Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

China Mieville’s The City and The City Coming to BBC

March 17, 2018

Yesterday I caught a very brief trailer for what looks like a forthcoming Beeb adaptation of China Mieville’s The City and The City. This is a murder mystery set in a fictional eastern European country, and the Amazon review of it declares that stylistically it resembles Raymond Chandler and Orwell’s 1984, amongst other classic authors. Mieville’s an SF author, so it’s no surprise that this not going to be a straightforward thriller, but involves weirdness.

I’ve got a feeling that the book won at least one SF fiction award, though I could be wrong. Mieville himself is actually very left. He edited a book on Marxism and Science Fiction, which I found in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s a couple of years ago. He and the late, great Ian M. Banks also gave a very interesting interview to the small press SF/genre fiction magazine The Edge back in the 1990s, where they made it very plain that they disliked the Tories and had absolute contempt for New Labour for their cuts to the welfare state.

Some of the attempts the Beeb has made in recent years to do proper SF or Fantasy dramas have been rather disappointing. But this could be worth watching.


Physics Textbook on Cosmology and Gravitation

March 15, 2018

M.V. Berry, Principles of Cosmology and Gravitation (Bristol: Institute of Physics Publishing 1989).

Yesterday came the news of the death of the great British physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking at the age of 76. Hawking had suffered for most of his adult life from motor neurone disease, since he was diagnosed with it in his early 20s. He was given only three years to live, but instead managed to live out a very full lifespan working on his theories of the origin of the universe and Black Holes. He was a great ambassador for science. His book, A Brief History of Time, was a bestseller when it appeared in 1980s, although he admitted that it was probably a book few finished. And he showed that it was still possible for a disabled person to do cutting edge research, provided they had the necessary technical and medical support. In his case, it was his wheelchair and the machine that allowed him to speak, first of all by keying in the words, then by twitching just a single muscle. Some of the praise seemed a bit too fulsome to me. Like when they started saying that he was the greatest scientist since Newton and Einstein. I don’t think he was. And Hawking on his own didn’t unlock the secrets of universe or Black Holes, as the Beeb’s presenters also claimed. As for his great sense of humour, well, it existed, as his appearance on shows like The Simpsons demonstrated, but my memory of it is marred by him turning up with the TV critic, Victor Lewis Smith, telling fart jokes and laughing on the 1990s series, Inside Victor Lewis Smith. But it really was inspiring to see how he was a great hero to the ‘A’ level students at a science fair yesterday, and how he had inspired them to become interested in science.

One of the complaints Richard Dawkins has made about popular science programmes is that they’re too ‘dumbed-down’. He points out that they have to have lots of explosions, and they mustn’t include equations, in case that scares people off. There’s a lot with which I don’t agree with Dawkins. I’m not an atheist, and have argued on this blog against him and the other militant atheists. But he is right here. Scientists writing the popular science books have said that they’ve been told by their publishers to leave equations out, because every equation in a book damages sales.

I think this is the wrong attitude to have. It’s why I’ve put up this piece about the above book by M.V. Berry. It’s an undergraduate physics textbook, which does contain the fundamental mathematical equations for this area of physics. Its contents include

1. Introduction

2. Cosmography
2.1 What the universe contains
2.2 The cosmic distance hierarchy and the determination of galactic densities
2.2.1 Parallax
2.2.2 Distance from velocity measurements
2.2.3 Distance from apparent luminosity
2.2.4 Weighing galaxies
2.3 The red shift and the expansion of the universe.

3. Physical base of general relativity
3.1 The need for relativistic ideas and a theory of gravitation.
3.2 Difficulties with Newtonian mechanics: gravity
3.3. Difficulties with Newtonian mechanics: inertial frames and absolute space.
3.4 Inadequacy of special relativity.
3.5 Mach’s principle, and gravitational waves.
3.6 Einstein’s principle of equivalence.

4 Curved spacetime and the physical mathematics of general relativity.
4.1 Particle Paths and the separation between events
4.2 Geodesics
4.3 Curved spaces
4.4 Curvature and gravitation.

