Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Radio 4 Programme on Science in the Dark Ages

November 15, 2017

Radio 4 are also broadcasting a programme next week, which intends to challenge the view that the Dark Ages were a period of intellectual decline with very little interest in science. The new series of Science Stories kicks off next Wednesday, 22nd November 2017, with ‘A Wold, a Goat and a Cabbage’. The blurb for this in the Radio Times on page 135 reads

Philip Ball looks at how the Dark Ages was a far more intellectually vibrant era than is often perceived-and the monk who was the prsumed author of mathematical puzzles.

I’ve written several pieces on this blog about how the Middle Ages in the West were a period of scientific and mathematical invention and discovery, far more so than is generally recognised. Scientists have been rediscovering and re-evaluating scientific progress in the Middle Ages science Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine. The previous view, which most people of my age were brought up with, that the Middle Ages were intellectually backward until the Humanists appeared in the Renaissance, has now been overturned.

James Hannam, a scientist of Christian faith, did a Ph.D. on medieval science about ten years ago, and his book, God’s Philosophers, shows how the ‘natural philosophers’ of the Middle Ages laid the foundations of modern Western science. These writers, who were largely Christian clergy, were very much aware of the faults of Aristotelian science. While they did not break with it, they did try to modify it so that it conformed more to what actually existed in nature, or offered a more intellectually plausible cause.

And rather than creating modern science, the Renaissance Humanists were actually a threat to its emergence. The Humanists insisted on a far more faithful return to the ideas as well as literary style of the great classical authors. Which meant a far more literal and dogmatic approach to Aristotle. In his Dialogue on the Two World Systems, Galileo spoofed the Humanists by making the character, who represented them, appear as stupid as possible. In one episode, a physician invites the Humanist to come to his house one evening and see him dissect a body. The physician intends to show him that it must be the brain, not the heart, that is the seat of intelligence. Pointing to the dissected corpse, the physician shows the far greater number of nerves passing into the brain, in contrast to the single, thin nerve running to the heart. This, he says, shows that the brain must be the centre of thought and reason. The Humanist replies that he would believe him, if the great Aristotle also agreed.

The Christian medieval authors were also aware of the debt they owed to the Arab and Muslim world for editions of classical works that had previously been lost to the West. One medieval poem describes how scholars headed to Toledo and other areas in Spain to consult the Arab scholars, who were masters of these new intellectual frontiers. One of the French chroniclers of the Crusades, either Joinville or Froissart, described how, during negotiations between King Louis and one of the Arab potentates, one of Louis’ nobles trod on his foot under the table. It was intended as a secret warning. The negotiations involved maths in some way, and the nobleman wanted to warn his liege to beware, as the ‘saracens’ were much better calculators than they were.

As for the reliability of science, the poem I quoted above also remarked of one scientific phenomenon, that its existence couldn’t be doubted as ‘it was proved by SCIENCE’.

Clearly, science and the investigation of the natural world was very much in its infancy in the Middle Ages, and ideas were subject to censorship if they conflicted with Christian dogma. But the Middle Ages were also a period of scientific investigation and were far more rationalistic than is often believed. For example, the theologian William of Auvergne, described the supposed appearance of a great of demons in one of the French monasteries. These devils proceeded down the corridor, until they disappeared into the privies, from which came a horrible stench. William was not surprised. He put visions like this down to poor digestion interfering with proper sleep. After too full a meal, the stomach hung heavy on the nerves, preventing the proper circulation of the humours and nervous fluids, and so creating nightmarish visions like the one above. Other writers seriously doubted the abilities of cunningmen and scryers to find lost or stolen objects. When they did claim that an article had been stolen by a particular person, it was far more likely that the individual was a known thief than that they had been shown it by the spirits.

I’ve been annoyed before now at the way the media has continued to present the Middle Ages as a period of dark superstition, with a few notable exceptions. One of these was Terry Gilliam and his TV series, Medieval Lives, which has appeared as a book, and his radio series, The Anti-Renaissance Show, both of which were broadcast by the Beeb. Now it seems that the Corporation is once more showing the other side of intellectual life in the Middle Ages.

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Scientists for the EU Explains Why the Heaton-Harris Letter Is So Dangerous

October 28, 2017

On Thursday, the news broke that Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory whip, had written to the universities demanding details of the courses they were running on international relations, and particularly those on Brexit, asking for the names of the lecturers taking the course.

In this video lasting six minutes, the speaker takes you through the issues involved and explains the danger of a personal witch-hunt instigated by a Eurosceptic government. It’s clear that the speaker is a British scientist, who teaches at one of our unis. The blurb for the video runs

The letter from Tory Eurosceptic whip Chis Heaton-Harris to University V-Cs demanding “names of professors” that lecture on Brexit is sinister. What could the purpose of his efforts be, if not to make some kind of report to attack universities or individuals? For example, though the tabloid press? This is a classic totalitarian tactic, from Lenin to McCarthy, to politically go after and remove wider societal resistance to a government line. Universities are a common target to both left & right-wing totalitarianism because of their public voice. To drive public opinion against universities for political/power expedience is damaging both to trust across wider society and to the independence of universities. We already saw this during the referendum when Daniel Hannan peddled the notion that British Universities are paid off “sock puppets” of the EU and part of an elite, not part of “the people”.

Apparently, Hannan initially started by claiming that the universities would love it, when they were freed of EU control. When he found out that most were against leaving the EU, he then changed his tune to this populist, anti-intellectual rhetoric.

