Saturday, 31 May 2014

Men of Yore: Jacques Piccard

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

Jacques Piccard, 1960 (aged 38)

Jacques Piccard was a Swiss oceanographer and engineer. He was born on July 28, 1922 in Brussels, Belgium. His father, Auguste Piccard, was an adventurer who had set two records for reaching the highest altitude in a balloon in 1931 and 1932. Jacques attended school at a private school called École Nouvelle de Suisse Romande in Lausanne, Switzerland. He graduated in 1943 and went to college at the University of Geneva, where he studied physics and economics. He took a year off in 1944 to serve with the French First Army. In 1946 he received his licentiate degree and in 1946 and began teaching. His father was using the buoyancy technique from balloons to develop a deep-sea submersible vehicle known as a bathyscaphe. Jacques worked with his father to improve the bathyscaphe design and prove its potential for deep water dives. They built three bathyscaphes between 1948 and 1955. In 1953 they tested a new vehicle called the Trieste and reached a depth 10,168 feet (3,099 meters) in the Mediterranean near Capri off the coast of Italy. With the successes of the bathyscaphe, Jacques gave up teaching to continue working with his father on improving the vehicle and demonstrating its uses for exploration and research.
In 1956 Jacques Piccard went to the United States to seek funding for further research. At the time, the U.S. Navy was working on submarine designs for underwater research. Piccard demonstrated the capabilities of the bathyscaphe to the Navy. They were impressed with the design and saw its potential for underwater salvage and rescue missions. They purchased the Trieste and hired Piccard as a consultant. At this time the Trieste was capable of reaching depths of up to 24,000 feet (7,315 meters). But Piccard was planning a much more daring dive which would be a literal voyage to the bottom of the sea. On January 23, 1960 Jacques Piccard and Lt. Don Walsh took the Trieste to the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. Their goal was the Challenger Deep, the deepest known place in the world. They descended for nearly five hours and reached a depth of 10,911 feet (35,797 meters). At this incredible depth, they observed fish and shrimp. This discovery shocked the scientific community because scientists were convinced that no life could survive the intense pressure this deep in the ocean. After a 20-minute stay, the Trieste dumped its ballast. The journey back to the surface took a little over three hours. The historic dive captured the imagination of the world. Piccard wrote about the adventure in Seven Miles Down with the help of Robert Dietz, a geologist who had helped to plan the mission. The dive was a success for bragging rights, but had little scientific impact since it was incapable of taking samples or taking photographs. The Trieste was retired in 1961.
After the success of the Challenger Deep mission, Piccard and his father designed a new submersible called a mesoscaphe. The first vehicle to be built was called the Auguste Piccard and was the world's first passenger submarine. It transported more than 33,000 tourists beneath Lake Geneva during the Swiss Exhibition of 1964. A later model called the Ben Franklin was used for scientific research. On July 14, 1969 the Ben Franklin was towed to the center of the Gulf Stream off the coast of Palm Beach Florida. A six-member crew led by Jacques Piccard spent more than four weeks in the vessel studying the currents for the U.S. Navy. They also provided valuable data about long duration travel in confined spaces for the U.S. space program. This data would be useful for the upcoming Apollo and Skylab projects. The crew of the Ben Franklin drifted northeast for 1,444 miles (2,324 km) and surfaced near Nova Scotia. In 1971 Piccard documented the voyage in his book The Sun Beneath the Sea. He spent the next few years as a science consultant for American deep-sea research organizations including Grumman Aircraft. His work with the oceans showed him the dangers posed by human activity. In the 1970s he founded the Foundation for the Study and Protection of Seas and Lakes. In an interview, he stated that the sea can only be saved by dramatic changes in relation to fishing and pollution. He died on November 1, 2008 in La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland. His research and inventions contributed to our understanding of the world's oceans. He loved the sea and believed that "The more people discover the sea, the greater the chance of bringing marine issues into public view and the better off we will all be."

Mars may well be the destination of choice for humankind's future at the moment, the place to colonise and explore, but there is another place much closer to home that has yet to be fully explored and catalogued: the deep seas.  They may offer us much in the way of resources, both food and minerals, that we are unable to generate on the earths surface, as well as a potential location for living quarters, cities even.  If men are able to design and build machines that can transport us to the deep oceans, shape the ocean beds according to our own will, and enable us to thrive there, then we may be able to boost the carrying capacity of the planet to accommodate even more people.  Though before we can achieve any of that men must explore the deep seas and learn more about them.  And that requires pioneering men to go out into them, explore the unknown.  Men like Jacques Piccard, who may well end up being remembered in the same vain as other great intrepid explorers like Christopher Columbus, or Armstrong and Aldrin.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Havamal Snippets 143: Odin's opinion on Gods, Elves, Dwarves and Giants

This verse seems to be just a list of four of the different races of the Norse Mythology and their ruler.  I'm not sure what to make of it so I'll post the thoughts of the man who runs THIS website again.  (I don't like constantly deferring to others, but as needs must):

You remember that the adjective óðr meansfuriousand that the substantive óðr meansintelligence’. In our civilization, we tend to confusefuriousandangry’. The feelings are certainly similar but anger blinds you while fury enlightens you; for example it will help you to see a truth that someone tries to hide. Poetry and runes are practiced with creative fury, if not they remain style exercises. We can thus carve the runes in an inspired fury, a mystical fury, and even a desperate fury. We then involve our body, our heart and our spirit into the task to be achieved. The other uses of the runes, the games inspired by the runes are at best ineffective.

The word dáinn means eitherimpotentorfilled with wonder, ecstatic’. By giving this name to the first elf carver of runes, Ódhinn shows that he somewhat despises elf magic. For a god of action as Ódhinn, an impotent person (we speak here only of the incapacity to act) is a lower being since he/she is lítt megandi as explained in the comment of stanza 141. The added meaning of being ecstatic as well shows that Ódhinn has little respect for ecstatic people because they are unable to act, and they vaticinate without taking their problems in hand.

The word dvalinn means 'who waddles' or 'who is unable to decide when to act'. Dwarf magic does not interest Ódhinn much more than the one of the elves.

As opposed to this contempt, the name of the giant magician is more intriguing. The word ásviðr (ás-viðr which is read áss-viðr) means “one of the Æsir-tree.” Ódhinn thus exposes his respect for giantsmagic, which carries no surprise, as stanza 140 taught us. This stanza, even in its most prosaic and rational version possible, explicitly states that Ódhinn inherited nine magic songs coming from his maternal uncle. If we recall stanza 138, we understand that this ásviðr strongly evokes Yggdrasill which is “the tree of the gods Æsir,” to which Ódhinn has been hung. Moreover, as an initiator of giantsrunic magic, Ásviðr name qualifies to be his uncle’s one.

