Archive for the ‘Mathematics’ Category

No, Starmer Isn’t Ditching Wokeness, But Attacking the Tories for Opposing It

May 10, 2023

Okay, I’ve got to confess to making another mistake. Earlier today I put up a piece reporting that Starmer had told the leaders of the Labour party that people weren’t interested in woke, and condemned the Tories for being ‘out of touch’. This had been covered in a video put out by That Preston Journalist. I watched it and got the wrong end of the stick. He seemed to me to be saying that Starmer had decided that woke policies weren’t appealing to the public and was ready to ditch them. At the same time I thought that Starmer was also attacking that part of the Conservative party that is woke.

How wrong I was! It seems Starmer isn’t prepared to ditch ‘woke’ at all. He just doesn’t think that voters care enough about it to vote against Labour because of it. Instead they’re more interested and concerned about the NHS and the cost of living. When he said that Sunak and the Tories were out of touch, he meant that they failed to appreciate that these issues took precedence over the woke policies Starmer is promoting and defending and that the British public generally didn’t share their concerns about woke policies. This is how it’s been interpreted by GB News and their presenters.

Before I go further, let’s try and unpack what is meant by the term ‘woke’. Gillyflower, one of the great commenters here, remarked that I should refresh my memory over what it means. As I understand it, it’s Black slang meaning being awake to injustice. Looking at how it’s now being used, it seems to have replaced the old term ‘political correctness’ for extreme and intolerant anti-racist, feminist, anti-homophobic and anti-transphobic views. More narrowly, it’s being used to describe the various Critical Social Justice ideologies derived from the Postmodernist, Critical Theory revision of Marxism which narrowly sees societal issues through the lens of privilege and oppression. These differ from previous forms of anti-racism, feminism and so on in rejecting individualism. In Critical Race Theory, all Whites are privileged because of their skin colour and the fact that some Whites are less privileged than some Blacks is ignored. It isn’t enough to be non-racist, and judge people on their merits and character regardless of race. You must be positively anti-racist and fight against White privilege and for Black uplift through social programmes that demand the granting of opportunities to Blacks and other underprivileged minorities simply because of their colour. For example, in America Black and Mexican students generally do less well at Maths at school than Whites and Asians. So some schools in California are trying to even these results out by giving pre-calculus lessons only to Black and Hispanic students to the exclusion of Whites and Asians.

In the eyes of GB News’ Mike Graham, however, woke means just about every anti-racist, feminist, environmentalist and radical gender view or ideology. Yes, he conceded, people did care about the NHS and the cost of living, but people also cared about: woke teacher telling kids there were 73 genders, environmental protesters gluing themselves to the road, petrol and diesel cars being phased out in favour of electric vehicles, and the cost of power rising due to green energy policies. And so on.

Piers Morgan also did a piece about whether people cared about ‘woke’. This included Reform’s Richard Tice and a woman from the Labour party. Unsurprisingly, Morgan and Tice believed that people did care about ‘woke’. The lady from Labour didn’t. She didn’t like biological men being allowed into women’s private spaces and sports, nor rapists in female prisons, when asked by the former editor of the Mirror. He replied with, ‘Ah, but they’ve prevented you from talking about this’. She replied that they hadn’t, and she’d been talking about it for a year or so. This contrasts with the case of Rosie Duffield, who has been isolated and shunned by Starmer and other senior Labour members for her views. I can’t remember whether the lady believed that people didn’t care about woke policies, or did, but that they were far more concerned about the cost of living and the NHS. I think Morgan had claimed that it was because Labour was pushing these woke policies that it looked like they would not have an absolute majority at the election next year.

My guess is that the Labour lady is probably right. People are directly affected by the cost of living, and wondering how they will afford food, heating and their rent or mortgages. The latter was one of the major issues on the local news tonight in Bristol, which has been revealed as the most expensive city outside London. One woman spoke of how she had been forced to move back in with her parents after the landlord raised the rent by 66 per cent. And they are very much concerned about getting hold of a doctor, thanks to all the wonderful privatisation that Rishi’s so proud of. These are issues that immediately affect everyone. I’m not sure how many people are aware of the debate over transgenderism, let alone so concerned that it affects the way they vote. Some are, and it may become a more important issue in the public consciousness by the time the next election comes round.

