Posts Tagged ‘Radio Times’

Radio 4 Series Challenging Stereotype that Religion and Science Are at War

June 12, 2019

According to next week’s Radio Times there’s a new, three-part series beginning on Radio 4 next Friday, 21st June, at 11.00 am, Science and Religion about the relationship between the two disciplines. From the pieces about in the magazine, it attacks the idea that science and religion are at war. The blurb for the programme’s first part, ‘The Nature of the Beast’, on page 131, says

Nick Spencer examines the history of science and religion and the extent to which they have been in conflict with each other. Drawing on the expertise of various academics, he begins by exploring what the relationship says about what it means to be human.

The paragraph about the programme on the preceding page, 130, by Sue Robinson, runs

Are science and religion at war? In the first in a three-part series, Nick Spencer (of Goldsmith’s, London, and Christian think-tank Theos) takes a look back wt what he terms the “simplistic warfare narrative” of these supposedly feuding disciplines. From the libraries of the Islamic world to the work of 13th-century bishop Robert Grosseteste in maths and natural sciences, Spencer draws on the expertise of a variety of academics to argue that there has long been an interdependence between the two. I felt one or two moments of consternation (“there are probably more flat-earthers [believing the earth to be flat] around today than there were back then…”) and with so many characters in the unfolding 1,000-year narrative, some may wish for a biographical dictionary at their elbow… I certainly did. Yet somehow Spencer produces an interesting and informative treatise from all the detail. 

We’ve waited a long time for a series like this. I set up this blog partly to argue against the claim made by extremely intolerant atheists like Richard Dawkins that science and religion are and always have been at war. In fact no serious historian of science believes this. It’s a stereotype that comes from three 19th century writers, one of whom was reacting against the religious ethos of Harvard at the time. And some of the incidents that have been used to argue that science was suppressed by the religious authorities were simply invented. Like the story that Christopher Columbus was threatened by the Inquisition for believing that the world war round. Er no, he wasn’t. That was all made up by 19th century author Washington Irvine. European Christians had known and accepted that the world was round by the 9th century. It’s what the orb represents in the Crown Jewels. The story that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, in his debate on evolution with Charles Darwin, asked the great biologist whether he was descended from an ape on his mother’s or father’s side of the family is also an invention. It was written years after the debate by Darwin’s Bulldog, T.H. Huxley. A few years ago historians looked at the accounts of the debate written at the time by the students and other men of science who were there. They don’t mention any such incident. What they do mention is Wilberforce opening the debate by saying that such questions like evolution needed to be carefully examined, and that if they are true, they have to be accepted, no matter how objectionable they may be. Wilberforce himself was an extremely proficient amateur scientist himself as well as a member of the clergy. Yes, there was opposition from many Christians to Darwin’s idea, but after about 20 years or so most of the mainstream denominations fully accepted evolution. The term ‘fundamentalism’ comes from a book defending and promoting Christianity published as The Fundamentals of Christianity published in the first years of the 20th century. The book includes evolution, which it accepts.

Back to the Middle Ages, the idea that this was a period when the church suppressed scientific investigation, which only revived with the Humanists of the Renaissance, has now been utterly discredited. Instead it was a period of invention and scientific discovery. Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century bishop of Lincoln, wrote papers arguing that the Moon was responsible for the tides and that the rainbow was produced through light from the sun being split into various colours by water droplets in the atmosphere. He also wrote an account of the six days of creation, the Hexaemeron, which in many ways anticipates the ‘Big Bang’ theory. He believed that the universe was created with a burst of light, which in turn created ‘extension’ – the dimensions of the cosmos, length, width and breadth, and that this light was then formed into the material and immaterial universe. Medieval theologians were also often highly critical of stories of demons and ghosts. The 12th century French bishop, William of Auxerre, believed that nightmares were caused, not by demons, but by indigestion. If you had too big a meal before falling asleep, the weight of the food in the stomach pressed down on the nerves, preventing the proper flow of vital fluids.

The Christian scholars of this period drew extensively on the writings of Muslim philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who had inherited more of the intellectual legacy of ancient Greece and Rome, along with that of the other civilisations they had conquered, like Persia and India. Scholars like al-Haytham explored optics while the Bani Musa brothers created fascinating machines. And Omar Khayyam, the Sufi mystic and author of the Rubaiyyat, one of the classics of world literature, was himself a brilliant mathematician. Indeed, many scientific and mathematical terms are taken from Arabic. Like alcohol, and algorithm, which comes from the Muslim scholar al-Khwarismi, as well as algebra.

