TAE and ITER: A Few Steps Closer to Fusion Power

JET/UKAEA's photo: inside their JET reactor.One way or another, energy is in the headlines nearly every day.

But I won’t be talking about the latest energy crisis, shortage or agreement.

Instead, I’ll be looking at developments in fusion power from a few months — and a few days — ago.


Getting Started: Fusion Basics

Converting Matter Into Energy: It’s Happening Every Second

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Solar Dynamics Observatory's photo: a coronal mass ejection. (August 31, 2012)
(From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

We’ve been using fusion power since day one. In a sense.

Every second, our sun fuses around 600,000,000 tons of hydrogen, making about 596,000,000 tons of helium.

The missing four million tons of matter are converted into energy. A tiny fraction of it eventually reaches Earth, powering plants and giving us the occasional sunburn.

Hydrogen fusion happens in our sun’s core because stuff there is very dense and very hot.

Had I but world enough and time, this is where I’d start talking about plasma, nuclear binding energy, Arthur Eddington and Ivy Mike.1

But I don’t so I won’t. Not this week, at any rate.

Instead, I’ll take a quick — for me — look at progress made by scientists, technicians and AI on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’d intended to talk about this back in February. Then I got sick, and that’s another topic.


One Goal: Fusion Power — Two Approaches

ITER’s Tokamak: a Euro-British International Doughnut

JET/UKAEA's photo: inside their JET reactor; left, during a five-second pulse; right, with normal lighting.
(From TAE Technologies, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The walls of the JET reactor were changed to a material made from beryllium and tungsten”
(BBC News))

Major breakthrough on nuclear fusion energy
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (February 9, 2022)

“European scientists say they have made a major breakthrough in their quest to develop practical nuclear fusion – the energy process that powers the stars.

“The UK-based JET laboratory has smashed its own world record for the amount of energy it can extract by squeezing together two forms of hydrogen.

“If nuclear fusion can be successfully recreated on Earth it holds out the potential of virtually unlimited supplies of low-carbon, low-radiation energy….”

The JET fusion reactor produced 50 megajoules of energy. Any word with “mega” in it sounds like a lot, but in this case it’s enough to boil the water in about 60 kettles.

Even so, it’s a big deal. The experiments show that JET’s design actually works. And that’s good news, since another reactor, being built in France, uses the same basic design.

JET has been developed, built and tested at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, as part of the ITER program.2

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor Origins: Very Briefly

BBC News' illustration of a nuclear fusion process.
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Ultimately, the process would be used to drive steam turbines to generate electricity”
(BBC News))

“…The ITER facility in southern France is supported by a consortium of world governments, including from EU member states, the US, China and Russia. It is expected to be the last step in proving nuclear fusion can become a reliable energy provider in the second half of this century.

“Operating the power plants of the future based on fusion would produce no greenhouse gases and only very small amounts of short-lived radioactive waste….”
(Jonathan Amos, BBC News (February 9, 2022))

ITER stands or stood for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. It’s also “the way” or “the path” in Latin.

ITER’s roots go back to 1978, when the Soviet Union, European Atomic Energy Community, United States, and Japan started working together. The idea was to turn fusion power plants from a hypothetical pipe dream into a practical reality.

Their cooperation stayed hypothetical until Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet Union’s Communist Party general secretary. Today’s ITER started on October 24, 2007.

I have no idea whether this example of international cooperation will survive Putin’s efforts to disgrace Russia.3 And that’s yet another topic.

Meanwhile, in America

TAE Technologies' photo: one end of their C2W device, 'Norman'.
(From TAE Technologies, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Meet TAE Technologies’ C2W, “Norman.”)

Fusion race kicked into high gear by smart tech
Paul Rincon, BBC News (February 10, 2022)

“A US company is speeding up the path to practical fusion energy by using Google’s vast computing power.

“By applying software that can improve on its own, TAE Technologies has cut down tasks that once took two months to just a few hours.

“Google has lent the firm its expertise in ‘machine learning’ in order to help accelerate the timeline for fusion.

“Nuclear fusion promises a plentiful supply of low-carbon energy, using the same process that powers the Sun….”

I’ll admit to a bias. I like what I’ve read about TAE.