5 General relativity near massive objects
5.1 Spacetime near an isolated mass.
5.2 Around the world with clocks.
5.3 Precession of the perihelion of Mercury
5.4 Deflection of light
5.5 Radar echoes from planets
5.6 Black Holes

6 Cosmic Kinematics
6.1 Spacetime for the smoothed-out universe
6.2 Red shifts and horizons
6.3 Apparent luminosity
6.4 Galactic densities and the darkness of the night sky.
6.5 Number counts

7 Cosmic dynamics
7.1 Gravitation and the cosmic fluid
7.2 Histories of model universes
7.3 The steady state theory
7.4 Cosmologies in which the strength of gravity varies

8 In the beginning
8.1 Cosmic black-body radiation.
8.2 Condensation of galaxies
8.3 Ylem.

Appendix A: Labelling astronomical objects
Appendix B: Theorema Egregium
Solutions to odd-numbered problems
Useful numbers.

there’s also a bibliography and index.

I’m not claiming to understand the equations. I struggled at both my ‘O’ level maths and physics, and what I know about science and astronomy I learned mostly through popular science books. But in the mid-1990s I wanted to see at least some of the equations scientists used in their explorations and modelling of the universe. One of the popular science books I was reading said at the time that this book was at the level that people with ‘A’ level maths could understand, and this didn’t seem quite so much a jump from my basic maths skills. So I ordered it. I’m afraid I can’t say that I’ve read it properly, despite the fact that I keep meaning to. Some of the equations are just too much for me, but I can follow the explanations in the text. I’m putting this notice of the book up here, in case there are any budding Stephen or Stephanie Hawkingses out there, who want to go a bit further than the pop-sci explanations, and see for themselves what the maths behind it all is like.

The Beeb also said in their eulogy for the great man, that Hawking hoped that the people reading his A Brief History of Time would come away with one point, even if they hadn’t finished it: that the universe is governed by rational law. Actually, this ideas isn’t unique to Hawking by a very, very long way. It actually comes from the Middle Ages, and is the assumption that makes science possible. Hawking was an agnostic, I believe, and many scientists are atheists. But this assumption that the universe is governed by rational laws ultimately comes from Christian theology. The founds of modern science in the Renaissance pointed to the passages in the Bible, in which God’s Wisdom creates the universes and establishes the boundaries and courses of natural phenomena, like the tides and stars. And the anarchist of science, Feuerabend, pointed out that the assumption that the laws of the universe all form a consistent whole come from Christian doctrine, quoting the 13th century theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas: ‘We must believe that the laws of the universe are one, because God is one.’

Hawking has passed away, but it’s clear that he has inspired many more people to become interested in this rather arcane branch of the sciences. I hope this continues, despite the Tories’ attack on education and science and research for its own sake.

Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ Documentary from 2009: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby – Part One

March 11, 2018

Presented by the Conservative journo Peter Oborne, this is a very hard-hitting and extensive investigation into the malign influence and tactics of the Israel lobby. It covers not just the soft corruption of political lobbying – the various donations in money and paid trips to Israel given to Tory and Labour politicos, but also the co-ordinated smear campaign against anyone who dares to speak out in favour of the Israeli state’s victims. It’s a smear campaign that has seen very respected members of the Jewish community, including senior rabbis, and BBC journos like the late Orla Guerin, Jeremy Bowen and even Jonathan Dimbleby accused of anti-Semitism. The result has been that the Beeb was pressured not to put out an appeal for the victims of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, and there was complaints about its coverage of those murdered by Israel’s allies in the Christian Fascists of the Lebanese Phalange in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. And there has been constant pressure by these same bullying thugs on the Groaniad under its former editor, Alan Rusbridger. Who really does look like Harry Potter. Much of this pressure and screaming abuse seems to have come from America. The organisations are carefully structured, so that they keep the total number of donations secret, and their donors hide behind anonymity. When investigated they repeat the same, smooth words about just trying to keep the argument open by presenting Israel’s case, or mutter platitudes about supporting a two-state solution. All the while doing their level best to make sure that their voice is the only the British public hear, and rabidly pursuing business deals on stolen Palestinian land.

