England and Scotland

Scotland was in the news lately, with its independence referendum. The local news here knew to quote the fact that Scotland has been a part of Great Britain for some 300 years. I guess that when people hear of Scottish independence, they see an image of Mel Gibson with some paint on his face, but that doesn’t really has to do with the issue on hand. Gibson portrayed William Wallace, a military leader in the First War of Scottish Independence at the late 13 century (and the usage of the word “first” here can give you a hint on how it ended), about 400 years before the union. So what was the deal?

The short version is that there had been two unions – one named “The Union Of The Crowns”, meaning that one king ruled both kingdoms, and one named “The Acts of Union”, meaning the political union of both kingdoms, turning them into one, with the same laws, representation, etc. But there’s a long version:

Until 1603 the Scottish kingdom and the British kingdom (that included Ireland) lived separately. Every once in a while, someone invaded the others’ lands, fought, killed, died, and retreated. In 1603, the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England died. She was the 2nd daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Ann Boleyn, and the last monarch of the Tudor Dynasty. Elizabeth never married and never had children, and in addition refused to publicly announce a successor. But privately she chose one – King James VI of Scotland. Why him? James’ great-grandmother was Margaret Tudor, older sister to Henry VIII. Both of James’ parents were Margaret’s grandchildren (yes, they were cousins). James’ mother, Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner by Elizabeth for 19 years and ended up losing her head. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The Royal Arms of King James I – the top left and bottom right corners are the symbols of England, the top right is Scotland, and bottom left is Ireland

Anyway, after Elizabeth died, King James VI of Scotland took the throne. Now King James I, the first king to rule both Scotland and England and held it for 22 years. He established the American colonies in America, and is remembered mostly by the bible translation that still carries his name (King James Bible), and by being the target of Guy Fawks and his co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. His ascension to the crown is known as “The Union of The Crowns“, but it wasn’t a political union of the states. England and Scotland kept their independence, with separate parliaments but with one king.

We’ll skip 44 years to 1649. The throne is held by James’ son, Charles I, and things are a bit bleak for him. Seven years before, a civil war started, and Charles, who led the Royalist forces against the Parliamentarians, lost. Since 1645 he’s been sitting in prison, and although he managed to escape for a short while, he was captured again. Charles would not live to see much of 1649. By the end of January he would be a head short. England abolished the crown and went into a period of 11 years of parliamentarian rule, under Oliver Cromwell. But Cromwell died, and not long after, the monarchy was restored. The throne was taken by Charles II, son of the first, that stayed in exile for the past few years. Charles II died with no heirs and the throne went to his brother James, who became James II. James lost his crown in another revolt, named the Glorious Revolution (named so, because in comparison with other revolutions this one was relatively less bloody) and fled to exile. His place was taken in 1689 by his daughter Mary and her husband William, and then, when they died in 1702, by his other daughter – Ann. Both sisters, Mary and Ann, never had any children, and with Ann’s passing in 1714, the Stuart dynasty has ended.

During Ann’s reign the union between England and Scotland was complete with the Acts of Union of 1706-1707, that were passed in both parliaments. These acts have sealed the political union between the realms on top of the union of the crowns. And that is the Union the news were talking about.

So just a quick recap: Elizabeth I -> James I (Union of the Crowns, 1603) -> Charles I -> Civil War & Parliamentarian rule -> Charles II -> James II -> Mary & William -> Ann (Acts of Union, 1706).

Ann had no heirs. The place of the Stuart dynasty was taken by the Hanover Dynasty, with King George I, son of Sophia of Hanover – the grandchild of James I.

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Vulture, Lion Cub, Lion and Tiger

On the eve of The Six Days War, France, then Israel’s largest supplier of weapons and technology, imposed an embargo on the selling of weapons to Israel. This was a major problem for the Israeli army in general, and the Israeli Air Force (IAF) in particular. At the time, France supplied Israel with advanced weapons and technology, while other countries, such as England, Canada and the United States settled for selling outdated weapons if anything. Among the items that were affected were 50 Mirage V fighter jets, that Israel helped design, and already ordered and paid for. The IAF’s need only grew more a few days later, in the aftermath of the Six Days War and the beginning of what later be named the War of Attrition, where Israel lost more than 45 crafts.

