Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

False! Woke Swedish Green MEP Does Not Want Viking Artefacts Destroyed in Name of International Friendship

January 10, 2023

Right-wing YouTuber Paz49 put up a piece this morning claiming that Alice Bah-Kuhnke, a Swedish Green MP, had called for the country’s Viking artefacts to be turned into scrap metal in order to show other countries that Sweden is friendly. Bah-Kuhnke’s mixed race, the daughter of an African father and Swedish mother. She was also a member, possibly the head, of an all-female government, whose members all wore pink hats, presumably as a feminist statement. Paz also reports that there are claims she wants the artefacts replaced with Islamic and African objects, but he thinks this may be just a rumour. He does, however, believe that this is a woke assault on White identity, and that it ignores the fact that other nations throughout the globe are also responsible for war and imperialism.

The story’s false, however. It’s several years old, dating from c. 2017, and comes from the American Alt-Right distorting reports of a perfectly reasonable law passed by the Swedish government to clear out artefacts of low scientific value in order to clear space in their national museum. I found this video below from the Archaeosource channel on YouTube, in which two professional archaeologists discuss what was really going on. They point out that archaeologists can’t keep everything they find, otherwise museums would be full of old Roman tiles. They rebury material that they can’t retain and conserve. The Swedish law is about throwing away poorly preserved Iron Age and Viking artefacts that don’t have much scientific value. It is not about destroying Sweden’s heritage. One of the speakers says he worked as a Viking for four years, six-hours a day, and has a profound respect for the ancient Norsemen. He takes issue with the way the Alt-Right and other extreme right-wing groups have appropriated them, especially regarding issues of masculinity, being a warrior and so on. The Vikings were open to other cultures, they had words for Blacks, Blamenn, and extensive trade contacts extending down to Africa and India. They were hired by other nations, and were hospitable to them. I think here he’s probably talking about Ibn Fadlan, the Arab traveller, and his observations of the Vikings on the Volga. They were hired by the Byzantines to serve as the emperor’s bodyguard. They also had bards and weren’t homophobic.

So, as commenters like Gillyflower suspected, this is a bogus non-story, an example of Alt-Right fearmongering.

Graham Hancock – A Crank, Possibly, But Definitely No Racist

December 9, 2022

My discipline, archaeology, has been massively going after Graham Hancock this week. Hancock’s ah, um,, ‘maverick thinker’, I suppose you’d say, who’s been presenting a series on Netflix arguing that thousands of years ago there was a highly advanced civilisation that perished in a cataclysm, but passed on its secrets to other ancient civilisations around the world. This has understandably annoyed archaeologists and a number have put up videos, some of them lengthy and quite detailed, disproving him. Hancock’s been promoting this idea for some time now. Going back two decades and more, he had a series on Channel 4 with the title ‘Water World’ or something like it, also arguing that there was a global advanced civilisation, whose monuments have been covered up by a flood, as recorded in the Bible and other ancient religions. Now I’m sure that Hancock is wrong, and the criticisms of his dodgy history and archaeology are right. But I take exception to one of the other accusations levelled at him, which is that he is racist.

This accusation is partly based on his false ascription of the achievements of indigenous cultures around the world to this putative prehistoric civilisation. It denies those people the credit for their achievements. But the accusation is also that it’s similar to the ideas of some bonkers White supremacist groups, who are using Hancock’s ideas to promote themselves. One archaeologist posted a video saying that Hancock should have disavowed the use of his ideas by these fascists. It also criticised him for being friends with Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson. There are fair criticisms to be made of both of these men. Peterson’s an arch-conservative and anti-feminist, but hardly a Nazi. Rogan was pushing anti-vax nonsense and is an advocate for some mind-expanding drugs. A few years ago people were accusing him of being a ‘gateway to the Alt-Right’. Possibly, but he also talks to people from the left, who are otherwise denied a platform by the lamestream media. Journalists like Abbie Martin, who talked about Israeli propaganda against the Palestinians and how she found, when she visited the beleaguered Arab nation, that the reality was nothing like the picture painted by the Israeli state. He’s also talked to biologists and journalists exposing the lies of the trans ideology. This is not Alt-Right, no matter what groups like Mermaids, Stonewall, Antifa and the rest say. The people criticising the gender ideology tend to be radical feminists, many from the socialist left. Part of their opposition against it is that it reduces masculinity and femininity to traditional, stereotypical sex roles. One of the feminist vloggers interviewed one of the leading activists against the trans ideology, who was furious that people like her were being presented as right-wing. Another feminist activist criticised Matt Walsh for misrepresenting feminists as uniformly in favour of trans ideology, and then criticising them for it. Rogan gives a voice to people outside the mainstream. Sometimes it’s rubbish, and sometimes it’s immensely valuable. He has also interviewed a number of Black celebs, so again, not a Nazi.

The White supremacist ideas being referred to seem to me to be the Traditionalist ideology of Giulio Evola. Evola was an Italian Fascist and occultist, who was a major ideological influence on the scumbuckets behind the Bologna railway bombing in the 1970s. A fascist group bombed the station, killing and maiming over a hundred people. Evola believed that there was a strongly hierarchical, ‘Aryan’ civilisation in Hyperborea in the arctic, which was responsible for all the subsequent cultural achievements of the civilisations around the world. This is twaddle. But Hancock’s ideas are also similar to those of others, which don’t come from people in the fascist fringe. A couple of years ago I picked up an old book, Colony Earth, which had been published in the 1970s. This claimed that Earth may have been an extraterrestrial colony, whose advanced civilisation was destroyed in a nuclear war. The pyramids may have been fall-out shelters, as were the megalithic tumuli in Britain. It’s an interesting read, but certainly wrong. I think Charles Berlitz, who started the Bermuda Triangle myth, also believed in this, supporting it in one of his books with artefacts from Aztec tombs that look like aircraft. Berlitz is someone else, who I’m fairly certain has absolutely no connection to fascism whatsoever.

