Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Far Right Brexiteers Annoyed Boris Gave Award to Bristol Police Chief Who Allowed Attack on Colston Statue

January 7, 2021

The gravel-voiced anonymous individual behind the website ‘We Got a Problem’ got very annoyed yesterday about one of the peeps Johnson decided to reward in the New Years’ honours. ‘We Got a Problem’ is a pro-Brexit, anti-immigrant channel on YouTube. It views non-White immigrants as a serious threat to traditional British citizens and particularly concentrates on reporting crimes committed by people of colour. Such migrants are reviled in some of the crudest possible terms, which also clearly reveal the party political bias of the faceless man behind the website. One of the epithets he uses for them is ‘imported Labour voters’. This nameless individual was upset because Johnson has, apparently, given an award to the Bristol police chief, who resolutely sat back and did nothing to stop BLM protesters pulling down the statue of Edward Colston and throwing it into the docks. He therefore decided to put up a video expressing his considered disapproval yesterday, 6th January 2021. I’m not going to provide a link to his wretched video. If you want to see it, all you need do is look for it on YouTube.

Now I am very definitely not a fan of Black Lives Matter nor the destruction of public property. But the Bristol copper actually had very good reasons not to intervene. ‘We Got A Problem’s’ video contains a clip from an interview the rozzer gave to the Beeb about his inaction. He states that there’s a lot of context around the statue, and that it was of a historical figure that had been causing Black people angst for years. He was disappointed that people would attack it, but it was very symbolic. The protesters were prepared. It had been pre-planned and they had grappling hooks. The police made a tactical decision not protect the statue in case it provoked further disorder. They decided that the safest thing to do was not protect the statue. What they didn’t want was tension. They couldn’t get to the statue, and once it was torn down the cops decided to allow the attack on the statue to go ahead.

‘We Got A Problem’ takes this as an admission of incompetence by the Bristol copper, calling him a ‘cuck’, a term of abuse used by the Alt-Right. The YouTuber is also upset that while the cop got an honour, that hero of Brexiteers everywhere, Nigel Farage, didn’t. As all Brexit has done is created more chaos, and seems set to create more misery, including food and medicine shortages, the further destruction of British industry, especially manufacturing, and massively increased bureaucracy for trade and foreign travel, Farage doesn’t deserve to get one either. But this is lost on the fanatical Brexiteers like ‘We Got A Problem’, who cling desperately to the belief that somehow Brexit is going to lead to a revival of Britain’s fortunes, ending Black and Asian immigration and propelling us back to a position of world leadership.

As for the lack of action taken by the chief of Bristol’s police, I think he made the right decision. The statue the BLM protesters attacked was of the slaver Edward Colston. Colston was a great philanthropist, using some of the money he made from the trade to endow charities and schools here in the city. But understandably many people, especially Blacks, are upset that he should be so honoured with a statue. There have been demands for it to be removed since the 1980s. One Black woman interviewed on Radio 4 said she felt sick walking past it to work in the morning. However, the statue was retained because when Bristolians were asked whether it should be taken down, the majority were against it.

While ‘We Got A Problem’ presents the attack as a riot, in fact the only thing that was attacked was Colston’s statue. None of the other buildings or monuments were touched. Not the statue of MP and founder of modern Conservatism Edmund Burke, not the statue of Neptune or to the city’s sailors nearby, or of Queen Victoria just up the road by College Green. Nor were any of the shops and businesses in the centre attacked, unlike the riots of 2012. This could have changed, and the attack on the statue become a full-scale riot if the police had tried to intervene. The police chief doesn’t mention it, but I also believe one other factor in his decision not to protect the statue was the issue of racism in the police. One of the causes of the St. Paul’s riots in Bristol in 1981 was the feeling by the Black community there that the police were ‘occupying’ the area. It seems to me that the Bristol cop was worried that an attempt by the police to defend the monument would lead to further accusations of racism and a deterioration in their relations with Bristol’s Black community.

It was only one statue that was pulled down. It has been recovered from the docks, and I think is either now on display or awaiting going on display in one of the Bristol’s museums. No-one was hurt and no other property was damaged. I think four of those responsible for the attack have been identified and charged. Mike in one of his pieces about the incident made it clear that they should have been allowed to go free. I think this would be wrong. While you can sympathise with their reasons, it’s still an attack on public property. Allowing one set of vandals to go unpunished would encourage others to make similar attacks, possibly to monuments to figures much less deserving of such treatment. While I don’t think very many people are genuinely upset about the attack on Colston’s statue, attacks on others, such as that of Winston Churchill, may have caused far more outrage. While it was a good tactical decision not to defend the statue when it was attacked, it’s quite right that the attackers should receive some punishment in order to prevent further, far more controversial attacks, from taking place.