I’m afraid I may have misheard some of the names in the programme, and so misspelled them, but they should be roughly accurate.

The documentary begins with the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the Conservative Friends of Israel. Despite the horrendous carnage and destruction wrought, David Cameron in a speech made no mention of this, but instead praised the Israelis and his pledged his lasting support to them if he became Prime Minister. It was this that prompted Oborne to launch his own investigation into the Israel lobby. He makes the point that they have influence on both sides of Parliament, as shown by an exchange between a Conservative MP, who was a member of Conservative Friends of Israel, who asked a question about Israel’s continuing safety. This was answered by a Labour MP, who was a member of the Labour Friends of Israel. Oborne then interviews Michael Ancram, former Tory Shadow Foreign Secretary from 2003-5, about the Israel Lobby’s influence. as well as Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Iran from 2003-6. Dalton states clearly that the Israel Lobby does exist, and is important in defining the debate about Israel and the Palestinians. The Conservative Friends of Israel is highly influential, and boasts that it includes 80 per cent of all Tory MPs. Its chair, Richard Huntingdon, received £20,000 last year (2008) in donations, and gave £34,000 to the Conservatives. And the director of the No. 10 club, that exclusive Tory fundraising outfit in which, for a mere £50,000, you can meet David Cameron or have lunch with William Hague, is also included. The Tory Friends of Israel also arrange paid trips to Israel for MPs. So far there have been more of these than equivalent trips to America and Europe combined. Oborne states that in fairness, he has to say that he went on one of these, and there was no pressure to report favourably about Israel. But two MPs, who went on one of these trips, then received afterwards £25,000 in donations. This prompts Oborne to ask Ancram if this explains the soft line taken by the Tories about Israeli influence, and why the Tories don’t like to talk about it.

The documentary then moves on to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, during which 1,000 Lebanese civilians were killed, and $3.6 billion’s worth of damage inflicted. Michael Howard gave William Hague £25,000 in donations. Hague then made the mistake of making a speech criticising the Israeli response to Lebanese attacks as disproportionate. As a result, Lord Kalms, a CFI donor and head of the Dixons electronics chain, was outraged, and threatened to withhold further funding. Which he did, and Hague never received a penny more. The Israel lobby attacks even the mildest criticism of Israel. The director of the CFI, Stuart Pollak, had a meeting with David Cameron after the speech. Then, at his lunch with the CFI, Cameron didn’t mention the Lebanese invasion at all.

The programme then moves on to the organisation’s income, as revealed by the Parliamentary Accounts Register. For comparison, the pro-Arab lobby revealed that they had been given £43,000 in donations. How many had the CFI been given? No-one knows. They didn’t register any. They’re structured as a group of individuals, and are not incorporated, so they don’t have declare any under the rules. In 2008 the CFI gave the Tories £2 million, but this is not the whole story. One Tory MP said that after a chance meeting with Stuart Pollak, he received two donations from businessmen he had never met, and who did not live in his constituency. The CFI gave £30,000 to Cameron’s team. And in 2005 Cameron met Plocha Zabludowicz, who gave the future Tory PM £15,000 and a further £35,000 to Tory Central Office. The total figure for the donations given by the CFI is £10 million, more than the other lobbies.

Then there’s the incident of the UN vote over a motion censuring both Hamas and Israel for the carnage in Gaza. The CFI rang Hague up to condemn the resolution and demand that he criticise it. Which he duly did.

But the Israel Lobby only became really powerful in Britain under Maggie’s favourite Labour pet, Tony Blair. Jon Mandelsohn, a prominent pro-Israel lobbyist, stated that ‘Zionism is pervasive in New Labour’ and ‘It is axiomatic that Blair will come to Labour Friends of Israel meetings’. There are more Labour MPs in Labour Friends of Israel than their opponents across the benches in the Tory Friends of Israel. The documentary describes how Blair met the rock entrepreneur, Lord Levy, at the Israeli embassy, who then raised £15 million for the Labour party before the row over ‘cash for questions’. When Blair became PM in 1997, he gave Levy a life peerage. Levy, however, was unpaid and never a formal servant of the British state, so that the deals he made as Blair’s special envoy to the Middle East between Israel and the Arab nations could be kept secret. The programme interviews Prof. Avi Shlaim of Oxford University’s Middle East department, who states that he considers Levy has damaged Britain’s reputation in the Middle East.