And I don’t believe Hancock is either.

When he was travelling the world on his Channel 4 series he was accompanied by his wife, who is Sri Lankan. Now, White supremacists do not, as a rule, marry dark-skinned people from outside Europe. If they do, they’re angrily denounced as ‘race traitors’. In one edition of this earlier series, Hancock reported on the mysterious ruins of ancient city found off the coast of the Bay of Bengal. He was shown talking respectfully to an Indian gent, who told him how such findings tie in with Hindu ideas of the antiquity of civilisation and ancient Indian legends of flooded cities. Again, this isn’t quite behaviour you’d expect from a genuine White supremacist. He also travelled to South and Central America, where he proposed the old theory that the Mayans, Aztecs and other ancient Amerindian civilisations must have learned how to build their pyramids from someone else. I think this was once again ancient Egypt. But who brought that knowledge to the New World? Black Africans. He pointed to an Olmec bas relief of a warrior’s head, and declared its features to be ‘proudly African’. If this is racism, then its Afrocentrism rather than White supremacy. As for the ancient race behind these monuments, Hancock doesn’t say what colour they are. In this, he breaks with some of his predecessors, who say they must have been White because the legends of numerous Amerindian peoples state that vital parts of their culture were brought to them by White gods. Hancock is therefore less racialised in what he says than his predecessors.

I disagree profoundly with Hancock’s ideas, but he has a right to say them like everyone else. And if it piques people interest in these ancient cultures so that they want to find out what they were really like, that’s all to the good. But I do think it’s profoundly wrong to accuse him of racism. That just further cheapens the word and weakens it as a weapon against the real thing.

Sketch of American Astronomer, Space Scientist and Activist Carl Sagan

December 3, 2022

I’ve put up this sketch of Carl Sagan began he was one of the major figures in space research as well as a committed Humanist and political activist. He was also a major populariser of astronomy and science, most notably through his blockbusting TV series and its accompanying book, Cosmos. This was also notable for its soundtrack, composed by Vangelis, who also composed the music for Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner and 1492: The Conquest of Paradise. According to the blurb on Cosmos’ back cover, Sagan was

‘(t)he director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies and David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking and Voyager expeditions to the planets, for which he received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and for Distinguished Public Service, and the international astronautics prize, the Prix Galabert. He has served as Chairman of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, as chairman of the astronomy section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union. For twelve years, he was Editor-in-Chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. In addition to 400 published scientific and popular articles, Dr. Sagan (was) the author, co-author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Intelligent Life in the Universe, The Cosmic Connection, The Dragons of Eden, Murmurs of Earth and Broca’s Brain. In 1975 he received the Joseph Priestly Award “for distinguished contributions to the welfare of mankind,” and in 1978 the Pulitzer Prize for literature.’

It was Sagan who suggested that Black Holes could be used as interstellar subways so that spaceships from one part of the universe could use them to travel faster than light to another part of the cosmos connected by the wormhole passing between the Black Hole and its White Hole. He also suggested that Venus could be terraformed into a living, habitable world through the introduction of genetically engineered bacteria that would consume its toxic carbon dioxide atmosphere and replace it with breathable oxygen. He also noted that Mars had a large instability in its rotation, and that this could have resulted in its current, millions-year long period of lifelessness. But it was possible that in time its rotation would return to a more hospitable position and the planet would once more bloom into life. He was also a staunch advocate of the view that the universe was inhabited by intelligent alien civilisations and that one day we would contact them. He also wrote a later book, Pale Blue Dot, after the view of the Earth from space.

He was also a fierce opponent of what he considered to be superstition. He was one of the founders of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal along with the stage magician James Randi. They were formed in response to the publication of Gauqelin’s research suggesting there really was a link between the star sign under which people were born and their later careers. He was alarmed by the rise of Creationism and the New Age, and expressed his fears about them in his book, The Demon Haunted World. He was afraid that this would lead to a new Dark Age in which people would wake up every morning to anxiously look through their horoscopes.

He was also greatly concerned with the environment and global warming and the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s he also proposed the idea of nuclear winter. This was the idea that a nuclear war would send millions of tons of dust into the atmosphere, blocking out the sunlight and causing temperatures to plunge. This has since been rejected by scientists, but I have seen it suggested as one of the causes for the extinction of the dinosaurs. In this case it was the dust thrown up by the asteroid’s impact 65 million years ago that blocked out the sun’s light, after the initial holocaust caused by its impact.

During the inquiry following the Challenger disaster, Sagan claimed that it had occurred because the Shuttle was poorly designed, the result of a compromise between NASA and the military. The Shuttle was originally intended to be fully reusable and smaller. However, the armed forces insisted on it becoming larger so that it could carry military satellites into space. The result was that it was larger, and only partially reusable as it required an external tank to carry the extra fuel it needed to reach orbit. This was jettisoned after its fuel was consumed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

He also wrote the SF novel, Contact, later filmed with Jodie Foster playing the lead. This was about a female astronomer, who makes contact radio contact with aliens, a method Sagan himself strongly advocated. Following their instructions, she constructs an artificial wormhole portal that transports her across space so she can finally meet them. I remember coming across the book in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstones in the 1980s and was rather put off by its blurb. This boasted about it challenging and refuting racism, sexism and so on. All good stuff, of course, but a bit too PC for me.