First, but not most important, it’s an American company.

I like seeing folks anywhere using their God-given brains to solve problems and help others. But I also like seeing Americans doing the same thing.

Anyway, TAE is — from one viewpoint — doing everything wrong.

Instead of setting up their own department of paperwork, liasoning with a Federal Bureau of Blotting Paper and Inertia, and employing thousands of clerks whose sole purpose is filling out forms in quadruplicate — they’re actually doing research.

Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a time and place for record-keeping and coordination.

And I strongly suspect that doing almost nothing but coordinating and record-keeping is what put Japan in the IIMD’s digital competitiveness ranking’s 27th place.

IIMD? There’s a whole mess of IIMDs out there. This one is the International Institute for Management Development. And seems that it calls itself IMD.

It’s a business education school in Lausanne, Switzerland and Singapore. I hadn’t heard about it until this week.

Anyway, TAE’s practical approach reminds me of Lockheed’s Skunk Works,4 and that’s yet again another topic.

TAE’s “Norman:” a Different Approach

TAE Technologies' illustration: an artist's rendering of C2W, 'Norman.'
(From TAE Technologies, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Norman,” an artist’s conception.)

“…The company’s 30m (100ft) -long fusion cylinder — called C2W ‘Norman’ after TAE’s founder, physicist Norman Rostoker, who died in 2014 — represents a different approach to the doughnut-shaped ‘tokamak’ to be used for the world’s biggest fusion experiment, the multi-billion-euro ITER project….

“…[TAE CEO Dr Michl Binderbauer] says the results of the partnership with Google could shave a year from the company’s longer-term schedule, which envisages a commercial fusion test device by 2030….”
(Paul Rincon, BBC News (February 10, 2022))

I’d like to talk about TAE’s approach to practical fusion power: but got ‘page not found’ results when trying to access their research library.

So I figure they’ve changed their site architecture since the citations were made.

Or I could assume that it’s part of a vast conspiracy. Masterminded by Big Oil, the Pixie-Illuminati Cabal, or my favorite: shape-shifting space-alien lizard-men. Maybe I shouldn’t make jokes like that. Some folks take such nonsense seriously.5

Anyway, TAE’s “Norman” isn’t just like ITER’s tokamak design.

Since I won’t have time this week to find TAE’s published research and study it, I’ll skip lightly over what I have found.

Particle Accelerators and Coilguns, Pumpkins and Doughnuts

Frame from Steve Gribben's animation of a coil gun. Source: 'CRICKET — Closeout' (CRICKET: Cryogenic Reservoir Inventory by Cost-Effective Kinetically Enhanced Technology) Larry J. Paxton, Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory, Geospace and Earth Sciences. (2019)For starters, TAE’s “Norman” isn’t shaped like ITER’s tokamak reactors.

A tokamak looks sort of like a pumpkin: one that was assembled by a cubist sculptor, with parts from a building supply store’s remainder sale. A pumpkin with a doughnut-shaped hole in the middle.

The C2W “Norman” device — my oldest daughter came up with a shorter description than I would have.

Daughter:
“Kinda reminds me of a Gauss rifle.
“I’d like to thank video games for my knowledge of this monstrosity’s existence.”

Me:
“See, they’re educational!!”

Daughter:
“Granted, the one in Doom looks more like a fun-sized railgun, but, hey, it’s still cool….”
(From a chat between me and my oldest daughter (May 15, 2022))

Hardware in the Doom video games isn’t real. But much of it is based on stuff that is. Like Gauss rifles, which is another name for coilguns.

A coilgun is a mass driver with one or more coils which act as electromagnets. It’s like a railgun, sort of, except that a railgun has rails and a coilgun doesn’t.

A Norwegian scientist patented the first coilgun in 1904, although development probably started decades earlier.

Maybe words like coilgun, mass driver and railgun sound futuristic, but they’re all linear motors: tech that’s based on 19th century research.

Despite being called — occasionally — Gauss rifles, a coilgun’s barrel isn’t rifled. “Gauss” harks back to Carl Friedrich Gauss. He’s the German mathematician who applied his talents to, among many other things, the study of magnetism.

I could call a coilgun a particle accelerator, since its projectile is a ‘small localized object.’