The IAI Nesher during the Yom Kippur War

In an operation that much of its details remain obscure, Israel managed to obtain the Mirage V blueprints (some say through a Swiss agent working at the company that fabricated the engines for the Mirage V1), and using French spare parts (that were not included in the embargo), cooperation with several foreign factories, a wink and a nod of the French regime, and plenty of work and Israeli technology, the Israeli Aerospace Industries (the IAI) built its first fighter jet, the IAI Nesher (Hebrew for “vulture”), in early 1971. The Neshers were extensively used during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, where they managed to shoot down 111 enemy jets. Later, they were gradually replaced until they were decommissioned in 1978. Some of those jets were then fixed up and sold to the Argentinian Air Force.

Israel continued with its efforts, and attempted to replace the engine of the Nesher with a different one designed by General Electric, that Israel has fabricated with a license.  As a result, by 1975 Israel introduced its newest fighter jet – the IAI Kfir (Hebrew for “baby lion”). The Kfir featured technological improvements and better maneuverability and was in use by the IAF from 1975 to 1996. Various variants were manufactured, and sold (with American consent) to Columbia, Sri-Lanka, and Ecuador. Some jets were also used by the American army in fighting simulations. The later South-African fighter jet, the Atlas-Cheetah was based on the Kfir.

Israel continued with its efforts and spent great resources on the Lavi Project (Hebrew for “Lion”), and the IAI Nammer (Hebrew for “Tiger”) in the 80s, but despite reaching advanced levels and test flights, these projects were cancelled, and the existing prototypes were scrapped into aluminum bars. 

The technological challenges of designing and fabricating an aircraft, let alone a fighter jet, are massive, probably more than I can ever understand. The fact that Israel, a very small state with very limited resources, managed to manufacture hundreds of them (with some cooperation) is nothing short of remarkable.


1  The man, Alfred Frauenknecht, was charged and convicted in 1971 for the theft of the Mirage V blueprints. By his own admission, he received $200,000 from Israel. He was sentenced to 4.5 years in jail, and died of a heart attack in 1991 at the age of 64.

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Skye is the top island in red, with mull, rum, eigg, and muck to its southI’m watching Starz’ The Outlander, based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon1, that I have not yet read. The show takes place in Scotland in the 18th century, and I must admit that I don’t know much – neither about the place nor the time.

Since I liked the show’s theme song, I tried to look it up, and the first results brought me to a song with the same melody, but different lyrics. Turns out this song is a small adjustments of lyrics to a poem by Robert Lewis Stevenson, renowned author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, among many others. These lyrics were built on the tune of a Scottish folk song named “The Skye Boat Song“. While Stevenson’s lyrics are somewhat romantic and nostalgic, the original Boat Song is a ballad about the escape of Prince Charles Edward Stewart (“Bonny Prince Charlie”) from British forces following the defeat at the Battle of Culloden and the end of the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and it is a song about death and destruction.

The historical story about the Jacobites, Bonny Prince Charlie, and the Battle of Culloden are worthy of a post of their own. What caught my ears in the theme song were words I didn’t recognize, such as Skye, Mull, Rum, and Eigg. A quick online search showed me these were the names of islands in the Inner Hebrides – part of the western archipelago of Scotland.

Scotland’s geography and its history seem fascinating to me, and with the show concentrating on the time before the Battle of Culloden, I expect to read and learn more about the time and area.

1 Dr. Diana Gabaldon holds three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and a Ph.D. in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. She spent a dozen years as a university professor with an expertise in scientific computation, and sounds like an awesome woman.