But Starmer’s less than exciting performance can also be blamed on other problems apart from the ‘woke’. Like he broke every promise and pledge he made, and has done his level best to purge the left. Corbyn’s policies were genuinely popular, and he enthused and inspired the public in a way Starmer can’t. The turnout at the local elections was low, and my guess is that many of the people Corbyn had appealed to didn’t vote. They had been alienated by a party leadership that was actively hostile to them and which to many people just offers the usual Tory policies, or something not too different from them. Tice, I think, said that Labour’s woke policies wouldn’t appeal to the socially conservative voters of the red wall. He might be right, though if they do become disenchanted with Labour, it’ll be far more to do with the lack of proper, old-style, socialist Labour policies.

And that will apply to the rest of the country.

Open Britain on How Rishi Sunak Is Out of Touch as a Hedge Fund Millionaire

April 19, 2023

Here’s another report on the massive failings and sheer contempt for democracy and proper political conduct by the Tories. It focuses particularly on Rishi Sunak, a multi-millionaire from the hedge funds, who’s married to a tech millionaire. He therefore has absolutely no clue about how his policies are harming ordinary, working Brits.

‘Dear David,

Rishi Sunak has now been PM for nearly six months. Hardly the fresh start we were promised, his premiership has been stained by the same non-stop cycle of scandals, investigations, and inquiries that embarrassed the country under Truss and Johnson. 

The Raab inquiry; Scott Benton’s cash-for-favours scandal; Sunak paying Johnson’s legal fees; Richard Sharp and the BBC; Matt Hancock’s leaked texts; Keeping the illegal Rwanda flights plans alive. Sunak is not just trapped by the ineptitude and corruption of his predecessors – he’s completely embroiled in their insular and out of touch world. 

This week, a new scandal dropped that once again calls into question Sunak’s now infamous promises for “integrity, accountability and professionalism at every level”.

The PM failed to declare shares held by his wife, Akshata Murty, in a childcare agency that will receive a big boost from the government. Sunak and his wife stand to benefit from Jeremy Hunt’s budget, which offers payments to childminders of £1200 when they sign-on to childcare agencies like Murty’s Koru Kids (mentioned by name on the UK government website). 

Following on from outrage about Mrs Murty’s non-dom tax status, her financial connections to Shell and Goldman Sachs, and Sunak family ties to tax havens in the Cayman and British Virgin islands – this simply reinforces Sunak’s image as a PM completely detached from the reality most people live in. Sunak is the first PM ever to come from the world of hedge-funds and venture capital – and (probably) the first to be married to the heiress of a global tech-giant. 

Sunak never fails to display how out of touch he is. Whether he’s talking about his lack of “working class friends” or admitting that he’s taken money from deprived parts of the UK, he comes across as someone that lives in an entirely different reality. 

This week, we saw it again with his “Maths to 18” plans. Downing Street reportedly had to ditch their social media campaign after the only spokesperson they could find for it later claimed Sunak’s maths education plan was “short-sighted, out of touch and grossly unfair on students.”

Westminster in 2023 is like a remote islet, growing more and more distant from our real lives and instead cuddling up to oligarchs, aristocrats, and billionaires. It’s a systemic problem that can only be resolved with serious reform. Merely voting in another party without a mandate to fix it is not enough. 

It’s why I’m committed to ending FPTP, enforcing a strong and binding ministerial code, seeing off Tufton Street think-tanks, fixing campaign finance law, and bringing back our human rights in full force – and Open Britain is too. It’s the only way to bring this Westminster club back down to Earth. 