In an even more significant way, it shows that runic magic is related to a worship of the tree of world, something left implicit in 138.

Óðinn með ásum
en fyr álfum Dáinn
ok Dvalinn dvergum fyrir
Ásviðr jötnum fyrir
ek reist sjálfr sumar            
Othinn among the gods,
Dainn for the elves
and Dvalinn for the dwarves,
Asvithr for the giants
-- I myself carved some.


Monday, 26 May 2014

Short Story: The Empire

[Foreword: This story is about a day in the life of a soldier who lives inside a dehumanizing social hierarchy.  Hierarchies and organisations and herds in general have a strong tendency to cause men to look at other men not as men but as dehumanised 'things': a man who works for the army becomes a soldier (thus an enemy who can be shot at without having to feel remorse); a man who works for a political party becomes a republican (thus an enemy who can be insulted without having to feel remorse); a man who believes a different religion becomes a heathen (thus an enemy who can be despised without having to feel remorse).

Men are supposed to recognise other men as having parity with themselves despite the obvious differences that they have (e.g. some have high IQ, but others have low IQ; some are physically fit while others are not).  Fundamentally we are the same; like 0 and 1 in binary, both are valued even though they are different.  Hierarchies and organisations and other herds that deny this fundamental truth will always cause men to maltreat other men.

I decided to post this entry after reading THIS post about how dehumanized soldiers treat other people - '...machine-gun[ning] children from helicopters.'

Oh, and finally the story is loosely based on the Frontier: Elite computer game, but you don't need to know the details of the game to understand the story.]

The Empire
by Gruff Jones

Year: 3219 AD
Location: Fortress Cambridge, Capitol, the Achenar System.

     'Damned fool.' thought Gruff Jones. 'Why don't neophytes ever learn to keep their mouths shut? He's gonna cop it now.'
       A stocky red faced sergeant stared at the new conscript with eyes that would make the devil cow frightfully.

     "You pathetic piece of shit." He said with quiet foreboding.
       The sergeant moved his face within inches of the recruit
       "YOU ARE A PATHETIC PIECE OF FUCKING SHIT!" he raged into the conscripts face.
       The conscript, Noob, flinched and then began to tremble. He was totally unfamiliar with this kind of behaviour: raging, violent, punitive. He'd made a stupid jape about the Sergeant having a face like a raspberry, 'no biggy' he thought, but was totally unprepared for the repercussions.
       The Sergeant continued looking at the conscript with eyes blazing as he spoke to one of the Corporals stood behind him. "Corporal Jerome get this fuckwit out of my sight, and when he comes back I want him to know the meaning of insubordination."
       A big bulky man grinned and flexed his Corporals Stick (a foot long, half inch diameter, wooden stick used for meeting out punishment), grabbed Noob by his left arm before half-dragging him out into the corridor.
       He closed the door to the living quarters behind him.
       'Stupid beggar should've kept his mouth shut.' Gruff thought to himself.
       The Sergeant surveyed the rest of Third platoon before announcing the orders. "The rest of you filthy maggots get cracking. I want you dressed in your parade uniforms within fifteen minutes."

       It's how the Empire functioned: not being obsequious to your superior was met with vindictiveness; insubordination is met with corporal punishment; mutiny and rebellion is met with a swift death; treason and treachery is met with prolonged torture and then death; but not being part of the Empire met with any of the above. It was a shit deal: 'Give you soul to the Empire or we kill you'.
Unless you had experienced the Empire first hand, you probably wouldn't believe that it really was that simple.

       So what was the Imperial way of life? Many things: hierarchy; fawning behaviour to your superiors while taking their commonly sadistic abuse, after which you meet out your pent up frustration on your subordinates; grovelling to catch any crumbs that are thrown with disdain from the top dogs; fighting of those around you and your inferiors just to get a bloodied hand on the next rung of the ladder. And what did you get in return for this, once you'd connived your way up the ladder? What was your big prize? To be forever paranoid that someone would take your new rank away from you. To have nothing but distrust of each and everyone, even your own kin. Josef Stalin level of paranoia, just for you. After which you kill tens, hundreds, thousands, millions just to stay atop of the ladder and hold onto whatever wealth and status you can.
       Some historians have said that after William 'the bastard' Conqueror of England had finally died, he wasn't surrounded by loving family, or loyal friends who gave him a respectful funeral. Instead, his bloated (for he was gluttonous) corpse was left to rot, unattended, in the basement of some provincial chapel. His barons (cronies), who he had used to conquer England, and they he to claim their own booty, left him to fester in the chapel, whilst they fled back to England, to their own castles, in anticipation of the infighting that was about to emerge. As the saying goes: there's no honour among thieves. The man who had conquered an island by brute force, and then killed thousands by merciless brute force just to maintain his power, was left like a common beggar, a common thief; unwanted and unloved. Supposedly even his clothes and boots had been taken off of his corpse. Such is the type of respect that Imperial types have for their 'fellow man' in the
Imperial hierarchy once they have served their purpose.
       Self advancement is the core principle of the Imperial Way. This principle is put into practise by means of ruthless avariciousness of all that is valued, and the destruction of all those who oppose or threaten you.

       'God, how I hate the fucking Empire.'

       Five minutes later Noob was returned to the room, bruised hands, black eye, shoulders curled in, head stooped down. He probably wanted everything to go away, disappear, and for the ground to open up and swallow him whole. The Corporal followed after him, grinning like an ape, buzzing on his power high.

       Parade ground uniforms were a bitch to get dressed into. Starched tunic collar that chafed your neck until it started to bleed, brass buttons that lost their patten with the more polish you used, woollen trousers that were seemingly designed to snag and bobble just to get you in trouble, boots that.. well boots are the same everywhere, never enough shine no matter how much spit 'n' polish you use. If you somehow damaged any of it then you would have to pay for it, out of your own pocket. Which, due to the poor quality wardrobes, was almost guaranteed to happen. And soldiers paying for their own kit wasn't just excluded to parade ground uniforms. Oh no. The Empire managed to fleece the soldiers out of most of their pay just to keep their equipment functioning.
       It was an open secret that a soldiers had to spend his own pay to maintain his own gear. This was a great way for the army to keep costs down. It meant that soldiers practically paid for themselves. Ammo, clothing, even unlisted foodstuffs (the only listed foodstuffs were soyalga bars, nutritious, but as much flavour as a soggy bootlace) you had to pay for. The only way a soldier could make more than a pittance was through combat pay, booty and plunder.
       The upper echelons of the army had devised the system intentionally, as a means of encouraging warfare. Without a decent peacetime salary, and the only means of boosting it by going to war, it meant that the rankers were continually begging their superiors to go to war, be it through combat pay or stolen plunder. Furthermore, it meant the army Generals always had subordinates, troops, eager to fight a new enemy, and the Empire always had subordinates, an army, eager to fight for them, eager to please. It was the Imperial hierarchy in action: always have your subordinates desperately eager to please you, to satisfy your demands.