Hannan himself is a vile specimen. He’s a Dorset Tory MEP, and so, as the speaker here points out, like Nigel Farage is more than willing to get his salary from the EU. But he resents British universities, who only have a little money from the European Community, getting funding from them. The French philosophical feline, Guy Debord’s Cat, has also pointed out in frequent posts that Hannan is, or used to be, a columnist for the Torygraph Blogs. Not only is he Eurosceptic, but he also openly wants to privatise the NHS. And he lies so much that Buddy Hell calls him ‘the Lyin’ King’.

The Scientist for the EU also goes on to state that Heaton-Harris’/ Daily Heil’s anger that the overwhelming majority of universities don’t reflect the wider views of British society is wrong by pointing out that other parts of British society also don’t. Like the fishing community. But no-one tells them that 48 per cent of fishing people should now support the Remain campaign. He states that different sectors of British society have different views on the issue, according to the circumstances as it affects them.

The Humanist Report: Killary Gets Rough Reception in Wales

October 28, 2017

Which the American presenter pronounces as ‘Welch’ and ‘Welsh’, confusing the term for its people with the name of the country itself. But you can forgive him that because (1) he’s foreign, and (2) he loves the people of Welsh for standing up to Her Highness and telling her how it really was. And he also likes Matt Free of Channel 4 News for also asking Killary tough questions, which American pundits avoid.

As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, Killary, who seems to think going around with a mass-murdering creature like Henry Kissinger is a badge of honour, has been going up and down on the Earth promoting her book like crazy. It’s called What Happened, and is basically her attempt to blame everyone but herself for her massive failure to win the election against a colossal moron like Donald Trump. She was Down Under a few weeks ago, giving the Aussies the benefit of her wisdom. Then she was over here, at the South Bank Centre, the Cheltenham Literary Festival and then Swansea University across the border, to receive an honorary degree. The Uni decided to grant her the honour for her work promoting women’s and children’s rights around the world. As the presenter here states, presumably they didn’t get the message that she voted for the Iraq War.

But all did not go smoothly for Kissinger’s fangirl. The students at Swansea actually booed her. And one young woman, a biochemistry student, Kirsty Lloyd, called out to her ‘Bernie would’ve won. He would’ve beaten Trump.’ Which he would have. He was in the lead against her in the polls, until she, Debbie Wasserman Schulz of the Democratic National Convention, and Donna Brasile, Clinton’s main woman in her team, managed to steal the presidential nomination from her.

Lloyd said afterwards

“Hillary Clinton cheated Bernie Sanders of his nomination. And all those drone strikes, which kill women and children are illegal contradict the reason she is being given a doctorate – which is for doing things for women and children all over the world. The main thing she’s done for women and children is kill them in drone strikes.”

And things didn’t get better when she was being interviewed by Matt Free. He reminded her that her share amongst women went down 1 per cent from 44 per cent under Obama to 43. Hillary then tried to rebut this by saying that it was only White women who became disillusioned with her. Overall she won amongst women. And she lost because gender is not yet a powerful factor in American elections as race is. The commenter on the Humanist Report states that this could only be the response of an American politician, who sees everything in terms of identity politics. He also points out that it’s also terribly insulting to Barack Obama, as it implies that he only won the election because he was Black.

Free goes on to make the point that she lost partly because of her background. She’d already been in office – sort of – as the First Lady with Bill Clinton, and so her membership of a political dynasty worked against her. And people didn’t like her as they saw her as an establishment candidate, in an age of revolution.

At which point Hillary goes off and drones on about how she led in all the debates, and was seen as the more intelligent, winning candidate. When he asks her, Clinton responds that she lost partly because of Steve Dromey and Russian ‘interference’.

The Report’s presenter again points out here how Killary has contradicted herself. She says she takes full responsibility for her failure, but then immediately blames other people. He also states that it’s great to see how people in the rest of the world don’t follow American pundits in fawning over their guests, asking easy questions. He liked the way Free made her squirm. He states that you don’t see politicians like Hillary pop up elsewhere in the world, because everywhere she’s seen as another sleazy, corrupt politician like all the others. Largely because of the dodgy dealings of the Clinton Foundation. But you do find politicians like Bernie Sanders appearing in other countries, like Jeremy Corbyn in Britain.

The presenter clearly makes some great points, though he and Free on Channel 4 could have challenged her about the so-called ‘interference’ from the Russians. They didn’t lose her the election. They were trying to interfere in the American election, but no more than they usually do. Crucially, they didn’t leak the incriminating emails to WikiLeaks. Those came from a Democratic insider disgruntled at her corruption.

As for her being the better candidate over Trump, he points out that Trump was trailing behind her and faced worse challenges than she did. In Utah a Mormon, Republican establishment candidate went independent to challenge Trump. And Trump faced another Republican challenger elsewhere, who took more votes away from him than Jill Stein did Hillary.

Hillary, her arrogance, corruption, and entitlement is responsible for her failings, not other people.

Except in one instance: the Electoral College. This swung overwhelmingly for Trump, despite the fact that Killary had three million votes more than he did at the popular level. And the College is an anti-democratic measure put into America’s bizarre and byzantine electoral system in the 19th century in order to give some political power to the southern, slave-holding states. If America was a genuine democracy, it would have vanished a long time ago. But it’s enshrined in America’s constitution, and so is preserved as part of the great wisdom of the patrician founders of the American political system. Who were all patricians with a real fear of power being grabbed by the White peasants and proles, let alone Blacks. They set up the Constitution to keep power in the hands of the monied, and so have built into the system the political paralysis that is stifling the forces for real change that America needs.

Kevin Logan’s Satirical Email to the ‘Heil’ Spoofing Brexit University Witch-Hunt

October 27, 2017

Yesterday, Mike put up several articles reporting and commenting on the antics of Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory whip, who took it upon himself to write to university lecturers teaching international relations, asking for their names and details of their courses. He was specifically concerned about what they were teaching about Brexit.

