Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

The Young Turks on the Republicans’ Hatred of College Education

August 20, 2017

‘Do I detect an air of anti-intellectualism in this country? Came in about four years ago.’

-Bill Hicks, American comic, speaking four years after the election of Ronald Reagan.

Earlier today I posted a piece commenting on clip from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, about Rush Limbaugh’s mindlessly stupid ridiculing of NASA’s announcement that they may have discovered flowing water on Mars. Limbaugh’s a right-wing radio host, who’s been fouling the airwaves with his views about liberals, socialists, communists, gays, feminists, anti-racism activists and so on since the 1980s. He sneered at NASA’s announcement because – wait for it – the agency was part of a ‘leftist’ plot to promote global warming!

Not only does he not understand the science, nor the reality of global warming, I don’t think he knows anything about NASA. I know quite a few people, who are fans of space exploration and research from across the political spectrum, including Conservatives. None of them have ever considered that the space agency was ‘left-wing’, although some of its leading scientists and advocates, like Carl Sagan, were. And the accusation that the agency’s data on global warming is faked for political purposes is risible.

But this shows the contempt Limbaugh has for science, and for education generally.

Florence, one of the many great commenters on this blog, has a background in microbiology and has been very interested in the question of life in space. She has posted a long comment to my piece. I recommend that you read all of it. But the end is particularly important, as she wonders how we got to this point where science is so despised.

And of course, back to NASA. I was fairly sure the alt-idiocy had already “proven” it was part of the deep state and the heart of black ops and skunk works and a branch of the CIA. These latest revelations only serve, as you say, to illustrate the total lack of education to an acceptable level in this day and age, more worryingly the lack of scientists in government in the USA and across the world. The charge against the scientific community lead by Trump and his “business men” ilk, with the violent and thuggish self styled fascist enforcers and militias coming out the woodwork in the last year, make the premise of the Handmaids Tale seem worryingly prophetic. How did this happen?

I think it’s part of a general distrust of intellectuals in American culture, which has increased massively amongst Republicans in recent years. In the piece below, The Young Turks discuss the finding that a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning people distrust college education. They also note that they don’t just look down on higher education. They also hate and distrust the media and science. 58 per cent of Republicans and Republican supporters state that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, compared to 45 per cent a year ago, in 2016.

Cenk Uygur suggests that part of this is the use of propaganda by the party’s leaders. Part of the problem is that Conservatives tend to be more authoritarian than left-wingers. Thus, they’re more likely to follow the opinions of their leaders, and in the case of the Republican party, these leaders despise higher education.

Ana Kasparian, his co-host, who I believe teaches political science herself, argues that it’s because the Republicans want to keep you stupid. They’re trying to privatize education, and get children instead to attend private schools through voucher schemes, where the normal educational standards do not apply. There’s more than an element of hypocrisy in this. Those public figures trying to destroy the American educational system and minimize the benefits of higher education are themselves highly educated. Many of them have gone to Ivy League universities. Anne Coulter is one example. In her book, which Kasparian laments she has had to read, ’cause she’s got to debate her, Coulter states that the only purpose of college education is to produce ‘social justice warriors’. Yet this woman went to Cornel. Yet education is one of the great indicators of how well an individual will do in the future. And as she points out, it also protects you from scams.

Yet the Republicans themselves are also slightly divided on the issue of the benefits of higher education. 46 per cent of Republicans earning less than $30,000 a year say that college has a beneficial effect on how well you do. This declines for those earning over $30,000 all the way down to 32 per cent.

Uygur and Kasparian admit that there are caveats and qualifications to this issue. Higher education has a down side, in that students are saddled with an immense amount of debt. This needs to be reformed. But Republicans don’t see college as a negative because they feel sorry for the students burdened with this debt. No, they want to keep people stupid and misinformed, so they don’t climb the economic ladder and they can’t fill them with some of the nonsense they believe.

Uygur concludes ‘So don’t go to university, because if you go to a real university, you might not go to a Trump university, and that would be bad for Trump.’

Once again, this is an American issue that applies almost in toto to Britain. Continental visitors and emigrants to Britain have commented on how anti-intellectual British society is. And this anti-intellectualism is again part of British Conservatism as well. Way back in the 1980s Private Eye reviewed a book on Conservative by the right-wing British philosopher, Roger Scruton. Scruton declared that Conservativism wasn’t an intellectual force, but was largely unspoken, and based on the power of tradition. For which the reviewer thanked Scruton for being honest about how anti-intellectual it was. Intellectuals and science are distrusted, because many of their findings contradict or cast doubt on traditional attitudes. For example, feminism attacks traditional notions of gender roles. Black and Asian intellectuals and activist have also undermined commonly held racial assumptions about White superiority and the subordinate role of their ethnic groups. Left-wing historians and political scientists have also challenged the class basis of western, including American and British society, as well as the supposed beneficial nature of western imperialism.

Some of the Republican distrust of science comes from Biblical literalism. The findings of geology and cosmology contradict a literal reading of the creation of the world in Genesis. That said, one study found that the people, who had the greatest faith in science were actually Creationists.

The Republicans and some of their British counterparts, like Nigel Lawson, also deny the reality of global warming. Hence Trump’s decision to close down that part of the federal government that researches and publishes studies of climate change and the pollution and decline of America’s epic natural beauty. It’s why Theresa May and Dave Cameron get annoyed whenever anyone shows how terrible fracking is for local people and the environment.

Science can be particularly difficult for the layperson to understand. It can involve very careful statistical analysis of complex data. And some of the raw phenomena are extremely weird. Quantum physics is a case in point. The world of subatomic particles is contradictory and very different from the macroscopic, everyday world. Subatomic particles dart into and out of existence in the quantum foam at the very lowest layer of matter. Light can be simultaneously a wave and a particle. Particles may be in two places at once, under their position is recorded by an observer. They can also move between one place in the atom to another without physically crossing the space in between. And two entangled atoms can behave as one, even though they may be separated by light years. It’s so bizarre that the scientists studying it have said that ‘you don’t understand it. You just get used to it.’

Also, some of the pronouncements made by intellectuals themselves have given critics ample ammunition. Like the statement by one professor a few years ago that snowmen were racist and sexist. Or the £20,000 in grant one scientist received for researching the terribly important issue of why cornflakes get soggy when you pour milk on them.

There’s also the problem that scientific opinion also keeps changing on medical matters. Every so often researchers discover that certain foods are harmful for you. On the other hand, certain others are beneficial. Only for these opinions to be revised a few years later.

But the nature of science is that it is a process, not a set body of knowledge, and that it’s conclusions and statements may be revised as and when later discoveries are made. It’s why no-one now believes that an immaterial fluid – the ether – permeates the universe, with atoms only whirlpools in it, as they did over a century or so ago.

And so the right-wing press, like the Scum all the way up to the Torygraph, and particularly the Daily Heil, will publish endless numbers of articles attacking ‘left-wing’ intellectuals. Paul Johnson, the Conservative pundit, who used to write for the Daily Mail and Spectator, amongst other rags, wrote a book on them. Entitled Intellectuals, Johnson used it to explore what right intellectuals had to tell us what was right and how to order our lives. Private Eye also reviewed this as well. You will not be surprised to read that most of the intellectuals Johnson wrote about were left-wing, and many of them had shabby personal lives. Karl Marx is one example. Others were gay, or otherwise had colourful sexual tastes, like Kenneth Tynan, who apparently was into S&M.

But none of this actually refutes the value of their work, which has to be judged on other terms. Marx’s own bad behavior as a man doesn’t contradict his philosophical and economic theories any more than Alan Turing’s homosexuality refutes his work on mathematics and computers. But this doesn’t stop Johnson trying to tell you that their own bad behavior disqualifies intellectuals from having the right to explore how society may be improved. An attitude that, incidentally, is apparently shared by that other Johnson, Boris. This should rule Boris out as well as a serious politician, if true.

In the meantime, don’t let the Tories and Republicans run down public education. And stick up for proper intellectuals and intellectual discourse. As someone once said, ‘Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains.’

Open University Course Book on Climate Change

July 23, 2017

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I found a copy of a course book for the Open University’s series on climate change. I didn’t buy it, because I’ve got enough books I’m reading already. And I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it, except that the first name of one of the authors was ‘Kiki’.

However, I think it’s worth mentioning just to let people know that this literature is out there. Donald Trump and his fellow anti-science fanatics in the White House are trying to suppress all the evidence relating to climate change, and gag and sack the federal scientists researching it. Within months of his election he had inserted clauses in their contracts, which forbid them to publish academic papers supporting climate change. Now, according to one of the left-wing American news sites I follow, he’s decimated the number of employees and researchers within the American civil service dealing with climate change to the point where the federal office is basically empty.

All this is for the benefit of the Republican party’s corporate donors, particularly in big oil, led by the Koch Brothers. The gruesome twosome have tried to suppress investigation and research in climate change and environmental damage by campaigning for the closure of federal and university laboratories. Once these have been closed, the Koch brothers then donate money to the universities to relaunch the labs, but with a different focus which avoids these issues.

The last thing the fossil fuel industries want is Americans getting clean, green, renewable energy, which is why they’re also trying to pass legislation outlawing it and penalizing those Americans who use it. And they really, really don’t want ordinary Americans realizing just how much the planet is being trashed, thanks to industrialists like the Kochs.

Libertarian Sexism – Just Fascist Misogyny Mixed Up with Rothbard and Rand

July 20, 2017

About a week ago I put up a post commenting on a video from Reichwing Watch, a YouTuber who creates videos and documentaries about the rise of the extreme Right. That particularly video remarked on the way contemporary Libertarian was becoming a front for Fascism. The two ideologies share the same hatred of democracy, Socialism, minority rights, and organized labour, and exalt instead authoritarianism, private property and industry. The video included clips of comments from Rand and Ron Paul, Hoppe, Ayn Rand and other Libertarian ideologues laying out their highly elitist views, along with similar comments from Adolf Hitler. Libertarians have often described themselves as Anarcho-Individualists or Anarcho-Capitalists. Now, however, a number of them, of whom the most prominent appears to be the internet blogger, That Guy T, have begun to describe themselves and their ideology as Anarcho-Fascism.

And one of the attitudes they share with traditional Fascism is sexism and a deep distrust of women. Both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists believed that women were inferior to men, and that, rather than seeking equality and careers, they should properly confine their activity to the home. In Nazi Germany girls were explicitly educated to be home-makers under the official Nazi slogan ‘Kinder, Kuche, Kirche’ – ‘Children, Kitchen, Church’. This education culminated in a useless qualification derided as the ‘pudding matric’. The Italian Fascists held the same opinions, and also equated masculinity with aggressive militarism. One of Mussolini’s slogans was ‘Fighting is to man, what motherhood is to woman.’ Incidentally, it’s quite ironic that a female screenwriter, interviewed in the Radio Times this week about her forthcoming detective series about the organized abuse of women in international prostitution, is quoted as saying, ‘motherhood is the equivalent of when men go to war.’ I’ve no doubt many mothers, and fathers, for that matter, see it differently. Though it might appear to be so after they’ve been up all night with a crying baby.

Some of the clearest statements of Fascist misogyny came from the Futurists, the modern art movement launched in 1909 by the Italian poet, Marinetti. This glorified youth, speed, the new machine age, violence, dynamism and virility. Mussolini in his manifesto baldly stated ‘We advocate scorn for woman.’ In his manifesto Contro L’Amore ed il Parlamentarismo – ‘Against Love and the Parliamentary Process’, Marinetti declared ‘the war between the sexes has been unquestioningly prepared by the great agglomerations of the capital cities, by nocturnal habits, and by the regular salaries given to female workers.’ The Futurists were impressed by the militant dynamism of the suffragettes and early feminist movements, but later became violently opposed to any kind of demands for equality or female liberation. Marinetti declared that “Women hasten to give, with lightning speed, a great proof of the total animalization of politics… the victory of feminism, and especially the influence of women on politics will in the end succeed in destroying the principle of the family”.
(‘Love and Sexuality’ in Pontus Hulton, ed. Futurismo: Futurism and Futurisms (Thames and Hudson 1986) 503.

The same attitudes have returned with the rise of the anti-feminist Conservatives following the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Much of this is a reaction to the gradual decline of the nuclear family and massive increase in divorce following the emergence of more liberal attitudes to sexuality in the ‘permissive society’. Thus, Conservatives like the American Anne Coulter, Libertarians like Vox Day, and their British counterparts, many of whom seem to be in UKIP, stated very openly that they were in favour of removing women’s right to vote. This was partly because they feel that women favour the Left, and so reject economic individualism and property rights for collectivism and a welfare state. The denizens of the Men’s Rights Movements, who are regularly critiqued and pilloried by the male internet feminist, Kevin Logan, are also vehemently opposed to female sexual liberation. Far and Alt Right vloggers like Avis Aurini sneer at modern women as promiscuous, whose selfish hedonism is a threat to marriage and the family. One of the individuals even hysterically declared that women were responsible for the fall of all civilisations. This would no doubt surprise historians, who have actually studied the reasons for their fall. The forces responsible can include climate change and desertification, foreign invasion, social and political stagnation and economic decline. Rome fell, for example, because from the third century AD onwards it was suffering massive inflation, a growing tax burden that the aristocratic rich evaded, and put instead on the shoulders of the poor, a growing gulf between rich and poor that saw the free Roman plebs decline in legal rights and status to the same level as the slaves, along with the massive expansion of aristocratic estates worked by slaves, urban decline as the population fled to the countryside, a decline in genuine democratic institutions and the rise of feudalism, and, of course, the barbarian invasions. Women don’t feature as a cause, except in the writings of some of the Roman historians commenting on sexual depravity of various emperors, and the general moral decline of Roman society. O tempora! O mores!

Whatever intellectual guise the contemporary Conservative and Libertarian right might want to give such ideas, such misogyny really is just Fascism, or an element of Fascism. It’s just been given another name, and mixed up with the economic individualism of Ayn Rand, von Hayek and von Mises, rather than Hitler, Mussolini and Marinetti. It is, however, rapidly approaching and assimilating them as well. If female freedom and, more widely, a genuinely democratic society are to be preserved, the Fascist nature of such misogyny needs to be recognized, and very firmly rejected.

The Euthanasia of the Elderly in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 18, 2017

A few days ago I put up a post about the nightmare, alternative future described by the British SF novelist Stephen Baxter in his novel, Titan. Baxter’s a writer of hard SF, a subgenre in which the fiction is nevertheless grounded in solid, known science fact, though often with an element of artistic license. Titan was written in 1995, and is partly set in the decaying America of the first decades of the 21st century. A militantly anti-science president, Maclachlan, has been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fundamentalists. Maclachlan shuts down NASA for good after a shuttle disaster. The launch complexes are closed down. Those that aren’t demolished become simply tourist attractions, as do the agency’s headquarters and mission control. One of these, a museum to the Apollo moon landings, is altered so that it promotes instead the spiritual experiences many of the astronauts did have during their missions. Maclachlan also introduces legislation demanding that only the Aristotelian cosmology of Thomas Aquinas, with its crystal spheres, is taught in schools. What is left of the agency is given over to the USAF under the paranoid and nationalistic General Hartle, who is very much like the rogue American General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s classic nuclear black comedy, Doctor Strangelove.

Against this, the agency attempts to launch one last, great space mission, a crewed voyage to Titan, where the Cassini probe has found evidence of active biological chemistry.

I commented in my post on the remarkable similarity between the policies of the fictional Maclachlan and Donald Trump. Maclachlan is fiercely nationalistic, and withdraws American peacekeepers from their stations around the globe, as well as pulling America out of NAFTA and the various other free trade agreements. America also pulls out of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is kicked out of New York. Like the real anti-Semites of the America Far Right, Maclachlan believes that the US is under ‘Israeli occupation’. Maclachlan also dismantles the country’s welfare programmes, especially those benefiting Blacks and other minorities, and starts building a wall with Mexico.

He also devises a policy to deal with America’s increasingly aging society: euthanasia chambers for the unwanted or neglected elderly. These are euphemistically called ‘Happy Booths’. There’s a very touching scene in which the last, fictitious surviving Apollo spaceman, Marcus White, is gassed to death in one of these chambers by a couple of nurses, who are every bit as malign as Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By this time, however, White is so confused with dementia, that he is lost in the delusion that he is back as a middle-aged man at NASA in his prime, suiting up and breathing the pure oxygen in preparation for another flight to the Moon.

This is interesting, as it completely turns on its head one of the truly despicable pieces of propaganda the Republicans were running ten years ago to make sure the American public didn’t get single-payer healthcare. Instead, we had Sarah Palin and the rest of the maniacs screaming that the introduction of single-payer healthcare, where all Americans would have free medical treatment financed by the state, would lead to ‘death panels’. Palin herself made a speech about how she didn’t want her children facing them. The idea was under a socialist system, medical care would be rationed. Those individuals deemed to be a waste of state money and resources, such as the elderly, would thus be humanely killed.

It was a disgusting piece of propaganda, based partly on the murder of the disabled in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were also pro-euthanasia, producing propaganda forms with titles such as I Don’t Want to Be Born. It was also based partly on the vile views of some of the founders of the Fabian Society, particularly H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, who were very much in favour of eugenics and the sterilization of the biologically unfit.

Unfortunately, many Americans were taken in by this bilge. There was a BBC report on the truly horrific state of American healthcare, in which a clinic offering free treatment in California immediately attracted 50,000 + prospective patients. These are the 20 per cent of Americans, who couldn’t afford their private healthcare before the introduction of Obamacare. The Beeb’s reported also attracted the attention of Republican supporters, who’d believed all the rubbish they’d been fed by Palin and her stormtroopers. One of these was an elderly man, who rushed up to the Beeb’s crew and shouted ‘Your healthcare system stinks!’ When they politely asked him how so, he looked confused, and began to mutter about ‘death panels’.

There are no death panels in Britain, or anywhere else with a socialized, or state-funded medical system. As for Germany, state financing of medical treatment for the workers was introduced by Bismarck in the 1870s, nearly fifty years before the Nazis seized power. There is a problem, where dying individuals may be refused treatment of expensive and/or experimental drugs or other procedures on the NHS because the costs far exceed any chance of success. This is very much a controversial issue, as we’ve seen the past week with the parents fighting to send their dying son over to America for treatment. However, there are no death panels.

The ‘Happy Booths’ described in the book are a piece of artistic invention by Baxter. Conventional Christian morality rejects euthanasia for the same reasons it has traditionally ruled out abortion, except in certain very restricted circumstances. This is because both judge that there are certain forms of human beings, such as the unborn and the disabled, who are held not to have the same rights to life. If it is permitted to kill the disabled and the unborn, it is argued, there is a danger that the same attitude will spread to other groups also considered inferior, like the Jews and other ‘untermenschen’ in Nazi Germany. And Baxter is aware of this, as elsewhere in the book he describes how the British relative of one of the astronauts, stricken by CJD or ‘Mad Cow Disease’, is going to a euthanasia clinic even though their parents consider it unchristian.

A president dependent on the support of right-wing Christian fundamentalists would alienate a sizable part of his constituency if he did. What happens instead is that, through its hostility to state medicine and the welfare state, Republican politicians of Maclachlan’s type make it impossible for the poor, severely ill to support themselves. Hence Bernie Sanders’ chilling statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford private medical treatment.

This is basically the same attitude of Tory party under David Cameron and Theresa May. They have extended the sanctions system and the Work Capability Tests to make it as difficult as possible for the unemployed and the disabled to quality for state support. The result of that has been that researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015 alone, 30,000 people died through the Tories’ austerity policies. And Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that, according to the Skwawkbox, there’s a nasty clause in Universal Credit, which means that the claimant has to find a job in two years, or they lose their benefit.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/17/uc-gives-disabled-people-just-two-years-to-find-a-job-or-lose-everything/

This is a right-wing ‘genocide of the disabled’, as Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and the Angry Yorkshireman have said on their blogs, and Jeffrey, one of the great commenters here, has said on this. But it’s carefully hidden. The victims aren’t actually killed, they’re simply left to die. And the few politicos, who dare to call it what it is, are denied their ability to sit in parliament.

On Friday Mike commented on a piece in the Disability News Service about Mr. Jared O’Mara, a disabled Lib Dem MP, who has called the Tories’ policies towards the disabled ‘eugenics’, and stated that they want disabled people to ‘suffer and die’. Mr. O’Mara is to be commended for the way he tried to tackle Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP and therefore the government’s chief minister responsible for implementing this policy. However, Mr. O’Mara finds it impossible to find anywhere in the House of Commons to sit during debates. There is insufficient seating for all 650 MPs, and there is no form available for disabled MPs to fill in stating that they have particular seating needs. As Mike says, this is all very suspicious.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/disabled-mp-accuses-tories-of-eugenics-is-that-why-they-wont-let-him-take-a-seat/

As a religious person, I can’t say I’m happy about the anti-religious stance of Titan. I went to a Christian college for my undergraduate degree, and some of the students were Creationists. I am not saying that their literalist reading of the creation story in Genesis is correct, but I have to say that they were, by and large, decent people. Those I met weren’t racists or political extremists, and I know that one or two were actually left-wing. I also can’t say that they were anti-science, outside of the very specific field of evolution. Moreover, since the election of Donald Trump there has been the emergence of a religious Left in America, something which couldn’t have been predicted when Baxter wrote the book back in the 1990s. One of the authors of the collection of articles attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservatism, pointed out that the Neo-Cons were not necessarily going to be politically dominant for ever. Kansas, and many of the other mid-western Republican states, had in the 1920s been centres of the Social Gospel movement, which combined Christianity and Socialism. It’s possible that as more Americans recognize how truly disgusting Trump and his party are, Christians over the other side of the Pond may return to it.

However, Trump and his administration are anti-science. The Republican party is strongly opposed to climate change, and so there has been a concerted attack on environmentalism since Trump took office. Legislation protecting America’s glorious natural heritage has been repealed, and federal scientists responsible for monitoring the environment have been effectively gagged. They may not publish any scientific papers supporting climate change, and the federal agency itself has been effectively gutted.

Titan also portrays a future suffering from global warming and catastrophic climate change, as do very many of the SF novels written during the same decade, such as Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather. So far Trump hasn’t wound up NASA, though I don’t doubt that the agency is still under considerable pressure to keep expenses under control. But the real harm is being done by Trump’s deliberate rejection of climate change to appease powerful donors from industry, particularly the Kochs in big oil. This denial of climate change, and that of the other world leaders, will lead to the deaths of millions worldwide. If it hasn’t already.

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

Apollo Astronaut Michael Collins on Sexism, the Fragile Earth and Banning Guns in Space Colonies

July 13, 2017

Last week I put up a post about a clip of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, pulling faces at a rambling, incoherent speech made by Donald Trump. Trump was signing into law an act affirming America’s commitment to the space programme. His speech about it was less than inspiring however, and Aldrin, who not only went to the Moon himself, but has also been a staunch supporter of opening the High Frontier up to ordinary women and men, was very definitely less than impressed.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently was Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story, written by the third member of the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins. Collins was the pilot, who flew the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon, and then waited in lunar orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin made their historic landing, before flying back with them on the return journey to Earth. The book is Collin’s account of how he came to be astronaut. Determined to be a pilot after being allowed to hold the joystick of a passenger aircraft on which he and his family were travelling as a child, he joined the USAF and became a test pilot. He then moved on to join NASA’s space programme. He describes the rigorous training required, and his first flight into space with John Young in Gemini 10 in July 1966. He also explains how he came, reluctantly, to leave the astronaut programme for a variety of reasons, not least was the way it was stopping him from spending time with his family. And in his final chapter he, like Aldrin, looks forward to the future spread of humanity throughout the Solar system and beyond, with humans going to Mars and then Titan, a moon of Saturn, which may hold the key to the origin of life.

This isn’t an explicitly political book. Nevertheless, Collins does comment on specific issues as they affect the racial and gender composition of the astronaut programme, his perspective on the importance of the environment and why he believes guns would be banned by the inhabitants of a space colony. These are all issues which Trump, his supporters and donors in the gun manufacturers and lobbyists would strongly oppose.

In the passage where he discusses how he and the other astronauts became part of a panel, whose job was to select a fresh batch of astronauts, makes a point of explaining why only white men were selected. He then goes on to comment that although this was what was done at the time, he believes and hope that this will change, and that Blacks and women are just as capable of flying air- and spacecraft equally well. He points out that the highly technological nature of modern aircraft means that there is absolutely no biological obstacle to women piloting such high performance machines. He writes

Note that I have said “he”, because there were no women in the group, nor where there any blacks. In thinking about that, it seems to me that there were plenty of women and blacks who could get the highest marks in categories 1 and 4 [their intelligence and how badly they wanted to be astronauts], but in 1966 categories 2 and 3 [education and experience] tended to rule them out. There simply did not seem to be aeronautical engineers and experienced test pilots, who were black or women. I think, and hope, that will change in the future. Flying a modern jet aircraft does not require a great deal of strength, for one thing. Hydraulic flight controls, like power steering in a car, prefer a light touch, and women should do as good a job as men. Obviously, an airplane has now way of telling the skin colour of the person flying it. (pp. 72-3. My comments in brackets).

He describes how looking at the Earth from space made him aware how fragile it was, and of the importance of preserving the environment.

I will never forget how beautiful the earth appears from a great distance, floating silently and serenely like a blue and white marble against the pure black of space. For some reason, the tiny earth also appears very fragile, as if a giant hand could suddenly reach out and crush it. Of course, there is no one giant hand, but there are billions of smaller hands on earth, working furiously to change their home. Some of the changes being made are good, and others bad. For example, we are learning more efficient ways of catching fish, and that is good because it means more people can be fed from the oceans. If, on the other hand, these new methods result in the disappearance of species, such as whales, then that is bad. The automobile gives us great mobility, but pollutes our atmosphere. We cook cleanly and efficiently with natural gas, but we are running short of it. Newspapers and books spread knowledge, but require that trees be chopped down. It seems that nearly every advance in our civilisation has some undesirable side effects, Today’s young people are going to have to acquire the wisdom to see that future changes help our planet, not hurt it, so that it truly becomes the beautiful, clean, blue and white pea it seems to be when viewed from the moon. The earth truly is fragile, in the sense that its surface can easily shift from blue and white to black and brown. Is the riverbank a delightful spot to watch diving ducks, or is it lifeless greasy muck littered with bottles and tires? More people should be privileged to fly in space and get the chance to see the fragile earth as it appears from afar.
(p. 146).

Further on in the book, he states that future orbiting settlements would get their power from solar energy, as this would not only be abundant and free, but also clean, unlike coal. (pp. 150-1).

He also remarks on the way the Apollo missions differed from previous historic expeditions in that the explorers were unarmed, and suggests that the future inhabitants of a space colony at one of the libration points where the gravity of the Earth and Moon cancel each other out, and so named ‘Libra’, would similarly see no need for carrying weapons.

Apollo set a precedent for the future in another interesting way. It was probably the only major human expedition in which no weapons were carried. In similar fashion, no weapons would be permitted on Libra and Librans simply would not be able to understand why earth people continued to shoot one another. On Libra, if people felt hostile, they would be urged to put their energies into athletic contests or other competitive events, or simply to let off steam by going flying.

He then describes how the lower or zero gravity in the colony would allow people to fly aircraft power by their own muscles. (pp. 154-5).

Most of this is, or at least should be, non-controversial. Scientists have been warning us about the immense danger to our ecosystem, and the horrific decline in its natural wildlife as more and more habitats are destroyed, and an increasing number of species threatened with extinction, since the early ’70s. Among those warning of the ecological perils to the planet was the inspirational astronomer and NASA scientist, Carl Sagan. And indeed, one of the most powerful images that stimulated ecological awareness and the burgeoning Green movement was that picture of the Earth as a fragile, blue orb hanging in the blackness of space taken from the Moon by the Apollo astronauts. Way back in the mid-1990s the Beeb’s popular science programme, Horizon, devoted an edition, ‘Icon Earth’, to how this photo had influenced politics and culture.

The picture hasn’t just made more people aware of the urgent need to protect the environment. Some of the astronauts have spoken about how it brought home to them how artificial racial and national divisions are. They point out that there are now boundaries visible from space. Helen Sharman, the British astronaut who flew with the Russians to Mir in the 1980s, states in her book about her voyage that space helps to foster international understanding and cooperation. She observes that astronauts are the least nationalistic people.

As for guns, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that shooting in the enclosed environment of space habitat could have truly disastrous consequences through the damage it could do to the machinery and fabric of the colony itself, and their ability to preserve human life in the harsh environment of space. A bullet through the outer skin of a spacecraft could lead the escape of its air, causing those within to die of suffocation and decompression.

Trump, however, is supported by the racist and misogynist Alt Right, who would like to roll back Black Civil Rights and women’s social and political gains since the 1960s, while the Republican party as a whole is generously funded by the NRA and the gun lobby, and the Koch brothers and other industrial magnates. The Koch brothers own much of the American petrochemical industry, and so, like many of the other multimillionaire businessmen, are very strongly opposed to any kind of environmental protection. The Kochs in particular are responsible for closing down awkward parts of the American meteorology and environmental science laboratories when they dare to issue warnings about the damage industry is causing to the country’s natural beauty and wildlife. They are then replaced with other institutions, also funded by the Kochs and those like them, which then conveniently deny the reality of climate change. The Republicans and their supporters in industry have also set up fake ‘astroturf’ Green movements, like Wise Use, which seek to undermine the genuine environmental movement.

Given the way the experience of looking back at our beautiful planet from space has transformed political, social and cultural perspectives all across the world, you can understand why some astronauts just might feel they have excellent reasons for pulling faces at their president.

Soft-Spoken Aristo Thug Jacob Rees-Mogg Joins Boris as Latest Tory Celebrity

July 9, 2017

On Friday, Mike also put up a piece commenting on how Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of William Rees-Mogg, the former Times and Independent journalist, has developed a cult following. Apparently he has his own fan group, dubbed Moggmentum in imitation of Corbyn’s greater and far better supporter’s group. Mike also supports his comments with a couple of Tweets from fans, who rave about how he has ‘class’, is better than ‘left-liberal misfits who would ruin the country’, and how ‘England needs him’.

As Mike then goes on to show, Jacob Rees-Mogg is the kind of right-wing politico Britain really doesn’t need. He is, of course, Eton-educated, and as his voting record shows, he believes in punishing the poor simply for being poor, while also demanding that Tory Toffs like himself get generous state handouts to retain their position of power.

In a long list of the policies favoured by the man dubbed ‘the minister for the 18th century’, Mike shows that

He generally votes against laws to extend equality and human rights.
Consistently votes for cuts to welfare spending.
Consistently votes against gay rights.
General votes against laws to tackle climate change.
Consistently supports the extension of the surveillance state.
Consistently voted against raising support payments for the long term ill or disabled.
Consistently votes against government spending to create jobs for young people, who have been unemployed for some time.
Nearly always votes for restricting the right of EU nationals to remain in Britain.
He was also nearly always in favour of reducing access to legal aid.
He was also a solid supporter of tuition fees, the bedroom tax and against raising unemployment benefit in line with rising prices.

As Simon Renshaw says in his Tweet, which Mike has also posted in his article, Rees-Mogg is not amusing. He is cruel, deplorable and dangerous. And another Tweeter, Paul, also commented

Sperminator Rees-Mogg would not govern for the people, he would rule for his class with a selective dose of his religion thrown in.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/mogg-mentum-the-tories-are-losing-their-grip-on-reality/

This last comment is extremely accurate. Rees-Mogg began his career as a politician by campaigning for the Tories in a depressed fishing area in Fife in Scotland. When asked what he would be campaigning on, Rees-Mogg declared that he would be trying to convince the locals that the country would be best served by retaining an unelected, hereditary House of Lords. Somehow, I’m not surprised he didn’t succeed on this occasion. The Scots aristocracy, led by the Duke of Buccleuch, had a greater degree of political power north of the border than their counterparts further south, until the guid Duke and his ilk were stripped of them by the Labour government in 1975. And obviously, the unkempt masses weren’t keen to bring them back. Given the spectacle of this strange, gangling figure stalking about the streets and vennels and addressing the locals in a cut-class, pukka Etonian accent, I suppose it was almost inevitable that the SNP would suddenly receive a massive boost in support. Heaven knows how he’d have got in Govan or the rougher parts of Glesgae toon.

A few years ago, Private Eye did a little feature on him as part of their series on the new boys and girls, who had entered parliament after that year’s election. Not only does Rees-Mogg expect people to defer to him because of his class, he also expects close family members to protect him personally in uncomfortable situations. By which I mean that once, at Glyndebourne, he got his nanny and his wife to hold a book over his head to protect him from the sun.

The aristocracy are also known for inflicting stupid names on their children. Rees-Mogg is no exception. Along with the normal names he has given his new-born son, Dominic and Christopher, he also inflicted ‘Sextus’ and ‘Dominic’ on the poor little mite. ‘Sextus’ is Latin for ‘Sixth’, and the little chap is his sixth sprog.

So why would anyone become a fan of this weird creature? I think part of it’s because he is so strange, as well as being personally very polite. He has a diffident, gentlemanly manner while at the same time he stands out as something of a character. He’s similar to Boris Johnson in this respect, who’s built his career on a very carefully crafted persona of being a good-natured chump, while he’s anything but in real life. Quietly spoken with a slightly diffident manner, it makes Rees-Mogg look for more harmless and reasonable than he actually is. But as his voting record shows, his political views are those of a typical vengeful Tory thug with all their class hatred and contempt for working people.

Rees-Mogg is a particular presence in my part of the world, because he’s the MP for North-East Somerset, which is just south of my bit of Bristol. I’m not surprised he got in down there. This is the same part of rural Somerset, where the Waldegrave family have their seat. There’s even a pub called ‘The Waldegrave Arms’ in Green Ore, one of the villages there on the Waldegrave estate. This is a part of Britain, where they still feel people should be tugging their forelocks in deference to the lord of the manor.

As for his supporters, from what I’ve heard personally, they’re deeply reactionary, true-blue members of the upper middle class, who really do want to drag us all back to the 19th century, when the upper classes were in power and the proles knew there place – in hovels, suffering from malnutrition and cholera.

There’s some speculation that the Tories are looking to put him into No. 10 at one point. Mike states that he’s not likely to go away, and we shall all do our best to make sure he doesn’t get in. If he does, you can bet that all the poverty, despair, joblessness and starvation the Tories have inflicted on the working class, disabled and poor in this country really will reach truly 19th century levels.

Buzz Aldrin in Physical Pain at Trump’s Rambling Speech about Space Programme

July 6, 2017

Donald Trump has alarmed scientists and laypeople with the anti-science stance of his administration. They’re alarmed at legislation he’s passed allowing the teaching of evolution and climate change as fact to be challenged in schools, who may also be compelled to teach Creationism and present the arguments of the lobbyists in the oil industry that deny the reality of climate change.

Trump’s comments about space also appear to have caused serious pain to Apollo 11 astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin is a genuine American hero. He was the second man to step out on the Moon after Armstrong. He was deeply religious. A devout Roman Catholic, her age himself Holy Communion while on the lunar surface, but afterwards became more ‘New Age’ in his beliefs. He has also been a committed champion of America’s space programme and of opening up the High Frontier to ordinary folks.

In this clip, David Pakman discusses the very pained expressions crossing the old flyboy’s face at Trump’s rambling speech. Trump was passing legislation supposed to reaffirm and strengthen the American space programme. It’s clear from his comments that Trump himself actually doesn’t have a clue about space. At one point, after he signs the piece of legislation, one of his aides remarks ‘To infinity and beyond!’

This, of course, is the watchword of Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear. However, Trump fails to recognise the quote, and thinks it’s about the law, commenting, ‘It is infinity. Well, it could be infinity.’

And when Trump does for a moment appear to understand what he’s talking about, it’s actually quite sinister. At one point he starts talking about how space exploration will benefit American industry.

Well, space does indeed have the potential to benefit industry. There are substances, such as ultra-pure crystals, that are difficult to create on Earth, but can be made much more easily in microgravity. But that’s not what Trump’s talking about.

What the Orange Buffoon is talking about is how good space will be for American defence contractors, which raises the horrendous issue of the militarisation space, which is prohibited under international law.

Pakman comments about how, after his immense achievement in landing on the Moon, and then having his patience tested by a conspiracy theorist, who challenged him with the statement that he hadn’t really gone to the Moon, the 87-year old spaceman now looks as though he’s really in physical pain at Trump’s incoherent speech.

Unlike the conspiracy theorist, Trump did actually walk away from his meeting with Aldrin. The challenge to the old astronaut’s integrity and achievement was too much for him to bear, and he decked the offender. Clearly, Aldrin has too much respect for the presidency to hit its current incumbent. But it seems very clear Trump’s ignorance was a bit too much for him.

Hope Not Hate on the Links between the DUP and Loyalist Paramilitaries in Ulster

June 14, 2017

Last Sunday, Nick Lowles and Matthew Collins published a long piece in the anti-racist/ anti-religious extremism site, Hope Not Hate, on the links between the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Arlene Foster, and Loyalist terrorist groups the UDA, Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commandoes, for example, in Ulster. The DUP are the Unionist party with whom Theresa May is trying to negotiate a confidence and supply pact, in order to prop her increasingly wobbly Tory government.

The article notes that various commenters have decried the DUP’s opposition to abortion, gay marriage and disbelief in climate change, before going on to state that what should really alarm people is the party’s links to the UDA, a link which may imperil the Northern Irish peace agreement.

For example, on the last day of May, a week before polling, Arlene Foster just happened to pay a visit to the UDA ‘Brigadier’, Jackie McDonald at a community office in the Taughmonagh area of South Belfast. Foster claimed that the visit was not pre-arranged, and she was just in the area canvassing for votes. She also said that she had not asked McDonald to disarm the UDA, because he knew her views that there should be no terror groups in Northern Ireland already.

The article also reports how the Irish newspaper, the Sunday World, had run an expose on the terrorist group, which began:

“In an unprecedented glimpse inside the UDA, terror group members reveal the fascist-like regime that forces them to hand over membership fees, dish out beatings of their own and force families from their homes.

“UDA veterans, shackled to an organised crime gang, tell of a paramilitary leadership that has no intention of going away.

“And they reveal how foot soldiers are begging terror boss Jackie McDonald to let them walk away – without a beating.”

McDonald was jailed during the Troubles for blackmail and extortion. In 1994 he became a leading figure organising the paramilitary ceasefire in Ulster. But he is still widely believed to be responsible for violence, racketeering and assassinations.

The Northern Irish government has given funds to community and sports associations run by UDA members and supporters, in return for which the UDA has called on its supporters to vote for the DUP. The article notes the various DUP politicos, who have been members of terrorist groups or imprisoned for terrorist offences, such as Sam ‘Chalky’ White, and John Smyth. The father of Emma Little Pengelly, the DUP candidate for South Belfast, was Noel Little, a gunrunner for Ian Paisley’s Ulster Resistance. Foster was also photographed last October with North Down UDA commander, Dee Stitt, a convicted armed robber, who runs Charter NI, an organisation dedicated to tackling unemployment in East Belfast, which has also received funding from the Ulster government. Foster has also been photographed with Adrian Bird, the UDA brigadier for Lisburn, who has been given funding for his work tackling racism and calling on Loyalists to support integration.

The article also describes how one DUP member of the Northern Irish assembly, Christopher Stalford, opened an office in a building owned by Belfast South Community Resources. The company is managed by Garnet Busby, who has been convicted of multiple murders. Jackie McDonald was also one of its officers. The top floor of the building is apparently still used by the UDA as a kangaroo court, in which punishment beatings are dished out. And Paul Givan, the current MP for South Antrim, visited a building in the Shankill Road, which the BBC had claimed was the UDA’s headquarters.

The article concludes

Publicly, the DUP is strongly opposed to the UDA and recently put out a statement claiming that: “There is no place for the UDA, or any other paramilitary group in our society.”

The DUP went on: “Their existence never was justified and is not justified now. We will work with those who wish to leave their past behind, but anyone involved in any kind of illegal activity must face the full weight of the law.”

The evidence linking the DUP – and more specifically Arlene Foster – to several current UDA commanders seems to suggest otherwise.

It is ironic that in a General Election dominated by claims of links between the Labour Party leadership and Sinn Fein and the IRA, the Conservative Party are attempting to negotiate an agreement with a political party that itself has disturbing links with a paramilitary organisation.

We totally understand the need to involve former paramilitaries in the peace process, but surely it cannot be right to give away millions of pounds of public money to people and organisations still involved in paramilitary and criminal activity.

See: http://hopenothate.org.uk/2017/06/11/arlene-foster-takes-tea-uda/

I’m not sure how much of this is any surprise to anyone, who has any knowledge of Northern Irish sectarian politics. Back in the 1990s the Mail on Sunday, if I recall correctly, ran an article on Ulster terrorism which stated very clearly that both Loyalist and Nationalist paramilitaries were involved in crime and racketeering. I also remember reports on the 6 O’clock news in the ’70s about various Ulster terrorists, who had been convicted for these crimes. The Daily Mail itself has been very long opposed to the Northern Irish peace agreement on the grounds that, despite both sides officially abandoning violence, killings and punishment beatings were still being carried out. The Mail’s coverage, however, was biased. It said little about Loyalist terrorism, and almost exclusively concentrated on Sinn Fein and the IRA. This was partly due to a real threat from dissident Republicans, like the Continuity IRA. On the other hand, Private Eye also ran a series of articles sending up David English, the-then editor of the Mail, as he was a member of Orange Order, who used to go on their marches, complete with bowler hat and sash.

Radio Programme Tonight on Bishop Grosseteste’s Medieval Big Bang Theory

June 14, 2017

Science Stories on Radio 4 tonight, `14th June 2017, at 9.00 pm is on ‘The Medieval Bishop’s Big Bang Theory’. According to the short description about it in the Radio Times, the programme’s presenter, ‘Philip Ball tells the tale of a medieval Big Bang Theory forged by Bishop Robert Grosseteste in the 12th century’.

Grosseteste was the 12th century bishop of Lincoln, and was one of the leading figures of the 12th century renaissance. As well as leading English churchman, Grosseteste was a pioneering natural philosopher. In his Hexaemeron, a theological and philosophical meditation on the first six days of creation, according to the story in Genesis, he worked out a theory that is surprisingly close to that of the modern ‘Big Bang’. In Genesis, the creation of the world begins when God separates the light from the darkness. Grosseteste believed that God had created the world beginning with a tiny point of light, which exploded outwards. Its expansion created ‘extension’, or space, and the material from which God subsequently created the material universe over the next five days.

A.C. Crombie, in his Science in the Middle Ages, Vol. 1: Augustine to Galileo (London: Mercury Books 1952) writes

The first important medieval writer to take up the study of optics was Grosseteste, and he set the direction for future developments. Grossetest gave particular importance to the study of optics because of his belief that light was the first ‘corporeal form’ of material things and was not only responsible for their dimensions in space but also was the first principle of motion and efficient causation. According to Grosseteste, all changes in the universe could be attributed ultimately to the activity of this fundamental corporeal form, and the action at a distance of one thing on another was brought about by the propagation of rays of force or, as he called it, the ‘multiplication of species’ or ‘virtue’. By this he meant the transmission of any form of efficient causality through a medium, the influence emanating from the source of the causality corresponding to a quality of the source, as, for instance, light emanated from a luminous body as a ‘species’ which multiplied itself from point to point through the medium in a movement that went in straight lines. All forms of efficient causality, as for instance, heat, astrological influence and mechanical action, Grosseteste held to be due to this propagation of ‘species’, though the most convenient form in which to study it5 was through visible light. (99-100).

This makes it sound very close to the modern theory that all the forces – gravity, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces – were united at the Big Bang, and subsequently separated out from this primal Superforce.

Grosseteste was also one of the medieval writers, who first posited the Moon as the causes of the tides. The association between the Moon and the tides had first been made by the Stoic philosopher, Posidonius, who was born c. 135 BC. Crombie writes

Grossetest in the next century [following Giraldus Cambrensus in the 12th] attributed the tides to attraction by the moon’s ‘virtue’, which went in straight lines with its light. He said that the ebb and flow of the tides was caused by the moon drawing up from the sea floor mist, which pushed up the water when the moon was rising and was not yet strong enough to pull the mist through the water. When the moon had reached its highest point the mist was pulled through and the tide fell. The second, smaller monthly tide he attributed to lunar rays reflected from the crystalline sphere back to the opposite side of the earth, these being weaker than the direct rays. (126-7). It’s not quite right. The tides are simply caused by the Moon’s gravity acting on the oceans as a whole. Mist isn’t involved. Nevertheless, he was right in pointing to the Moon as the cause of the tides.

Which is more than can be said of Bill O’Reilly. Until recently, O’Reilly was the lead anchor on Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing news network over in America. The host of the ‘O’Reilly Factor’, he specialised in right-wing harangues which occasionally ended with him insulting and screaming at his guests if they dared to disagree with him. He did this to the son of one of the firefighters, who lost his life in 9/11. The lad committed the unpardonable offence of saying that his father would not have blamed all Muslims for the attack, and would not have wanted America to go to war over it. This was too much for the veteran newsman, who screamed at the lad that he was a disgrace to his father, and then had him thrown off the show.

He also showed himself massively ignorant scientifically in an interview with the head of American Atheists, the atheist movement, which I think was set up and headed for years by Madalain Murray O’Hair. Trying to refute whatever point the man was making, O’Reilly seized on the notion of the tides as something that was scientifically inexplicable. There are clips on Kyle Kulinski’s Secular Talk and other left-wing news programmes of O’Reilly repeating, ‘Tides go in, tides go out, you can’t explain it’. All the while the lad looks at O’Reilly with a bemused expression on his face, and simply comments, ‘Perhaps its the mighty Thor’. O’Reilly, however, didn’t get the hint that he was being justifiably mocked, and so simply carried on with his daft refrain.

O’Reilly’s comments and use of the tides shows that O’Reilly knew precious little science, and that Grosseteste had a better idea of what caused it 900 or so years ago, in an age when books had to be copied out by hand and western science was beginning the recovery of ancient Greek and Latin scientific and mathematical texts and learning from the great natural scientists and mathematicians of the Muslim world.

Given O’Reilly’s massive ignorance on something I can remember being discussed in some of the text books we had at school, it’s no wonder that American scientists, educationalists and the general public are seriously worried by Trump’s attack on science education in America, and particular in his attempts to cover up climate change.

As for O’Reilly, he was sacked from Fox News a few months ago after his sordid and vile attitude towards women finally caught up with him. Like the head of the network, Roger Ailes, O’Reilly used his position to try to exploit women sexually. In the early part of this century he was forced to settle a case brought against him by a female colleague to whom O’Reilly had made an uninvited and very unwelcome sexually explicit phone call. This was followed by a series of allegations by other female journalists at Fox News of sexual harassment. This got to the point where the advertisers on the network got fed up, and started taking their custom elsewhere, at which point the veteran reporter lost his job.

Bishop Grosseteste, however, remains one of great figures in the history of western science. While many scientists would not share his religious beliefs, and would question the grounding of his scientific views in them, he is nevertheless important as one of the leading medieval scientists, who contributed to the foundation of modern science through his study of optics, mathematics and the natural world.