       "Come on you miserable maggots! What the fuck are you playing at?! You, Noob, what the fuck are you playing at? Get a fucking move on! This isnt a fucking fashion show boy! Oh you want to talk back do you? Well why didn't you say so then. GET THE FUCK OVER HERE! RIGHT FUCKING NOW!"
       Noob, with one leg in his trousers shuffled over to the sergeant and saluted him.
    The sergeant struck Noob round the back of his legs with his sergeants staff. Noob yelped out in pain and fell to his knees.
       "What the fuck are you doing boy? WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?! Who the fuck told you to get on your knees? I SAID WHO THE FUCK TOLD YOU TO GET ON YOUR KNEES! This isn't Bethnal fucking Green you fag piece of shit. Get the fuck out of my sight. I SAID GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY SIGHT!"
       Whilst Noob was frantically trying to get out of the sergeants space, he gave Noob a hard kick in the arse. The private crawled away back to his bunk on his hands and knees back to his bunk not knowing what to think or do.

       'Damn fool thing to do: Speaking back to a superior, twice in one afternoon. He wont last three weeks if he carries on like that.'

       The sergeant left the room leaving two corporals by the doorway to supervise the men. Each with their own corporals stick, ready to pounce on any poor sod who looked at them wrong, or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sadistic fuckers the corporals. They were always picking on the weakest men in the platoon just to get their rocks off. Most corporals were the same in all units. Dumb thugs who kept the grunts in line, making them follow whatever madcap orders were handed down by the Dukes, Barons or whoever was in charge. They had no brains, just muscle and a ton of seething hatred. They had zero chance of promotion, and they knew it. That's what made them hate even more, seeing guys half their age with no combat experience hand orders down to them and treat them like num-skulls (which they were; but really, who likes to be reminded of his inabilities).
       "CORPORAL JEROME!" The sergeant bellowed out from his office down the corridor. One of the corporals by the door cursed heavily before leaving the room. After Jerome left the room, the other Corporal smirked slightly, evidently taking delight at the thought of his colleague getting a earful from the Sarge.
       A corporal being summoned into the Sergeants office, not a good sign. It could mean only one thing for the Corporal: a bollocking by the Sergeant for some misdemeanour, either real or imagined. Which, in sequence meant even more misery for the privates in the squad. That's because shit only travels down the hierarchy in the Empire. Never up.

       This was another aspect of the hierarchy. As well as shitting on your subordinates just to keep them down, and thus no threat to you, bad moods would also percolate down the ladder. If your superior officer got out of the wrong side of bed and was in a foul mood, then he'd let his frustrations out on those below him. Who, in turn, would pass it onto their subordinates. And so on, and so on. It wouldn't surprise me if there was a direct correlation between the Emperor having a 'bad day' and every poor sodding ranker in the army getting a double dose of shit from his corporal. Shit travels down the hierarchy in the Empire, be it intentionally spiteful or unwittingly malevolent.
       It could go something like this: A Lieutenant would cop an earful from his superior, a Captain, because the Captain was in a bad mood after he made a fool of himself at a social gathering, because he drank too much Madeira wine. The Lieutenant would then vent his anger onto the Sergeant, who was apparently a 'fecklessly dressed slob'; then the Sergeant to the Corporal, the latter being accused of 'being a waste of fucking space'; then the Corporal to the private, who would just beat the latter up for no reason whatsoever. 'Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you' was a wholly alien concept in the Empire. As was the part about 'loving thy neighbour as thyself'.

       As shit always travelled down the hierarchy, it meant that an unhappy Corporal Jerome would find some unfortunate grunt to take his anger out on. It was either that or the Corporal had to admit to himself that he was at the bottom of the ladder. At least by giving a grunt a good kicking in, he knew there was someone beneath him. That way he wouldn't have to admit that he was worthless; the bottom of the ladder, the bottom of the pile, the last one to be picked for the team, the kid at the prom with no date, the guy not invited to the office Christmas party etc etc.
       Jerome stormed back into the changing room with a face of thunder, wringing his Corporals stick. He was pissed. That meant he'd got it in the neck from the Sarge. He looked around for something, or someone, to take his rage out. His venomous eyes scoured the room and finally fell on poor ol' Noob, who was still struggling to get his tunic on. He paced quickly over to Noob and gave the guy a thwack round the back of his head with his stick. No explanation. No pseudo justification. Just a hard thwack.

       This was what the Corporal's temperament was like. Even the Sergeant made some effort to give false justification to his rage. He'd hit you because your weapon wasn't cleaned properly; he'd beat you because your bedsheets weren't perfectly straight; he'd beat you because your left foot was two millimetres longer than your right. Any excuse, no matter how pathetic it was, was considered viable. Nothing more than a malevolent intention hidden behind specious casus belli. Something that Kings and Generals have been doing for millenia.
       The further up the hierarchy, the ladder, you went the more developed and varied the practise became. That is to say, the specious reasons given, the lies, for a given course of action became more and more elaborate. For example if someone proposed to invade a planet, then the reason given may be: for the glory of the Empire; for the honour of the Empire; to spread wealth and prosperity; to overthrow the shackles of democracy; for the betterment of the people we're about to rule over etc. Any reason was acceptable. The only requirement was that it had to be related to some commonly valued belief, or principle e.g. the glory of the Empire. With this flimsy excuse you could suggest or justify any given course of action.
       Thus it was logical that the further up the ladder, the more elaborate your lies became, so to then, the closer to the bottom of the ladder you got, the more base the lies; until finally, at the bottom of the Imperial ladder, you met someone who just shat on you without any attempt to justify it, either to you or to himself. He'd just beat you for the hell of it, because he was in a bad mood. This was the most simple form of the Imperial practise, dominion, and the clearest for all to see.