This rightly aroused very strong fears about the government trying to interfere in academic freedom. One university vice-chancellor, Dr. David Green, told Heaton-Harris that he could have the information he wanted, if he stumped up the £9,000 to study the course that all the other students have to pay. He was also quoted on RT as making the point that this was the beginning of the road to Orwell’s thought police and political censorship.

Exactly the same point was made by Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. Dr. Prentoulis also pointed out that it shows how weak the Tory position on Brexit is, if they have to go around trying to intimidate university lecturers. She also explained that she felt that, whatever her own views about Brexit were, and she said that she had campaigned against it, she trusted her students to make up their own minds.

Absolutely. University and should be an environment where young people are encouraged to be open-minded, to look at and evaluate for themselves the arguments and evidence pro et contra different views. And this, I would argue, is exactly what Heaton-Harris fears. He’s not upset at students being indoctrinated. In fact, he’s pantingly all for it. It’s just that he wants it done by right-wing Tory lecturers, who share BoJo’s attitude about ‘pinko’ papers being full of depressing predictions about how it will fail. Or Michael Gove, and his bug-eyed rant a few years ago about schoolchildren being taught the Blackadder view about the First World War in history.

As I said in my previous post about this, all totalitarian societies, including Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, persecute and carefully control education because of the threat it poses to their attempts to indoctrinate the young people of their states. It includes the control of school and university curricula, the expulsion of dissident lecturers, including Jews in Nazi Germany, their imprisonment and murder. Both Hitler and Stalin butchered tens, if not hundreds of thousands of teachers and university lecturers when they invaded Poland, in order to deprive its people of their intellectual freedom and independence.

All over the country lecturers and professors have been massively unimpressed. Afshin Rattansi in his interview with Prentoulis said that he understood that most of Heaton-Harris’ letters were thrown in the bin.

Others fought back by sending Heaton-Harris their satirical reply. Yesterday, Mike published a piece about how Peter Coles, an astrophysicist at Cardiff Uni, had responded to Heaton-Harris’ missive with a letter detailing how his course on cosmology and the Early Universe, (EU), also included Brexit, culminating in the line “Unanswered Questions: Limitations of the Standard Model and why the fuck are we doing Brexit?” </em

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/26/astrophysics-professors-response-to-universities-brexit-letter-is-sharp-and-hilarious/

The Daily Heil has taken up Heaton-Harris’ cause, and asked students to send in their stories about anti-Brexit propaganda being taught by university lecturers. And so other academics and members of the general public have also joined in, and today Mike has put up a selection from them.

These have included Steve Peers, professor of law at the University of Essex, whose letter begins ‘Dear Witchfinder General’.

‘Aaron’ sent a message beginning

“I attend updog university, and we are being taught anti Brexit propaganda by our left wing professors. We are now made to gather in the study hall once a week and salute an EU flag whilst the professor slowly eats a croissant.”

Will Davies said that his lecturer in Communism and Masculinities stated he believes in free speech, but only if its in a language other than English.

Tom Goodwin sent an email about how outrageous it was that his lecturers could not give him a straight answer about Brussels and curved bananas, and how infuriating it was that they should fill his head with true facts.

And Tim Brudenell sent in a piece about how he was just saluting the National Anthem, when his history lecturer broke in and forced him to eat a copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.

It isn’t just the Heil that is publishing demonstrably fake, sensational news. It’s also the Torygraph, which is just as frantically Eurosceptic and hysterical about the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn. Yesterday the weirdo Barclay brothers’ esteemed organ and the Heil ran the story that Lola Olufemi, Cambridge University’s Student Union’s women’s officer, had written a letter demanding that the university replace White authors with Black and Ethnic Minority writers to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum.

This was another bogus story. Olufemi had made no such demand. Yes, she wanted the curriculum ‘decolonised’, but certainly did not say that she wanted White authors replaced. It’s probably no coincidence that both papers have published piece after endless piece protesting against non-White immigration and the growth of communities of ‘unassimilable’ immigrants.

Mike’s article makes the wider point that these newspaper are effectively shooting down the mainstream press’ claim to be trustworthy and reliable, as opposed to all the fake news coming out of the alternative media outlets, like the Internet. He states that their reputation is now in such a sorry state, that people are starting to lampoon them, and includes a piece satirising the Daily Mail, which claims that Jeremy Corbyn met Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination of JFK. Which he didn’t, being only 14 at the time.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/27/right-wing-press-stories-have-backfired-so-often-people-are-creating-their-own-spoofs/

One of the funny spoof replies sent to the Mail I’ve seen is by Kevin Logan, a male feminist on YouTube, who posted this reply. Logan’s a male feminist and supporter of transgender rights, as well as being very anti-racist. His channel consists of a number of videos, such as his series ‘The Descent of the Manosphere’, in which he tackles the outrageous far-right, and the very genuine misogyny, homophobia and racism by members of the Alt-Right and their fellow travellers on YouTube. He’s very highly educated, but is quite a sweary bloke, so be warned: the video below contains ‘colourful metaphors’, as Spock describes foul language in Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. (Gratuitous reference for Trekkers).

His spoof letter to the Heil reads

Hello there fellow patriots at the Daily Mail.

I am writing to you concerning the troublingly pro-cheese eating surrender monkey turn of events in the Gimpology Department of Wankchester University, where I am currently reading stuff and that.

I was in my compulsory ‘Communism and Being Gay Studies’ lecture on Thursday of last week and was astonished at the behaviour of my lecturer, professor Karl Stalin Trotsky-Marx, Ph.D.