But I won’t, since a particle accelerator’s particles are very small: on an atomic or subatomic scale.6

“Doing Something Quite Different….”

TAE Technologies' photo: control room.
(From TAE Technologies, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Fusion experiments at TAE Technologies: automated and supported by machine learning technology.)

Starting a fusion reaction by firing high-energy particle beams into each other isn’t a new idea.

Scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, did it in the early 1970s. They got good data out of their experiments, but I gather that most researchers decided fusion reactors using linear particle accelerators weren’t practical.

They didn’t produce enough energy, compared to the energy they consumed.

That was in the 1970s and 80s. And that’s why pretty much everyone except TAE Technologies is working with doughnut-shaped or spherical fusion reactors.

Using machine learning, where software learns from experience, isn’t unique to TAE. Artificial intelligence helps run and study the JET reactor, for example.

I’m guessing that folks at TAE think they can develop a practical fusion power plant by 2030 because their AI is unusually smart. And because they’re looking at the task from a different angle. Several different angles, probably.

For example:

“…According to Prof Jeremy Chittenden, of Imperial College London, TAE is ‘doing something quite different to what everyone else is doing’. Rather than relying on the heat of the plasma to generate fast-moving particles for fusion, the device uses external particle beams which are fired into the hot gas, similar to what happens in a particle accelerator. ‘That’s your fusion source,’ he explains….”
(Paul Rincon, BBC News (February 10, 2022))

One more thing.

The TAE reactor, if they’re successful, will run on deuterium and protium. That sounds exotic, but protium is fancy name for the most common form of hydrogen. Earth’s rivers, lakes and oceans are full of the stuff.7


Fusion Power: Panacea, No; Possible and Practical, Yes

Benefits, Risks and a Grain of Salt

National Ignition Facility's photo: high-energy laser beams converging. (2021)
(From NIH, via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, used w/o permission.)

So, once we have fusion power plants, our environmental worries are over and we’ll all live in green-energy paradise?

Eh, yes and no.

Reactors using deuterium-tritium fusion won’t give us fits nearly as much as old-school coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

Tritium? That’s another hydrogen isotope: rare, radioactive and not particularly healthy to be around.

And, although hypothetically a deuterium-tritium reactor would turn all the hydrogen into helium, tritium included: the reality is that some tritium won’t be fused and will get into the atmosphere.

But not much, not if the stuff is handled properly. That’s good news.

Tritium combines with oxygen, forming water. Radioactive water.

The not-so-good news is that some of that water could get into our bodies, staying there for a week or so before getting cycled out.

Then there’s the tech that starts and maintains the fusion reaction: high-energy lasers or particle accelerators, powerful magnets.

All of which control and direct a whole lot of energy. If everything works as it should, it’s not a problem; but if something goes wrong, all that energy is going to go somewhere. And that could be a problem. A big one.

Basically, I see fusion power plants as a good idea; and certainly a better tradeoff between benefit and risk than those using coal or fission reactions.

But I grew up in the Sixties, and remember when folks who should have known better finally realized that asbestos wasn’t a miracle mineral after all.8 So I take glowing claims that fusion power plants are nothing but good news — with a grain of salt.

Boris Badenov’s Insight and the Greenwald Limit

I’ve said it before. There’s no such thing as completely safe technology. Even something we’ve used for ages, like fire, can hurt us if we’re not careful.

It’s like Boris Badenov said, in the original Bullwinkle Show:

Natasha Fatale
“Boris, dahlink, I thought this hiding place was foolproof.”

Boris Badenov
“Foolproof, yes. Idiot proof, no.”
(Down to Earth or the Bullwinkle Bounce/Fall Story or Adrift in the Lift,” The Bullwinkle Show (1960) via IMDB.com

Finally, I don’t know whether TAE will have their commercial fusion power test model ready by 2030.

But I am sure we’re getting close to building practical fusion power plants. Much closer.

Partly because of technology being developed, and partly because we’re learning more about how fusion works.

Recently, for example, researchers developed a mathematical model that helps explain why the Greenwald limit exists. It’s — complicated.