There have been periods of tension between religion and particular scientific doctrines, like the adoption of the Copernican system and Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection, but the relationship between science and religion is rich, complex and has never been as simple as all out war. This should be a fascinating series and is a very necessary corrective to the simplistic stereotype we’ve all grown up with.

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Programme Tonight on Israel’s Attack on Gaza Last Year

May 13, 2019

Tonight, 13th May 2019, BBC 2 are screening a documentary at 9.00 pm, ‘One Day in Gaza’, about the terrible events there last year when Israel fired on Palestinian demonstrators. The article for it on page 74 of the Radio Times runs

On 14 May 2018, mass disturbances on the border between Israel and Gaza led to one of the deadliest days in a generation. For weeks Palestinians had been protesting along the border fence, but tensions were running particularly high due to the inauguration of the new US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, a controversial step ordered by Donald Trump. By the end of the day, as many as 60 Palestinians were dead or dying, and over 2,000 were injured, mostly by live ammunition. One year on, Olly Lambert’s film relates the events of that day using footage filmed on the ground and interviews with those on both sides of the fence.

A further piece about it on page 72 runs

Palestinians in Gaza had already been protesting Israel’s land, sea and air blockade of the territory for a fortnight when, on 14 May 2018, the situation turned from tense to bloody. While Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and other officials of the Trump administration were in Jerusalem to inaugurate a controversial new US embassy, violence exploded at the Gaza border. The Israeli army claimed to have acted in self-defence; more than 60 Palestinians died in a day, with more than 2,000 hurt.

A year on, film-maker Olly Lambert pieces together an account of what happened, by interviewing political leaders on both sides and drawing on video footage at the time.

This follows the mass demonstration through central London on Saturday, commemorating 71 years of the Nakba, an Arabic word meaning ‘catastrophe’, which the Palestinians use to describe their own genocide and dispossession by the Zionist settlers. The protest was organised by the Palestinian Forum in Britain, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Stop the War Coalition. The protest was also against the continuing failure of the Israeli state to honour the peace treaty it had signed with the Palestinians over Gaza, and its continuing campaign to strangle the area’s economy, fishing and obstruction of medicine and humanitarian aid. The star speaker was Ahed Tamimi, the 15 year old girl who got 18 months in prison for slapping an Israeli storm trooper after her brother was shot in the head with a rubber bullet.

Labour has committed itself to recognising Palestine as a sovereign state, which has contributed to the hysterical accusations of anti-Semitism by the Zionists against Jeremy Corbyn, despite the Labour leader’s many sincere actions on behalf of Britain’s Jews.For further information, see the articles on the demonstration by Mike at https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/05/12/pro-palestine-demonstration-in-london-to-show-support-after-latest-violence/

and Tony Greenstein at http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/05/15000-march-in-memory-of-nakba_12.html

This could be a really interesting documentary. But I have no doubt it will also be highly controversial. Whenever anyone, no matter how respected, reports atrocities committed by Israel or its allies, there are instantly accusations of anti-Semitism by the Jewish press and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. This happens even though the reports are accurate. Those, who have been smeared for their reportage include the very well respected Beeb foreign correspondents Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin, and the former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

The anger of the siting of the American embassy in Jerusalem was inevitable, as Israel would like to claim Jerusalem as its capital rather than Tel Aviv, despite UN recommendations that it should be shared between Israel and the Palestinians. It also raises very deep fears about what Israel intends to do with the Dome of the Rock mosque. This is the third holiest site in Islam. But it’s built on the remains of Solomon’s Temple, and Jewish fanatics like Gush Emunim would like to see it destroyed and the Temple rebuilt instead.

Israel also has a policy of deliberately bombing and closing Palestinian places of worship. While the world mourned the destruction of Notre Dame cathedral by fire, the Palestinians were also feeling the destruction of one of their holiest mosques in Gaza. This precious monument, dating from the 7th century, was deliberately targeted by the Israeli military. Else where in eretz Israel, mosques and other places of worship are vandalised and desecrated by Jewish fanatics. And this includes Christian churches and monasteries. Benzi Gopstein, an extreme right-wing rabbi in one of the Israeli settlements, a few weeks ago issued the statement that Jews had a divine commandment to destroy churches in Israel, as they were places of idolatry. It’s a statement that I know shocks genuinely liberal Jews worldwide. I am also aware that Christian churches and other monuments in Israel have also been attacked by intolerant, fundamentalist Muslims. But the respected historian of the Middle East, Albert Hourani, has pointed out in one of his articles on the history of Palestine, that traditionally Christian churches were regarded as mawsin – sacred, sacrosanct – by Palestinian Muslims, who respected them. I have also heard that quite often the doorkeeper at Christian churches is a Muslim, and that they are often instrumental in preventing attacks by fanatical Jewish mobs. But you will not hear this from the mainstream press and news, and especially not from Christian organisations like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, who want to see an Israel stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates.