       The beating continued.
       After a moment Jerome gave up using his corporals stick and just kneed his victim in the stomach, sending
him to the ground.
       Noob let out a pathetic, heart wrenching yelp as he was repeatedly kicked in the stomach. No one tried to help him. Not one of his 'comrades' lifted a finger. They just waited where they were, hoping not to draw any attention to themselves. They all knew what would happen if they tried to intervene: the vengeance would be poured out upon them. And none of them wanted to feel the wrath of the Corporal. It was like getting between a Jazar beast and its prey: the beast would pour its wrath out on you for denying it its quarry. And the wrath would not cease, it would continue for weeks, possibly months, until the Corporal felt that his status had been fully emphasised to the reprobate who dared to challenge him. Imperial types cant stand having their status publicly threatened or infringed upon. It would undermine their status relative to the rest of the pack, the hierarchy. Its a something that just wouldn't, couldn't, be tolerated.
    The kicking continued for another minute until Noob was unconscious and the Corporal had had his fill. Jerome turned around and looked around for a moment, with a slightly confused look on his face, like he'd forgotten what he was doing. Then strode back to the doorway and began picking some food out of his teeth with one of his fingernails, oblivious to the violence he'd just committed.
     A few more minutes passed and then the Sergeant walked back into the room. Everyone stood at the ends of their beds in uniform and ready for parade.
     "Corporal Jerome! Get everyone out onto the parade ground at the double."
Everyone filed into line in the middle of the living quarters, and proceeded to march out of the door.

       We never found out what happened to Noob. Officially, he is serving at his majesties pleasure for 'dereliction of duty' - in his case, failing to turn up on parade. Unofficially, he is probably either dead (possibly from his injuries, or poor quality medical care), or in prison, which is as good as a death sentence for soldiers. Just think about it, military prisons are full of ten times as many bloodthirsty psychopaths as civilian prisons. Why is that? Well, consider where the convicts come from: a population of men who have been thoroughly dehumanised and inculcated with a passion for killing and malevolence of the pathological variety. Anyone who goes into one of those places needs to be tough as nails to survive. And Noob was never quite that tough.
       Then again, his life wouldn't have been much better had he stayed in the platoon: daily beatings, verbal and mental abuse in the changing rooms and on the training ground for six months, until he completed his training; followed by a painful death on the battlefield of some far flung planet, fighting against people who, for whatever reason, don't want to be part of the 'glorious' Empire. Finally, posthumously, there would be a letter to his folks back home, telling them how their only son had died bravely fighting for the honour and majesty of the Imperial army.
       And what would become of his so called comrades in third platoon? Following this parade we'd probably do a 'tour of duty' out on the frontier of the Empire. How do I know this? Well, no-one in command had told us what's going to happen to us, but parades are usually a prelude to war, or combat of some sort. A chance for the Majors to throw a soiree and impress the Generals with their shiny, well ordered rankers, hoping to win their commissions. All of which is just a means for the Majors to impress their superiors by their eagerness, and elevate themselves relative to the other people in their social class: Another medal on their chest, another horde of silver plates to show to the neighbours, another battle wound which to talk about during evening soirees.
       But then what of me, ex provincial shepherd, Private Gruff Jones? Maybe this war provide me with an opportunity to go AWOL, to desert, to get away from the army, from the Imperial life. Maybe if I lived long enough, I could make it to a starport, stow away on a big freighter and hyperspace far far away from the Empire. Perhaps even to a Federation system. I've heard life is good in Federation systems: social welfare guarantees everyone right to work, home and food; there are no threats of being enslaved hanging over your head; nor any chance of being executed for treasonable offences just because the Emperor is pissed at one of your countrymen for, whatever reason, and thus, by association, you and your kin. That would be a tolerable life, a bearable life. Possibly even a pleasant life. At least it would be a life not spent living in a system dominated by both obsequiousness and oppressiveness, both cowardice and bullying, both faux geniality and paranoia. Living such a life, this life, under a constant all pervading tyranny, is living a life that is hostile to the soul. And that kind of life is no life at all.


Friday, 23 May 2014

Men of Yore: Paracelsus

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 


The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus was one of the most influential medical scientists in early modern Europe.

His real name was Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim and he was the son of a doctor. After a brief period as a medical student in Italy, he travelled all over Europe and beyond as a military surgeon with the Venetian army, visiting Russia, Arabia and Egypt along the way. Mixing with people from many cultures, he gained considerable knowledge of several folk medicine traditions. ‘I have not been ashamed’, he wrote, ‘to learn from tramps, butchers and barbers.’ These influences led him to reject much of university-taught medicine.

He changed his name to Paracelsus (‘equal to Celsus’) to indicate that he wanted to rival ancient medical authorities such as Galen and Celsus. He rejected Galen’s claim that health and disease were controlled by the four humours and told doctors to study nature and develop personal experience through experiment. On the other hand, he continued to subscribe to all kinds of folk beliefs such as gnomes, spirits and fairies.

Paracelsus also had some training in alchemy, from which he picked up the principle that metals were the key elements which made up the universe, and that they were subject to control by God, the ‘great magician’ who created nature.

Paracelsus argued that the body was a chemical system which had to be balanced not only internally, but which also had to be in harmony with its environment. On the basis of this idea, Paracelsus introduced new chemical substances into medicine, for instance the use of the metal mercury for the treatment of syphilis.

In 1526 he was appointed Professor of Medicine at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Paracelsus overthrew convention by publicly burning the books of Ibn Sina and Galen. He also invited ordinary citizens to his lectures, which he gave wearing an alchemist’s leather apron rather than an academic gown. His new methods were very controversial, and in 1538 he was exiled from Basel. He died in 1541 in Austria.

Paracelsus' defining characteristic is that he valued experimentation above unquestioned tradition.  He didn't believe that that cultural norms of the medical community were beyond raproach, regardless of who established those norms or how long they had been around.  Indeed he didn't hold the medical establishment as a whole in particularly high regard as is evidenced by him burning books in public.  Nor did he think much of the medical colleges or the people who inhabited them:
He wrote later that he wondered how “the high colleges managed to produce so many high asses,” a typical Paracelsian jibe.
The cynics among you might think "Colleges produced asses in the medieval period?  How little things have changed!"  Whatever you may think, for me personally reading Paracelus' comments cause me to look at modern-day doctors (or any other 'experts' for that matter) and take them down from the alter where I considered them beyond raproach.  Then look at them more closely, scrutinise them, doubt them, and on the whole begin to see them as fallible people rather than infallible supermen.  People who make mistakes.  People who are prone to ego-ism.  People who are prone to value their opinion above that of the 'uneducated commoner'.  People who don't want to admit that they are sometimes wrong.  A kind of levelling if you like.  Seeing experts as humans rather than as supermen, that's what men like Paracelsus and Thomas Wakley have made me learn.