But it looks like tokamak reactors could handle almost almost double the plasma density that’s currently possible. That would mean nearly twice as much energy produced.9 And that’s still another a topic, for another time.

More, and less, related stuff:


1 Nuclear fusion, a sketchy background:

2 A place and a device:

3 Highlights, and otherwise, from the last few decades:

4 Good news, not-so-good news:

5 Silliness and a technology company:

6 Science in the 19th century, technology in the 20th and 21st:

7 Atoms and AI:

8 Learning, sometimes slowly:

9 A new and hopeful development:

Posted in Science News | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Death, Orders, and a War Crimes Trial in Ukraine

BBC News photo: Camp Radiant, near Bucha, Ukraine. A children's recreation camp which was (allegedly) repurposed as a slaughterhouse by Russian troops. (2022)
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

I hadn’t planned on doing another “Ukraine” post for quite a while.

But this news item caught my attention:

Russian soldier pleads guilty in first war crimes trial of Ukraine conflict
Sarah Rainsford, BBC News (May 18, 2022)

“…Vadim Shishimarin admitted shooting a 62-year-old man a few days after the invasion began. He faces life in jail….”

I gather that Mr. Shishimarin had been commanding a tank division’s unit when his convoy was attacked.

Then he and four other soldiers stole a car. As they were traveling near Chupakhivka, they met a 62-year-old may who was riding a bicycle.

Mr. Shishimarin was ordered to kill the man, so he did.

I don’t know why Mr. Shishimarin pleaded guilty. And I don’t know if he tried using the “I was only following orders” defense. If he did, then maybe that’s why he’s looking at life in jail, not an execution.

“Just following orders,” AKA superior orders or the Nuremberg defense, didn’t start with the Nuremberg trials and will probably still be debated long after I’m gone. Command responsibility is the flip side of superior orders, and I’m getting a bit off-topic.

Horrible as what Russia’s military is (allegedly) doing in Ukraine, it’s not all bad news.

(“Allegedly?” I talked about “purported,” “alleged” and “allegedly” back in April. I’m putting links to other “Ukraine” posts below.)

Ukraine’s government is following established legal procedures, including procedures which involve international law. And they’re both gathering and preserving evidence. Some of that evidence is from information technology that didn’t exist during and after World War II.

And we’ve learned — a lot — since President Lincoln signed General Orders No. 100, the Lieber Code.1 To what degree we’ve woven that knowledge into wisdom — is another topic.

I’ve talked about the mess in Ukraine before:


1 Rules and principles:

Posted in Discursive Detours, Journal | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Ukraine’s Bohorodchany Iconostasis: At Risk Again

Birczanin's photo of the Manyava Skete courtyard. (August 8, 2009)
(From Birczanin, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

If no news is good news, then there’s good news from Manyava, Ukraine. Or maybe it’s Maniava. I’ve seen both transliterations of Манява. In Polish, I gather that it’s Maniawa.

I haven’t run across an “official” version of the name in my language’s alphabet. Since the “Maniava” and “Manyava Skete” Wikipedia pages aren’t consistent, I won’t fret over which is the right one. But I’ll try to stick with “Manyava,” except when I’m quoting a source.

Anyway, around 3,500 folks call Manyava home.

One Wikipedia page says Manyava is a village. Another calls Sauk Centre, Minnesota, where I live, a city. I call Sauk Centre a town, partly because I figure that 4,300-odd folks aren’t enough make Sauk Centre a city.

But here in Minnesota, it’s “City of Sauk Centre,” and I’m drifting off-topic.

Manyava’s no-news is that the Russian military apparently haven’t gotten around to “liberating” it yet. Possibly because it’s in Western Ukraine. And not a big enough target.

Liviv, on the other hand, about a hundred miles north of Manyava, was home to maybe 717,000 folks when Putin’s generals started their Ukrainian neo-Nazi hunt.

I gather that most of Liviv is still intact, apart from some missile strikes — a remarkably high fraction of which hit military targets.

At any rate, Manyava is famous for the Manyava Skete. A skete is a particular sort of Eastern Orthodox monastery. The Manyava Skete is at the edge of Manyava.1

The Manyava Skete is famous for the iconostasis in its church, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Which isn’t there any more. The iconostasis, I mean.

