Battle of Jutland 1916

Since we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of this naval battle it seems worth explaining briefly why it was significant. The British expected to have command of the seas, and with their large and impressive fleet were able to achieve this for many decades up to WWI.
The Germans had similar ambitions, and their aggressive construction of a new High Seas Fleet was just one of several causes of WWI.
Each side hoped to bring the other side’s fleet to battle and destroy it, which would certainly be possible given good tactics and luck. WWI battleships bristled with huge guns and even today would be capable of sinking anything afloat, provided that the target did not shoot a missile back. Unfortunately, by 1914 they were proving vulnerable to mines, and to torpedoes fired by smaller craft, and by that sneaky new weapon, the submarine. This concentrated the minds of the admirals on keeping their expensive battleships out of such situations.
However, at the end of May 1916, both the British and German fleets were at sea, each hoping to lure the other into a tactically difficult position and inflict a smashing blow. The result is a matter of record, but after some fighting, the largely intact German fleet retreated to harbour, leaving the British (who suffered higher losses) in possession of the North Sea for the rest of the war.
The result created much anger and despondency in a Britain accustomed to crushing Trafalgar-style naval victories. Only gradually was the real significance of the outcome understood. It fell to an American to point out that “the Germans had assaulted their jailer but were still in jail”. Winston Churchill said that the British Admiral Jellicoe was “the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon.” Jellicoe had his afternoon, and he didn’t lose.
After Jutland, the British tightened their strangling sea blockade of Germany, and were able to ship men and munitions over to France and the trenches unhindered by the German navy. If we had lost at Jutland, the outcome of WWI would have been very different.

The Rise of the Robots

The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford, Oneworld, 334pp, £9.99
The Rise of the Robots coverTechnology and the threat of mass unemployment.
Whenever a new machine is introduced to replace human labour, we are told that this is progress, and that the humans displaced will find less deadening jobs elsewhere, that they can be retrained to work in other industries, and so on. Who still believes this? For many people, the search for a job entails hundreds of applications and futile visits to the jobcentre, and for those in work, it means a struggle to make ends meet on the minimum wage or a zero-hours contract. Well-paid jobs for blue-collar workers or for the middle classes are disappearing. Why? What is happening?
Martin Ford’s book provides many of the answers. The replacement of mass employment by automation has been going on for many decades, and the effects have garnered little public attention. It’s only when one is forced to look at ‘then’ and ‘now’ that the differences are apparent. Films of factories taken fifty or sixty years ago show thousands of workers streaming out of the gates in cloth caps and filling the streets. The typical new facility of today is an automated factory, or a vast datacentre in which you’d need a sniffer dog to find an employee anywhere.
As Ford points out, advanced technology systems being developed today have the potential to make almost any routine job, whether in a workshop or at a keyboard, obsolete. Mass production in factories is now largely automated, and a host of other jobs are under attack. Driverless cars are news, and in a few years will be threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs. If you can summon up a driverless car to take you where you want to go, who needs taxi drivers? Or delivery van drivers? Or do you need to own a car at all? If you don’t, the number of cars required to serve the population will be far less. Meaning fewer dealerships, filling stations, car parks and repair shops. The disruption caused by Uber will be as nothing compared with this.
A popular job for newly qualified lawyers is searching for documents relevant to a legal case. This can be automated too.
Do you eat at McDonalds? There is one in Milton Keynes where the row of clerks at the counter has been replaced by rows of terminals where patrons can select and order their meals. Catering is one of the remaining providers of mass employment (admittedly not well paid) but this too is now under attack.
There are statistics that show how while the number of people in the labour market is rising, the number of hours worked stagnates, and the wages and salaries paid remain static or fall.
The trend is clear enough and leads to a future in which a super-rich elite holds most of the wealth and the remainder of the population struggles to find any work or gain any income. And how will this affect the economy? A capitalist economy needs mass consumption, but robots don’t consume, and people on the breadline consume very little. The outlook for the economy is not good.
To put it plainly: No jobs = no spending = no mass market = no economy.
Ford offers a possible solution – that all citizens be given a guaranteed income so that they can feed and house themselves, and carry on participating in the economy, even if they don’t work. the cost of this could be met, Ford suggests, by reassigning the sums spent on jobseekers allowance, housing benefit, disability benefit, etc, and their inefficient administration, increasing the taxes on the rich and making international corporations actually pay some tax. Surprisingly, this has been looked into in a small way in a few countries, but I’m not holding my breath for this to happen in the UK or the USA any time soon. You can easily deduce how Tory politicians will react to this idea, since they have not grasped that Austerity is having the same effect on the economy as the destruction of employment…
Read this book.

EU Referendum

Far be it from me to influence your vote, but if you don’t register to vote by 7 June and then vote on the 23 June, you may find that anti-EU wrinklies have decided the result for you.
A whole slew of august economic bodies have warned of some decline in economic performance if we leave the EU. The Leave campaign counter this by shouting that the Remain arguments are all wrong.
The Leave campaign point to an annoying influx of EU workers taking jobs and putting a strain on public services, which would stop if we left. However, to stop the influx of EU immigrants would require a complete divorce from the EU, with the consequence being a likely economic decline, meaning fewer jobs and less government revenue, so the prospects for British workers are not likely to improve. And not providing more services was a political decision.
If we leave, we could get rid of some annoying EU regulations and control our own country. Maybe, but how is that going to benefit the young man or woman in the street? It could just give bosses a freer hand to set your wages and working conditions.

Astronomy topics

I saw the transit of Mercury on 9 May. I missed the entry as I was trying to get a clear projected image through some light cloud. By the time I swapped to another scope the small dot was already on the Sun’s disk. Later I went to the transit event at the OU where I saw the transit again. They had several telescopes set up with front-end filters to make viewing safe. They also had a specialist solar scope that showed the sun in the H-alpha wavelength, so that streaks of solar activity were visible as well as Mercury.
In a marquee they had a display of real meteorites for visitors to handle.
Before the end of the event, cloud had come over with spots of rain.

This month, Mars and Saturn can be seen low in the SE sky around midnight BST. A small telescope will show Mars as a reddish disk. The planet is at its closest approach for years, so this is your best chance to view it.

I now have the use of three telescope mountings: an AZ-4, a very solid mount that is very quick to set up for use, but has no slow-motions, a Nexstar SLT which I use for general observing sessions – the SLT is a computer controlled mount which works well for finding and tracking faint objects. The tripod is rather wobbly though.
I also have a EQ-5, another very solid mount, an equatorial with electric drive. This is good for observing planets and other easy to find objects but I have not used it much.