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PItched battles

You mean you’ll put down your rock and I put down my sword, and we’ll try to kill each other like civilized people?
– The Princess Bride

War is an ugly business, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be civilized. At least in the past, when people had to kill each other face-to-face, and not through the air at the press of a button.

Spoiler alert: this will not end well for Hector

Achilles and Hector

First way to go about it is to reach with your army and face your enemy. At that point, each side chooses one person (sometimes called a champion), and they alone fight. Winner takes all. The losing side can sometimes even keep their heads, as they are sometimes taken for ransoms, not to mention the thousands or tens of thousands of ordinary foot soldiers that are spared. Such fights were more common in ancient times, and include, for example the epic battle between Achilles and Hector in Homer’s Illiad.

But say you already raised an army and marched it a long way, maybe you want to get your money’s worth and have it fight (not to mention the wages you don’t have to pay dead soldiers) — it’s really unnecessary to kill civilians and destroy cities while you’re at it. In somewhat similar fashion to what later be dubbed “a quick draw duel” in the Wild West, both armies set a time and a place for the battle in advance. An additional improvement on this scheme is the army’s option to withdraw prior to the battle (or shortly after it began) without the second army pursing and destroying it. This type of battle was part of the chivalry code and practiced during the middle ages. One such battles took time during the first English Civil War in 1642.

I’ll be remiss in my geekiness if I don’t mention in that context the classic Star Trek episode “A Taste of Armageddon“, in which two powers are fighting each other through computer-simulated bombardments in order to avoid the collateral damage to their society and environment.

Nowadays, the term “pitched battle” is used to describe a conflict which its place and time were anticipated.

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Wizard > Dragon

Yes, I know it’s a bit strange opening this blog with an entry about the Ku-Klux-Klan, but I happened to stumble upon the subject when reading about the big mess in Ferguson, Missouri in early August. To recap – a (white) police officer, named Darren Wilson, got into an altercation with Micheal Brown, an unarmed 18-year old. This altercation ended with at least six bullets in Brown’s corpse – 4 in the body and 2 in the head. Following the shooting there was an outcry of the local population, sometimes violent, that lasted for more than 2 weeks. These events were covered by practically every media outlet in the US and overseas.

As of now this story has not ended, but somewhere along the way, among those who supported Darren Wilson, was one Charles “Chuck” Murrey, that tried to raise money for Wilson’s legal defense. The interesting thing about Murrey was the title that he carried — An Imperial Wizard for the Ku Klux Klan

 Wikipedia tells me that the KKK went through 3 phases, none of them good: the first was between 1865-1874 during the reconstruction era in the south following the Civil War. The second phase was between 1915-1944 and introduced such innovations like a burning cross. During its peak in the phase, the clan had about 6 million members, but facing criminal activities of its leaders and external opposition, this number dropped to about 30,000. The third phase was between 50s and the 60s, and between the 70s to the present. Needless to say that all 3 phases were violent, and included the lynching of black Americans, anti-semitism and other terrorist activities.

Note the donkey. KKK members were often Democrats

 When I started reading, the first thing that caught my eye was the origin of the name. Wikipedia says that it’s probably derived from the Greek Kuklos, meaning “circle”. This seems a bit idiosyncratic to me – a Greek word just lying there, but then I got to read a bit about their slang, and titles, and found it hard to keep a straight face.

The entire Klan field of jurisdiction is called an Empire, with the different states called Realms. Each Realm could have up to 3 Dominions, and any number of Provinces (equivalent to a county).

  • The Empire is led by an Imperial Wizard, who has a team of ten Genii. He has an Imperial Exchequer and an Imperial Scribe.
  • The Realm is led by a Grand Dragon and a team of eight Hydras, plus a local (grand) Exchequer and Scribe.
  • The Dominion is led by a Grand Titan and a team of six Furies, plus the local Exchequer and Scribe.
  • The  Province is led by a Grand Giant and a team of four Goblins, plus the local Exchequer and Scribe.

So a short recap: Wizard > Dragon > Titan > Giant.

It’s not over.

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