There’s a bit of a story behind that.

A Village, a Monastery and a Kingdom

Mykola Swarnyk's photo of the Bohorodchany Iconostasis in the National Museum in Lviv. (2022)
(From Mykola Swarnyk, via Smithsonian Magazine, used w/o permission.)
(The Bohorodchany Iconostasis, as displayed in the National Museum, Lviv. (2022))

Where was I?

Manyava and Liviv, Ukraine.

Russia’s Ukrainian neo-Nazi hunt, invasion, whatever.

Manyava’s claim to fame: the Manyava Skete.

Right.

Other monikers for the Manyava Skete are the Ukrainian Athos and Great Hermitage Monastery in Manyava.

The Great Hermitage Monastery was the only Orthodox monastery in Galicia in 1781.

This Galicia was the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. It was part of the Hapsburg Monarchy at the time. Then, in 1804, it became part of the Austrian Empire. Which was also run by the Hapsburgs.

The Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria isn’t, by the way, the Kingdom of Galicia.

That kingdom used to be on the Iberian Peninsula’s northwest corner. It was run by Hapsburgs, too. Then Charles II of Spain finally died.2

A Hapsburg Interlude

Hugo Gerard Ströhl's House of Habsburg coat of arms, conforming with one of Habsburg County. (1890)The Hapsburgs were remarkably successful European rulers from around 1273 to 1780.

Or 1806, or 1918: I could pick several plausible ‘last of the Hapsburgs’ dates.

The northeastern Hapsburgs didn’t inbreed themselves into oblivion. Many folks say they’re Habsburgs, not Hapsburgs.

Either way, we’ve still got fairly high-profile Hapsburgs. Like Gabriela von Habsburg, artist and ambassador; Georg von Habsburg, diplomat; and Walburga Habsburg Douglas, lawyer and politician.3 And that’s another topic. Topics.

Back to Manyava. Or Maniava.

Origins of the Bohorodchany Iconostasis

Mykola Swarnyk's Photo: Icon of Christ the Teacher, from the Bohorodchany Iconostasis by Yov Kondzelevych. (photo taken July 2, 2013) From Mykola Swarnyk, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I’ve read that Job of Manyava, Ivan Vyshensky, Zakhariya Kopystensky and/or Yov Kondzelevych founded the Manyava Skete in 1601. Or 1606. Or maybe 1611.

And that the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine’s name for the Manyava Skete is the Maniava Hermitage.

On the other hand, I found general agreement that Yov Kondzelevych was a talented artist. And that he helped make the Bohorodchany Iconostasis. Along with many other folks.

They were working on the Bohorodchany Iconostasis at least from 1698 to 1705. We’re pretty sure about this, because inscriptions on the “Christ the Teacher” and “Ascension of Christ” icons include those dates.

When they were finished, the iconostasis was installed in the Manyava Skete’s Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.4

So, if the Bohorodchany Iconostasis was made for the Manyava Skete’s church, then how come it’s not called the Maniava Hermitage iconostasis? Or some name like that, at any rate.

I’m guessing that it’s partly because a Hapsburg emperor wanted his subjects to be happy and enlightened: by his standards.

The Age of Enlightenment in Retrospect

Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine's photo of Yov Kondzelevych's Maniava Hermitage iconostasis (1698-1705) photo from Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine (IEU), hosted by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, used w/o permission)
(From the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine (IEU), used w/o permission.)
(The Maniava Hermitage iconostasis, including upper tiers.)

The Age of Enlightenment had been in progress since 1637, 1650, or 1687. Or maybe it started in 1701. Or 1715.

Europe’s self-described enlightened aristocrats strove to support knowledge, reason, and religious tolerance. That’s what they said, at any rate.

I figure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Particularly as an alternative to disasters like the Thirty Years’ War.

I still think Enlightenment ideals like pursuing knowledge and happiness, freedom and tolerance, make sense.

1566 propaganda print, celebrating faith-based vandalism.And I certainly think encouraging people to think is better than inspiring berserk rage through religion-themed propaganda and weaponized pietism.

I also think sapere aude, “the battle cry of the Enlightenment,” makes sense.