The documentary then moves back to CFI lobbyists at the Tory party conference. Their purpose there is to make sure Cameron’s policies are in line with Israel’s This means that Michael Kaminski, the Polish leader, who heads a small, far right nationalist party, is lionised by the Tories, despite his record of making anti-Semitic remarks and his refusal to apologise for the suffering of Jewish Poles during the Second World War. Stuart Pollak was most keen not to have Cameron’s speech to the CFI at the Tory conference covered. He is shown waving the camera crew away. The CFI totally support Kaminski. They also plead that they’re totally transparent through the distinction between their donations as a group, and those of individual businesspeople.

Continued in Part Two.


Lead Singer of Robot Band Signing Albums for Human Fans

March 9, 2018

This is a very short video I found on YouTube from the all-robot band, Compressorhead. They’ve now got a singer, Mega-Wattson, complete with large mouth with gums and teeth, and Mohican. This video simply shows him signing albums like human rock stars. It makes a great change after the grim story of anger in California about the threat of mass unemployment caused by robots.

Rock on!


RT Reports on People Attacking Robots and Driverless Cars in California

March 9, 2018

This is a very short video – about 2 1/2 minutes long – I found over on YouTube by RT. It reports attacks on driverless cars and other robots by the good folks of California. The other robots attacked include a robot guard, designed to shoo the homeless away from business entrances, which was put out of action several times, and a robot burger chef. The machine is basically just an arm and hand, which is shown flipping burgers, and laying them out ready for the bun. The attacks on this machine have included comments about it taking people’s jobs.

The piece cuts to an expert, who says that when you have predictions that mechanisation will destroy half the jobs in America, which will cause massive social dislocation – people are going to be angry. He then makes the anodyne statement that they have to find ways to make automation work for the benefit of everyone.

There is no way under capitalism that automation will work for everyone. Value under capitalism is determined by scarcity. The scarcer and more vital a product or service is, the more people are willing to pay for it. Hence the neoliberal dictum that there must be a ‘reserve army of the unemployed’ to bring down wages, whatever George Osborne and the other liars in the Tory party say about reducing unemployment. Making half the workforce unemployed will create immense poverty, but I can see the Tories and their backers salivating over that, as it means jobs will become more precious, and the working and lower middle class more dispirited and willing to put up with even worse condition to get them.

Of course, one solution would be to nationalise the companies not using a given proportion of human labour, so that their profits could be used to benefit everyone, perhaps through a universal citizen wage. The Polish SF author, Stanislaw Lem, mentioned this option in one of his short stories in Tales of Pirx the Pilot. But there’s no way this is going to happen, as the Tories and other apologists for capitalism will scream blue murder about the sanctity of private industry. Even when that industry is destroying jobs for private profit.

There needs to be a complete change in the structure of our society, if such widespread automation goes ahead. And it should begin by kicking out the Tories and the other corporatist politicos.


Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Accused of Sexual Harassment, Racism and Anti-Semitism by Former Employees

March 2, 2018

I found this clip from the David Pakman Show, reporting that Alex Jones, the main man behind the conspiracy internet show, Infowars, has been accused of being a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist perv by two former members of staff. One of these is a Black woman, Ashley Beckford, who claims that Jones and other members of senior management leered at her, made comments about her colour, called her ‘coon’ and that she was not given the same terms and conditions as the other members of staff, who weren’t Black. She also claims that she was being groomed for some kind of sexual relationship with Jones, who often appeared shirtless around her.

The other person suing Jones is Rob Jacobson, a Jewish guy, who had worked for Jones for 13 years before he was sacked. He claims that Jones regularly humiliated him because of his Jewish heritage, referring to him as ‘that Jewish individual’ or ‘the resident Jew’, and on occasion pronouncing his name ‘Yakobson’, presumably his attempt to imitate a Yiddish pronunciation.

Pakman, who is himself Jewish, makes fun of Jones, asking rhetorically how anybody could be surprised at these accusations, knowing what a sane individual Jones is. Behind him there’s a video playing of Jones ranting and banging the table like a foam-flecked Hitler on speed. He also jokes about how Jones’ behaviour must have been cause by the ‘male vitality pills’ he tries to flog on his wretched show. There is some good news for Jones, though. His audience are so paranoid and obsessed that everything’s a conspiracy, that they’ll believe this one is too.

His producer here goes on to raise the reasonable point that its doubtful how far these accusations can be trusted. Jacobson was working for him for 13 years before he was sacked, or released, and has only now come forward with these allegations. It might be a case of disgruntled employees trying to hit back at the employer who sacked them.

having said that, Black American women do suffer more from sexual harassment than White Americans, according to an article I read in Counterpunch. There’s a perception that Black women are ‘easy’, and so some White guys harass and sexually assault them, which they would not dare to do to a woman of their own colour.

The section of the video reporting this latest development with Jones and Infowars is relatively short. Most of the video is David Pakman promoting a self-help book. I realise he needs the money from sponsorship, but it is still irritating. Here’s the video:


Next Week’s Episodes on the Radio 4 Series on the History of British Socialism

February 25, 2018

The BBC Radio 4 series, British Socialism: The Grand Tour, continues on its usual timeslot of 1.40 pm on weekdays next week, beginning with a programme on Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Here’s the programmes due to be transmitted, with the brief descriptions of them from the Radio Times.

Sidney and Beatrice Webb and the Fabian Society

Michael Ward, Dianne Hayter and Steven Fielding join Anne McElvoy to explain how Beatrice and Sidney Webb contributed to the development of the modern welfare state.

Ernest Bevin vs. Stafford Cripps

McElvoy traces the battle between rival traditions of British socialism amid the crises of the 1930s.


Anne McElvoy examines how Ellen Wilkinson went from the Communist Party to the Jarrow March, and to a seat in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Education.

Socialist Feminism and 1968

Anne McElvoy explores how the women’s liberation movement and the politics of 1968 changed the language of socialism in Britain. With contributions from Sally Alexander of Goldsmiths, University of London; Barbara Taylor of Queen Mary, University of London; and Jon Lawrence of the University of Exeter.

Tony Benn

Amid the crises of 1970s, competing strands of British socialism struggled for dominance. There were the statist technocrats, who looked back to Labour’s 1945 victory and the building of the Welfare State; the post-1968 generation who had revived the tradition of a socialism focused more on radical self-realization. Meanwhile, the shop stewards forged a new approach to trade unionism. So when Tony Benn moved from a mild, modernising emphasis on the possibilities of technology, and started marching alongside workers who had occupied their factories, it was a significant turn. Present by Anne McElvoy.

And there’s an omnibus edition of that week’s programmes on the same channel at 9.00 pm in the evening that same day.


Awesome! Robot Band Compressorhead Has a Singer At Last

February 25, 2018

As readers of this blog will have gathered, I’ve an interest in robots and robots as musicians. Compressorhead are an all-robot band from Germany, who play Hard Rock and Heavy Metal music. They started as purely musicians without a singer, but have at last built one. He’s called ‘Mega-Wattson’. The robot rolls around on caterpillar tracks, has a structure where a human’s eyes would be that resembles sunglasses, and, as a singer, has a massive mouth full of teeth. Oh yes, and he has a Mohican that raises and goes down in emphasis to what he’s singing. The band also sports a new guitarist and backing vocalist, ‘Hellga Tarr’. Her name seems to me to be a pun on ‘Hell Guitar’. She is very definitely female, as they’ve given her a waist and plastic boobs.

The song’s Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, and it’s dedicated to Lemmy!

Here’s the clip from YouTube:

This does, however, remind me of piece from the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, in which the ‘Meknificent Seven’ of robot warriors for truth and justice discuss their favourite bands. It ends with Hammerstein saying that everything was rubbish after Led Zeppelin.

It’s from A.B.C. Warriors: The Volgan War – Volume 3, by Pat Mills and Clint Langley. I don’t agree that everything after Led Zeppelin was rubbish. And this is pure rock and roll. Rock on!

And one of the comments is also funny. One of them suggested that after this, there’ll be Cyborgs banging around down in the mosh pit.


Stephen Hawking to Play The Book in New Series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 18, 2018

The I newspaper yesterday reported that the physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, is set to play the Book in a new radio series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Entitled ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Edition’ the series will commemorate the original show on Radio 4 back in 1978, featuring the original cast.

I loved the original series of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the first two books based on the show, the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. However, I lost interest in it after the third book. I tried reading the fourth, only to give up. I think by that time Douglas Adams himself was growing tired of writing them. I’ve heard someone say on an interview that he was only lured back to write his last Hitch-Hiker book by the publisher’s promise that in it he could destroy every possible Earth in every possible universe. So I’m not sure I’ll listen to it, especially as the series is being carried on by other writers.

I also wasn’t impressed by Adams’ expressed contempt for the genre he wrote in. Back in the 1990s he was interviewed on the radio by Paxo, who said his book was Science Fiction, but different. It was good. Adams replied by saying that he didn’t write Science Fiction. Which is odd, because that’s what Hitch-Hiker is. But I guess Adams wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as a genre writer.

At that time the prejudice of the literary establishment towards Science Fiction and Fantasy was much stronger than it is now. I can remember seeing Terry Pratchett speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, saying how the organisers looked on him as if he was going to talk to people about fixing motorcycles. There’s a clip of the BBC arts programme, The Late Review, in which the Oxford lecturer and poet, Tom Paulin, and a female litterateur are asked to review one of Pratchett’s books, where they both make very disparaging remarks. The woman states that she felt like writing across it in big lines ‘I cannot read any more’. Paulin compared it to lifting up a stone to find all these weird people doing weird things underneath it. And going further back to the 1950s Brian Aldiss commented in The Trillion Year Spree that at that time, despite being championed by Kingsley Amis, pornography had a better reputation than Science Fiction amongst the literary elite.

Pratchett had to fight against that literary snobbishness throughout his life, but is now being taken very seriously by critics. I think Adams avoided it. Back in the ’90s he and Hitch-Hiker were the subjects of one edition of the South Bank Show with Melvin Bragg. But perhaps the price of that critical acclaim was his denial that he wrote Science Fiction at all.

But other people are different, and so I’ve no doubt that there are millions of Hitch-Hiker fans out there, who will be delighted to hear the news. They know who they are. They’re the people, who bought merchandising, like the Hitch-Hiker bath towels. This was a large, white bath towel with the text from the HHGG talking about how every Hitch-Hiker really needed to know where their towel was on it. I found one of those in Forever People, the comics/ SF shop in Bristol. The show’s fans are also the people, who organised conventions with dubious names like ‘Slartibartday’, after one of the creators of the Earth, Slartibartfast.

Hawking is in many ways an ideal choice for The Book after the death of Peter Jones, who was its original voice on Radio 4 and then in the BBC 2 TV series. He already has an electronic voice to fit the character of an electronic book, and is a world famous space scientist and advocate of space colonisation. But you wonder how massive his ego will be after playing a publication, which the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy describes as, amongst some people, having displaced the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom.


TNT Nation: Daily Mail Racists Freak Out as Cheddar Man Revealed as Black

February 15, 2018

One of the big stories last week was the unveiling of the reconstructed face of Cheddar Man. As Jeff Waldorf points out in this clip from TNT Nation, this is a prehistoric man, named after where he was found, and not a man literally made of cheese. Cheddar Man, or rather, his skeleton, was found in the caves in Cheddar in Somerset, England, way back in 1906. The skeleton’s 16,000 or so years old, and so dates from about the end of the last Ice Age. The scientists reconstructing his features also used for the first time DNA analysis to gauge his skin and eye colour. And it turns out that he had ‘dark to black skin’ and blue eyes.