Upon my raising concerns about his reMOANer sympathies, he made me stand at the front of the class and masturbate furiously while singing ‘les Marseillaise’, which is normally only something we are forced to do during our compulsory ‘White Genocide 101’ classes. Can you please send help, as I am afraid my support of Brexit may end up with me getting bummed by a German called Helmut.

Yours spiffingly, Herbert P. Wiff-Waff.

Yes, I realise swearing ain’t big or clever. But it is the reply the Heil deserves. Just as it deserves all the others.

As for Mr. Heaton-Harris, he claimed that he was writing the letters not to intimidate, but because he was writing a book on the issue. This just makes it worse, as it means that he was using his position in government for his own pecuniary gain. Which is fraud.

Now it seems that the Honourable Gentleman, and I use the words loosely, has mysteriously disappeared, just as he should and his wretched government should have done long ago. All correspondence addressed to him on this issue is now going to Tory Central Office.

And I hope it won’t be too long before these closet totalitarians follow him into obscurity.

TYT Interviews Director of ‘Medicare For All’ Cartoon

October 26, 2017

In this short clip, The Young Turks’ Nomiki Konst interviews Josh Fox, the director and creator of a series of political cartoons, Anti-Totalitarian Bedtime Stories. Here they talk about his cartoon promoting Medicare For All. The film stars Susan Sarandon as the Doctor, and Louisa Gomez as the little Girl.

The film is unusual in that its hero is a leech. The leech is having an existential crisis, as he has found out that every other creature except him has a purpose. So he jumps off his log and goes swimming. A little girl enters his pool, and he attaches himself to her chest in order to suck her blood. As leeches do. The little girl’s mother takes her to the hospital, as they can’t get the leech off. The little girl is a haemophiliac, and so there is the danger that she will die from bleeding. The doctor pulls the leech off, but finds that the leech’s saliva contains a coagulant. This coagulant can be used to treat other haemophiliac.

This is what would happen if America got Medicare For All. Not only would people be treated free of charge, but science would advance, and new medicines and procedures would be developed to help the sick. Unlike today’s private, for-profit healthcare system, which is only interested in extracting money from the sick.

Fox states at the outset that it’s popular across the board with both Republicans and Democrats. The only people who don’t like it are the private healthcare companies and their associates.

The video is somewhat fanciful, as leeches’ saliva actually contains the exact opposite: it has an anti-coagulant. Nevertheless, as New Scientist reported back in the 1990s, this is still very important for treating certain conditions.

As for the cartoon’s message, clearly research is done into disease by for-profit healthcare and drug companies, but there is a problem in that some of these are engaged in horrendous price gouging. Like Martin Shkreli, the CEO of one company, who increased the price of one drug so that it cost hundreds of dollars, so that only the rich could afford it. Such price gouging is also a problem with the multinational drug companies on this side of the Atlantic as well, as needs to be tackled.

This is a fascinating little video, and I hope it reaches more Americans and encourages more people to support Medicare For All. America desperately needs it.

RT on the Tory Whip Requesting Information on Universities and Lecturers Teaching Brexit

October 25, 2017

Mike’s already put up an article about this yesterday, including the reply from one outraged lecturer disgusted with this transparent attempt to intimidate and control British universities and the way Brexit is taught and discussed.

One of the Tory Whips, Chris Heaton-Harris, took it upon himself to write to university vice-chancellors demanding the details of their courses on international relations, and specifically where it discussed Brexit. He also wanted the names of the lecturers teaching the courses, the course syllabus and any lecture notes or materials on-line.

This has outraged academics across the UK, who have denounced it as McCarthyism. The programme quotes Professor David Green, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Worcester, who states that the letter appears innocent, but is in fact very dangerous. He states that it is the first step to the thought police, the political censor, naturally justified as the will of the people.

Heaton-Harris responded by claiming that Theresa May always believed in the independence of the universities and in free and vigorous academic debate. As Mike points out in his article, however, this guy is a Tory MP and so nobody believes him. RT has as their guest Dr. Marina Prentoulis, a lecturer in media and international politics at the University of East Anglia. And she calls this exactly what it is: a witch-hunt and intimidation. She states that the letters are intended to intimidate because they come on official House of Parliament notepaper, and ask for the names of the lecturers, as well as details of their coursework. When the interviewer asks if this is really so, as the MP has no authority to demand such information and most of the letters, he’s heard, were filed in the bin. She responds by saying that he could have found out that information simply by going on line. He didn’t. She states that it is an attempt by the government to control the debate. It shows how weak the government’s own position is – and the programme notes that Heaton-Harris is very much a supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign. She also says that it shows the government’s own, entirely false view of history, when they were in the universities and could control what was discussed and taught.

When the lecturer asks about how she can teach the subject impartiality, she responds by saying that students are mature enough to form their own opinions about what they’re being taught. And yes, she is a campaigner, and supports ‘Remain’, but students are able to form their own opinions on the subject.

Mike in his piece on it has the succinct reply from David Green, who told the Whip that he is at complete liberty to see what and how the subject is taught at his university. All he has to do is enroll and pay the £9,000 a year tuition fees the other students have to pay.


http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/24/tory-mp-demands-details-of-university-lectures-on-brexit-this-lecturers-response-is-perfect/

In fact, educators in schools and universities are specifically prevented by law from indoctrinating students. They have to be impartial. And in situations, where they are required to make a statement concerning a political or religious belief or issue, they have to state that it is what they believe. They cannot present their opinions as objective truth.

And I would think that the majority of British teachers and lecturers take this requirement very seriously. I can remember hearing from some of the other graduate students at Bristol that they were surprised to find that some of their lecturers had very strong personal beliefs on political issues, when their conduct in class was completely impartial. I realise that some lecturers are much less reticent about making their personal beliefs known to their class, and that academic discussion is all about forming beliefs and testing them through the weight of evidence. And I can certainly remember some lecturers in the past, who made no secret of their opinions in politics and religion. But Tony Blair’s government passed legislation to prevent indoctrination. And some students, at least, have absolutely no hesitation about making their own minds up about what they’re being taught, as Dr. Prentoulis makes clear. And in my experience also, parents may also been extremely concerned about what their children are taught at universities. So really, Heaton-Harris has no cause to try to intimidate lecturers and other educators, who should be allowed to do what they want to do: educate.

Way back in the 1980s I can remember Stephen Fry giving a rather good little talk on the radio attacking Thatcher’s policy towards education. Fry explained that the British words ‘education’ and ‘education’ come from the Latin ‘educare’, which literally means ‘to lead out’. It was all about bringing forth and developing the pupils’ and students’ own abilities, ideas and talents. But the Tories don’t want this. They want instruction instead. Instead of an intelligent, questioning workforce, they want a society of compliant drones that will have the necessary skills to work for their masters in industry, but no more. They do not want questioning minds, that are keen to decide for themselves and form their own opinions. We’ve already seen that in the way Gove went off and demanded that schools teach the received Tory version of the First World War, not Blackadder Goes Forth. Mike wrote a very good reply to that, pointing out that he was mistaking comedy for history, when Blackadder was very much comedy and did not pretend otherwise. But Blackadder was based on a real view of history supported by evidence, even if it is one with which Gove disagreed.

As for Heaton-Harris himself, he should resign. Prof. Green and Dr. Prentoulis are right: it is intimidation, and a very transparent attempt to control what is taught, as well as make educators frightened for their jobs. Totalitarian regimes always try to control what is taught in schools and universities. This was very explicit in Nazi Germany and the Communist bloc. One of the first things the Nazis did as part of their seizure of power was to ‘coordinate’ the universities, and force out Jews, Communists and anybody else, who dared to teach material they didn’t like. This included established scientific fact, like Relativity. That couldn’t be correct, ’cause Einstein was Jewish. Another victim of this purge was the Jewish mathematician David Hilbert, who was one of the great mathematical geniuses of the 20th century. But his ideas were also forbidden because he was Jewish. The resulting purge of intellectuals left Germany academic life and culture seriously impoverished, and enriched America, where many of those purged fled.

And when Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia conquered the peoples of Europe during the Second World War, they had a deliberate policy of imprisoning and murdering those nations’ intellectuals, in order to destroy any independent academic or intellectual life. This was particularly brutal in eastern Europe. In Poland, for example, tens of thousands of teachers and lecturers were imprisoned and shot because of the threat genuine free speech and discussion poses to all totalitarians and autocrats.

The same policies are pursued today by dictators and autocratic regimes around the world. These include Israel, where it is illegal to teach anything about the Palestinians’ connection to their native land. This harsh atmosphere of intellectual repression also extends to Jewish Israelis. Tony Greenstein reported a few days ago that Netanyahu’s government is trying to outlaw Breaking the Silence, a civil rights group comprising ex-squaddies, who talk about the massacres and atrocities of Palestinians they have witnessed and taken part in.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/israel-moves-another-step-nearer-being.html

Genuinely free academic discussion, debate and inquiry is one of the cornerstones of democracy and at the heart of any vital national intellectual and cultural life. Government has absolutely no business trying to censor and control political debate. By trying to do so, Heaton-Harris has shown that he is a positive danger to democracy. He should apologise and resign. Immediately.

Redacted Tonight: CIA Staged Fake Academic Conferences to Encourage Iranian Scientist to Defect

October 25, 2017

This story comes from the real, whacky world of spies. In this clip from RT America’s Redacted Tonight, Naomi Karavani talks about the bizarre tactics the CIA used to infiltrate academia, and particularly the fake academic conferences the agency set up to encourage Iranian nuclear scientists to defect. She starts with a statement Harvard University gave after it was revealed that the uni was admitting CIA agents. They defended their admission of the spooks, stating that they were proud to offer an education to members of the security services, just as they were proud to offer it to left-wing and peace activists.

The CIA’s attempt to get nuclear scientists from the Islamic Republic was hampered by the fact that none of the agents charged with conducting the project actually knew anything about science. So in the absence of any knowledge about particle physics and the practical engineering required to build reactors or bombs, they fell back on using ‘chat-up lines’. Like ‘Didn’t I see you in Istanbul’, and ‘Don’t you hate crowds’. They also resorted to using personal information that they gained about their targets. One scientist they attempted to recruit said that one of them blithely told him that he understood that he’d had testicular cancer and had ‘lost a nut’. The agents also tried to get their targets alone through poisoning their guards’ meals, so that they got diarrhoea and vomiting.

Karavani also describes how Israel is accused of trying to sabotage the Iranian nuclear programme through the assassination of at least five of its scientists. Israel has denied this, but nevertheless, in 2015 the American government tried to stop Israel from killing anymore.

Karavani concludes by stating that these tactics are hostile and could lead to a war between America and Iran, while in fact, peaceful negotiations have led to Iran abandoning research costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

There’s a very serious point here amidst the comedy. It’s not just about the assassination that have probably been staged by Israel against the Iranian nuclear programme. This presumably also includes the Stuxnet computer virus, which shut down one of the Iranian nuclear reactors and allegedly killed several scientists and engineers. Nor the hypocrisy of this attitude, when Israel, quite against international law, has nuclear weapons. It’s the whole issue of the CIA and other parts of the security state, including the military, on campus.

Way back in the 1980s/ 1990s Lobster carried an article about British universities that were involved in training military personnel and spies. I think some of those, who were being provided with an education at public expense also included the type of characters, who gave covert help to various dictators around the world.

This issue has become very relevant yet again, as American peace protesters, such as Code Pink, have launched a movement to encourage universities to BDS – Boycott, Divest and Sanction – the American arms industry.

Three Soviet Anti-War Posters

October 21, 2017

I found these three posters in the art book, The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1987 and was struck by their continued relevance to events today. The book is a collection of Soviet political posters from the Bolshevik coup of 1917 to the time the book was published in the mid-1980s, taken from the Lenin library. In many ways it’s an art-historical chronicle of the great events that shaped the Soviet Union, from the Revolution, through the Civil War, collectivisation and industrialisation, the Nazi invasion, nuclear tensions of the Cold War, Gagarin’s epoch-making spaceflight and then on to the years of stagnation under Brezhnev.

Two of the posters below were part of a number produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, which the Russians called the ‘Great Patriotic War’. Their message against war is simple and eternal, using the images of a woman and child in one, and a small child in the other, to get the message across.

The Russian behind the little girl reads simply ‘Don’t Need War’.

The slogan in this poster says ‘Not For Wars’.

This last poster is less anti-war, than anti-nuclear testing. Nevertheless, it was painted in 1958 during the Cold War, when the West and the Communist bloc faced each other amid an intense atmosphere of distrust and hostility, and it seemed that nuclear Armageddon could come at any moment. This is the background to the formation of groups in the West like CND. The Russian is a simple cry of ‘No!’

I realise that there’s an element of hypocrisy in these posters, as the Soviet Union was a military superpower, which used its armed forces to dominate its satellites in eastern Europe, and was intent on developing its own nuclear arsenal.

But I wanted to put these images up because of their powerful message now, when our political leaders seem to be intent on driving us towards another useless, dangerous Cold War with Russia, and Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the madman in charge of North Korea, have been threatening each other with their nuclear and conventional weapons over in the Pacific.

In the case of Kim Jong-In, he’s simply the latest scion of a family of brutal ‘Stalinist’ dictators, who hang on to power through terror and mass arrest. In the case of Trump and the western politicians, the new Cold War is another attempt to isolate and weaken Russia on the geopolitical stage, provide a reason for giving more massive government contracts to the arms manufacturers, and in the case of Killary and the corporatist Democrats, divert attention away from their own very corrupt dealings with Putin’s Russia abroad, and Wall Street and big business at home.

America’s wars in the Middle East are killing hundreds of thousands, and have displaced many millions more. They have reduced secular Arab nations to ruins, and created legions of Islamist militants and sectarian death squads, who kill, maim, butcher and enslave in their turn. And now Trump seems intent on forcing some kind of confrontation with Iran.

And so we still need to hear these posters’ vital message, whatever we think of Russia’s Communist past.

During the Cold War of the 1980s, Sting sang ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’ The answer from these posters is clearly ‘Yes’. Just as the Arabs and Iranians do.

No more imperialism.

No more war.

From C. 1989: Pravda International on Launch of Greenpeace Rock Album in Soviet Union

October 18, 2017

Pravda International, with pic of Yeltsyn before he became president. This seems to have been before the drunkenness took hold. It also doesn’t show his uncritical adulation of capitalism, which destroyed the Soviet economy and caused massive unemployment and poverty.

Way back in the 1980s when I was at College, I used to buy Pravda International occasionally. It was, very roughly, an English language version of the Russian Communist party newspaper, but with articles also drawn from the other Russian newspapers and magazines Izvestia, Argumenty I Fakty, Moscow News, as well as by the English editions own staff. Like many magazines over the years, it seems to have folded due to lack of interest. I tried to buy it from my local newsagent, but found out that it was unavailable. The two big magazine distributors had divided Bristol up between them, and one of them wouldn’t carry it. So guess which half of Bristol I was in.

I nevertheless kept hold of some of them, as they were records of an exciting, historic time. This was when Glaznost and Perestroika were in full swing, the Soviet Union was being democratised according to Gorbachev’s belief that democracy and Communism could be combined to produce a new, vigorous, prosperous Soviet Union. The Soviets were opening their borders and allowing western media into the country. The Cold War was thawing rapidly, and right across the Communist bloc censorship was being lifted. The Soviet people were making their voices heard, and books, plays, poetry and art that had previously been banned were now being published and publicly discussed. Stalin and his minions stood, thanks to dissident Marxist historians like Roy and Zhores Medvedev, openly condemned as monstrous mass murderers. And the families, friends and loved ones of his victims organised to demand memorials to the millions he had murdered. And instead of hatred, distrust and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust, for a few years it looked like the peoples of the West and East would live as friends and co-workers. The missiles were being decommissioned, the silos filled in. Across the world it seemed that our peoples would never again have to fear the threat of nuclear attack, or invasion from across the other side of the Iron Curtain.

And I also dug out the old copy of Pravda International out of a sense of mischief. RT UK and America have been under attack recently, accused of spreading Russian propaganda and interfering with our politics. What this means is that the Russian-owned news agency has actually done some good journalism, and uncovered the poverty, misery and despair caused by corporatist late capitalism and the gutting of the British and American welfare state and working class organisations. It’s what our own, domestic news networks should be reporting on, but instead they’ve been turned into part of the same corporate system, publishing nothing but mainstream propaganda for the corporatist elite and their puppets and shills in the political parties. I wanted to dig it out to show that the Russians have always had a media presence in the West, and there was a time when it also really frightened some capitalist interests. Although flicking through that issue of the magazine, many of the stories were about western businesses, including British firms, securing contracts to work with Soviet enterprises, as the economy opened up.

Russia, like everywhere else, is also suffering from environmental damage and climate change. Simon Reeve, in his recent TV journey across Russia from the Far East to St. Petersburg, stopped in Siberia to show the terrifying changes that are occurring in the Russian north. The permafrost is melting causing the remaining rock and soil to subside. This has created vast craters in the tundra. One Russian environmental scientist took Reeve to see one of these. It was staggering, the size of the vast Arizona meterorite crater in the US. It was as if a piece of land the size of a city had been scooped out of the Arctic.

These climatic changes are threatening the stability of many of the cities the Russians built up in the north. They’re also a further threat to all humanity, as they release methane, a greenhouse gas far more powerful than Carbon Dioxide. About 25 times more powerful. This threatens to create runaway global warming beyond the tipping point, to the point where the survival or human civilisation, if not the human species itself, is very much under threat.

Looking through this old issue of Pravda International, it was therefore particularly interesting to find an article by their staffer, Jennie Walsh, reporting the launch of a rock album by Greenpeace, released by the Soviet recording company Melodiya, to raise awareness of environmental issues.
The article, ‘Breakthrough for the Environment’, reads

The ecological pressure group Greenpeace has long highlighted the international potential of the environmental movement. The recent release of their rock compilation album, Breakthrough marks an important step forward for the campaign, and for Western music.

Two years ago Greenpeace chairman David McTaggart approached Ian Flookes of the Wasted Talent Artists Agency with a view to putting on a concert of Western bands in the Soviet Union in order to generate roubles for a Soviet-based Greenpeace campaign. Political problems prevented this at the time, but in the changing climate of perestroika the plans were restarted last year, though a compilation record was considered more appropriate.

‘After what happened at Chernobyl, I think the Soviet authorities have become extremely environment-conscious and their approach to Greenpeace and to the project has been one of great support’, Flookes told Pravda International.

With the full cooperation of the Soviet state record company Melodiya, who were granted independent status last year, Breakthrough is the first major release of contemporary Western rock music in the USSR.

It is the first time that Melodiya has been able to do a ‘normal’ promotion campaign, with many of the artists (who all gave their services free of charge) present at the Moscow launch in March. There was an incredible reception. One record store queue was over 7,000 people, which is quite phenomenal – even by Soviet standards!

The purpose behind Breakthrough, however, must not be forgotten amid such hysteria. Kate Karam of Greenpeace emphasised that in releasing the album, they wanted to educate as much as to entertain. Despite perestroika, it is still difficult to put out independent information in the USSR, and the album provided a vehicle for the distribution of a booklet highlighting the work of Greenpeace and the environmental problems of the USSR.

The profits from the record sales will be shared between Greenpeace and the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, one of the first independent, non-governmental organisations to be founded in the Soviet Union.

The money will be spent only on projects within the USSR. This is a major indication of the political changes that have taken place. Greenpeace is quite a radical organisation by any standards, and to have some of the top soviet scientists and public servants (including Velikov, vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) support them through the Foundation, has been vital to the project. It is also an important challenge – a challenge to get programmes started in the USSR while maintaining the traditional Greenpeace principle of direct action.

Several environmental projects have now been formally agreed. Greenpeace will use some of the funds from the record to organise an East-West exchange programme in cooperation with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, for children to study environmental problems. Projects in the pipeline include work with the International Foundation to establish a central clearing house for information on atmospheric pollution problems and trying to involve the Soviet Union in the campaign to stop the industrial pollution of the Baltic Sea.

‘We don’t want to impose our Western standards about the environment on the Soviet Union,’ explains Karam. ‘I think that’s a danger with many of the Western organisations taking advantage of the new political climate there. Greenpeace is going to Russia to learn about their specific problems, because it is wrong to develop homogeneous attitudes about the environment. We need to study and talk to people before we launch into setting up offices and membership drives. Getting educational materials out in Russia is a big enough challenge right now without going straight into direct action projects.’

The popularisation of ‘green politics’ in the West may be little more than rhetoric on the part of its leaders, but it has encouraged the critical eye to fall on eastern Europe with regard to its environmental record. The socialist system may have failed the environment as much as the capitalist, but the big difference is the West has had 10 years lead time with environmentalists pushing legislation through. ‘I think the question is now how bad the USSR’s record is, but what is going to happen over the next 10 years – not in the past 50. I don’t think its fair to criticise.’

Now that the Soviet authorities have made active moves to encourage environmental concern, particularly by creating a Ministry for the Environment, Greenpeace are keen to see whether other east European countries follow suit.

Breakthrough is to be released in all the east European countries as well as in the UK, USA, India, Australia and Japan, emphasising the international aspect of the green movement.

The release of the album worldwide, under the title Rainbow Warriors, will probably be slightly more of a gamble than it has been in the Soviet Union. Compassion fatigue in the West, however, might be overcome by the quality of the record.

There probably hasn’t been an album released yet, which features so many top musicians – U2, Simple Minds, The Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Sting to name a few. There are 26 tracks, all of which have recently been hits. For many, the album will probably have an intrinsic value just for this reason. The fact that it supports Greenpeace will be a bonus.

In the three weeks since the album was released in the USSR over 10,000 copies have been received on the forms that were enclosed in the information booklets.

The worldwide launch is on May 22nd and if it sells for reasons other than its musical content, its educational and mobilising potential could be as effective as the fundraising.

Now, unfortunately, we have had Russian hackers releasing scientific data in an attempt to discredit climate change and global warming, while Trump is also trying to stifle climate science, including the virtual closure of America’s Environmental protection Agency. He and the rest of the Republican party are determined that only the paid propagandists for the Koch brothers will be heard.

RT Video of Teachers’ Demonstration in Washington against Betsy DeVos

October 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary. She’s a multimillionaire member of the family behind the Amway pyramid scheme, who has never attended a public, that is, state school in her life, and as a bright red corporate Republican, hates them with a passion. She, like her master, Trump, wants to privatise them, and turn them into charter schools. This means that they will be able to circumvent the state legislation regulating teaching standards, the pay and conditions of teaching staff, just like Academies in the UK. And in the case of America, they will also be outside the legislation outlawing the teaching of religion in schools.

Teachers in America, like those in Britain, are extremely worried and angry. This is a video by RT America of a demonstration by public school teachers outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue Hotel in the state of Washington last Friday, 13th October 2017. The assembled educators have placards proclaiming ‘Stop Fascism’, protesting the privatisation of the American school system, and demanding an end to the road from school to prison. I don’t know the particular symbolism, but some of the female demonstrators lined up to wear 17th/18th century dress with red capes, holding placards, which read out ‘This nightmare will end’.

Mike and I both went to Anglican church school in Bristol, and I have absolutely nothing against the teaching of religion in schools nor the state supporting faith schools. I’m not a secularist. Religious education in British schools hasn’t prevented the increasing secularisation of society. Religion, and more recently the attempts of secular philosophy to grasp with the deep issues of humanity’s existence, morality and meaning, have been part of human culture and identity for centuries, if not millennia. It can also be argued that we need proper teaching about each others’ religious beliefs as society has become more plural and multicultural, so that children do not get distorted or bigoted pictures of our fellow citizens and their religious beliefs or secular philosophies.

But I’m also aware that American society and educational tradition is different, and that there are quite legitimate concerns that what these schools will push is not education, but indoctrination. Just as there are concerns over here about the extremist agenda pursued by some of the new faith schools established in the UK.

Mine and Mike’s mother was a junior school teacher for many years, and I did my first degree at an Anglican teacher training college, and so have some understanding from the inside of what teachers face. Contrary to what the Republicans and Conservatives would have us all believe, teachers as a rule don’t want to indoctrinate children with lesbian feminist cultural Marxist propaganda, although they do want to make sure that girls as well as boys reach their academic potential, and they do have a statutory duty tackle prejudice, including homophobia. But most of all, teachers want to stand in front of a White board and teach. And those I know, who’ve done it state that it’s immensely rewarding. They want to see their pupils do well, and become bright, inquiring members of society. They want to pass on the interest and passion they have for the subjects they teach, whether English, maths, science, history, whatever to the children in their care.

I’m perfectly aware that there are some terrible teachers. But the good far outnumber the bad. Teachers in this country have been appallingly treated by successive governments ever since Margaret Thatcher, and the attempts to privatise, or part-privatise schools through their transformation into academies and charter schools threaten educational standards, as well as the pay and conditions of the teaching staff themselves. This country has suffered from wave after wave of qualified teachers leaving the profession as conditions have become worse, demands increased, and in some cases even dangerous. There have been cases where teachers are assaulted. At the same time, like other public sectors workers, pay has been cut or frozen. They have not been given the support they need by the authorities, and in the case of the Republicans in America and Conservatives over here, they’ve actually been demonised and vilified. Over the decades newspapers like the Scum, the Heil and even the Torygraph have run article after article trying to scare the British public with stories about how left-wing teachers are indoctrinating Britain’s children. Under Cameron, we had Michael Gove whining about history wasn’t being taught properly. It should be more patriotic, with children taught the approved Tory version of the First World War, rather than Blackadder. As Mike pointed out in a series of articles he put up about it, this would be to distort history for the Tories’ own benefit. As well as mistaking a comedy, based on history, with history itself.

In the 1980s, my mother felt so strongly about the threat to British education that she and the other teachers in her union took industrial action. As did very many others. This was not done selfishly to maintain their own privileges at the expense of their children. It was also because they were very much concerned that unless strike action was taken, the Tories would continue to run down the British education system. As they have, and Blairite New Labour as well.

The transformation of America’s public schools into charter schools is undemocratic, and hasn’t just been done by the Republicans. Obama also pushed for it. And like Blair in England, schools were often taken out of the state sector and made charter schools against the wishes of the community, parents, teachers, community groups, pastors and clergy. The Black community in particular has been threatened by the fall in educational standards that they represent. A year or so ago the veteran civil rights organisation, the NAACP, came out against them. There are books over here about the failings of academy schools. One of the pamphlets I’ve written is against them. If you want a copy, just let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

But DeVos and the corporatists want a privatised school system both as a source of profit and because they would transform the school system from proper education, to a system of creating a passive workforce, who have enough knowledge to work for their corporate masters, but not enough to question, think for themselves, or even to be able to participate fully in art and culture. Art and music along with other humanities are being dropped from the curriculum in Britain as schools concentrate on the STEM subjects. And this is harming our children’s education.

C.P. Snow talked of the ‘two cultures’. He felt that there was a real gap between the arts and the sciences, so that the two formed distinct, separate cultures with little contact between each other. I think his fears, however true they were when he was writing, are somewhat exaggerated now. Science and mathematics has inspired much art down the centuries, as you can see from the weird paradoxes of Max Escher or the new scientific experiments that were painted during the 18th century by Wright of Derby. And scientists and science educators like the late Carl Sagan and even Richard Dawkins have expressed an extensive knowledge and keen appreciation of art.

This is why teachers are protesting against academies and charter schools: they want to preserve proper educational standards. They want to make sure that the poorest children have the same opportunity to achieve as the wealthiest. They want education to receive its proper status as a public good, not the preserve of the affluent, or simply another revenue stream for a grotty multinational like Murdoch’s. And although in Britain religion is taught, or supposed to be taught, in schools, there are safeguards and legislation against indoctrination. And teachers wish to preserve those as well.

So stand with your community teachers and teaching unions, and don’t let the Republicans in America or the Tories in Britain turn your school into an academy.