Although I also think “dare to be wise” is a better translation. And that Horace said it, more than a millennium before the days of Descartes, Newton and Kant.5

“Dimidium facti qui coepit habet; sapere aude; incipe!”
“He who has begun has half done. Dare to be wise; begin!”
(“Epistles,” Book I, epistle ii, lines 40-41; Horace (ca. 20 B.C. – 14 B.C.)

How the Enlightenment’s enlightened rulers implemented their noble-sounding ideals is another matter.

Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, “Enlightened Ruler”

Pompeo Batoni's painting of Peter, Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany (left), and Emperor Joseph II (right). (1769) From Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, used w/o permission.Take Josef Benedikt Anton Michael Adame, for example.

In my language, the name’s Joseph Benedict Anthony Michael Adam. But I’ll call him Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor. Or just plain Joseph.

Joseph is the chap with the dark coat in that painting. It’s Pompeo Batoni’s 1769 portrait of Joseph and his brother, Peter, Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany.

Grand Duke Leopold became the next Holy Roman emperor, and made a decent job of it. But I gather that Joseph is an Enlightenment superstar.

He arguably earned that reputation.

Joseph promoted education, confiscated monasteries and other church property, and made religious freedom a legal right. As long as folks didn’t get together for worship in groups of more than a hundred, and met in someone’s house.

Or, if they insisted on having more than a hundred present, their church didn’t look like a church and didn’t have a door opening onto a street.

Can’t have religious tolerance if folks go around worshiping any way they want, you know.

Anyway, some historians dubbed Joseph’s domestic policies Josephinism: hailing him as an “Enlightened ruler.”

I’ll give Joseph credit for sincerity, and for having the good sense to commission a Mozart opera and a Beethoven funeral cantata. Easing up on press and theater censorship strikes me as a good idea, too.

And maybe he really believed that monasteries were “sources of superstition.”

Anyway, Joseph’s officials took over the Manyava Skete on July 1, 1785. The monastery stayed closed until the 1990s, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Or was rebranded as the Russian Federation.6 And that’s yet another topic.

A Confiscation, a Purchase and an Abrupt Move

Google Street View: Bohorodchany. (May 2015) From Google Maps, used w/o permission.)
(From Google Maps, used w/o permission.)
(Bohorodchany, Ukraine, before the Russian invasion. (May 2015))

Three years after the Manyava Skete became government property, folks in Bohorodchany, some 16 miles north of Manyava, bought the monastery’s iconostasis.

They paid the equivalent of about $12 USD in today’s market.

Fast-forward more than a century. The iconostasis was still in Bohorodchany’s Church of the Holy Trinity. A Swiss-German journalist, Victor Tissot, wrote about the “precious monument” in the late 19th century.

Bohorodchany was near the front lines in August of 1914, during a Russian invasion.

A great many folks were getting out as fast as they could, when Austro-Hungarian troops rode into Bohorodchany.

The soldiers weren’t there to “liberate” the town. They and some of the locals dismantled and packed the town’s iconostasis into trucks. Then the soldiers took the pieces to a museum in Vienna.

Bohorodchany, by the way, isn’t a town. It’s an urban-type settlement, the same way Sauk Centre is a city.

Next stop for the Bohorodchany Iconostasis was the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland: a country that existed again, officially, after World War I.

If you think that all sounds complicated, then you’re right. If you want simple, read an airport novel7 or listen to political speeches; and that’s yet again another topic.

Events, 1924-1922

Kasia Strek's photo of folks protecting artwork in Lviv's Peter and Paul Garrison Church.)
(From Kasia Strek and Smithsonian Magazine, used w/o permission.)
(Covering sculptures that can’t be moved in the Peter and Paul Garrison Church, Lviv.)

Fast-forward again, this time to 1924.

Paul Whiteman and his band played Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” in New York City’s Aeolian Hall, New York City.

The Ottoman Caliphate collapsed.

And Andrey Sheptytsky, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Metropolitan Archbishop, bought the Bohorodchany Iconostasis.

Archbishop Sheptytsky had parts of the Bohorodchany Iconostasis displayed in the Lviv Ecclesiastical Museum.

Ishvara7's map of empires and colonies. (1900-1910)The Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires had been fighting over who owned what parts of eastern Europe until World War I ended both Austria-Hungary and the old Russian Empire.