They scientists were able to do this using DNA they were able to extract from the skeleton. This had genetic markers similar to those for dark skin, which is also present in ten per cent of the modern British population. Cheddar Man’s colouring was a surprise for the scientists, as they expected him to have white skin and blond or light hair, as an adaptation to the extreme cold. Commenting on the revelation that he was black, one scientist said that it showed that British has not always been associated with Whiteness. It had changed, and would change again in the future. I think they were also able to trace the ultimate origins of Cheddar Man’s people, as they entered Britain from a route across southern Europe ultimately going back to Turkey.

I’m not surprised by this revelation. It’s been suggested since at least the 1990s that the first anatomically modern humans – Homo Sapiens Sapiens – who entered and colonised Europe, were dark-skinned. Back in the 1990s a Channel 4 series on human evolution showed a reconstruction of these people, as they would have looked 40,000 or so years ago, edging along the primeval European countryside as Black. The programme also consciously reversed the idea, promoted in many past books and articles on them, that the Neanderthals were Black. The programme instead argued that they would have had light skins as an adaptation to the arctic temperatures in Europe. If you also look at the remains of our ancient ancestors, you also find that they have more archaic features, like a strong brow ridge, than the other humans in Africa, who were much more gracile. I think its these archaic features which led some archaeoanthropologists to state that some of these humans were of the same physical build as Aboriginal Australians, because these ancient people have also retained some features of archaic humanity.

The real shock, as one of the articles about Cheddar Man said last week, is how recently White skin and hair evolved – in the last 10,000 years or so. It’s much more recent than they expected. However, I can remember reading in a review of the film The Clan of the Cave Bear in Starburst one of the criticisms of that movie. It starred Daryl Hannah as a Cro Magnon woman growing up with a family of Neanderthals. Hannah’s blond, and the article pointed out that blonde hair is only supposed to have evolved 10,000 or so years ago – much later than the age the film, and the book on which it was based, by Jean Auel, is set.

The revelation that Cheddar Man was Black, however, set the racists off. And here Waldorf reads out and tears to pieces some of the comments about this story left on the Daily Mail’s website. And they go from the reasonable, to the completely mad.

Waldorf begins with the comment from one individual, who wonders if the genetic reconstruction is accurate, given the age of the skeleton and difficulty of extracting genetic information from remains that ancient. He states, however, that he isn’t a scientist, but has simply watched a lot of documentaries. Waldorf mocks him for this, which is actually unfair. It’s a reasonable question, as the impression I’ve had from watching the same kind of documentaries is that ancient DNA can be extremely delicate, and is very often fragmentary, so it can actually be very difficult to extract useful genetic information from human remains. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, which made this point when discussing the Neanderthals to show why scientists have not tried to recreate them genetically.

And then there’s the completely bonkers. Another commenter wondered if there wasn’t something deeper going on here. They smelt a conspiracy, as the revelation that Cheddar Man was Black came after, so this person believed, the collapse of the ‘out of Africa’ theory of human origins, and the proof that the Ancient Egyptians weren’t African. First of all, if the theory that humans first evolved in Africa and then spread outwards across the globe has collapsed, then no-one’s told me. Or any of the anthropologists and archaeologists working in this field. The only people I can think of who reject the theory are, er, marginal thinkers. Or cranks. Waldorf takes apart the claim that the ancient Egyptians weren’t Africans, by pointing out that ancient Egypt actually had a very diverse population, and that in the south they tended to be darker than in the north. Also, Egypt is part of Africa.

This comment seems to echo back to the views of some of the White racial supremacists that the ancient Egyptians, as the citizens of an advanced ancient civilisation, couldn’t possibly be Black, and were instead White and European in appearance. This is, of course, vehemently rejected by AFrocentrist historians, who argue instead that they were Black. If you look at the way the ancient Egyptians depicted themselves in their art – in the tomb paintings, for example, they are lighter than the darker skinned Nubian peoples to their south. Male ancient Egyptians are portrayed as having reddish brown skin, while women are yellow. Nubians are painted with black skin. Even so, they are still darker than the Europeans, which appear in their art, such as the people of Minoan Crete. These are depicted with pink skin. The scientifically accepted view is that the peoples of North Africa, including ancient Egypt, were White.

However, way back in the 1990s or the early part of this century some anthropologists reconstructed the faces of people from Roman Egypt. This found that their features were more strongly African than the portraits of them painted on to their mummy cases, which made them look more European. There were definite cultural and economic reasons why an ancient Egyptian really wouldn’t want to be seen as ‘Black’. Roman Egypt was a horrible, racist, apartheid state, where the indigenous Egyptian population was taxed more than those of Greek or European descent. This would have left many Egyptians with feelings of inferiority about their African features, which they would have tried to cover up.

There was also the suggestion by one archaeologist that the ultimate origins of the ancient Egyptian civilisation lay in a Black tribe from further south, which migrated to the north. This archaeologist came to this conclusion through examining some of the early henge monuments, which predate the ancient Egyptian civilisation proper by thousands of years. I think these were similar to those in the Black African nations further south. One of the stones in these monuments also seemed deliberately shaped to resemble a cow. Hathor was the ancient Egyptians’ cow goddess, and so there’s the suggestion that she was a survival from this ancient, pastoralist Black African culture.

I also came across another story in the paper recently, which said that the ancient Egyptians weren’t African after all. I didn’t get the opportunity to read it – I only glimpsed the headline in passing – and so can’t really comment on it. But it seems unlikely to me. The Egyptologist John Romer criticised the notion that the ancient Egyptians were White way back in the 1990s in his Channel 4 series, Great Excavations. In one episode, he discussed the various diffusionist theories of human evolution and progress, and how they were influenced by 19th century theories of racial supremacy and conquest. Diffusionism is the archaeological theory that advances in civilisation occur through successive societies and races conquering their predecessors. Early archaeologists were busy examining the remains of these past cultures, and especially their skull and head shapes, in order to develop a classification of the various races these different physical types represented. As the ancient Egyptians were an advanced civilisation, they confidently expected them to have their origins in the lighter skinned peoples further east.

Except that they didn’t. The ancient Egyptian people remained the same stock, unchanged, as their culture developed and flourished around them. They created their culture themselves, without any other invading race creating or imposing a superior culture after them. Of course, at times ancient Egypt was conquered by outside nations, such as the Semitic Hyksos kings and the Nubians, who produced a line of Black pharaohs. They were also an important power themselves in the ancient Near East, at one point holding Syria and Palestine. But ancient Egyptian culture was their own creation, and not the result of invasion by some biologically superior race. And as far as I know, the only people, who believe that the ancient Egyptians had blonde hair and blue eyes are neo-Nazis.

Now I think there is a subtle message behind this recent discovery of Cheddar Man’s complexion. I think some of the comments made by the experts about his colouring and Britishness – that it is only relatively recently that White skin has evolved, and that Britishness is not necessarily connected to Whiteness – have been made to make an anti-racist point. It wasn’t just the scientist quoted by the TNT clip. There was another quote in the papers by someone saying that we may have to rethink the relationship between Britishness and Whiteness. It’s a reasonable, scientifically informed comment. But the recreation of Cheddar Man with dark skin clearly touched a nerve amongst the racists reading the Daily Heil.

As for Cheddar Man himself, he still has descendants in the area. Or at least, a descendant. A few years ago scientists sampled his DNA, and then tested the other people in Cheddar to see if they were related. It turns out one of them was – the headmaster of the local school. He was quite happy about it, but his mother was really upset, worrying what people would think. Well, if they’re sensible, they won’t think anything disparaging. As I said, these people were exactly like us modern humans. They had the same physical features and the same intelligence. They weren’t lumbering ape-men by any means. The only difference between modern people and them is that they lived over 10,000 years ago, when much of Britain was a frozen wilderness. I can even imagine some people being slightly envious, that this chap has an ancestry that can be traced back to this incredibly remote period.