All the best,

Matt Gallagher
Open Britain’ 

Robin Ramsay of the conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine Lobster has repeatedly stated that the concentration on the financial sector by Thatcher and successive governments, including Tony Blair, has seriously harmed British manufacturing. And it’s not just the working class that are being harmed by the Conservatives. I came across a video today about how Britain’s small businessmen and women were also being harmed by the Tories’ promotion of big business above everything else. I’m not surprised. Margaret Thatcher always made much of her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper, while Ted Heath had the nickname ‘the grocer’. But for a long time now small businesses have been suffering from Thatcherite policies. Blair favoured the big supermarkets over small community shops, and that has also damaged communities. Small, local shops employ more people, and so when the big supermarkets moved into an area, when these shops closed down due to the competition, unemployment in the area also rose. Big businesses are also slow to pay their suppliers, and as these may be small businesses, they’re particularly in danger of going bust. There were demands on John Major’s government, I recall, to pass legislation requiring the big companies to pay their small suppliers promptly, but this disappeared. The statement that voting in another party without a mandate for reform won’t solve the problem is quite right. Starmer seems to me to be all too ready just to carry on Blair and the Tories’ policy of benefiting the financial sector at the expense of everyone else, just as Blair did.

For ordinary working and lower middle class Brits to benefit instead, this policy has to be attacked and discarded.

Mathematician Eric Weinstein Wonders If Aliens Have an FTL Drive Not Based on Einsteinian Physics

March 21, 2023

This one is more for the science and space nerds among the readers of this blog. This video is a short piece from Eric Weinstein’s appearance on the Joe Rogan show. Weinstein’s an American mathematician who’s seriously dissatisfied with the state of physics and cosmology at the moment. In a previous video he takes square aim at Quantum Gravity. This is an attempt to unify two very different theories – Einstein’s theory of relativity, which works extremely well on the macro level, but doesn’t extend to the quantum world, and quantum physics, which is the opposite. It works extremely well at the level of atomic particles, but doesn’t work at the level of people, planets, cars and the like. Weinstein’s complaint is that great minds have worked for over 70 years on Quantum Gravity without any success. However, because of the prestige of some of the great minds promoting the theory, like Ed Witten and the author Michio Kaku, people are still pursuing it and anyone who speaks against it is regarded as a crank. Weinstein has come up with his own theory, Geometric Unity, which posits there are 4 or 6 extra dimensions.

In this video he talks about Faster Than Light travel. He’s dismissive of the Alcubierre drive, which states that it may be possible to create a warp drive by warping space around the space ship. It sounds like he doesn’t believe it would work because the force of gravity is so weak. The Earth’s gravity barely warps space, for example. He believes that if aliens do have a space drive, it operates on a theory that has transcended Einstein. This would involve there being several dimensions of time. He describes how time might work if there are two or three dimensions of it, but then it becomes impossible for physicists at the moment to imagine what it would be like with more. He says that physicists imagine there being extra physical dimensions all the time, but the only physicist imagining what it would be like if there were two dimensions of time is Turkish Jewish fellow. And indeed only a little while ago there was a refereed scientific paper suggesting Faster Than Light travel could be possible if our universe did have two temporal dimensions.

This is advanced physics at the level where it starts to hurt the brain. Weinstein, however, appears to believe that UFOs are real, or that there is a genuine conspiracy around them. I also wondered if multiple temporal dimensions would explain John Keel’s Ultraterrestrials and some of the tales about the fairies. I’m think here of the tales in which someone stumbles or is abducted into fairyland, and when they finally emerge into the normal world centuries have passed although to them it has been only minutes or hours.

Richard Tice: Cut Benefits to Stop Immigration

January 31, 2023

Michael Heaver is another hard-right YouTuber pushing Reform and praising Brexit to the rafters, despite the devastation this has wreaked on our economy and the lives and livelihood of British workers and businesses. If Brexit was a religion, his would be the blind faith of the true-blue Thatcherite fanatic. And this morning Heaver posted a video praising the latest effusion from Reform’s current fuehrer, Richard Tice. Tice is upset that 5.2 million people are in receipt of benefits. This, he declares, is one eighth of the working population. But at the same time, there are job vacancies going unfilled, which is why the government is importing foreigners. This is because some people on benefit are doing better than they would be if they were working, and so are leaving their jobs to live off benefits. The welfare state is properly there to support those genuinely in need, but people are using it as a lifestyle choice. We must therefore cut benefits in order to force people back to work so the government won’t import more foreigners as cheap labour.

There are so many falsehoods in this statement that it’s amazing in its own way. Firstly, most people on benefits in the UK are actually working. They’re forced to use state benefits as well because their pay is insufficient. As for people deliberately leaving work to live on benefits – presumably he means jobseekers’ allowance – does he know anybody who’s suffered that humiliating process? My guess is he doesn’t, because otherwise he’d know it was a lie. Actually, on second thoughts, it’s quite possible he knows it’s wrong, and is deliberately lying anyway. For a start, the Tories passed legislation years ago stopping people from receiving benefit immediately after resigning from work. The wait for a claim to come through is several weeks, so if your previous job paid so badly you didn’t have anything left over by the end of the month, the further wait would push you down to starvation level. As does the various sanctions imposed on the unemployed and disabled for the flimsiest of reasons. Welfare researchers and activists, like the excellent Disabled People Against Cuts, have shown that in the case of the Fitness to Work assessments, this is based on an assumption that a certain percentage of cases must be fraudulent. There is therefore pressure on the assessors to find the disabled well enough to work. Hence we have had assessors declaring that people in terminal comas were fit to work. They even asked amputees when they expected their limbs to grow back!

And then there is the humiliating process of claiming benefits itself. This takes its inspiration from the Victorian idea of ‘less eligibility’: receiving state aid must be made so humiliating that it will deter people from claiming it. It’s one of Thatcher’s disgusting ‘Victorian values’. And so you are required to spend so many hours a day looking for a job, keep a log of the jobs you’ve applied for, while the clerk dealing with you keeps asking why you’re still claiming and didn’t apply for that one yet. Claiming benefits is unpleasant, difficult and humiliating.

But this is ignored by Tice, who is simply spouting more of the ‘make work pay’ nonsense pushed by David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith when he was head of the DWP. And then there’s the stuff about immigration.

This is nonsense because Brexit has resulted in a loss of foreign labour. Many of the foreign workers in the NHS have left Britain, including skilled doctors and nurses. I think we also lost the foreign fruit pickers, who used to come here, which is probably the type of workers Tice is thinking of when he talks about cheap foreign labour. But when the issue of forcing unemployed Brits to work as fruit pickers came up a while ago and was being discussed, many of the commenters on YouTube had said they’d tried and been turned down as farmers preferred foreigners. Some of the farmers rejecting British labour said it was because Brits were lazy. Possibly. Or perhaps just not so easy to exploit.

As for immigration generally, I have the distinct impression that the type of foreign workers the government is keen to recruit are skilled workers, particularly in the STEM subjects. They are definitely not keen on importing unskilled labour to add to the number of domestic workers with a similar lack of skills. Though here again, unskilled immigrants do take the jobs Brits don’t want, like cleaners, as shown in Ken Loach’s film, Dirty, Pretty Things. But my guess is that when Tice and the other members of the anti-immigrant right start ranting about low-skilled foreign immigrants, much of their audience will automatically think of the Channel migrants. But these unfortunately haven’t been recruited. They’re asylum seekers, who have been excluded from the official ways of applying for sanctuary in Britain. Hence part of the hostility to them.

Tice’s spiel is pretty much the old Daily Mail directed at the unemployed and non-White immigration jammed together. It’s nonsense, but will appeal to the readers of the right-wing press, who’ve been subjected to the same bilge since before the welfare state was founded. It also bears out Tony Benn’s statement that when a government wants to persecute its working people, it begins with immigrants.

Don’t be fooled. Tice is not a friend of ordinary working Brits. The solution to the problem of making work pay is to raise wages. This is the solution in classical economics to the problem of a shortage of workers. But this would cut into the already bloated profits of the obscenely rich that Tice, the Tories and the other hard right parties are pandering to.

They want to keep working people poor, starving and desperate, whatever lip service they give to the welfare state. And they’re using the old spectre of foreign labour to do it.

Watchmojo on the Most Evil British Tabloids

January 25, 2023

WatchMojo is a YouTube channel that specialises in lists of the most (insert adjective) of whatever subject they’re covering. This is usually popular culture, like films, TV programmes and comics. But in this video from their British offshoot they delve into the very murky world of British tabloid and red top newspapers to discuss the six worst of them. And so, imagine if you will, this run down of the very worst of British journalism accompanied by the old style Top of the Pops theme as that sadly missed programme went down the music charts.

Coming last at No. 6 is the Daily Star for its coverage of weird paranormal stories like black-eyed ghost children, their libelling of the Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough disaster and getting sued by the McCanns for its malign take on the disappearance of their daughter. They also blamed video games for Raoul Moat’s shooting spree, despite the entire lack of evidence showing that video games are responsible for real world violence, and for making up an interview with Duane ‘the Rock’ Johnson.

Coming in at no. 5, pop-pickers, is the Mirror, showing that it’s also left-wing papers that can have appalling low journalistic standards. This is there because of its owner, Robert Maxwell, raiding his employees’ pension funds, and Piers Morgan publishing fake photographs of alleged atrocities by British troops in Iraq. This part of the video shows some of the other headlines from the paper, such as its ‘Achtung! Surrender’ to the Germans at the 1996 World Cup as other illustrations of its lack of taste and anything resembling decent attitudes.

At No. 4 in this chart of journalistic infamy is the Daily Mail, as illustrated by its article ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ praising Mosley’s BUF and its owner, Lord Rothermere’s trip to Germany and praise of the Nazi regime. The video also states that it’s been suggested that the paper’s pro-appeasement stance convinced Hitler that Britain would not retaliate if he invaded Poland, thus causing World War II. More recently the paper has also been sued for libel or inaccurate reporting by celebs such as Melania Trump, Alan Sugar and Elton John. The video also shows some of its racist headlines opposing the decolonisation of mathematics and opposition to non-White immigration.

The Daily Express is at No. 3, again because of such low points as being sued by the McCanns, scaremongering stories about the world being wiped out by aliens or killer asteroids, and its weird fixation on conspiracy theories about Princess Diana and her death, often at the expense of more current and important stories. In 2010 its editor said that he was appalled by some of the stories it ran, and was going to reign in its islamophobia.

No. 2, the late, unlamented News of the Screws. This was always controversial, but lasted 150 years, even claiming at one time to be the world’s best newspaper. That was until it was brought down by the phone-tapping scandal, whose victims not only included celebrities, royalty like Princes William and Harry, but also murder victims and dead soldiers. It was forced to fold after all its advertisers deserted it.

But the top slot in this catalogue of filth and sleaze merchants is the Scum. This rag’s viciously low reporting has made it notorious around the world, but what foreign viewers may not know is that it’s particularly hated in Britain for its smearing of the Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, like its fellow tabloid the Depress. Instead of the Liverpool fans being responsible for the carnage, it was found that the police were responsible for the 96 deaths. This anti-Liverpool venom is the reason it’s still banned in the city, despite the paper having made some half-hearted apologies afterwards. It also claimed the Birmingham 6, a group of Irish men wrongly imprisoned for an IRA terrorist atrocity, were guilty. On top of this it was also sued for libel by Wayne Rooney. But what makes it especially hated is its staunch support of Margaret Thatcher, the infamous ‘Gotcha!’ headline for the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War, and its claim that it was responsible for Thatcher’s electoral victories with its headline ‘It was the Scum Wot won it’.

Of course this list leaves out some other instances of tabloid wrongdoing. The Scum has had any number of complaints for racism upheld by the former Press Complaints Commission, including one in which it compared Arabs to pigs. Piers Morgan has also been involved in the phone hacking scandal, though it’s possible the video mentions this and I’ve just forgotten it did. And I’d say the worst British tabloid was the Sport in its various editions for its mixture of sleaze, stories about freaks and daft stories following the Weekly World News style of journalism, like its claim that there was a B52 bomber on the Moon. The Sport was set up by David ‘the Slug’ Sullivan, according to Private Eye, a pornographer with convictions for running girls. But the paper has a low circulation compared to the others here, and so is far less influential.

As for the Scum coming first as Britain’s worst tabloid, I agree entirely, although I doubt this is an accolade the Scum would want to boast about on its front page. But when it comes to malign, biased reporting and racism, it is indeed the Scum wot wins it.

Diane Abbott Slams Rishi Sunak’s Bogus Promise about Continuing Maths Education Until 18

January 5, 2023

Yesterday, our latest prime minister, Rishi Sunak, announced that as well as tackling the state of the NHS and channel migrants, he would make it compulsory for school students to continue to study maths until 18. This was, he announced, necessary to combat poor maths literacy. His speech has impressed precisely no-one, and has been extensively torn to shreds by commenters like Owen Jones and Novara Media. After all, it’s the Tory policies of underfunding, cuts and stealth privatisation that have created the mess the NHS is in, in the first place. As for the channel migrants, they’ve been unable to tackle that either, except with Patel’s plan to send them all to Rwanda, a country suffering serious human rights abuses. That plan was condemned by the public and also, I believe, various judicial authorities.

Abbott in a tweet stated that Sunak’s plan for continuing maths education until the school leaving age was bogus because the Tories had cut teacher’s pay, as well as underfunding education generally. She’s absolutely right, as I can remember from my schooldays when schools were increasingly decaying thanks to cuts to funds. Except for the academies, of course, which were given more far more than state schools. Critics have also wondered whether Sunak will even have time to implement this reform before the possibility that he and his wretched party are voted out at the next election.

There’s also been an interesting opinion piece in the Groaniad by a lecturer in mathematical biology. He argues that it’s unnecessary, as maths is already the most popular A Level subject, far outstripping its nearest rival, psychology. He also states that making it compulsory would further decrease the numbers of people taking arts and humanities subjects, as they’d have to give up them as well as choose another STEM subject to harmonise with the maths. He also makes the excellent point that making it compulsory might put people off it even more by forcing them to study a subject they hate.

To me, it just looks like Sunak trying desperately to look like he’s actually doing and standing for something, whereas in fact he stands for nothing except the worn out Tory policies that have driven the public services into the ground and working people to desperation. The fact that he has nothing to say was shown very clearly just before Christmas, when he, or one of the Tories, announced they wanted to meet the railway unions, but wouldn’t talk about wages. As wages are part of the issue, this negated the whole point of any meeting. Again, it was just an exercise in public relations. He wanted it to appear that he was doing something and prepared to negotiate while the reality was the complete opposite.

Sunak is flailing about with nothing to offer, and it’s obvious.

Poul Anderson and Ideas about Terraforming Venus Before Carl Sagan

December 21, 2022

This might appeal to readers of this blog, who aren’t fans of the late astronomer, Sceptic and presenter of the blockbusting TV science series, Cosmos. I put up a drawing I’d done of Sagan a week or so ago along with a piece explaining why I thought he was a great TV personality. While Sagan was a brilliant astronomer and space scientist, some of the readers of this blog were less impressed by his attitude towards the UFO crowd. Sagan was a fervent rationalist, who saw it as his mission to attack ideas he thought were irrational, and particularly the paranormal. He was one of the founders of the Sceptical organisation, CSICOP, or the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, along with the stage magician James Randi and the mathematician Martin Gardner. One of Sagan’s last works was The Demon-Haunted World in which he worried about the tide of irrationality creeping over America and the world and foresaw a time in which the New Age would have taken over completely, leading to a new Dark Age and people earnestly consulting their horoscopes each morning.

Some commenters remembered how Sagan had been wheeled on TV in the 1960s to debunk UFO encounters. They didn’t like his superior and condescending attitude towards the experiencers. Now I’ll admit that I don’t regard UFOs as nuts and bolts alien spacecraft. Much of the imagery and the basic plot of UFO encounters seems to come from science fiction and supernatural encounters with gods, demons and fairies before then. One of the alternative views of the UFO phenomenon is the psycho-social hypothesis, which sees it as an internal psychological experience which uses the imagery of contemporary culture. In previous centuries this was of fairies. Now, as belief in the supernatural has declined in the West, the imagery is from science fiction. But both the imagery of fairies and alien spacecraft represent the same theme of encounter with a cosmic other. Some UFO writers and researchers like John Keel and Jacques Vallee believe that there is a genuine paranormal phenomenon at work, and that the force that was previously responsible for encounters with fairies and so on has simply now changed to using that of space craft as society has changed. See Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse, for example. Many UFO encounters can be explained as misidentification, hoaxes, and sightings of top secret military aircraft. I’m also convinced that some are due to the intelligence community deliberately messing with people for their own purposes. In one of his books, Vallee suggests that the Cergy-Pontoise abduction in France may have been faked by French intelligence as an experiment to see how people would react to a real alien encounter. And then there’s the case of Paul Bennewitz, a defence contractor in the US who was driven out of his mind by a pair of intelligence agents at a nearby USAF base. Bennewitz thought he had got in touch with an alien held captive at the base. The pair claimed to be whistleblowers and fed Bennewitz a whole load of spurious documents apparently confirming it, and then told him that it was all fake. It’s a tactic apparently known as the ‘double-bubble’ used by the intelligence services to destabilise their enemies. It worked on Bennewitz, who I think was driven to a nervous breakdown.

Even with the hoaxers, the top secret aircraft and the misidentified objects, there are still some UFO encounters that are very difficult to explain. I think the best explanations are probably the paranormal and psycho-social rather than the Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any the less puzzling nor that genuine people, who have had a truly inexplicable experience, should be sneered or condescended to.

But back to Sagan. One of Sagan’s achievements was to suggest a way Venus could be terraformed. This involved planting genetically-engineered bacteria in the Venusian atmosphere. These would consume the carbon dioxide and exhale breathable oxygen. But Sagan wasn’t the first person to suggest ways of terraforming the planet, and he didn’t invent the concept of terraforming. You can find the idea, but not the name, in the Martian books of Edgar Rice Burroughs, in which the Martians have built giant machines to replenish the atmosphere on their dying world. The great SF writer Poul Anderson wrote a story in which a similar technology is used to terraform the Venusian atmosphere.

This is mentioned by Mike Ashley, the editor of the anthology of classic SF stories about the worlds of the solar system, Born of the Sun, published by the British Library. In the introduction to the story about Venus, Ashley writes

‘The 1950s saw some authors taking note of recent research which suggested Venus was far from a watery world. Leading the way was Poul Anderson. In ‘The Big Rain’ (1954) he describes a harsh, sweltering Venus that, when it does rain, rains formaldehyde. The story considers how Venus might be terraformed, using the formaldehyde locked in Venus’ clouds. Airmaker machines, spread all over Venus, accelerate a reaction with the formaldehyde, ammonia and methane to produce hydrocarbons and oxygen, whilst bombs reinvigorate volcanos so that in time it starts to rain – and rains for over a hundred years, by which time Venus starts to be more Earth–like’. (p. 93).

To me, this is an example of one the instances where informed Science Fiction, even if wrong in the details, has advanced scientific thinking. And there are plenty of other examples in some of the other stories Ashley discusses in some of the other books in the same series.

Sagan, for all his faults, was a brilliant scientist and he did much to make people aware of the environmental crisis and opposed the threat of nuclear war and the New Cold War Reagan and Thatcher started ramping up in the 1980s. But in this case, while his ideas about terraforming Venus are most likely to be correct, he wasn’t the first to invent the idea.

Sometimes SF writers get there first.

Sketch of Maths and Science Children’s TV Presenter, Johnny Ball

December 2, 2022

After all the serious stuff, here’s another one of my sketches of a favourite TV presenter from way back in the past. This time it’s of Johnny Ball, the presenter of the maths and science shows Think Of A Number and Think Again in the ’70s and 80s. I think Ball started off as a presenter on Play Away before being given his own programmes. I’d always assumed until recently that he was a maths graduate, given the programmes’ subject matter. Apparently, he wasn’t. He was just a self-taught enthusiast. And he was brilliant at conveying that enthusiasm to others. Each episode of Think Of A Number explored a different topic, such as light, or flight. During the show, Ball explained the maths and science concepts with jokes, sketches, tricks and practical demonstrations. And if you wanted to know how a trick was done, all you had to do was send them an SAE and they’d tell you. I started watching it in the hope that it would help to improve my maths, which at the time was really poor. It didn’t, but the show was so amazing that I kept watching. It introduced maths concepts like the Fibonacci series, while spatial dimensions were illustrated using the mind-bending art of Max Escher. The show was performed in front of a live audience of children, whom Ball would often get to assist him in his tricks and demonstrations. Think Again was a similar series but may have been aimed at slightly older children. It still contained jokes, sketches and humour among the series stuff. I don’t know if the series are on DVD, but they’re certainly on YouTube. I watched the edition on flight a little while ago. At one point Ball talks about model flying machines, including ornithopters. These work by flapping their wings like birds. He releases a number of model planes, including an ornithopter and watches in wonder as it flaps across the studio. I was also a great fan of Think Again’s music and titles. This featured various inventions appearing and transforming into each other, beginning with a glowing nylon line drawing Ball himself, and including a Greek temple and other items, such as a spark plug transforming into a rocket. It’s by Francis Monkman, and is called ‘The Achivements of Man’. I’ve seen claims that the composer plagiarised a piece by another musician. I don’t know, but the two do sound similar. But in my view, the Think Again music is slightly better. The series also produced at least one annual, in which Ball did writing what his series did in physical performance. Naturally, it was full of jokes and pithy aphorisms. On the importance of gold, Ball coined the following piece of immortal wisdom, ‘Remember the Golden Rule: he who has all the gold, rules’. The annual starts out by showing how important numbers and maths are by imagining what it would be like if we didn’t have them. We’d have to report inflation in terms like ‘Today the cost of living rose a little bit, and the pound fell a little bit’. There were also jokes about what humans would look like to Martians. They might believe that our hair grew inside our bodies and was so long that it poked out the top of our heads. It’s childish humour, which is what is needed if you want to appeal to children.

The Thinks series ended decades ago, but Ball is still going. He has his own site on the interwebs somewhere, where he talks about maths and science. And a few years ago, I came across a book he’d written of maths puzzles. He also appeared on another programme a few months ago talking about his early life in Frenchay in Bristol.

From all this it’s very clear that he’s still got a cult following. And he deserved it. I wish there were more people like him able to communicate and spread an interest in maths and science, even to people who aren’t mathematical.

Ball’s blurb on the back cover, which also has the portrait of him I used as the basis for my drawing, runs

‘I have written this book to help you enjoy numbers, because it seems to me that’s what numbers were made for. Inside you will find jokes, puzzles and things to make and do with numbers, and any number of pictures to go with my words. There’s plenty of information about numbers, but it is never too serious because I think numbers are fun.

So now you can read about

The first people to ‘Think of a Number!”

Your body: how it measures up.

Stored energy: elastic to ballistics

From living in trees to relying on wood

Saving money and golden rules

Exploring our wet and watery world

Telling the time throughout time.

Lots of you have written to say how much you enjoy the Think of a Number television series. I hope you enjoy the book too.’ I added the pocket calculator to the sketch because it’s on the book’s cover, and because that at the time calculators were new and extremely exciting.

Here’s the theme tune for Think of a Number, which I found on Louish Waltz’s channel on YouTube. According to a comment left by John Wilks, its title is ‘Weeny Bopper’ and it was composed by Brian Bennett.

Here’s the Think Again titles and theme, from TV68’s channel on YouTube.

And here’s a video from the Beeb’s channel on YouTube from the series Bang Goes the Theory, in which Ball uses the capture/recapture technique biologists use to estimate the size of animal populations from a numbered sample to estimate the number of black cabs in London.

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).