Parts of Ukraine became an anarchist state, followed by a succession of people’s republics, and were part of the Soviet Union when Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia invaded Poland in 1939.

After that, Hitler’s Germany invaded Ukraine.

Some Ukrainians saw the Wehrmacht as an improvement on Soviet rule. Understandably, I think, considering what Stalin’s Holodomor had done to them. And the churches which had been shut down by Stalin’s commissars.

That lot had the Bohorodchany Iconostasis dismantled, but not destroyed. I don’t know why, since they’d been eager enough where it came to destroying icons.

The commissars hung one of the massive work’s panels in a folklore museum and warehoused the rest in Lviv’s shuttered. Cathedral

Anyway, the 1939 Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact lasted until 1941. After World War II ended, Ukraine’s Soviet rulers went back to protecting Ukrainians from poets, historians and other folks who use their brains. Then the Soviet Union dissolved.8

And now Putin’s military is back, killing Ukrainians.

War, Human Life, Art and Making Sense

Kasia Strek's photo of the the Sheptytsky National Museum's director, Ihor Kozhan, and panels from the Bohorodchany Iconostasis before they were packed and taken from museum.)
(From Kasia Strek and Smithsonian Magazine, used w/o permission.)
(Bohorodchany Iconostasis panels, before they were packed and moved to safety. (2022))

A frame from Ukraine's National News Agency's video showing aftermath of Russia's liberation of Bucha. (April 3, 2022)Oddly enough, Putin doesn’t seem to have thought of ‘de-Nazifying’ Russia.

That would make at least as much sense as his Ukrainian neo-Nazi hunt, since Russia’s leaders made a deal with Nazi Germany.

Maybe some notions are simply too daft for anyone to consider as an excuse for mass murder and/or genocide. And that’s still another topic, one that I’ve talked about fairly recently.

This week, I’ve been focusing on a particular item in Ukraine’s cultural heritage: the Bohorodchany Iconostasis.

Since I’ve been skipping lightly over dead Ukrainians littering the country’s streets, I’d better clarify a thing or two.

I don’t like war. It kills people and breaks things.

But sometimes it’s less bad than the alternative. So I won’t criticize Ukrainians who are trying to keep Russian troops from killing their neighbors. I’ve said this before.

If I had a choice between either saving a human life or preserving a work of art, I’d pick saving a human life.

But if I could do both, then that’d be my choice. So I think folks in Lviv who are taking portable artwork to relatively secure spots, and putting hopefully-protective covers over sculptures that can’t be moved, are doing a good thing.

There’s more to say, about iconostases — or would that be iconostasi? never mind — rood screens, religious art, and art in general. Lots more.

But I’m running out of time this week, so I’ll be brief. For me.

Creating art is part of being human. As such, it’s a good idea. Within reason. Creating religious art and using it to get closer to God is a good idea. Again, within reason. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2501-2503)

Finally, a reminder: comments and ‘likes’ should be possible again, now that I’ve made my Brendan’s Island website and this blog more secure.

So please, click the ‘like’ button. And if you’ve got something to say about this week’s topic(s) and what I’ve written, leave a comment.

Now, the usual links to more-or-less-related stuff:


1 Manyava, mostly:

2 Kingdoms, kings and emperors:

3 House of Hapsburg:

4 Origins of an iconostasis:

5 Bright ideals:

6 ‘Isms,’ artists and history:

7 More history:

8 Still more history:

Posted in Discursive Detours | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Learning From History: It’s an Option

Somebody's cartoon, showing French invasion of England by tunnel, balloons and kites. (1805, 1803, or around 1792)
(From Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)

From 1803 to 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte was defending France from the United Kingdom, the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, Naples, Sicily and Sweden. Or being thwarted in his dreams of conquest.

At any rate, tens of thousands of dead bodies later, European politics had changed a tad.

But not, arguably, all that much. Wars of the Coalition got up to at least number six. And a century after that, what we call World War I started.

Napoleon had planned on invading England during the War of the Third Coalition. He’d prepared a fleet, but decided that a trial run in the English channel would be a good idea.

I gather that at least part of the fleet sank and a fair number of sailors died.