Many of these themes appear in Cosmos. This was his personal view of the history of science, and while I loved it at the time, I have serious issues with some of the claims now. One of the problems is that he accepts what we were all told at school, that the Greek philosophers were scientists. He believed that if Greek science had progressed, we would have had space travel by now. The ancient Greeks were certainly responsible for laying the foundations of western science, but they were not quite scientists in the modern sense. They used deduction rather than the scientific method of induction. Deduction meant that they observed a phenomenon and then invented an explanation. In induction, devised by Francis Bacon in the 16th/17th century, the scientist observes a phenomenon, comes up with an explanation, and then devises an experiment to disprove it. If the explanation passes the test, it is tentatively accepted as true until a later observation or experiment disproves it. The ancient Greeks didn’t do much practical experimentation.

Sagan also followed the popular explanation of the evolution of the brain, in which there is a lower, animal brain with the higher faculties evolving later, so there’s a primitive reptile brain and a more advanced mammal brain. But Victorian scientists found that both types of brain structure were present in the earliest, most primitive animals. He also followed the standard, accepted narrative that the Roman Catholic church had suppressed scientific knowledge and experimentation during the Middle Ages. This has since been rejected by historians of science. To many such historians now, the Middle Ages after the 8/9th centuries were an age of innovation and discovery. Jean Gimpel’s book proposing the idea was called The Medieval Machine, after the invention of the clock, to symbolise the period’s belief in a universe governed by law, discoverable by human reason under the light of the divine. And rather than the revival of classical learning in the Renaissance leading to a new enlightened, rational order, it had the potential to do the opposite. The medieval philosophers and theologians were Aristotelians but were very aware of the flaws in Aristotelian science and had modified it over the centuries in order to conform more closely to observed reality. But the Renaissance Humanists would have dumped all this, and so we would have been back to square one with no further scientific advances than what was permitted through a rigid adherence to Aristotle’s thought.

There’s also an anti-Christian element in Cosmos too. He describes how Hypatia, the late Neoplatonist female philosopher was murdered by a group of Christian monks in the 4th century. Hypatia has symbolised for a long time to radical atheists the fundamentally anti-science, and to feminists, the misogyny in Christianity. But by this time Neoplatonism was a mixture of science and mystical speculation, forming what has been called ‘the mind’s road to God’. The real motives for her murder weren’t that she was some kind of pagan threat, but more from a power struggle between the authorities in that part of the Roman world.

Sagan is also critical of western imperialism and describes the horrors the Conquistadors inflicted on the Aztecs and other peoples of the New World. He’s right and this section is clearly a product of its time, with the rise of anti-colonial movements among the world’s indigenous peoples, the Black Civil Rights movement in the US and the horrors of the Vietnam War, as well as Reagan’s new Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust. But looking at this 40 years later, it’s also one-sided. Europe wasn’t the only expansionist, brutal, imperialist culture. Islam was also militaristic and expansionist, and at the time the Spaniards conquered South America, the Turkish empire was expanding and subjugating parts of Europe, while Muslim pirates were raiding the continent as far as Iceland for slaves.

It’s also dated from an archaeological standpoint. At one point Sagan discusses the Bronze Age collapse of the societies of the Ancient Near East, showing how it was characterised by a series of crises, similar to the process of the fall of other, later civilisations into Dark Ages, but that these aren’t causes in themselves. It’s Systems Analysis, which was popular at the time, but which I think has also become subsequently passe.

All that said, Sagan was right about global warming, whose devastating effects he illustrated with the example of the planet Venus. This has also suffered catastrophic heating due to its greater nearness to the Sun. This released massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a runaway greenhouse effect so that it is now a hell planet of burning temperatures and sulphuric acid rain. He also wasn’t wrong about the threat of renewed militarism and nuclear war and was a welcome voice against Reagan’s strident belligerence.

As a science populariser, his influence has also been immense. Cosmos was a bestseller, and I think it prepared the way for other bestselling works by astronomers and scientists like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. And I certainly was not surprised when Brian Cox, the scientist, not the actor, said in an interview in the Radio Times that he was a massive admirer of Sagan. That came across to me very strongly from his numerous TV series about space and the planets.

More Sketches of Geniuses of British Comedy: Bob Monkhouse, Rod Hull, Emu, and their Victim Michael Parkinson

November 25, 2022

Bob Monkhouse is, in my opinion, one of the very great figures of late 20th century and early 21st century British comedy. He was not just a comedian, but also game show compering some of the nation’s favourite shows. I can remember him from the early or mid ’70s compering The Golden Shot, for those that can remember that far back. The contestants had to give instructions to blindfolded marksman, Bernie the Bolt to get him to aim a crossbow at a target. If he got it, they won the prize money. I can still hear the words, ‘Up a bit, left a bit…’ and so on. I don’t know if Monkhouse took over from someone else, but there are clips of it on YouTube with a Black presenter with a broad Yorkshire accent. Later on, in the 1980s he presented Family Fortunes. He was asked in one interview what the worse moment from the show was. He replied that it was when one contestant kept replying to each question, ‘Christmas turkey?’ This led to exchanges like ‘What item would you take to the beach on holiday?’ ‘A Christmas turkey’. ‘Interesting answer. We’ll see. Our survey said. -‘ and then the buzzer to indicate that the people surveyed definitely had not replied that they would take a Christmas turkey to the beach’. Monkhouse asked the poor fellow afterwards what happened. He said that he didn’t know, his mind just went blank. In the ’90s or early years of this century he started to come back after a period when he was off camera. I think this followed an appearance on Have I Got News For You, where he displayed his wit. Actually, I think he had scriptwriters with him handing him gags, or perhaps I’m confusing him with another comedian and entertainer whose career was revived by the show.

Monkhouse began his career away from the camera, writing jokes for other comedians and children’s comics. In an interview with the popular science magazine, Focus, he recalled how he nearly created Star Trek. He had been a science fiction fan, and so had an idea about a spaceship, called ‘Enterprise’, whose captain was a Scotsman called Kirk. Ah, that would have been interesting. He also gave praise to the other comedians he believed deserved it for their skill. One on series about various TV comedians, he described Jimmy Carr as ‘the comedians’ comedian’. But that phrase could also easily describe him. He was acutely interested in other comedians and the craft of comedy itself. In the 1980s he had his own show at about 7.30 in the evening, in which he interviewed comedians he admired from Britain and America. One of them, if I recall rightly, was our own Les Dawson. His house was also full of old film and clips of past comedians. He died of prostate cancer a few years. After his death one of the TV channels broadcast his farewell show, with commenters from other comedians. They said they didn’t realise how terribly ill Monkhouse was at the time, and that he was saying ‘goodbye’ to them. Another great comedian lost to us.

Rod Hull and Emu – another brilliant comedy act taken from us by the Grim Reaper. Hull said he was inspired to create Emu while watching a nature programme in New Zealand. This may have shown the country’s national bird, the Kiwi, another flightless bird rooting around on the forest floor. Or it may have shown Australia’s great flightless bird, the emu. Either way, the bird inspired Hull to create this avian monster of children’s television. It was the most terrifying puppet not to come out of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, though some cruel individuals may detect a certain resemblance to the villainous Skeksis in the film The Dark Crystal. Whatever its inspiration, Emus temperament was more like the 12-foot carnivorous Terror Birds that lived after the demise of the dinosaurs. Hull and Emu had a variety of children’s programmes. I remember him from E.B.C. 1 – ‘Emu’s Broadcasting Company’ with Billy Dainty on BBC 1, and then he moved over to ITV and Emu’s World. On E.B.C., Hull and Emu attempt to perform pieces from the Bard, complete with Emu wearing an Elizabeth cap. I also remember a recurring segment where Dainty, another great performer in his own right, dressed in Edward strongman long johns, tried to give advice on getting fit. This was introduced by the 20th Jazz song, ‘Keep fit, take exercise, get fit, and you’ll be wise, whatever you do, keep fit’. The music that introduced the Shakespeare segment, I later found out, was the 16th century German Mohrentanz, played on shawms and crumhorns. Emus also did weather forecasts, which were introduced by the jingle, ‘Weather, weather, all together, what’s it going to do? We don’t know, and so let’s ask, weatherman Emu.’ In addition to his own programmes, he also appeared as a guest on others, most notorious on Parkinson.

Emu’s style of comedy was pure, anarchic slapstick, whether he was on his own programmes or a guest on a chat show. These performances usually started off calmly, with Hull talking quietly and the puppet behaving itself on his arm. If they were being interviewed, Emu would act docile, snuggling up to the interviewer to be stroked. ‘There, he likes that’, Hull would say approvingly. Then it would start to go wrong, the beak would curl up in a snarl and before long Hull, his guest star or the interviewer would be savagely attacked by the thing’s beak, all with Hull screaming, ‘No, Emu! No!’ This would often end up with the three struggling on the floor while the set collapsed around them in a heap of overturned furniture. Emu was a force of pure chaos, bringing down televisual order. And hilariously funny. But it wasn’t all laughs. I can remember my grandmother telling me I was not to get like him with the sock puppets I made, as Hull had admitted he couldn’t control it. I don’t know if that was true, or another reworking of the old fear about ventriloquists and their dummies. I think Emu was also like Sherlock Holmes as the artist’s creation its creator would like to kill off and move away from but couldn’t because of the characters’ immense popularity. Hull himself was sadly taken from us in a domestic accident. He fell off his roof trying to fix his TV aerial.

I couldn’t sketch Rod Hull and the monstrous bird without also including his most famous victim, the chat show host Michael Parkinson. Parkinson’s show, simply called Parkinson, was one of the mainstays of British television. Parkinson interviewed a number of great and famous stars, like Oliver Reed and Mohammed Ali. And then he had the misfortune to interview, and get assaulted, by Emu. This incident has gone down as a piece of broadcasting history. It became so notorious that it was included in a skit in Private Eye commemorating Parkinson being given an honorary degree or doctorate from one of the universities. Whenever a celebrity, actor, sportsman or whoever, is awarded one of these honorary qualifications, the Eye prints a piece celebrating it in Latin, with the title ‘The …. Laudation In Full’. The Latin is easily understood, recognisable from the Latin vocabular in English. The Parkinson laudatio mentioned his interview with pugilist Mohammed Ali, before adding ‘assaultam cum Emu, avis horribilis. Ave, Emu, salutamus Emu, laudamus Emu’. Or words to that effect. Parkinson had his revenge a few years later when he appeared on Room 101. Parkinson naturally wanted Emu to be consigned to the room containing everything rubbish and terrible in the world. He was obliged when Emu was brought on in a miniature guillotine. Parkinson naturally threw the switch or pulled out the block, and one of children’s television’s most comically terrifying puppets was beheaded, with Parkinson shaking his head as if he couldn’t quite work out whether this was appropriate or not.

An Ancient Egyptian Maths Textbook

November 20, 2022

I found this list of the contents of an ancient Egyptian maths manuscript, papyrus 10057, on the chapter on the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus dating from c.1650 BC, in Henrietta Midonick’s The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1965). The book’s a collection of ancient maths texts from around the world, with relevant commentaries and explanations. I found it interesting because it shows the kind of maths problems ancient Egyptian scribes were interested in and had to deal with, and which were being taught in the schools. The papyrus is divided into three books

Book 1

Division of various numbers of loaves equally between 10 men.

A group of completion calculations involving multiplication of fractions.

Another group of completion calculations involving simple addition of fractions.

Arithmetical solution by trial of equations of the first degree.

Similar equations involving the bushel.

Division of loaves between men in unequal proportions

Book 2

Part 1: Volumes and cubic content in corn.

Cylindrical containers

Rectangular parallelopipedal containers.

Expression in correct form of 1/10, 1/20 up to 1/100 of a bushel, disguised as a sum in cubic content.

Part 2. Areas

Area of square and circle compared.

Rectangle.

Circle.

Triangle.

Truncated Triangle

Trapezoid

Division of given area of land into equal sized fields

Part 3: Batter, or the angle of a slope.

Book 3: Miscellaneous Problems in Arithmetic

Multiplication of fractions

Proportionate values of precious metals.

Division of loaves in unequal proportions.

Division of barley into shares in arithmetical progression.

Division of loaves in unequal proportions.

Daily portion of a yearly ration of fat.

Reckoning of livestock.

Division of 100 bushels of corn in unequal proportions.

So-called pefsu-reckonings. Conversion of grain into bread and beer, and the barter of these last.

Geometrical progression.

Conversion of fractions of the bushel (1/2,1/4, 1/8 etc) in henu.

Food estimate for a poultry yard.

Estimate of food of an ox-stall.

Additions.

Unintelligible group of signs.

Fragment of accounts.

Calendrical entries.

There’s considerable interest in ancient Egypt among Blacks, because it’s been seen since at least the early 19th century as a great Black civilisation. Despite attempts to improve the educational performance of Black children, they still lag behind other ethnic groups like Whites and Asians in schools. I wondered if a way round this would be to try to stimulate their, and other races’ imaginations, with maths problems based on those of the ancient Egyptians. You wouldn’t want to teach them ancient Egyptian mathematical methods, as they’re very different and more convoluted than modern methods and some of them are frankly wrong. But I think you could set kids problems based on the kind of problems budding scribes were taught. You could possibly combine it with Black History month and have the kids dressed up as ancient Egyptians and learn a bit about the civilisation as well.

Reproduction of a page from the maths manuscript.

History Debunked Explores British Asian History in Opposition to Black History Month

October 24, 2022

My favourite internet historian, as some commenters have dubbed him, Simon Webb, has put up a couple of videos yesterday and today on the great, forgotten figures of British Asian history. These were men and women of real achievement, and he uses them to ask an important question: if Britain really was as racist as it has been claimed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, why did these men and women succeed, largely through their own merits? Why, therefore, is it only Blacks who have their own special history month, but not Asians, who seem content not to have one? These are actually good questions, and I think they show much about the difference in situation between Blacks and Asians.

He began yesterday with a video contrasting Mary Seacole, the restauranteur and entrepreneur, who is often claimed to be a Black counterpart of Florence Nightingale, with an Indian female doctor, Annie Wardlaw Jagganadham. This lady was born in 1864 in Adhra Pradesh, India and studied medicine at Madras. She came to Britain to study medicine at Edinburgh university, qualifying as a doctor in 1890. She then became house surgeon at the Edinburgh Hospital for Women and Children. Her brother was also a doctor, as were her nephews.

She was one of a number of other Indian medical students in this country in the 1890s including Gandhi, who qualified in 1891.

Today, Webb has put up another video on Dadabhai Naoroji, an Indian Zoroastrian, who was elected MP in 1892. When taking office, he swore his oath not on the Bible, but on the Zoroastrian holy book, the Zend Avesta. In 1919 another Indian gent, Satyendra Prasanna Sindh, became a member of the British government and simultaneously the House of Lords, becoming the First Baron Sindh. Webb’s a man of the right, and he could have added to this list of Indian MPs Shapurji Saklatvala, a Communist who stood as a Labour party candidate and was elected first Labour MP for Battersea North in 1922 and then Communist MP for the same constituency in 1924. But I suspect that would have been too much for his right-wing principles. But he made a video a few years ago about an Indian raja who became a Tory MP in the 19th century.

Whatever the political point Webb is trying to make, these are really interesting figures. Saklatvala and his White British comrade Newbold, were deeply concerned with imperialism and the oppression of the indigenous peoples, speaking about Ireland, India and Mesopotamia, as Iraq was known at the time.

As for the reason why Chinese and Asian Brits seem uninterested in having their own special history month, I suspect part of this might be because they are culturally more self-confident and economically more self-reliant than Blacks. China, India and Islam have a long history of cultural achievement and scientific invention. If you look through popular books on the history of scientific inventions, you see any number in the ancient and medieval worlds that were discovered or created by Chinese, Indians and Muslim mathematicians, doctors, engineers and scholars. And their descendants are well aware of them. This has found its way into jokes. One of the characters in the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, was an Indian father who shouted ‘India!’ at the mention of various inventions and discoveries, whether they were actually made by Indians or not. Then there was an episode of Lovejoy, in which the dodgy antiques trader was trying to procure an ancient Chinese piece of art for a Chinese Hong Kong banker. This businessman spoke only Chinese and was accompanied by his Chinese interpreter. The character was passionately proud about his country’s heritage of invention, announcing at every opportunity that something or other was a Chinese invention, even when it wasn’t. This eventually reached the point where his interpreter had to say to him, ‘Oh no, Mr. – I don’t think we invented motorcycles!’ These are clearly jokes laughing at Indian and Chinese pride, but I don’t recall anyone taking offence.

Both Chinese, Indians and other Asians have been victims of racism over here, and their countries conquered and exploited under imperialism, but it seems to me that they are confident enough in their own achievements that they don’t feel the need for an Asia history month. They also seem much more determined to raise their economic and social position through their own efforts, something the Black American conservative writer, Jason Riley, wishes Black Americans would do rather than concentrate on gaining political power.

Blacks are in a slightly different position. Those of West Indian descent are acutely aware that their ancestors were slaves while the Black community as a whole seems to know little about African history. African civilisations have suffered from the prejudice of White scholars. It’s depressing reading through the book Colour Prejudice, published in the late 1940s, and seeing so many western scholars declaring that Black Africans had made no innovations and their civilisations were worthless. Some of this doubtless was due to racism, but another problem may have been that many African cultures didn’t have a written literature and built with wood a highly perishable material in the Africa climate, and so archaeological evidence of these cultures were easily obscured over time. Also, a lot of Black history necessarily happened overseas and so isn’t taught in British history. Hence the arguments for Black History month to make Blacks aware that they also have a history of achievement in the hope of inspiring them to go and raise their social and economic position to the same level as Whites and mainstream society.

Indian born Communist MP for Battersea North Shapurji Saklatvala. From James Klugman, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Formation and Early Years, Vol. 1 1919-1924 (London: Lawrence & Wishart 1968).

American Stamp against Sickle Cell Anaemia

October 17, 2022

This piccie below is for the stamp the American postal service put out in 2004 to get more Black Americans to test for sickle cell anaemia, a type of blood cancer. I understood that sickle cell anaemia, or thalassaemia, was the result of something going wrong with a natural adaptation people of African origin have in their blood, which gives it better protection than White blood against malaria. I don’t know if sickle cell anaemia is unique to Black people, or if it’s simply that Blacks are far more vulnerable to it. Either way, there have been calls for more Black people to give blood in order to help combat the disease. I found the picture in the art book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist, by James Gurney (Kansas City: Andrew McMeel Publishing 2009). This is a ‘how to’ book for budding artists of the fantastic. Gurney’s the author of the Dinotopia books, in which humans and dinosaurs live side by side, with people using them for transport, as fire engines, complete with their long necks used as ladders, and so on. Thus, many of the pictures in the book, serving as illustrations of various techniques, are of dinosaurs. The book also teaches lessons in composition, lighting, painting techniques, as well as inspiration for cyborgs, architecture, alternative history, science fiction and so on. There are also sections on possible careers in movie concept art, book covers and museum design. The picture of the Black woman and her beautiful baby are in the pages on using live models.

I was prompted to put the picture up after Simon Webb posted a video about scientists discovering genetic differences in Black blood, which made it better for Black people to receive donated by other Blacks. For Webb, this supported his view that there are distinct races and refuted the doctrine that race is merely a social construct. Now I think he’s right that there are differences between people of different races. East Asians, for example, have a far lower tolerance for alcohol. The explanation for this is that while westerners developed brewing, the Chinese, Japanese and other peoples developed tea. Although it has to be acknowledged that they also had alcohol in the form of rice wine. Aboriginal Australians have something like 25 per cent more neurons in the part of the brain that processes visual information. This is believed to be an adaptation that allows them to be better in remember their way around the trackless wastes of the Australian desert. Also, southern Europeans and Africans are worse at handling the cold than northern Europeans. This was all explored in a documentary on Channel 4 a few years ago. In the case of the indigenous Australians, the programme explained that this was a particularly sensitive topic as previous experiments had been done exploring their cognitive abilities with the intention of proving that they were less intelligent than Whites. But these genetic differences aren’t so great so that the various races of humanity are as distinct from each other as animal subspecies, or at least that’s what I’ve read. As for the differences between Black and White blood, while it might be better for Blacks to receive blood from people like them, it certainly doesn’t mean that blood from the two races is mutually incompatible. Whites have successfully received blood from Blacks, despite some of the stupid fears at the time that somehow it would also turn them Black. Of course, what I think Simon Webb really wants is conclusive genetic proof that Blacks are thicker than White people, as per the Bell Curve. But Sowell in his book, Intellectuals & Race, that Asians aren’t more intelligent than Whites according to IQ tests done properly. He’s more ambivalent about racial differences in intelligence between Blacks and Whites but provides evidence that refutes the old argument that Blacks are intellectually inferior. He also makes the point that those psychologists who did believe in it, nevertheless thought their academic performance could be improved by better teaching methods.

These arguments aside, this is a great picture with a great message, especially during Black History Month.

Right Planning War on Teachers’ Union Over Wokeness?

October 9, 2022

Sorry I haven’t been posting much over the last few days. I had a hospital appointment Thursday and although it wasn’t anything serious, I haven’t felt much like posting anything online afterwards. But I felt I had to post about this. I was watching one of the videos from the New Culture Forum yesterday. It’s the cultural offshoot of the Institute of Economic Affairs and has been set up to defend traditional British culture from left-wing ideas and ‘wokeness’. In this particular video, they were discussing various topics that had arisen over the past week. One of these was a video produced by biracial Tory Calvin Robinson about how British children’s education is being ruined by left-wing teachers pushing Critical Race Theory and so on. Now I do agree with them about Critical Race Theory. I think it’s just a form of militant anti-White racism based on a mixture of Marxist legal theory and postmodernism. It considers that all Black people are automatically oppressed because of their colour, while White people are privileged and should be made to feel ashamed and humiliated because of this. It’s divisive and I see absolutely no value in it whatsoever. But Critical Race Theory is only one of their targets. The broader target is the teaching profession itself, which they decided is far too left-wing and needs to be comprehensively attacked.

My mother was a primary school teacher, and I did my first degree at a teacher training college, which has since become one of the new universities. I realise that this is nearly forty years ago, and I honestly don’t know how much has changed or not. I did an MA in history in 2004 and then a Ph.D. in archaeology at Bristol university, graduating ten years ago. My experience of university is therefore dated and limited. But this contradicts some of the assertions that the New Culture Forum were making. They claimed that 85 per cent plus of teachers were left leaning. Perhaps they are. And so, the arch-Tories claimed, they wished to indoctrinate children with woke doctrines like CRT, Postcolonial Theory and so on. They also asserted that they were generally indoctrinating people with the left-wing attitudes that only people on the left support the NHS and are caring.

Now my experience is that teachers, whether left or right, go into the profession for the simple reason that they want to stand up before a class and teach. And what they want to teach is the traditional academic subjects – the three ‘Rs’, history, science, geography or whatever. They don’t want to push Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial Theory or Queer Theory. Issues of race, gender, sexuality, feminism and so on used be part of what was called ‘the hidden curriculum’, the set of values that the educational system sought to impart to its pupils. From what I can see, the overt teaching of issues like anti-racism was imposed from outside the school by the local education authority and involved outside groups. After the 1981/2 riots, for example, the school at which my mother taught was visited by such a specialist group to teach the children to be anti-racist. As far as I can make out, this came from above, from the council or LEA and that neither the school nor its headmaster had anything to do with it. Today there are concerns about schoolchildren in Brighton being taught Critical Race Theory, and one man has taken his child out of the local school there and was protesting against it. But the leader of Brighton council is a member of the Green party, and this seems to be part of Green party policy down there. The New Culture Forum, as could be expected from a group of high Tories, declared that it was the fault of the unions. Well, the National Union of Teachers, from what I can remember, is very hot on anti-racism and so on, but there were a variety of different teaching unions, and I don’t think they were all the same.

As for universities, some lecturers are admittedly very left-wing. Others are, or used to be, Tory. And others keep their political and religious opinions out of the classroom. With some of the ‘woke’ courses that are being made mandatory at certain universities, such as anti-racism awareness for freshers, the impression I get is that they are being imposed by the administration. This seems to be largely a response to criticism from the Black community. Blacks tend to get lower grades than Whites, and so universities have been under pressure since the 1980s to implement affirmative action programmes to admit more Black students by lowering the grades required. And it’s also being done in response to complaints that Black and Asian staff and students also suffer from racial abuse and so on. This aspect does indeed come from the Black sections of the unions, as reported by the Guardian.

The impression that teachers have been indoctrinating vulnerable little minds with Communism has been around since the days of Thatcher, when her government started a moral panic about Peace Studies. I think this latest round of political suspicion and witch hunting is partly a result of concerns across the Atlantic about the promotion of Critical Race Theory, Black Lives Matter and Queer Theory in schools. There have been a number of videos put up on right-wing YouTube channels commenting on TikTok videos by gay/trans teachers informing the world about their sexuality and how they’re trying to teach their class about it, as well as news stories and controversies about Drag Queen Story Hour. But while this goes on, I’m really not sure how widespread it is. I’ve watched videos that have claimed it’s near uniform because of the influence of these doctrines and left-wing staff on the American teacher training courses. But I’m not American, and my contact with the American education system has been limited to American exchange and other students at the universities and colleges I attended.

I am also unsure how far the local authorities can be blamed for the schools in their area teaching left-wing doctrines like Critical Race Theory. I was at school just before the National Curriculum came in, when schools had far greater freedom to teach what and how they chose. This freedom has been limited by the National Curriculum. Also, schools have been part-privatised by being transformed into academies. This system was intended to take them out of local authority control. But if schools are teaching subjects like CRT and Queer Theory, it has to be due to the wishes of the academy chain itself. These are private companies, which makes it difficult for Tories like the New Culture Forum to blame the state or left-wing local authorities. It’s no doubt why they’re blaming the teaching unions instead.

So, what are their solutions to all this? They discussed home schooling but rejected that on the grounds that working class parents have neither the time nor the books required to do it. They concluded that if the education system could be rescued at all, there had to be a battle with the unions ‘like the miners’ strike’.

This is very ominous.

I’m not in favour of anyone imposing their own personal political opinions schools. But I’d say that the most pressing issues in education aren’t about Critical Race Theory and so on. They’re the constant issues of underfunding and poor pay for teaching staff, lack of resources and teaching materials and inability to retain staff. There are concerns that children’s, and particularly boy’s personal development and educational performance is being harmed by the lack of male teachers. But one solution to that would be to raise salaries to a level where they would be attractive to men, where they felt that it was worth their while economically to go into teaching rather than a better paid profession. Or launch a campaign that would otherwise attract more men in the same way that other, traditionally masculine professions, are trying to attract women. As for universities, the main issue there in my opinion is the extremely high tuition fees. As far as I can see, the money from these isn’t going to teaching staff, who can be quite poorly paid. One of my friends was an assistant lecturer for a time in the ’90s. It all seems to be going on the bloated salaries of university chancellors and administrators. These seem to me to be the real issues, though I’m not discounting the harm done by the introduction of specifically woke courses. And whatever the New Culture Forum may say, no, the Tories do not support the NHS.

Their talk of attacking the teaching unions is frightening, because it means another Tory assault on state education generally, at a time when education is in crisis because of Tory privatisation policies.

Get the Tories out, renationalise schools and get rid of tuition fees!

A Slavery Document from Nuzi of the Ancient Near East

September 23, 2022

I’ve got the impression that many of the people talking about the various issues connected with the British enslavement of Africans and its continuing legacy don’t actually realise that slavery existed long before the rise of Black transatlantic slavery in the European conquest and colonisation of the Americas. But the supporters of slavery were very much aware of it and used it as part of their polemic against the abolitionists. Slavery had existed in the ancient world, not just in ancient Rome, but also in Egypt, Persia and the other ancient civilisations. It also formed part of the social systems of present-day non-Western societies like the Ottoman Empire. This formed part of their argument that slavery was somehow natural, and that it was unfair for Britain to ban it when other nations and peoples all over the world still kept people in bondage.

As an example of just how ancient slavery was, there’s this document from ancient Nuzi, one of the city states of ancient Iraq. Twenty thousand clay tablets illustrating everyday life in the city c. 1500 BC were excavated by the University of Pennsylvania, the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Harvard Semitic Museum and the Iraq Museum from 1925-1931. This was when Nuzi was under the control of the Hurrians. The tablets themselves were written in Akkadian, the language of the Assyrian empire.

Tablet JEN 845 documents the sale of a female slave by Ziliya, Sukriya, Tehip-sarri, and Silahi, the sons of Silwa-Tesup to Hut-arraphe son of Tisam-musini in return for movable goods that they’ve received.

See Ernest R. Lachman and Maynard P. Maidman, Studies on the Civilization and Culture of Nuzi adn the Hurrians, vol *: Join Expedition with the Iraqi Museum of Nuzi VII, Miscellaneous Texts (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns 1989) 40, 268. This needs to be taken into account in any discussion of western slavery to counter the tendency to present it as something that only Whites did to Blacks. It also needs to be included in order to gain a proper appreciation of the difficulties the abolitionists had combating a system that was both global and ancient.

Johnson Scheme to Cut Joblessness by Limiting Time on Benefit Utter Failure

August 20, 2022

Here’s another article from the Groaniad revealing the failure of another Tory policy. In this case, it was the Prime Minister’s ‘flagship’ Way to Work scheme. This sought to encourage the unemployed to find work by ending jobseekers’ allowance after four weeks, unless they started looking for work outside their normal line. The article. ‘Boris Johnson’s flagship jobs scheme was a failure, new figures reveal’, by James Tapper, begins

‘Boris Johnson’s flagship jobs scheme appears to have failed, despite his claim that it helped half a million people into work.

The Way to Work scheme set a target to support 500,000 people into employment by cutting jobseekers’ benefits after four weeks unless they applied for work outside their normal occupation.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics released last week show that the number of unemployed people finding work actually fell by 148,000 compared with the six months before Way to Work began, despite record numbers of job vacancies.

The government is also facing questions about why it set a target of 500,000 when, on average, nearly 1 million unemployed people have found work during similar periods each year since 2001.

On 28 July, the official statistics watchdog challenged the Department for Work and Pensions on why it had not explained how its target was set or measured, a month after the government’s triumphant claims.

Ed Humpherson, director general of the Office for Statistics Regulation, wrote: “There is no clear explanation of how the Way to Work target was defined, how it would be measured, and the methods used to support claims … that the target has been reached.

“It is difficult to attribute and quantify publicly the impact of a campaign like Way to Work in the absence of a clearly defined and published target, and details about how the target will be measured and reported, at the start.’

For more information, go to: https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/boris-johnson-s-flagship-jobs-scheme-was-a-failure-new-figures-reveal/ar-AA10SvzG?ocid=msedgdhp&pc=U531&cvid=2d1fefce6f644195b785eb5932dc78b5

This scheme looks like it was based on the guff I heard when I started work, that’s there’s plenty of work around if you only look for it. It was the attitude of the clerks in the Benefits Agency when I was signing on there several years ago. They did not like me looking for work in my own line, that is, as an archaeologist and academic. In fact one young woman asked me exasperatedly why I didn’t go for something like a cleaning job before looking for more suitable work. In fact I understood at the time that you were allowed a few weeks to look for suitable work before they started insisting you try for anything at all. She and her colleagues hadn’t told me, but when I brought it up she didn’t deny it. She just said that it wouldn’t have been for as long as I thought. This tells you all you need to know about what used to be the Benefits Agency: they’re not interested in helping people find suitable jobs, just in getting you off their books. Perhaps the girl was frustrated at not getting a gold star and freebies as whistleblowers revealed clerks were being rewarded with for throwing people off benefits. I can think of a couple of reasons why I shouldn’t immediately have gone for a cleaning job: it puts somebody much more suited for the work out of a job. And that’s even if I got it, as having postgraduate degrees would almost certainly make me overqualified. Quite apart from the fact that I wanted to get a job as an archaeologist as quickly as possible.

They were also very annoyed by me not following Iain Duncan Smith’s pet scheme to get people to post their job searches online or something similar, so they’d be in public record. I resented this intrusion on my privacy, so simply brought in hard copies of the various jobs I’d applied for. Perhaps they got a gold star and prezzies for all the poor souls they forced into IDS’ wretched scheme.

As for limiting the time people can spend on jobseekers’ allowance, this seems to be another idea imported from America. Like the Welfare to Work scam Blair set up as part of his New Deal. As I understand it, in America unemployment benefit is only given for a few weeks while they expect you to find a job. Or it was thirty years ago. Perhaps it has changed since or varies from state to state.

Whatever the reason or rationale given for it, Johnson’s scheme has been an utter failure, as so many other Tory schemes are, all the way back to Thatcher’s privatisations. Well, in a few weeks’ time we’ll be saying goodbye to him.

Too bad we won’t be saying it to his foul party.