Archaeologists Find More Skulls in Aztec Tower in Mexico City.

December 15, 2020

Yesterday’s I for the 14th December 2020 also carried the news that archaeologists had discovered even more skulls, which formed part of a tower built with the remains of the heads of victims sacrificed to the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. The article on page 33, titled ‘Tower of skulls found at Aztec dig’, runs

Dozen more skulls have been found by archaeologists digging at an Aztec temple beneath the centre of Mexico City.

The 119 skulls made up part of a tower of heads of sacrificed humans kept as a trophy by the pre-Columbian civilisation. A five-year dig beneath old buildings near the city’s Templo Mayor ruins has so far revealed 603 skulls.

The latest are thought to be part of a skull rack from a temple dedicated to teh Aztec god of the sun, war and human sacrifice. Known as the Huey Tzompantli, it stood on the corner of the chapel of Huitzilophchtli, the patron of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs dominated large parts of central Mexico from the 14th to the 16th centuries.

Their empire was overthrown by invaders led by the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, who captured Tenochtitlan in 1521.

The piece included this photo showing the skulls encased in the tower’s walls.

The Aztecs were one of the world’s great civilisations, no question, and its destruction by the Conquistadors and the decimation of the Amerindian peoples by slavery and disease is one of the great crimes of western imperialism. But they were aggressive, warlike and cruel. They believed that the sun god, Tezcatlipochtl, depended on a constant supply of human blood to sustain him. Hence, while other peoples made treaties with their neighbours trying to make peace, the Aztecs did the opposite. They made a treaty with two of their neighbouring civilisations for perpetual war in order to supply the sacrificial victims their religion required. Their architecture reflected the bloodthirstiness of their religion. Some of their great buildings have carvings of the flayed skins of their enemies, which were hung on poles and worn by the priests. So horrific are some of their monuments, that when the British Museum held a special exhibition on them, ‘Empire of Blood’ a few years ago, the Independent’s arts journo, Philip Hensher, compared them to Auschwitz and said he wanted nothing to do with it. It sounds like an overreaction, but as I’ve hard it said that about 30,000 people a year were sacrificed in their temples, and that these deaths were celebrated in their architecture and sculpture, which Hensher also found unattractive, describing it as ‘blocky’, you can see his point. Some western archaeologists have also said that the destruction of their religion was no loss to humanity. I was reading a book on the archaeology of death around the world, and the author described the horrors of the Aztec sacrificial cult. He said very clearly that no matter how bad Christianity was, it was far better than the religion it replaced.

Herod’s Throne Room Found By Archaeologists in Jordan

December 15, 2020

Yesterday’s edition of the I for Monday, 14th December, carried a couple of interesting pieces of archaeological news. The first was a snippet on page 2, ‘Bible ‘throne room’ found in excavation. This ran

The throne-room where Biblical character Salome is said to have danced before the kind and demanded the head of John the Baptist has been discovered at the Dead Sea fortress at Machaerus in Jordan, archaeologists report. The excavations are being done by a Hungarian team of experts.

Herod was cruel and sadistic. Not only did he kill all the boys in Bethlehem, according to the Bible, fearing that one of them would be Jesus, the future king who might take his throne from him, but he was responsible for any number of other atrocities. He had several of his own sons killed as well as his wife, according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. He later regretted this, and had her embalmed with honey. He talked to her corpse and is even supposed to have had sex with it. He died of a disease of his lower quarters, which gave him great pain and which doctors have now diagnosed as genital gangrene. However, he was also a great builder, rebuilding Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem as well as a number of other great buildings. He was also an ally of Rome. John the Baptist was imprisoned and bitterly hated by Herod’s wife, because she had originally been married to one of the king’s brothers. She’d left him to run off with the despot, in contravention of Jewish law. John had denounced the two for it, and so been arrested and thrown into prison. The Bible states that Salome was put up to asking for the Baptist’s head by her mother when she danced at a feast held by her father. This impressed him so much, that he offered to grant her anything she wanted. So her mother told her to demand John’s death. Herod was reluctant, but couldn’t back down in front of his guests. And so Christ’s herald was executed.

Bristol’s Colston Hall Changes Name to Bristol Beacon

September 25, 2020

My fair home city of Bristol was in the news yesterday. One of its premier music venues, the Colston Hall, is changing its name. This is obviously a consequence of the pulling down of Colston’s statue on the town centre not far from the Hall a month or so ago by Black Lives Matter activists. The Hall’s been debating for a long time whether or not to change its name, and the decision has been hastened as it and other places try to distance themselves from the slaver and his legacy. Colston Tower, an office block on or near the centre, is also being renamed. And there was mention on the news a little while ago that Colston Girls’ school was also considering changing its name.

The item I saw about this on the national news showed one of the journos walking along Pero’s Bridge. It’s an eccentric structure crossing Bristol’s docks, as it has two horn-like structures either side of it at one point. It takes its name from one of the few slaves in the city, whose name is actually known. Then there was a brief interview with Dr. Edson Burnett, one of the leading historians of the Bristol slave trade. He said that the some people were afraid that the renaming of some of landmarks was an attack on history and an attempt to rewrite, but instead it was an attempt to uncover other histories that had been hidden or neglected.

He’s right, and David Olusoga was also correct when he pointed out in an article in the Radio Times the other week that none of the other historic statues in the area were attacked when the BLM protestors took down Colston’s and threw it in the docks. However, it still needs to be pointed out over and over again that Bristol’s involvement with the slave trade has never been covered up. It was mentioned in history textbooks for the city’s schoolchildren. Pero’s Bridge was put up in the 1990s, as was an exhibition, ‘A Respectable Trade’, at the City Museum and Art Gallery, and there is a gallery on it in Bristol’s M Shed.

As for the Colston Hall’s change of name, I don’t think it’ll make any difference. The debate has been going on for some time now, as have demands to have Colston’s statue removed. They were controversial, but now they’ve happened I don’t think it’ll make much difference. I think most Bristolians will simply shrug and get on with better things to do and think about.

And the Bristol Beacon is a great name for one of the city’s most historic and outstanding concert halls.

Spain Passes New Laws Against Glorification of Fascist Franco

September 18, 2020

This is another excellent piece of news I found in Wednesday’s issue of the I, for 16th September 2020. It reports that the Spanish government has passed a historic law banning the glorification of General Franco, the country’s Fascist dictator, and granting reparations to his victims. The article reads

Spain has passed a law to give reparations to the victims of the late dictator General Francisco Franco.

The Democratic Memory Law will ban the foundation which guards the memory of the dictator and fine those who glorify Franco up to 150,000 euros (£138,000).

The mausoleum where Franco’s body lay for more than four decades will also be transformed into a civilian cemetery as part of other changes. School children will be taught about the law.

This is the same law that an earlier article in that same day’s edition reported offers Spanish citizenship to the descendants of Brits who served in the International Brigades that fought against Franco in the Spanish civil war. It’s a great piece of news. Franco was a butcher, who held on to power from the his victory at the end of the civil war to his death in 1975. There’s evidence, but no proof, that he may have been helped launch his rebellion against Spain’s Republican government by our secret services.

Spanish liberals have fought long and hard to overturn his legacy. Spanish archaeologists have faced considerable resistance to the excavation of the mass graves of the old thug’s victims. His mausoleum was particularly offensive. He claimed that it was a monument to everyone who fell in the civil war, regardless of what side they were on. In fact it solely glorified Franco and his Fascists. And he continued to cast a long shadow over Spain even decades after his death. I remember the looks of real horror and fear that came into the face of young Spaniards back in the 1990s at the mere mention of his name.

There was a statue of him on horseback somewhere, which has become a rallying point for Fascist scumbags from across Europe. I don’t know whether that’s still around, but the Spanish people made their own efforts to take it down. Way back in the 1980s its hindquarters were blown off with a bomb. And he was another dictator, who liked having towns and villages named after him. One of these got into the news in 1980s as it changed its name. I can’t remember precisely what the new name was, except that it roughly translated as ‘Our Town’ or ‘Our Village’. Which is obviously better than Pueblo Franco or whatever.

He was like the rest of the dictators in that he was of much less than imposing stature. I’ve got a biography of him somewhere, which said that he was under five foot tall and had a high, piping voice. He was a pious Roman Catholic, and his father had left his mother for another woman, leaving her to bring him up. He was thus very chaste, and so when he was an officer in Spanish north Africa, the other troops thought he was gay because he didn’t visit the brothels.

He was a brutal disciplinarian. When he was an officer in north Africa, he had an Arab/Berber solider shot after the man threw his meal at him. He was ruthless in his treatment of the north Africans, and treated the Spanish the same way in the civil war and his reign afterwards.

It’s great that at last the Spanish have been able to undo his cult, and are offering citizenship to the descendants of the people, who fought against him, and reparations to his victims. It’s just a pity that it’s taken all this time to do it.

History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

September 8, 2020

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.

Liverpool to Put Information Plaques on Buildings and Monuments with Connections to Slavery

August 24, 2020

The Black Lives Matter protests across the world have prompted the authorities in Liverpool to examine once again their great city’s connection to the slave trade. According to an article by Jean Selby in today’s I, for 24th August 2020, the city is going to put up information plaques around the city on areas and places connected to the slave trade. The article’s titled ‘Liverpool to acknowledge its history of slavery’. I think it’s slightly misleading, and something of a slur, as the City has already acknowledged its connection to slavery a long time ago. It has an international slavery museum, which I think may have started as a gallery in its maritime museum way back in the 1990s. This has inspired Black rights and anti-racism campaigners to approach the council here in Bristol calling for a similar museum down here. From what I gather from the local news website, The Bristolian, Asher Craig, a councilor for St. George’s in Bristol and the head of the local equalities body, told them to go away and find a private backer first. This is the same Asher Craig, who in an interview on Radio 4 showed that apparently she didn’t know about the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed, nor about the various official publications, including a 1970s school history book for local children, that discuss Bristol’s history in the slave trade, and told the Beeb she wanted a museum of slavery here in Bristol. According to The Bristolian, the campaigners are dismayed at the city’s refusal to build such a museum following the examples of Liverpool in the Britain and Nantes in France.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of London journos writing pieces about places like Bristol and Liverpool blithely claiming, or implying, that only now are they acknowledging their role in the abominable trade. I can remember getting very annoyed with the News Quiz and some of the comedians on it over a decade ago when I similar story came up about Liverpool. Jeremy Hardy, a great left-wing comedian sadly no longer with us, said something suitably sneering about the city and slavery. But the impression I have is that it’s London that has been the most sensitive and most desperate to hide its past in connection to slavery. Nearly two decades or so ago, when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I had the privilege of meeting a young Asian artist. She was working on a project commemorating the slave trade by making models of old factories and mills from the foodstuffs they produced, which had been cultivated through slavery. She told me that she’d approached a number of towns and their museums, and received very positive reactions to her work. They had all been very willing to give her whatever help they could, though some of these towns had only been in the slave trade for a very short time before being squeezed out by competition from Bristol and Liverpool. As a result, they often genuinely had little in their collections connected to slavery. But they were willing to give any help they could. But her experience with the Museum of London had been quite different. They made it plain that they didn’t have any holdings on slavery whatsoever. I’ve been told since then that things are a bit different, and that individual London boroughs are quite open and apologetic about their connection to the slave trade. But it does seem to me that it is London that is particularly defensive and secretive when it comes to commemorating its own history of slave dealing.

Back to the I’s article, which runs

Liverpool will address its ties to the slave trade with a series of plaques around the city explaining the history behind its street names, building and monuments.

The city council plans to acknowledge the role the port city played in colonialism and the vast wealth generated from the trafficking of human beings. According to the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool ships carried about 1.5 million slaves, half of the three million Africans taken across the Atlantic by British slavers.

Falkner Square, named after an 18th-century merchant involved in the slave trade, is among those expected to have a plaque installed.

“We have to be led by our communities on how to do this and do it in a way that is sensitive to both our past and our present,” mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said as he announced the project yesterday. He was marking Slavery Remembrance Day – which commemorates the anniversary of a 1791 slave uprising in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

He continued: “I do not believe that changing street names is the answer – it would be wrong to try and airbrush out our past. It’s important that we have a sensible and informed discussion about theses issues. We need to judge the past with a historical perspective, taking into account today’s higher ethical standards and, most importantly, how everyone, from every community in the city, feels about it.”

And advisory panel, chaired by Michelle Charters, recommended the creation of Eric Lynch slavery memorial plaques, named in honour of Eric Lynch, a Ghanaian chief who is a descendant of African slaves and spent his life drawing attention to the city’s slavery history.

His son, Andrew Lynch, said: “These plaques are a tribute to Eric’s long years of work as a black community activist and educator, teaching the people of Liverpool to acknowledge and understand their historic inheritance in an honest and open way, and uncovering the contribution made by black people throughout our great city.”

This all sounds actually quite reasonable. I think it’s fair to put the plaques up for those wanting such information. And I really don’t believe those places should be renamed, as this is a form of rewriting history. You shouldn’t try to erase the past, although I accept that some monuments, like those of Colston, are unacceptable in today’s moral and political climate for very good reasons.

However, I think this says less about Liverpool’s history and more about the present desperate state of the Black community in Britain. Back when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum all those years ago, I remember talking about some of the materials we had on slavery and its history by West Indian academic historians. I heard from some of the staff that some of this was actually quite controversial in some of the West Indian nations, but for reasons that are completely the opposite to the situation in this country. They’re controversial, or were then, among Black West Indians, who feel that they’re racist against their White fellow countrymen and co-workers. Apparently after one book was published, there was a spate of letters in the local press by Black people stating that their bosses or secretaries were White, and certainly weren’t like that. I think if the Black community in Britain shared the same general level of prosperity and opportunity as the White population, there would be precious little interest in slavery and its commemoration except among academics and historians. It would be an episode from the past, which was now mercifully over, and which the Black community and the rest of society had moved on from.

I also think that demands for its commemoration also come not just from the material disadvantages the Black community in general suffers from, but also its feelings of alienation and marginalisation. They feel that they and their history are being excluded, hence the demands for its commemoration. However, I think the reverse of this is that such demands can also look like expressions of anti-White sentiment, in which the present White population is demanded to be penitent and remorseful about something they were not responsible for, simply because they’re White.

And there are also problems with the selection of the events commemorated International Slavery Remembrance Day. This looks like Toussaint L’Louverture’s Black revolution on Haiti. L’ouverture was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. It was he and his generals that overthrew the French authorities in what is now Haiti, giving the country its present name and making it a Black republic in which power and property could only be held by Blacks. It naturally became a shining beacon for the aspirations of other Black revolutionaries right across the Caribbean and even the US. Major Moody discusses it in his 1820s report on slavery, which critically examined whether Blacks were prepared for supporting themselves as independent, self-reliant citizens after emancipation. His report included correspondence from Black Americans, who had been freed by their owners and moved to Haiti, but still kept in touch with them.

Moody was not impressed with the progress of the revolution, and concluded that Blacks weren’t ready for their freedom. This shocked many abolitionists, as Moody himself was a married to a Black woman. But if you read his report about Haiti, you understand why. After successfully gaining their freedom, the Haitians had been faced with the problem of maintaining it against European aggression on the one hand, and economic collapse on the other. The result was the imposition of virtual enslavement back on the plantation workers, who had fought so hard for their freedom. The country’s estates were divided up among the generals. The former slaves were forbidden to leave them, and quotas of the amount of sugar they were required to produce were imposed. If the poor souls did not produce the required amount, they were tortured or burned to death. It seemed to me when I read the Blue Book Moody published, kept in the Museum’s libraries, that Moody’s decision against supporting immediate emancipation for the enslaved peoples of the Caribbean was based on a genuine horror of such atrocities and fear that this would be repeated across the West Indies.

I don’t think Marxist historians would be surprised at the brutality that arose after the Haitian revolution. Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin believed that history followed certain deterministic laws, and were acutely interested in the French Revolution. From this they believed that all revolutions followed an inevitable pattern. After the initial gains of freedom, the revolution would be overthrown and a period of reaction arise, created by a dictator. Just like Napoleon had overthrown the French Revolutionaries to create a new, imperial monarchy. In their own time, they were afraid that the new Napoleon, who would undo the Russian Revolution, would be Trotsky. And so they missed Stalin’s threat. The reintroduction of slavery by L’Ouverture’s generals is just part of this general pattern in the progress of revolutions. Nevertheless, like the destruction of personal freedoms following the Russian Revolution and then Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s, it does raise the awkward question of whether it should, like the Russian Revolution, really by celebrated or commemorated without significant caveats.

This aside, I’m sure that following Liverpool’s decision, there will also be demands for Bristol to do the same. There is already a slave walk around the docks in Bristol and a plaque commemorating the slaves exploited and traded by Bristol merchants. The M Shed has a gallery on Bristol and the slave trade, which includes a map of various streets and properties in the city and its surroundings built and owned by slavers and those with connections to the trade. And the latest monument, set up in the 1990s, is a remarkable bridge down on the docks. This has two horns either side of it, but has been named ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after one of the very few slaves traded by the city in the 18th century, who identity is known.

Egyptians Issue Polite Invitation to Musk to See that Aliens Didn’t Built the Pyramids

August 4, 2020

Here’s a rather lighter story from yesterday’s I, for 3rd August 2020. Elon Musk, the billionaire industrialist and space entrepreneur, has managed to cause a bit of controversy with Egyptian archaeologists. He’s a brilliant businessman, no doubt, but he appears to believe in the ancient astronaut theory that alien space travellers built the pyramids. He issued a tweet about it, and so the head of the Egyptian ministry for international cooperation¬† has sent him a very polite invitation to come to their beautiful and historic country and see for himself that this is very obviously not the case. The report, ‘Musk invited to debunk alien pyramid theory’, by Laurie Havelock, runs

An Egyptian official has invited Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX tycoon, to visit the country and see for himself that its famous pyramids were not built by aliens.

Mr Musk appeared to publicly state his support for a popular conspiracy theory that imagines aliens were involved in the construction of the ancient monuments.

But Egypt’s international co-operation minister corrected him, and said that laying eyes on the tombs of the pyramid builders would be proof enough.

Tombs discovered inside the structures during the 1990s are definitive evidence, experts say, that the structures were indeed built by ancient Egyptians. On Friday, Mr Musk tweeted: “Aliens built the pyramids obv”. which was retweeted more than 84,000 times. It prompoted Egypt’s minister of international co-operation Rania al-Mashat to respond: “I follow your work with a lot of admiration. I invite you & SpaceX to explore the writings about how the pyramids were built and also check out the tombs of the pyramid builders. Mr Musk, we are waiting for you.”

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass also responded in a short video in Arabic, posted on social media, saying Mr Musk’s argument was a “complete hallucination”.

Hawass used to be head of their ministry of antiquities, and a very senior archaeologist. He was on TV regularly in the 1990s whenever there was a programme about ancient Egypt. And he doesn’t have much truck with bizarre theories about how or why the pyramids were built. ‘Pyramidiots – that what I call them!’ he once declared passionately on screen.

The idea that the ancient Egyptians couldn’t have built the pyramids because it was all somehow beyond them has been around for some time, as have similar ideas about a lost civilisation being responsible for the construction of other ancient monuments around the world, like Stonehenge, the Nazca lines and great civilisations of South America, Easter Island and so on. Once upon a time it was Atlantis. I think in certain quarters it still is. And then with the advent of UFOs it became ancient astronauts and aliens. One of the illustrations Chris Foss painted for a book cover from the 1970s shows, I think, alien spacecraft hovering around the pyramids.

There’s actually little doubt that humans, not aliens, built all these monuments, and that the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids for which their country’s famous. Archaeologists have even uncovered an entire village, Deir el-Medina, inhabited by the craftsmen who worked on them. This has revealed immensely detailed records and descriptions of their daily lives as well as their working environment. One of the documents that has survived from these times records requests from the craftsmen to their supervisors to have a few days off. One was brewing beer – a staple part of the ordinary Egyptians diet – while another had his mother-in-law coming round. I also distinctly remember that one of the programmes about ancient Egypt in the 1990s also proudly showed a tomb painting that at least depicted the system of ramps the workers are believed to have used to haul the vast stones into place. And the great ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, in his Histories, states very clearly that the pyramids were built by human workers. He includes many tall tales, no doubt told him by tour guides keen to make a quick buck and not to worried about telling the strict truth to an inquisitive foreigner. Some of these are about the spice and rich perfumes traded by the Arab civilisations further west. He includes far-fetched stories about how these exotic and very expensive products were collected by giant ants and other fabulous creatures. But no-one tried telling him that it wasn’t people, who built the pyramids.

On the other hand, the possibility that aliens may have visited Earth and the other planets in the solar system isn’t a daft idea at all. Anton ‘Wonderful Person’ Petrov, a Russian YouTuber specialising in real space and science, put up a video a few weeks ago stating that it’s been estimated that another star passes through the solar system once every 50,000 years. A similar paper was published by a Russian space scientist in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society back in the 1990s, although he limited the estimated to a star coming within a light-year of Earth. That’s an incredibly small distance, and if there have been other, spacefaring civilisations in our Galaxy, they could easily jump off their solar system to visit or explore ours. We can almost do it ourselves now, as shown by projects that have been drawn up to send light-weight probes by solar sail to Alpha Centauri. In addition to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence using radio telescopes to comb the skies for a suitable signal, there is also planetary SETI. This advocates looking for the remains of alien spacecraft or visitors elsewhere in our solar system. It’s advocates are serious scientists, though it suffered a major blow to its credibility with the furore over the ‘Face on Mars’. Which turned out not to be a face at all, but a rock formation as its critics had maintained.

Aliens may well have visited the solar system in the deep past, but it was definitely very human ancient Egyptians, who built the pyramids. Because, as Gene Roddenberry once said about such theories, ‘humans are clever and they work hard.’ Wise words from the man who gave us Star Trek.

Let’s go out in space to seek out new life and new civilisations by all means, but also keep in mind what we humans are also capable of achieving on our own down here.

Black Artist Wants Her Statues Put Up on Colston’s Plinth

June 21, 2020

Since the statue of the slaver Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down from its plinth and thrown into the docks, there’s been a debate over what should replace him. Mike posted up a few Tweets from people giving their suggestions in his post about the statue’s forcible removal. One of these suggested that as the Ladies’ Abolitionist Society in Sheffield was the first to demand the emancipation of the slaves, a statue should be put up to them. I disagree, because although there should be a monument to them, it should be a matter for Sheffield to commemorate its great citizens, rather than Bristol. It’s for this same reason I got annoyed with a piece on Channel 4 News yesterday in which a Black sculptress spoke about how she would like her statues put up on Colston’s plinth.

She had created a series of sculptures of male and female slaves with the title We Have Made the World Richer. These depicted various figures from the history of slavery and the enslavement of Africans. The first two were of a man and woman, who had been newly enslaved. They had a slogan stating that they had been torn from their homes. Then there was a couple of plantation slaves, with the slogan ‘We Are Brave’. And there were more. I think there were something like six or eight statues in total. The statues had previously been exhibited in parliament, but had garnered little comment from the MP. Krishnan Guru-Murthy, interviewing her, asked her why this was. She felt it was because it was too raw and powerful for them. She described the fall of Colston’s statue as ‘cathartic’, and felt that the empty plinth should be taken up with one of hers. When Guru-Murthy asked her if Bristol knew she was coming, she laughed and said that she hoped they did now.

It would be entirely right for the plinth in Bristol to be occupied by a slave, representing one of Colston’s victims. But the statue and/or its artist should ideally be people, who actually had connections to the city. I wonder if there’s a local Black artist from somewhere like St. Paul’s or Stokes Croft that could create one. From the way the woman spoke, it was clear that she wasn’t a Bristolian and had absolutely no connection with it or its people. I wonder if she even knew where the city was or even that there was such a place before the events a week or so ago. It looked to me to be rather opportunistic. She was an outsider looking for a space for her art, and thought she’d found it in Bristol. There are also problems with the size of the plinth itself. It is only big enough to hold a statue of one person, not the many she created. Presumably one of the statues would have to be on the plinth itself while the others were arranged around it.

The vast majority of slaves traded by Bristol were taken to the West Indies, but there were some and free Blacks in the city. One of the villages just outside Bristol has the grave of Scipio, the enslaved servant of one of the local aristocracy. One of the bridges over Bristol’s docks, which is cantilevered with two, gigantic, trumpet-shaped horns, is called ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after another local slave. There is also a slave walk around the docks, and memorial plaque on one of the former warehouses by Bristol’s M Shed to the countless victims of Bristol’s trade in slaves. And the subjects of two existing sculptures in the city, John Wesley and Edmund Burke, were also opponents of the slavery and the slave trade. Burke, the city’s MP, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France became a foundational text for modern Conservatism, condemned slavery in an 18th century parliamentary debate. I believe Wesley also attacked in a sermon he gave at the Methodist New Room, now John Wesley’s Chapel in Broadmead in Bristol. I think that after 1745 Methodists were forbidden to own slaves.

I also wonder if figures from national history might make more suitable subjects for sculptures. Like Mary Prince, a West Indian slave from Bermuda, who was able to gain her freedom when her masters took her to London. The Mansfield judgement had officially ruled that slavery did not exist under English law, and so slaves brought to Britain were, in law, free. Prince got her freedom simply by walking away. She joined the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, and her account of her life as a slave, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, was published in London in 1831. Another British slave, who gave his voice to the abolitionist campaign was Louis Asa-Asa. Asa-Asa had been enslaved by the French, but gained his freedom when a ship carrying him put in at Cornwall. He was the author of a pamphlet, How Cruelly We Are Used, which was also published in 1831. I also suspect that there are other people in Bristol’s history, whether slaves or White abolitionists, who deserve to be commemorated but at the moment nobody knows about.

Without going into the murderous fear of outsiders of the League of Gentlemen’s Edward and Tubbs and their slogan ‘a local shop, for local people’, the vacant plinth should be occupied by a figure from Bristol’s history. Even if it is only someone, who simply visited the city as part of an abolitionist speaking tour. Many of Britain’s towns and cities had abolitionist societies, like those of Sheffield, and I’d be very surprised if Bristol didn’t have one. Even if the city did officially celebrate the failure of abolitionist bills before the eventual emancipation of 1837.


Black Historian Edson Burnett: White Working Class Did Not Benefit from Bristol Slave Trade

June 10, 2020

Tonight on the local news programme for the Bristol region, Points West, the historian Dr. Edson Burnett said something very interesting about who did and did not benefit from the city’s slave trade. He was being interviewed as part of an item about the response of Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, to the toppling of Colston’s statue on Sunday. Rees is Black, and has said during interviews on the past few days that while he understood that a number of Bristolians didn’t want to see the statue removed, and respected their feelings, he himself hated the statue and what it stood for. Now he has decided to set up a commission of historians and others to look into monuments and places in Bristol with connections to the slave trade, and decide what to do about them.

It isn’t just about the statue, but also about the names of streets and buildings like Colston Street, Colston Girls’ School, the Colston Hall and so on. Some of these are already distancing themselves from Colston and changing their names. Rees stated it was all about setting up a conversation with the public over the issue. The measures taken might include changing the names of places with offensive connections, but he left that open as just one option.

One of those appointed to the commission is Dr. Madge Dresser of the University of the West of England. She’s an historian, teaching the 18th century and specialising in the slave trade. She has written a couple of books about Bristol and the slave trade, one of which is Slavery Obscured. This is about how the city carried on financing and reaping the profits of the slave trade after its official abolition. She used to take her students on a field expedition to the slave fort in Gambia. She was also one of those involved in the expedition A Respectable Trade about Bristol and the slave trade at the City Museum in 1995. She’s an excellent choice.

Another expert, who has been selected for it is Dr. Edson Burnett. Burnett’s Black, and has researched and written extensively about Bristol and the slave trade. And he said something very interesting indeed. I thought he would keep himself to commenting on the effect of slavery on Black people. But he didn’t. He also wanted to include the White working class as those affected by it. He said that the White working class did not benefit from the trade, and said that many sailors were so afraid of slavery voyages that they had to be duped.

This is brilliant! I wish someone had made this point 25 years ago when the City Museum opened its superb exhibition.

I have absolutely no doubt that Dr. Burnett is right. A paper published by Black American students of the slave trade found that mortality among the crew of slave ships in the Middle Passage was slightly higher than those of the slaves themselves. One crewman wrote a pamphlet angrily attacking his captain, as he had contracted a disease during the voyage that robbed him of his sight. He was angry as he had no sympathy from his captain, who had refused him treatment. Historians have rightly commented on the sailor’s own callousness, as he had no sympathy for the poor slaves the ship carried. as for the attitude of contemporary Bristolians towards the trade, a famous visitor to the city commented that everyone hated it, but they could see no way of doing without it. And so the city carried on its bloody business.

Edson’s inclusion of the White working class among those excluded from the trade’s benefits is very interesting. The Tories are able to muster popular support for their policies, including their view of history, by presenting it as a matter of angry, racist Blacks against all Whites. The whole ‘Southern Strategy’ of the Republican party in America is based on them posing as the defender of poor Whites, who feel unfairly discriminated against by pro-Black affirmative action campaigns. This is also how they manage to persuade dirt poor Whites to vote against the introduction of welfare benefits. Because they manipulate the situation to seem that such benefits would only go to profligate, undeserving Blacks. It’s a classic case of ‘divide and rule’.

I’m assuming that the Tories are gearing up to do something similar about this attack on traditional British history and the monuments left by the slave trade and imperialism. They and the Tory press will present it as evil Commies and Blacks working to erase proper history and White identity. They will claim that those liberal elites are going to benefit Blacks at the expense of the White working class. The same White working class they themselves cordially despise and patronise.

But Burnett seems to have dodged that by excluding them as those who benefited from the trade.

This is going to be a very interesting discussion indeed.

Expect more Tory anger soon!