Seems that Napoleon had considered sending troops across the Channel in balloons; but thought about it, and realized that the wind might change direction.

That picture’s someone’s idea of a French invasion of England. It would have been an impressive operation, with troops arriving by ship, balloon, tunnel and — I think those are kites, over at the right.

The picture was published in England, France, or somewhere else, in 1805, 1803 or maybe around 1792.1

Plans, Dreams

Somebody's cartoon, showing French invasion of England by tunnel, balloons and kites. (1805, 1803, or around 1792)
(From Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Albert Mathieu-Favier’s proposed coach service under the English Channel. (1802))

A French mining engineer, Albert Mathieu-Favier, thought that a tunnel under the English Channel would be a good idea. And he’d worked out most of the necessary details.

Horse-drawn coaches would travel through an upper tunnel, while a lower one would collect groundwater. I’m not sure how he planned on removing the water.

Anyway, folks riding in those coaches would travel by the light of oil lamps, with a breath of fresh air in mid-Channel. Mathieu-Favier’s plan included an artificial island with stables, where horses would be changed.2

It sounds like a well-thought-out plan, including ventilation shafts to give horses, drivers and passengers a fighting chance of survival.

Mathieu-Favier’s tunnel was never built, Napoleon didn’t use balloon-borne troops, and a tunnel under the English Channel remained a dream.

National Security and a Railroad that Wasn’t Finished

Friedrich Graetz's 'The Lion can not face the crowing of the Cock,' an American view of the Channel Tunnel Scare from the American humor magazine Puck. (January 1, 1885)
(From Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The French are coming! The French are coming! (1885))

Or, for some, a nightmare.

Sir Edward Watkin had a business interest in British railways, and thought a tunnel connecting England and France was a good idea.

Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley, and Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, thought such a tunnel would be a threat to national security. And Queen Victoria didn’t like it.

Meanwhile, Sir Edward Watkin had started digging at Shakespeare Cliff between Folkestone and Dover.

Almost two kilometers later, Parliament told Sir E. W. to stop, which he did. Thereby saving England from invasion. Or putting a spoke in the wheels of commerce.

Either way, work on a Channel tunnel began, again, in the late 1970s. The tunnel — tunnels, actually, and that’s another topic — opened for business in the early 1990s.

And, so far at least, French troops haven’t poured through the Eurotunnel Folkestone Terminal, between Cheriton and Newington, where Danton Pinch used to be.3

Remembering the Past: Makes Sense to Me

An artist's impression of the 'Fête de la Raison/Festival of Reason' at Notre Dame, Paris, during the French Revolution. (1793) From Bibliothèque nationale de France, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.I spent most of this week learning how I could fix some technical issues, make A Catholic Citizen in America more secure — and afford the process.

As a result, I didn’t have much time left for writing this thing.

So I found a few fun facts about the Channel Tunnel, Napoleon, and British politics; started writing and hoped I’d think of something to tie it all together.

Ideally, I’d have experienced a ‘eureka’ moment, and you’d be reading my profound and pithy perception.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, I’ll repeat what I’ve said before.

I think we can learn from history, but that we don’t have to do so.

And I think remembering that history is more than just a chronicle of wars, assassinations, political meltdowns and disasters — natural and otherwise — is more than just a good idea. It’s what makes history something other than a glum-fest.

That’s why I don’t and won’t hop on whatever doom and gloom bandwagon is passing by.

My attitude is more like what Durant and Santayana said, than the more familiar Hegel “…never learned anything…” quote.

“Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts — between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. … History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.”
(Will Durant, As quoted in “The Gentle Philosopher” (2006) by John Little at Will Durant Foundation)

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
(“The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress,” George Santayana (1905-1906))

“What experience and history teach is this — that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.”
(“Lectures on the Philosophy of History,” Georg Hegel (ca. 1830s) Introduction, as translated by H. B. Nisbet (1975))

I’ve talked about this before, and why I spent most of this week not writing:


1 Napoleon’s invasion that didn’t happen:

2 Chunnel, Tunnel sous la Manche, whatever it’s called:

3 A hamlet, two Englishmen and a rail terminal:

Posted in Discursive Detours, Journal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment