (Muppets Inc.) is established. The Lituya Bay megatsunami occurs in Alaska, reaching a height of 525 metres. Ireland: The world record for the fastest mile is broken by Herb Elliott in Santry Stadium. Brendan Behan publishes Borstal Boy. It is quickly banned in Ireland. The Harcourt Street railway line in Dublin is closed.

Seventy Years Ago (1948)

The Marshall Plan is signed by Harry Truman, providing 13 billion dollars in war aid to 16 countries. The Soviet Union blockades western Berlin, leading to a US-lead airlift of supplies into Berlin for most of the following year. Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated. Communists take power in Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union builds its first ballistic missile. Israel declares independence and is immediately invaded by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka gain independence from Britain. South Korea and North Korea are established as separate political entities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is formally adopted. Apartheid rule begins in South Africa. British Railways and Britain’s National Health Service are established. The World Health Organisation comes into being. Ireland: John A Costello is elected Taoiseach. Ireland passes the Republic of Ireland Act, officially severing all ties to the British state.

Eighty Years Ago (1938)

Adolf Hitler assumes overall control over the German Armed Forces (Wehrmacht). German troops occupy Austria. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returns from talks with Hitler in Munich, declaring “peace in our time”. The following day, Nazi Germany invades CzechoslovakiaKristallnacht: Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues are looted and vandalised across Germany, with thousands of Jewish men arrested. Vast reserves of oil are discovered in Saudi Arabia. Chinese Nationalists flood the Yellow River in an attempt to halt the Japanese Invasion of China. Otto Hahn observes nuclear fission in uranium. Superman first appears in American comic books. The Beano comic appears in the UK. The ballpoint pen is invented by Lazlo Biro. DuPont Company announces a new synthetic material called “nylon“. A massive meteorite explodes over Chicora, Pennsylvania. Orson Welles’ radio show “War of the Worlds” is aired, to considerable consternation. South African fishermen catch a coelacanth – an ancient fish long believed extinct. Ireland: Douglas Hyde becomes Ireland’s first president. The Royal Navy hands over to the Government of Ireland the Treaty Ports of Spike Island (Cobh), Bearhaven and Lough Swilly.  Douglas Corrigan flies from New York to Ireland; supposedly he had made a navigational mistake having intended to fly to California instead.

Ninety Years Ago (1928)

Alexander Fleming accidentally discovers penicillin. John Logie Baird transmits a television signal from London to New York. New York station W2XB pioneers regular television programmes. The voting age for women in the UK is reduced from 30 to 21. Josef Stalin introduces mass collectivisation in the Soviet Union. The first flight across the Pacific Ocean is made from California to Australia. Herbert Hoover is elected US president. Ireland: The first non-stop fixed wing transatlantic flight from Europe to North America takes off from Baldonnell airfield. For the first time, Irish pound notes and Irish coinage are introduced. The Gate Theatre in Dublin is founded.

One Hundred Years Ago (1918)

This is the year of the 1918 Flu Pandemic. It wreaks havoc across the globe, eventually killing an estimated 50 million people. World War I comes to a close. After the withdrawal of Russia from the war and the failure of the German Spring Offensive on the Western Front, Allied forces launch a counter-offensive that breaks through the Hindenburg Line. German sailors mutiny in Kiel. On November 11, Germany signs an armistice agreement. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is broken up. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary become independent republics. Moscow is reinstated as the capital of Russia. The Tsar of Russia is executed along with his family. Britain assumes government over Palestine. Women over 30 years old are allowed to vote in the UK. Iceland declares independence from Denmark. The Royal Air Force is established. Death in jail of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who sparked World War I. The first pilotless drone, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, is flown. The brightest nova of the 20th Century (V603 Aquilae) is observed. Ireland: US troopship SS Tuscania is torpedoed off the coast of Antrim. There is a general strike against conscription in Ireland. The RMS Carpathia, the ship that rescued the Titanic survivors, is sunk by a U-Boat off the coast of Cork. Death of John Redmond, Irish Nationalist leader. The Irish mailboat RMS Leinster is torpedoed – 500 people are killed. The British Government in Ireland issues a proclamation banning Sinn Fein, the Gaelic League, Cumann na mBan and the Irish Volunteers. Sinn Féin win a landslide victory the Irish General Election. They promise to set up a government in Dublin instead of taking their seats in Westminster. Constance Markievicz becomes the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons.

Two Hundred Years Ago (1818)

US General Andrew Jackson invades Florida in the First Seminole War. The 49th line of latitude North (49th Parallel) becomes the official line of demarcation between the United States and British North America (Canada). Illinois becomes the 21st State of America. Chile is declared an independent republic. The British East India Company defeats the Maratha Empire, effectively resulting in British domination of India. Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein is published. The Christmas Carol “Silent Night” is composed. Karl Marx is born in Trier, Germany. 1818 Occultation: the planet Venus moves in front of Jupiter as seen from Earth. Such a phenomenon will not occur again until 2065.  Ireland: Ireland is in the grip of a severe typhus epidemic. Down Cathedral is restored. The General Post Office (GPO) on Sackville Street, Dublin, is opened.

Three Hundred Years Ago (1718)

The US city of New Orleans is founded. Pirates Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Stede Bonnet wreak havoc in the Caribbean. By the end of the year, they are both dead. The War of the Quadruple Alliance is declared when Britain, France, the Low Countries and Austria join together to quell Spanish territorial ambitions. The Hapsburg Kingdom of Serbia is proclaimed under the governorship of Johann O’Dwyer. François-Marie Arouet adopts the name “Voltaire”. Death William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Edmund Halley discovers the proper motion of fixed stars. The first textbook on probability theory is published by Abraham de Moivre. Ireland: Scots-Irish migrations to America begin. The Jervis Street Hospital is founded in Dublin. It is now part of the Jervis Street Shopping Centre.

Four Hundred Years Ago (1618)

Battle lines in the Thirty Years War are drawn after Catholic representatives of Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria are thrown out of a window by a Protestant mob in Prague Castle. The war will devastate central Europe, resulting in over eight million deaths. Sir Walter Raleigh is beheaded in Westminster after his men attacked a Spanish outpost in Guyana. He was executed as this incident broke a pardon agreement previously agreed with King James I. Three comets appear in the sky this year. Johannes Kepler discovers his Third Law of Planetary Motion. Ireland: The Plantation of Ulster continues.

Five Hundred Years Ago (1518)

King of Spain Charles V grants permission to send 4000 African slaves to the New World. This marks the start of what was to become a vast transatlantic slave trade. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses are translated into German. Within weeks, his writings have spread across Europe. A dancing plague hits the Strasbourg region. Major European powers sign a non-aggression pact in response to growing Ottoman power. Spanish Conquistador Juan de Grijalva lands in Mexico. The first epidemic of smallpox hits the New World. Albrecht Dürer etched “The Cannon“, his largest etching. Ireland: The young Archduke Ferdinand visits Kinsale and describes in vivid detail the strange attire of the local Gaelic townspeople.

Six Hundred Years Ago (1418)

The Council of Constance comes to a close. This brought the papacy together again under one pope (Martin V), based in Rome. In the Hundred Years War, Paris is captured by the Duke of Burgundy as more of France succumbs to English rule. The Vietnamese Emperor Lê Lợi leads a major revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty. Chinese admiral Zheng He reaches Malindi in Kenya. Filippo Brunelleschi wins the competition to build the Dome of Florence Cathedral by balancing an egg on smooth marble. The island of Porto Santo in Madeira is discovered by Portuguese explorers. Ireland: The Great Book of Lecan is completed.

Seven Hundred Years Ago (1318)

King Robert the Bruce of Scotland re-takes the strategic town of Berwick-on-Tweed after a long siege. A man purporting to be King Edward II turns up at royal court. He is arrested, blames his pet cat, and is executed. Ireland: King Robert’s brother Edward the Bruce is killed at the Battle of Faughart in Co. Louth. This puts an end to the devastating Bruce Campaign in Ireland.

Eight Hundred Years Ago (1218)

Armies of the Fifth Crusade attack the Egyptian city of Damietta. The central Asian empire of Qara Khitai is defeated by Genghis Khan.

Nine Hundred Years Ago (1118)

The Muslim Almoravids lose control of the Spanish city of Zaragoza to Christian armies. Henry I of England finds himself in deep trouble in Normandy, when many of his barons rise up against him. Death of Baldwin I, first crusader king of Jerusalem. John II Komnemos becomes the Byzantine Emperor.

One Thousand Years Ago (1018)

King Cnut the Great accedes to the Danish throne, bringing the Kingdoms of Denmark and England together. Malcolm II defeats the Northumbrians to become the first king of a united Scotland. The First Bulgarian Empire ceases to exist – it will now form part of the Byzantine Empire. The Battle of the River Bug takes places between the Duke of Poland and the Prince of Kiev. Count Dirk III of Holland beats a much larger Holy Roman Empire army at the Battle of Vlaardingen.

One Thousand One Hundred Years Ago (AD 918)

The Kingdom of Goryeo was founded. This kingdom gives its name to the modern name “Korea”. Vikings under Ragnall ua Ímair defeat a Scottish army in Northumbria. Æthelflæd, the ‘Lady of the Mercians’, dies in a battle with the Vikings in Tamworth. Ireland: Sitric Caoch the Viking becomes king of Dublin.

One Thousand Three Hundred Years Ago (AD 718)

The Second Siege of Constantinople ends in disaster for the Arab Caliphate. Pelagius founds the Christian kingdom of Asturias in Spain. Charles Martel “The Hammer” becomes de facto king of the Franks.

One Thousand Four Hundred Years Ago (AD 618)

Emperor Gaozu founds the Tang Dynasty in China. Songtsen Gampo founds the Tibetan Empire. Ireland: Death of St Kevin of Glendalough.

One Thousand Five Hundred Years Ago (AD 518)

The illiterate Justin I founds the Justinian Dynasty in Byzantium after the death of Anastasius I.

One Thousand Six Hundred Years Ago (AD 418)

Theodoric I becomes the King of the Visigoths. The Council of Carthage confirms St Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin.

One Thousand Nine Hundred Years Ago (AD 118)

Building work starts on the Pantheon in Rome. A mural of a man with a wheelbarrow is painted in Sichuan, China. It is the earliest known depiction of this device.

Two Thousand Years Ago (AD 18)

Emperor Tiberias grants Germanicus command over the Eastern Roman Empire.


It’s 2017 and vampires, werewolves and witches are no longer that scary. Been there, done that.

Here are some things that should really frighten the bejeezus out of us this year.

Scary Insect

This from news that insect abundance has fallen by 75% over the last 27 years.

Scary Icecap

Whether its icecaps, or sea-ice or huge shelves of ice ripping free from Antarctica, it’s all a depressing picture.


Scary Super Bug

Scary Antibiotic

The top two pictures are related – improper use of antibiotics over the past few decades has created new bugs that are resistant to almost all known bacterial killers. At the same time, new antibiotics have failed to keep pace. The world is finally waking up to this huge crisis.

Scary Flu

One hundred years ago, a flu pandemic killed between 50 million and 100 million people in a period of months. Smaller pandemics have happened since, but it is a matter of time before a virus of similar lethality makes it’s comeback.

Scary AntiVax

And it’s not only a damaging flu that could make its presence felt. Old diseases like measles and whooping cough are coming back too, due to different pressure groups who believe, despite decades of medical evidence, that vaccines don’t work and are harmful. Some kids depend on the rest of us to be vaccinated in order to be protected against these diseases.

Scary Acidification

Kind of a hard one to draw, but there is increasing evidence that our oceans are becoming more acidic. This is having detrimental impacts on shellfish and other ocean organisms, which then propagates up the food chain.

Scary Nuclear

We thought that common sense had finally prevailed against the use of nuclear weapons as an option in international politics. We thought wrong.

Scary Paranoid

The rise (and seeming acceptance) of extremist hate groups is particularly worrying, given that the world has been there before and the consequences were so disastrous. Both media and politicians have been stoking up this hatred for quite a while.

Scary Brexit Black Hole

For us on this side of the pond, we’re still waiting to understand how Britain will prosper from a withdrawal from the EU – particularly if, as expected, there is no deal. Pro-Leavers are great on rhetoric, but thin on the details of how Britain is expected to thrive economically when leaving a successful partnership that gave us 70 years of peace in Europe. The only thing we have seen so far is an increase in xenophobia and companies deciding to move out.

Scary Politician

And finally, the biggest ongoing threat to all our lives and livelihoods – the ongoing destruction of democracy and democratic values by politicians on the make.

Now these, to me, are scary as hell.

Ten Years Ago (2006)

Twitter is launched. Saddam Hussein is executed. A terrorist bombing campaign in Mumbai kills 209 people. The New Horizons mission is launched towards Pluto. In the same year, Pluto is no longer classified as a planet. Former Irish Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, dies. Opening of the Dublin Port Tunnel. Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is killed by a stingray in the Great Barrier Reef.

Twenty Years Ago (1996)

The Docklands bombing in London signals an end to the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Chess champion Gary Kasparov is beaten by a computer. The Dunblane massacre takes place in Scotland. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, is arrested in Montana. An IRA gang kills Detective Jerry McCabe in Co. Clare. Journalist Veronica Guerin is killed in Dublin. Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, is born. Prince Charles and Diana are formally divorced. Fox News TV channel is launched in the US. Death of science advocate Carl Sagan. Divorce is legalised in Ireland.

Thirty Years Ago (1986)

Space Shuttle Challenger explodes, 73 seconds after take-off from Cape Canaveral. A fire at the Chernobyl nuclear facility in the Ukraine causes a nuclear meltdown. Spain and Portugal join the European Union. Swedish prime-minister Olof Palme is assassinated. Diego Maradona scores his “Hand of God” goal against England in the Mexico World Cup; then goes on to score the “Goal of the Century“. Thousands are suffocated after a massive release of carbon dioxide from Cameroon’s Lake Nyos. The M25 Motorway is opened in London. Death of Thin Lizzy frontman, Phil Lynott.  Jack Charlton becomes manager of the Ireland football team. A referendum introducing divorce in Ireland is defeated.

Forty Years Ago (1976)

The deadliest earthquake of the 20th Century occurs in Tangshan, China; over 250,000 people perish. The Concorde supersonic jet takes passengers for the first time. The Apple Computer Company is formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Cultural Revolution in China comes to an end with the death of Chairman Mao. Police clash with thousands of rioting youths in Soweto, South Africa. The Viking I and Viking II landers arrive on the surface of Mars. Israeli forces free 102 hostages from a hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda. The Supreme Court of the United States reinstates the death penalty. The first known outbreak of Ebola occurs in Zaire. An advertisement in Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin leads to the formation of the rock band U2. President of Ireland, Cearbhall O’Dalaigh, resigns after being called a “thundering disgrace”.

Fifty Years Ago (1966)

Nelson’s Pillar is blown up by the IRA in Dublin. Soviet spacecraft land on the Moon, crash-land on Venus and go into orbit around the Moon. Ian Brady and Myra Handley are convicted of the Moors Murders. The beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China. The Beach Boys release Pet Sounds. They think it’s all over… England beats West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup Final in Wembley. The Beatles hold their last commercial concert in San Francisco. The first episode of Star Trek airs on US TV. A coal mine landslide in Aberfan, Wales, kills 116 school children. Walt Disney dies. The Vatican formally abolish their list of banned books.

Sixty Years Ago (1956)

Elvis Presley hits the US Charts for the first time. Pakistan, Tunisia and Morocco become independent countries. The first Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Lugano, Switzerland. The Hungarian Revolt takes place and is violently suppressed by Soviet Russia. Brendan Behan becomes the first person in the world to say “fuck” on a television programme. Egypt nationalises the Suez Canal and is attacked by Israel, France and Britain. Shockley, Bardeen, and Brattain win the Nobel Physics Prize for their invention of the transistor.

Seventy Years Ago (1946)

The electronics company that would eventually become Sony is formed in Japan. Jordan and the Philippines become independent countries. Italy becomes a republic. Senior Nazis are executed in Nuremberg. William Joyce, a.k.a. “Lord Haw Haw“, is executed in Wandsworth Prison. The United Nations meets for the first time – UNICEF and UNESCO founded the same year. Science fiction novelist H.G. Wells dies.

Eighty Years Ago (1936)

Nazi Germany re-occupies the Rhineland. Josef Stalin begins his Great Purge in Russia – an estimated 680,000 people are executed over the following 2 years. The Spanish Civil War begins after an attempt to oust the elected government of Manuel Azana.  Edward VIII abdicates after proposing to marry Wallace Simpson. Construction of the Hoover Dam is completed. Aer Lingus is founded as the Irish national airline. Alan Turing lays down the basis of machine based computing with his paper “On Computable Numbers“. Margaret Mitchell’s novel, “Gone With The Wind” is published in America. The first Olympic Games to be televised live takes place in Berlin. At the games,  Jesse Owens wins the 100m sprint, much to the chagrin of Adolf Hitler. The thylacine goes extinct in Tasmania.

Ninety Years Ago (1926)

Ireland’s first radio service (later RTE) began broadcasting. John Logie Baird demonstrates his mechanical television system. Fianna Fáil political party founded by Éamon DeValera. AA Milne publishes Winnie the Pooh. Magician Harry Houdini dies after a ruptured appendix. The NBC radio network starts operation in the US. Violet Gibson shoots Benito Mussolini three times while he was sitting in his car. The main Chicago to Los Angeles route is named Route 66. Birth of David Attenborough.

One Hundred Years Ago (1916)

The Battle of Verdun, the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Somme in World War I – over 1 million men are killed or injured in the Battle of the Somme alone.  The Easter Rising breaks out in Dublin and is suppressed by British forces within 5 days. Many of the ringleaders are executed. Ernest Shackleton and 5 companions complete a hazardous boat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. BMW motor company is founded in Germany. Murder of Grigori Rasputin in Russia.

Two Hundred Years Ago (1816)

This is The Year Without A Summer across the Northern Hemisphere as a result of the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Argentina declares independence from Spain. Humphrey Davy introduces the safety lamp into coal mines. The stethoscope is invented by René Laennec. Mary Shelley starts writing Frankenstein. Indiana becomes the 19th US State.

Three Hundred Years Ago (1716)

The old monarchies of Spain are dissolved and Spain becomes a single unified country. The leaders of the Jacobite Rising of 1715 in Britain are executed. The first lighthouse is built in America.

Four Hundred Years Ago (1616)

Willem Schouten rounds the tip of South America and names it Cape Horn. Death of shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu in Japan. Catholic theologians declare that Copernicus’s idea of the Earth orbiting the Sun is “foolish and absurd“; Copernicus’s book is banned. Deaths of William Shakespeare and Miguel De Cervantes. Pocahontas arrives in England. Construction of the Blue Mosque is completed in Istanbul.

Five Hundred Years Ago (1516)

The disparate kingdoms of Spain are united under the Habsburg monarch Charles V.  The Beer Purity Laws are instituted in Germany, limiting the ingredients to water, hops and barley. Thomas More publishes Utopia. Spanish explorers reach the Rio La Plata. A Dominican monk travels to Germany to sell indulgences for the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. This turns out to be a very bad idea.

Six Hundred Years Ago (1416)

Execution of Jerome of Prague at the Council of Constance. Jerome was a follower of Jan Hus who had been executed for heresy the previous year. Ma Huan writes his account of the Chinese age of exploration.

Seven Hundred Years Ago (1316)

Great Famine rages across Europe. The Bruce Campaign devastates Ireland. Death of Alauddin Khilji of India – one of the few rulers who defeated the Mongols during his reign.

Eight Hundred Years Ago (1216)

Death of King John of England of Magna Carta fame. Foundation of the Dominican Order.

One Thousand Years Ago (1016)

Death of Æthelred the Unready. King Cnut of the Danes assumes the Kingship of England.

Two Thousand Years Ago (AD 16)

Roman general Germanicus defeats the Germanic army of Armenius in retaliation for the massacre of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9.

Two Thousand Four Hundred Years Ago (BC 384)

Aristotle is born.


2015 Anniversaries

Ten Years Ago (2005): Hurricane Katrina slams into New Orleans, prompting unprecedented chaos and mass evacuation. The Cassini-Huygens probe landed on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Death of Pope John Paul II. Death of Rosa Parks. The A380 “superjumbo” makes its first flight. London awarded the 2012 Olympic games. The following day, a terrorist attack in the London Underground kills 52 people. Further terrorist bombings take place in Iraq, Bali, New Delhi, the Lebanon and Jordan. The Ferns Report into clerical child abuse, is released. The Kitzmiller vs Dover lawsuit deals a huge blow to Intelligent Design proponents in the US.

Twenty Five Years Ago (1990): West Germany and East Germany are reunified into a single state. Nelson Mandela is released from imprisonment in South Africa. The “Pale Blue Dot” photo is taken by Voyager 1. The Hubble Space Telescope is launched. The Republic of Ireland reaches the quarter finals of the Italia ’90 World Cup. Death of Jim Henson. Iraq invades Kuwait, triggering the first Gulf War. Mary Robinson becomes President of Ireland. Margaret Thatcher steps down as UK Prime Minister. The Channel Tunnel connects Britain to mainland Europe.

Fifty Years Ago (1965): Death of Winston Churchill. Assassination of Malcolm X. American combat troops arrive in South Vietnam. Civil Rights activists, lead by Martin Luther King, march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Mariner 4 takes close-up photos of Mars for the first time. Singapore becomes a sovereign country. Death of Stan Laurel. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley arrested for the Moors Murders.

Seventy Five Years Ago (1940): Nazi Germany invades Denmark and Norway, then Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. British forces abandon mainland France through Dunkirk. British cities and towns suffer through the Blitz. Thousands of people are killed by the Soviets in Katyn, Poland. The Soviet Union annexes the Baltic States. Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker make their screen debuts. First ever MacDonald’s restaurant established in California. Leon Trotsky is killed. The Lascaux cave paintings are discovered. John Charles McQuaid is consecrated Archbishop of Dublin.

One Hundred Years Ago (1915): The RMS Lusitania is sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Cork, killing 1,198 passengers and crew. The Second Battle of Ypres is fought. Poison gas deployed on the front for the first time. The Allies engage Turkey in the Gallipoli Campaign. Albert Einstein formulates his General Theory of Relativity. The Stop Sign makes its debut in Detroit. Death of Joseph O’Donovan Rossa, founder of the Fenians.

Two Hundred Years Ago (1815): Napoleon Bonaparte escapes Elba and quickly re-takes France. He is defeated in the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena. His exile ends 30 years of hostilities between Britain and France. Mount Tambora erupts in Indonesia: it is the greatest volcanic eruption in modern times. Foundation of the National History Museum in Dublin.

Three Hundred Years Ago (1715): The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, dies of gangrene in Versailles, after a reign of 72 years. A solar eclipse passes over London; the last to do so for 700 years. Beginning of the first major Jacobite rebellion in Scotland.

Four Hundred Years Ago (1615): The Tokugawa Shogunate successfully besieges Osaka Castle in Japan, commencing a period of unopposed rule that would last almost 250 years.

Five Hundred Years Ago (1515): The city of Havana in Cuba is founded by Conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.

Six Hundred Years Ago (1415): The English defeat the French in the Battle of Agincourt. Pope Gregory XII resigns – the last pope to do so until Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. A brutal precursor to the Protestant Reformation when Bohemian reformer Jan Hus is tried and burned at the stake in Konstanz.

Seven Hundred Years Ago (1315): The Great Famine of 1315 begins, killing up to 25% of the population across Western Europe. The Scottish, under Edward Bruce, invade Ireland. Large parts of Ireland are devastated in the subsequent campaign.

Eight Hundred Years Ago (1215): King John of England agrees to the Magna Carta, establishing common rights and placing subsequent monarchs under the rule of law. Genghis Khan’s Mongols capture and destroy the city of Beijing.

One Thousand Years Ago (1015): King Canute of Denmark invades England. The following year, he became King of England.

One Thousand Six Hundred Years Ago (415): A Christian mob murders Hypatia of Alexandria, a famous mathematician and philosopher.

Two Thousand Years Ago (15 AD): Strabo completed the draft edition of “Geography“: a 17 volume description of the known world at the time.

This is the third entry in my 2019 Time Capsule series, where I discuss questions that may well have answers within the next decade. Today I take a brief look at technology. 

The Internet Copyright Wars

Internet mapWe are currently living through a period of time when many big industries are under threat. The industries in question are publishing, music recording, telephony and movie-making, and the threat is the Internet. For the first time in history, the expression of human thought in pictures, words and sound can be sent around the world in the blink of an eye, and for free. It is the ultimate vision of Gutenberg, and the vested interests who wish to make scarce this infinitely available commodity are fighting a losing battle, mainly resorting to courts and politicians. But like Gutenberg, such wars cannot last forever and the world will some day settle into a new economic relationship with the Internet. What will it look like? How will we enjoy music and art and films 10 or 20 years from now? Will the battles continue to rage in the courts or will relatively new players such as Google eventually render the incumbents powerless? What will the business models look like? What scarcities will these businesses exploit? Who will be the winners? 

The Human / Computer Interface

HALI have a feeling that the next decade will be a time of big changes in how we interact with computers. For years we have communicated mainly through the use of keyboards, and although I don’t see them disappearing anytime soon, I suspect that very different forms of computer interaction are going rising to prominence. Take Multitouch for instance: the technology popularised by the movie “Minority Report“. The iPhone has given us an example of how natural and engaging this technology is – a small child can understand it intuitively. Another technology that seems to be whispering it’s way towards us is Recognition. Voice Recognition – the ability of a compute to recognise and respond correctly to voice commands – is probably the best known. It’s been around for a while and results can still be somewhat patchy. But it’s improving and other forms of recognition are also appearing: face recognition (e.g. iPhoto) and music recognition (e.g. Shazam). Given that, I don’t see why we would not be communicating in very different ways with computers in just ten years time. 

Stem Cell Research

Stem cellsWe are being told that we are on the brink of a revolution in medical care. Diseased and damaged organs can be replaced, not via anonymous donors, but grown instead from cells found in the patient’s own body. These miracle cells are known as stem-cells: generalist cells that can be conditioned to transform into specialised cells: heart muscle, kidneys, skin – anything you like. From there they can be grown in laboratories into complete organs – thus allowing people to gain to have transplants with no concerns about rejection. I have already seen footage showing replacement teeth and bladders being developed. It is possible that this breakthrough will transform medicine in the next ten years. It will be interesting to see to what extent it will have developed.

Up next: Global Threats.


When I was younger I used to get very confused about how, if you were travelling to San Francisco from Ireland that you need to travel over Greenland and the cold wastes of Northern Canada to get there. Hold on, isn’t San Francisco to the south of Ireland? So why the hell do planes need to fly north to get there? It didn’t make much sense to me.

What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time was that spherical geometry is very different to planar geometry, and the fastest way to get from one location on the planet to another is a great circle – a ring around the centre of the earth connecting both points. Great circles do not care about arbitrary definitions such as North and West, only the shortest distance between two points, and if that line crosses over the North Pole, so be it.

Anyway, a few years ago I came across a mapping program on the Web called the Online Map Creator. The program produces maps of many different shapes and sizes in multiple projections. The one that captured my imagination however was Azimuthal Equidistant Projection. If you imagine drawing ever increasing circles around a chosen location on the planet you will get the idea. Consider, for instance, where you are right now. The 10 km circle represents all locations 10 km away, the 1000 km circle represents all places 1000 km away, and so on until you can’t go any further, i.e. the other side of the planet, about 20,000 km away from you. Each point on each circle represents objects that you would come across if you were able to point a telescope at a particular compass angle and see everything on the surface of the globe in that direction. It’s the route an airplane would take, if it didn’t need to worry about atmospheric currents and headwinds etc. Areas tend to get more distorted the further away you go. The extreme is other side of the world from you. No matter which direction you go, you will end up at that point eventually, so every point on the edge of the circle is actually the exact same location on the far side of the planet.

Here are a few maps I made using the map generator.

1) London, England.

London Azi

Notice that if you start out due west from London, you will end up, not in Canada, but flying across Cuba and Mexico. To get to Japan, you need to travel across the Arctic Ocean and northern Siberia. Also note how huge Antarctica and Australia are compared to everywhere else, and if you look closely you will see an enormous narrow island taking up nearly 70 degrees from North to East – that land is New Zealand, on almost exactly the opposite side of the world to the UK.

2) Chicago Illinois

Chicago Azi

This map shows that if you wish to travel from Chicago to Thailand, you need to cross over the North Pole, even though Thailand is close to the equator. It also indicates a considerably northerly path for Japan and China. To travel to Mozambique in southern Africa, you need to set out due East. Australia and Antarctica are enormous, again because they are furthermost from Chicago.

3) Sydney, Australia.

Sydney Azi

Look at how West Africa is distorted! West Africa is now gigantic compared to the rest of that continent, again owing to the fact that it is nearly on the other side of the world. The Iberian peninsula is similarly disfigured. To reach Chile, you need to travel South East, and traveling to parts of eastern Brazil requires a southern journey over the Antarctic ice cap.

4) Beijing, China

Beijing Azi

This is an interesting map. Most of the globe is recognisable and relatively well proportioned (OK Africa is a bit oversized, but we will ignore this). But look at South America! If you look closely, there is a ring of yellow encircling this map. Clearly the furthest point away from Beijing is in Argentina and as a result the mapping severely distorts the continent, The black lines are a bug that I can’t quite explain. In addition Hawaii looks a lot bigger than it should look, given it’s distance from China. I have a feeling that more gremlins are at work here.

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