Another interesting characteristic about Paracelsus is that he wandered widely.  He travelled all over Europe learning a great deal from everywhere that he visited and everyone whom he met.  He learnt from the rich and the poor, the esteemed and the down-trodden.  He learnt from people who had hands on experience with the human body rather than self-professed experts who studied books instead of studying the people that they were supposed to be treating.  That shows a personal willingness to try out new things, to experiment, not to walk down the same beaten path.  This point, that being well travelled causes men to become more knowledgeable of the world, is summed up well in the Havamal in verse and 18:
Verse 18
The one who is mindful and aware,
who far away travels,
and ‘liftsmuch for travelling,
what state of mind
leads such one of the men
who is aware of mindfulness.
Whatever your level of education or knowledge of the medical world, you should always remember that doctors and surgeons and all medical professionals are fallible human beings.  They may be able to bamboozle you with fancy sounding phrases, name disesases in latin, know all sorts of drugs and technologies, and have a well educated appearance, but at the end of the day they are human and can still make mistakes.  Big ones.  Science is a open to change; Paracelsus showed us that hundreds of years ago, and Thomas Wakley did again two hundred years ago.  Doctors, scientists, and other experts are not above you.  They are not superior to you.  They are only helpers or guides.  Value yourself first, and then put others on that same level as you.  That way you won't fall for the mistake of over-valuing fallible human beings at the expense of yourself or the truth.


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Havamal Snippets 142: The runes

Alas, this is another stanza that I can't get my head fully around, so I'll leave the explantion of it to the man who runs THIS website:

This stanza requires three types of explanations: 1.A commentary of some nontraditional qualifiers of the runes, 2. Which features characterize the runes since their creation?   3. An analysis of the role of the three rune creators.

1. How to qualify the runes.

First of all, the second line says that the runes are ráðna, i.e.interpreted, understoodwhat is no more the case nowadays. This implies that the properties of the runes in the following lines and stanzas relate to correctly interpreted and understood runes. When we note the mass of the works where a version of the meaning of each rune is stated (and not discussed, explained… interpreted), we see that this first Ódhinn’s remark, though implicit, is hardly respected.

The third line says that they are stóra, an adjective which carries the meaning of power associated to some ruthlessness. It never should be forgotten that the runes quickly become ruthless. They do not yield to the criteria of compassion andpurelove that our civilization romanticizes.

The fourth line says they are stinna i.e. strong and rigid. The notions of power and strength of the runes crossed the centuries as archetypes while the brutal and stiff runes were slowly forgotten. The last ones were revived by the Nazis who, on the contrary, forgot their power and their strength, which can act with softness. It should be forgotten, no more than their brutality and stiffness. By their ‘stiffness’, I understand that Ódhinn says that they have a clear meaning and that we should not try totwistit to our whims. Our understanding must yield and adapt in front of the stiff strength carried by the runes.

2. On the creation of the runes

The runes were painted/got, made/set up and scratched/hacked.

- the last couple of qualifiers is easy to understand. The “Hroptr of the powers” etches them on wood and needs more strength to put them on metal or stone.

- the couple made/set up clearly states that they were designed/shaped by the ginnregin i.e.the supreme powers’. These supreme powers might be Nature, as seen by dedicated atheists, or their God for the fundamentalists, or the big-bang, for the mystics of astrophysics. In all cases, the majesty of the design of the runes remains practically the same. As the place where the roots of Yggdrasill take their support (stanza 138), the runes belong to the unfathomable mechanisms of the creation of the universe and we cannot say much of their origin… can any shaman visit their birthplace? I doubt it.

- Lastly, how this “wise storyteller” could paint/get them? We have to paint them, color the runes, possibly with the red of our blood, with the aim toactivatethem, as we would say now. We thusgetliving runes that are ready to be used.

3. On the creators of the runes

First of all, the commentators tend to see the same character hidden behind these three names, i.e. Ódhinn. This means that Ódhinn, who is already overloaded with nicknames describing his many functions, should also carry being a fimbulþulr and the ginnregin (a plural noun). As for the ginnregin, anyway, this is opposed to our mythology that describes Ódhinn like born after the formation of the universe, as he says himself in stanza 140. It thus appears much more reasonable to me to acknowledge that the creators of the runes are three different divine entities.

- the fimbulþulr, that is the immense-wise storyteller, is the one who perpetuates the traditions, who transmits knowledge. He collected the knowledge of how activating the runes, and he seems to have received it at the origin of the runes.

- the ginnregin must be the forces that built the runes. They conceived the structure of Futhark, that is the fact that the 24 runes are structured into three ættir (families) and provided in a given ordering. The ginnregin look like the architects who conceived the structure of thehousethey built.

- Hroptr of the powers seems to be indeed Ódhinn owing to the fact that the name Hroptr is often allotted to him. However … as a power reigning over the rögn? Moreover why Ódhinn would need to collect the runes at the Yggdrasill’s foot if he were one of their three creators? Ódhinn is called Hroptatýr, which qualifies it well as an Æsir’s leader but not as one ofthe powers’. Once again, as in the case of the final destiny of Burr and Bestla, without inventing a romantic story, I must call upon the concept of a “lost myth” in order to understand how Ódhinn can be called aherald of the unsaid truths’ according to the translation I propose for Hroptr (or, rather Hróptr). We know practically nothing of the Ódhinn who left Frigg and whose place has been temporarily taken, at Frigg’s side, by Vili and Vé. Ódhinn’s character, such as we know it by later texts, suggests an intelligent god who does not sputter his words. His blood brother, Loki [again, an unknown myth: the one in which took place the ceremony which hallowed their fraternity] plays exactly the same role of a hidden truth discloser (not the one of crier). This role, now degraded in the one of the ragna (king’s) fool, might have been played by Ódhinn with dignity. I thus feel it quite possible that the conjunction of Loki’s crafty and fragile intelligence and Ódhinn’s sincere and powerful one might have led them to tell to the gods unpleasant truths. As an example, think of them explain to the other gods the Norns’ power as a limit to their freedom. Here is the scheme of a possible explanation the meaning I give to this ‘slanderer’ (a meaning carried by the verb hrópa) who dares to put the gods in front of their weaknesses.

As a conclusion, we can as notice that the above three characters cannot integrate Dumézil’s trilogy of the sovereign gods. That drives us to think that the present trilogy corresponds to beliefs older than the Indo-European civilization. The runes could well have not reached their status of written signs before, say, the second century, while they convey a much older knowledge.

Rúnar munt þú finna
ok ráðna stafi
mjök stóra stafi
mjök stinna stafi
er fáði fimbulþulr
ok gørðu ginnregin
ok reist Hroptr rögna          
You can find runes
and meaning staves,
very mighty staves,
very strong staves,
which a mighty sage coloured
and mighty powers made,
and Hroptr of the gods carved.


Monday, 19 May 2014

The Creativity of Man

As the saying goes 'judge a tree by the fruit it bears' and one of the largest fruits that man bears is his ability to innovate.  We need to simply look around at the most mundane and common materials and see what wondrous variety of goods man can turn them in to.

Man can make 1,001 goods from bamboo
Man can make 1,001 goods from common grass (wheat/straw)
Man can make 1,001 goods from common sedimentary rock (clay)

All of these creations and more are the result of the average man, not a cartoon-like super-hero but an ordinary John Doe, finding his creative spring deep inside of himself, and letting it flow out on to the world.  Letting his creative juices flow out and fertilise the world, & fertilise the minds of other men in the process.

Fertility of the mind comes from within, not from without.  It comes from inside the man, rather than from provocation by others.  Putting a man into an institution of learning will make him more learned, more informed, but it won't make him any more creative.  If anything it could well do the opposite and actually dull his creative juices.  He will be able to write essays full of thoughts and recite impressive facts, but these will be thoughts that were first thought by another man, and facts first determined by another man.  He won't have created anything at all.  The fact that universities and colleges do not produce creative thinkers is not a new one, indeed Paracelsus noted this way back in the 16th century:
[Paracelsus] wrote later that he wondered how “the high colleges managed to produce so many high asses,” a typical Paracelsian jibe.
As did Schopenhauer again in the 19th century:
And so the simple man of learning, in the strict sense of the word—the ordinary professor, for instance—looks upon the genius much as we look upon a hare, which is good to eat after it has been killed and dressed up. So long as it is alive, it is only good to shoot at.
So what should a man do if he wants to find his own creative spring and let it flow?  Well one way is by looking at other creative men and see what kind of lives they led.  If we look at the lives of such men then we see that they they experimented in a gentle, almost playful, manner, as much as they studied about the world.  One needs to have both parts: creative fire and knowledge of the world (a mental library) through which the creative ideas can express themselves in the mind of the man.  Frank Whittle for instance (the inventor of the jet engine) found that the environment of a model aircraft society was more conducive to his creative forces than the stifling confines of a classroom.  That's right, the inventor of the jet engine enjoyed playing with toy planes!  Benjamin Franklin played with a common kids toy, a kite, which led to him making advances in the knowledge of electricity.  A kite!  Alastair Pilkington (who revolutionised glass production) got his idea while doing the washing-up!  He wasn't stuck away in some hi-tech lab somewhere surrounded by men in white coats frowning their brows at clipboards with charts on them.  The common themes amongst the discoveries are:
  • They enjoyed what they were doing (rather than feeling antipathy towards what they were doing).
  • They were light-hearted and receptive to new ideas (rather than stressed out over over-focused).
  • They were willing to go with the ideas, be carried along by them (rather than dismiss them, belittle them or otherwise think less of them).
  • They were in comfortable surroundings.
  • Their senses weren't overloaded with external stimuli.
That's the way creation is done: Man as a channel, a relaxed pipe through which the creative juices flow.


Friday, 16 May 2014

Men of Yore: Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 
Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir

Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir also known as Jean J. Lenoir (12 January 1822 – 4 August 1900) was a Belgian engineer who developed the internal combustion engine in 1858. Prior designs for such engines were patented as early as 1807, but none were commercially successful. Lenoir's engine was commercialized in sufficient quantities to be considered a success, a first for the internal combustion engine.

He was born in Mussy-la-Ville (then in Luxembourg, part of the Belgian Province of Luxembourg since 1839). By the early 1850s he had emigrated to France, taking up residence in Paris, where he developed an interest in electroplating. His interest in the subject led him to make electrical inventions including an improved electric telegraph.

By 1859 , Lenoir's experimentation without electricity led him to develop the first single-cylinder two-stroke engine which burnt a mixture of coal gas and air ignited by a "jumping sparks" ignition system by Ruhmkorff coil,[1] and which he patented in 1860. The engine differed from more modern two-stroke engines in that the charge was not compressed before ignition (a system invented in 1801 by Lebon D'Humberstein, which was quiet but inefficient),[2] with a power stroke at each end of the cylinder.[3] In 1863 the Hippomobile with a hydrogen gas fuelled one cylinder internal combustion engine made a test drive from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont: top speed about 9 km in ~3 hours.[4]
Lenoir was an engineer at petiene et Cie, who formed companies (Société des Moteurs Lenoir+ more) in Paris in 1859,[2] with a capitalization of two million francs and a factory in the Rue de la Roquette,[2] to develop the engine, and a three-wheeled carriage constructed using it. Although it ran reasonably well, the engine was fuel inefficient, extremely noisy, tended to overheat and, if sufficient cooling water was not applied, seize up. Nevertheless, Scientific American advised in September 1860 the Parisian newspaper Cosmos had pronounced the steam age over,[5] and by 1865, 143 had been sold in Paris alone, and production by Reading Gas Works for Lenoir Gas Engines in London had begun.[1]

In 1863 Lenoir demonstrated a second three-wheeled carriage, little more than a wagon body set atop a tricycle platform.[2] It was powered by a 2543 cc (155 in3; 180×100 mm, 7.1×3.9in)[1] 1.5 hp "liquid hydrocarbon" (petroleum) engine with a primitive carburettor which was patented in 1886.[6] It successfully covered the 11 km (7 mi) from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont and back in about ninety minutes each way, an average speed less than that of a walking man (though doubtless there were breakdowns).[1] This succeeded in attracting the attention of tsar Alexander II, and one was sent to Russia, where it vanished. (Lenoir himself was not pleased, however; in 1863, he sold his patents to Compagnie Parisienne du Gaz and turned to motorboats, instead, building a naptha-fuelled four-cycle in 1888.)[2][1]

Most applications of the Lenoir engine were as a stationary power plant powering printing presses, water pumps, and machine tools. They "proved to be rough and noisy after prolonged use",[1] however. Other engineers, especially Nikolaus Otto, began making improvements in internal combustion technology which soon rendered the Lenoir design obsolete. Less than 500 Lenoir engines of between 6 and 20 hp were built, including some under license in Germany.[2]

It may be fashionable at present to belittle the internal combustion engine for its polluting ways (the greenies certainly don't hold anything back) but there's no doubt that it has served mankind well over it's 130-odd year lifetime.  I don't think anyone would prefer to have a horse-powered carriage or inefficient steam-powered automotive over one powered by an internal combustion engine.  It has served man and continues to serve man throughout all parts of the economy: from the collection of raw materials (in mining trucks and combine harvesters); to transportation (in railway locomotives and container ships); to processing (in small power stations and grain mills); to the retail process (in cars); and also the service industry (like ambulances).  It really has done a lot to improve the lives of billions of people all over the world.  Just think of all the farming, mining, hauling that have freed people from labour-intensive jobs.   If Lenoir hadn't had designed and built the internal combustion engine then the world would still be using the massively energy inefficient steam engine or horse-power to get their work done.  Men like Lenoir make all of our lives more productive, both directly and indirectly, by creating such empowering, inglorious, and unassuming, contraptions.

Another point to note is that Lenoir could communicate, sell, his inventions to other people.  This is an essential attribute of his character, without which his invention would have remained in some dusty workshop somewhere, helping no-one.  Men have vocal cords and lungs for a reason (besides breathing of course!) and that's to communicate good ideas to other men.  It's no good coming up with the cure of all cures (cancer) if you keep it locked away in a laboratory somewhere.  It's no good coming up with the truths of all truths (enlightenment) if you keep it locked away in a cloistered monastery somewhere.  Truths need to be shared.  No matter how below us we may think broadcasting and advertising may be, they do have the essential ability to communicate ideas to the world (even if the ideas that the TV communicates are indeed dross).  If you come up with a good idea, share it!


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Havamal Snippets 141: Odin grows in knowing after gaining knowledge of the Runes

This verse continues Odin's journey gaining knowledge (in the form of the runes) after hanging on the World Tree, Yggdrasil.  It explains how Odin's wisdom grows from humble beginnings to something bigger, very much like a tree grows from a simple fractal pattern to form a mighty & impressive looking tree.  Trees are used as analogs for other things in the world, be they phylogenetic tree, technology trees (from computer games), family tree of Gods, or other things that develops and grows over time.  If you bind yourself to one of these trees, as Odin did with the 'World Tree' Yggdrasil, then you will become a part of it, at one with it, and then you will know what it knows.  In the same way that Buddha gained knowledge of the world by meditating under the Boddhi Tree, which is symbolic of the Buddha gaining knowledge of the world, much like Odin (although they took different paths to this knowledge, one torrid and the other peaceful).  This is what it means to gain knowledge, it means to be at one with something.

Þá nam ek frævask
ok fróðr vera
ok vaxa ok vel hafask
orð mér af orði
orðs leitaði
verk mér af verki
verks leitaði         
Then I began [2] to be
[1] fruitful [2] and wise,
to grow and to flourish;
speech fetched my speech for speech,
action fetched my action for action.


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Foraged Foods

Foraged or Hedgerow foods might not seem like a topic you'd expect to seen on a blog that usually talks about men's issues in society (political, social, economic etc), but seeing as man is supposed to be a go-getter, an entrepreneur, a survivor, that means that he must have some capacity for self-reliance, and one area of self-reliance that every John Doe can do with little effort is collecting and processing hedgerow foods.  It won't provide you with your kilogram of meat or wheat (~2500 kCals) that you need for your body for the day, but it will provide you with some variety.

Below are the three main stages that you will go through if you intend to go out foraging for foods - scouting, collecting, and processing - and some brief comments on each them:

1. Scouting:
To engage in some foraging then you must first be aware of where you can successfully forage wild foods.  If you walk or cycle around your town and/or the surrounding countryside then you'll almost certainly be more aware of hedgerows and what they contain than if you're driving in a car at 40mph.

Once you've spotted an area of hedgerow that yields one or more wild foods then, just like a supermarket, you can return to that area time after time knowing what to expect.  After that, it's simply a case of adding more locations to your database (either mental or physical), which will happen over time, and thus increasing the quantity and variety of foods that you can forage.

2. Collecting:
Fruits are more often than not soft and nuts are hard, so if you want to collect some fruits to put on top of a sundae or some desert, and appearance is important, then get a firm container that isn't going to distort the shape of your fruits.  But if you're just making jam something where appearance isn't important at all then a plastic carrier bag, or plastic bread bag will suffice (so long as you don't go over the top and pile kilogram after kilogram in the bag, 'cause the fruits will get squashed and lose their all important juice).

Before you start picking you should be aware of whether the plants that your picking from are on public or private property, because you don't want to get arrested for trespassing or theft.  You should also be aware of whether collecting wild food is legal or not in your respective country (or State if you're from the USA) so that you don't get nabbed by the police.  For example THIS MAN was banned from foraging on Southampton Common.  Silly laws are out there so try and be aware of them if you can.

Respecting other peoples property is important, as is respecting the plant that your harvesting.  Pick only as much as you need.  And try to leave some fruit on the plant for other insects, animals and people.  Foraging is about collecting with respect, rather than Kolonial Raubwirtschaft.

3. Processing:
After you've collected you're hedgerow harvest there's then the question of what you're going to do with it:  Eat it raw?  Process it into another product (like jam or wine)?  Perhaps process it again and turn it into another product (like jam tarts or jam roly-poly)?  Read around and see what different recipes are available, and what takes your fancy.  There are plenty of recipes on the Internet and in books both old and new.  If you live near a second hand book shop then it might be worth checking their shelves because there are plenty of old cookery books that were written for housewives and women before the 1960s (when the so-called 'liberation movement' started to take place) and so they contain recipes for hedgerow foods (like rose hips, stinging nettles etc).  An observation that you might make while perusing the recipes is that all of the jam recipes (that I've seen over the years) are based on a simple ratio - 1 weight of fruit to 1 weight of sugar. For instance 500 grams of blackberries requires 500 grams of sugar.  The same ratio can also be applied to most home brew wines.  This is a useful ratio to know because it saves you the bother of learning the same ratio many times in numerous different recipes.

Final Thoughts
One of the bonuses of making homemade food like jam is that they contain a higher fruit content than many, possibly most, of the jams and preserves that supermarkets sell.  If you look at the label on a typical jar of jam then you'll see that it contains somewhere between 25% and 45% fruit (depending on the quality), the rest is sugar.  A jam with more sugar than fruit obviously means it's going to have less flavour than a homemade equivalent.

I haven't gone into any detail about what types of fruits, fungi, nuts, plants, shellfish etc to look out for because the internet has readers from all over the world, and I can't provide data for every country and ecosystem out there.  There are books on foraging that will have data (edible plants, where to find them, what time of year to harvest them etc) relevant to your country (or State if your from a continental country like the USA or Russia) so keep an eye out for them.

Finally, there is a particular website called Nutrition Data, which, as you might gather by the title, contains a veritable cornucopia of nutritional data on foodstuffs, including wild foods such as acorns and blackberries that you might find useful if you take an interest in the nutritional content of what you eat.

Other than that, bon voyage and bon appetit(!)


Friday, 9 May 2014

Men of Yore: John Wilkinson

This is another in a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity. 

John Wilkinson

John "Iron-Mad" Wilkinson (1728–1808) was an English industrialist who pioneered the use and manufacture of cast iron and cast-iron goods in the Industrial Revolution. He was the inventor of a precision boring machine that could bore cast iron cylinders such as those used in steam engines, which bored for James Watt's engines. His boring machine has been called the first machine tool. He also developed a blowing device for blast furnaces that allowed higher furnace temperatures, increasing their capacity.

Early Life
John Wilkinson was born in Little Clifton, Bridgefoot, Cumberland (now part of Cumbria), the eldest son of Isaac Wilkinson and Mary Johnson. Isaac was then the potfounder at the blast furnace there,[1] one of the first to use coke instead of charcoal, which was pioneered by Abraham Darby.
John and his half-brother William, who was 17 years younger, were raised in a non-conformist Presbyterian family and he was educated at a dissenting academy at Kendal, run by Dr Caleb Rotherham.[2] His sister Mary married another non-conformist, Joseph Priestley in 1762. Priestley also played a role in educating John's younger brother, William.
In 1745, when John was 17, he was apprenticed to a Liverpool merchant for five years and then entered into partnership with his father.[2]

His Enterprises
From 1755 John Wilkinson became as a partner in the Bersham concern and in 1757 with partners, he erected a blast furnace at Willey, near Broseley in Shropshire.[3] Later he [built other factories] at New Willey,[..] Broseley, Snedshill, Hollinswood, Hadley, Hampton Loade, [..] Bradley.  He became known as the Father of the extensive South Staffordshire iron industry with Bilston as the start of the Black Country. In 1761, he took over Bersham Ironworks as well. Bradley became his largest and most successful enterprise, and was the site of extensive experiments in getting raw coal to substitute for coke in the production of cast iron. At its peak, it included a number of blast furnaces, a brick works, potteries, glass works, and rolling mills. The Birmingham Canal was subsequently built near the Bradley works.

His Principle Invention:
- Boring machine for steam engines
James Watt had tried unsuccessfully for several years to obtain accurately bored cylinders for his steam engines, and was forced to used hammered iron, which was out of round and caused leakage past the piston. In 1774 John Wilkinson invented a boring machine in which the shaft that held the cutting tool extended through the cylinder and was supported on both ends, unlike the cantilevered borers then in use. With this machine he was able to bore the cylinder for Boulton & Watt's first commercial engine, and was given an exclusive contract for the provision of cylinders.[7] [..]Wilkinson's achievement was a milestone in the gradual development of boring technology, as its fields of application broadened into engines, pumps, and other industrial uses.

Copper Interests
John Wilkinson made his fortune selling good quality goods made of iron and reached his limit of investment expansion. His expertise proved useful when he invested in many copper interests. In 1761 the Royal Navy clad the hull of the frigate HMS Alarm with copper sheet to reduce the growth of marine biofouling and prevent attack by the Teredo shipworm. The drag from the hull growth cut the speed and the shipworm caused severe hull damage, especially in tropical waters. After the success of this work the Navy decreed that all ships should be clad and this created a large demand for copper that Wilkinson noted during his visits to shipyards. He bought shares in eight Cornish copper mines and met Thomas Williams, the 'Copper King' of the Parys Mountain mines in Anglesey. [..]Wilkinson and Williams worked together on several projects. They were amongst the first to issue trade tokens ('Willys' and 'Druids') to alleviate the shortage of small coins. Jointly they set up the Cornish Metal Company in 1785 as a marketing company for copper. Its aim was to ensure both a good return for the Cornish miners and a stable price for the users of copper. Warehouses were set up in Birmingham, London, Bristol and Liverpool.

To help his business interests and to service his trade tokens, Wilkinson bought into partnerships with banks in Birmingham, Bilston, Bradley, Brymbo and Shrewsbury.

Wilkinson had a good reputation as an employer. Wherever new works were established, cottages were built to accommodate employees and their families. He gave significant financial support to his brother-in-law, Dr Joseph Priestley. He became a church warden in Broseley and was later elected High Sheriff of Denbighshire. In schools that had no slates he was able to provide iron troughs to hold sand for the practice of writing and arithmetic. He provided a cast-iron pulpit for the church at Bilston.

Family life, and death
John married Ann Maudsley in 1759. Her family was wealthy and her dowry helped to pay for a share in the New Willey Company. After the death of Ann, his second marriage, when he was 35, was to Mary Lee, whose money helped him to buy out his partners. When he was in his seventies, his mistress Mary Ann Lewis, a maid at his estate in Brymbo Hall, gave birth to his only children, a boy and two girls.
By 1796, when he was 68, he was producing about one-eighth of Britain's cast iron.[9] He became "a titan" – very wealthy, and somewhat eccentric. His "iron madness" reached a peak in the 1790s, when he had almost everything around him made of iron, even several coffins and a massive obelisk to mark his grave, which still stands in the village of Lindale-in-Cartmel in Lancashire (now part of Cumbria). He was appointed Sheriff of Denbighshire for 1799.[10]
He died on 14 July 1808 at his works in Bradley, probably from diabetes. He was originally buried at his Castlehead estate at Lindale.

He left a very large estate in his will (more than £130,000), to which he intended to make his three children the principal heirs, with executors to manage the estate for them. However his nephew Thomas Jones contested the will in the Court of Chancery. By 1828, the estate had largely been dissipated by lawsuits and poor management. His corpse, in its distinctive iron coffin, was moved several times over the next decades, but is now lost.[11]


John Wilkinson is a man who is responsible for the development of both semi-raw materials (high quality iron & steel) and the machine tools that shaped them.  Machine tools, such as metal-working lathes, that are vital to our modern high-tech industrial economy.  Unlike some of the other industrial tools in our high-tech society these machine tools are based on really simple principles that anyone can understand and explore for themselves.  One way to think of a machine tool, like a metal-working lathe, is to think of it as a potters wheel that is turned through 90 degrees. 
They are both devices that:
1. Hold a raw material (be it a lump of clay or a lump of steel),
2. Rotate this raw material around a single axis (the potters wheel on a vertical axis, the lathe on a horizontal one).
3. Allow the artisan to shape the raw material to whatever shape he wants (be it a clay pot, or a threaded bolt).
It's a really simple principle but provides the opportunity to manufacture a whole range of goods, including semi-finished goods (for other manufacturers), tools (such as drill bits), and finished/consumer goods.  This principle and others like it are what men like Wilkinson leave to posterity.  Posterity that we now are living in and are much better off for it.  While we may not see the direct results of something like a metal working lathe in our everyday lives, we certainly do benefit from it.