This is why people do need to hear and see the truth about Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians against the attempts to silence it by the Zionist Jewish establishment, and establishment that’s also strongly opposed by an increasing number of Jews, disgusted at what is being done in their name. As one genuinely liberal Jews has said, ‘to be a Jew means that you are always on the side of the oppressed, never the oppressor.

For Israeli attacks on churches and mosques, see also this article by Tony Greenstein, http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/04/should-we-set-fire-to-churches-mosques.html

 

Radio 4 Serialising Ian McEwan’s Robot Book Next Week

April 23, 2019

I don’t belieeeve it! As the great Victor Meldrew used to say. Next week, according to the Radio Times for 27th April – 3rd May 2019, Radio 4 is serialising Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, Machines Like Me, about a love triangle between a man, his wife and the android he has bought. It’s in ten parts, Monday to Fridays at 12.04 pm, and read by Anton Lesser.

I’ve already put up two posts about the book, which has only just been published. McEwan’s novel is one of a long-line of SF stories about humans falling in love, or pursuing sexual relationships with the humanoid robots they have built, such as Asimov’s ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’. Genre science fiction writers have explored the issues of machine consciousness and its philosophical and ethical issues, from highbrow authors like Poland’s Stanislaw Lem, to comic book writers like Pat Mills in 2000AD’s ‘ABC Warriors’. The issue I have with McEwan’s book, and other literary authors that are planning similar works of fiction, is that while genre science fiction is still looked down on somewhat by the literary elite, McEwan’s book is going to receive immediate acclaim as proper literature.

Now Radio 4 has serialised a number of great works of SF, including Robert Silverberg’s masterwork Dying Inside, and has, like some of the other channels, Radio 3 and Radio 4 Extra, put on SF plays. Not so long ago there was a series of these, with the title Dangerous Visions. SF buffs will recognise this as the title of the groundbreaking SF anthology edited by Harlan Ellison, that ushered in the SF New Wave over in America. But despite the achievements of genre SF authors, there is still this feeling that it hasn’t quite won critical respectability in the elevated literary circles that support McEwan, Jeanette Winterson, Kazuo Ishiguro and the other regular literary award winners, who are writing or preparing to write books about robots and AI.

As I’ve said, I feel very strongly that if McEwan and co. win literary awards for their SF works, like Machines Like Me, then those awards should have the decency to drop some of the snobbishness and include genre SF authors. Whose latest works I hope the Beeb will also serialise the moment they come out.

Radio 4 Programme Next Week on Attempts to Reverse Rural Depopulation in Spain

April 23, 2019

According to the new Radio Times for 27th April – 3rd May 2019, Radio 4’s Crossing Continents next Thursday, 2nd May, at 11.00 a.m., looks at a movement to repopulate the Spanish countryside, focusing on a group of single women going to meet single men in a village near Madrid. The paragraph about the programme by David McGillivray on page 128 runs

It’s hard to arrest depopulation once it’s started. But Linda Pressly finds the opposite in Spain. Initiatives to reverse the decline of the Spanish countryside include a movement of young people – they have a name, “neo-rurales” – who have begun to occupy abandoned villages. Pressly also uncovers a charming personal story. Maria Carvajal was one of a bus full of single women who arrived in a village north of Madrid to meet single men unable to find female partners. There was no preview available but I infer that she found love iwth lonely shepherd Antonio Cerrado. A caravan of love indeed.

This could be worth listening to. About a year ago Mike wondered how Labour could win in rural areas, like his part of Wales. It’s a good question, as there’s a real crisis in the countryside with poor locals being priced out of housing by wealthy outsiders, looking for second or retirement homes. Bus services into country areas are being cut, and local shops, like pubs, post offices and general stores, are closing down. There are parts of Europe where the process of depopulation is particularly acute. I was listening to a conversation between male feminist and anti-Fascist Kevin Logan and another anti-Fascist about the rise of the far right. They agreed that one of the stimuli behind the rise of the vile Alternative fuer Deutschland and its horrendous Nazi links was the massive, devastating depopulation of parts of the former East Germany, where whole small towns have been abandoned as their populations have moved west in search of better opportunities.

Rural depopulation also concerned the Nazis, who saw themselves very much as the party of the peasants. They developed a series of policies designed to reverse it, and create a healthy, ideologically and racially pure peasantry, who would feed Germany and provide the basis for its new value system. This involved a banning foreign imports, lowering taxation on agricultural goods and products, loans for people wishing to move to the countryside. They were also concerned to provide them with secure tenure. So secure, in fact, that they wouldn’t be able to escape it, and they and their descendants would be tied to the soil like serfs.

I did think that some of their ideas might be worth discussing, aside from the obviously horrific and unacceptable connections to the Nazi regime itself. However, with all the anti-Semitism smears directed against Corbyn and his supporters, the last thing I wanted to do was give the smear merchants more ammunition. They’d just love it if a left-wing blogger started discussing whether some aspects of Nazi policy was worth implementing, even if it was about farming and absolutely rejected and condemned their horrific, genocidal racism and totalitarianism.

But the Crossing Continents programme may be worth listening to, and provide some ideas on how Britain could also start to regenerate its countryside. Perhaps we need a British version of the neo-rurales?

Radio 4 Programme on Journalistic Impartiality

April 16, 2019

According to next week’s Radio Times, for 20th-26th April 2019, Radio 4 are due to broadcast a programme questioning the notion of journalistic impartiality, ‘Call Yourself an Impartial Journalist?’, hosted by Jonathan Coffey. The blurb for the programme by Simon O’Hagan on page 138 of the magazine runs

In a febrile political age, fuelled by social media, the BBC has felt the heat as possibly never before – guilty, in its accusers’ eyes, of failing to reflect the full spectrum of opinion over not just Brexit but such culture-wars issues as transgenderism. With the BBC due to publish a new set of editorial guidelines in June (the first since 2010), Jonathan Coffey explores the idea of impartiality and whether any sort of consensus around it is possible. Contributors include the Spectator columnist Rod Liddle, the BBC’s director of editorial and policy standards, David Jordan, and Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the editor of online media The Canary.

The programme’s on at 11.00 am.

I don’t think there’s much doubt about the Beeb’s political bias. Academics at the media monitoring units of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Cardiff universities found that the Beeb was twice as likely to seek the opinions of Conservative MPs and financial experts as Labour MPs and trade unionists. Barry and Savile Kushner also describe how the Beeb pushed the austerity agenda in their book, Who Needs the Cuts?, to the point that the opponents of austerity were rarely invited onto their news and politics programmes to put their case. When they were, the presenters actually tried to silence them, even by shouting them down. And years ago Tony Benn in one of his books said that the Beeb considered itself impartial, because its bias was largely slightly to the left of the Tories at the time, but way to right of everyone else.

There could be some interesting things said on the programme, particularly by the excellent Kerry-Anne Mendoza, but my fear is that it’s going to be like the Beeb’s programme, Points of View, and just be an exercise in the corporation justifying itself and its own bias. 

Miriam Margolyes Defends Labour and Jeremy Corbyn against Anti-Semitism Smears in Radio Times

April 16, 2019

Next week’s Radio Times for 20th-26th April 2019 has a long interview with veteran thesp Miriam Margolyes.  It’s partly publicity for her forthcoming documentary, Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure, in which she explores death and how people cope with it. This includes venturing into the kind of territory Louis Theroux explored in his Weird Weekends all those years ago, when he explored the weirder margins of American society. In her case, Margolyes meets a group, who believe they can use orgasmic energy to stave off death forever, making them immortal. Needless to say, she doesn’t believe a word of it.

Most interestingly, Margolyes discusses the anti-Semitism allegations against the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, making it very clear that she doesn’t believe in them either. She condemns the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, and describes how her view have led to her being vilified by pro-Israel groups and individuals, like Maureen Lipman. And like Jackie Walker, another Jewish anti-Zionist lady of mature years, she was radicalised through her opposition to apartheid in South Africa. This section of the interview runs

A Labour Party member, she has firm opinions about anti-Semitism accusations directed at the party. “Jeremy Corbyn, who is an excellent constituency representative, a serious person, is not an anti-Semite. I don’t think there is the extent of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party that people seem to imply,” she says. “I think it’s to do with trying to stop Corbyn from being prime minister”. She is also critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. “It’s just a fact that the Israelis have behaved appallingly, they continue to do so, and people are dying. I am ashamed, as a Jew, of what’s been done in my my name. I can’t bear it. And for that I’m vilified and people won’t come to see the plays I’m in. I’ve become, as it were a kind of minuscule Vanessa Redgrave when she was vilified for her political position. But I am right. I have no doubt about that whatever”.

I wonder how it feels to be separated from your own community. “It hurts me,” she says. “I’m so Jewish, and so happy to be Jewish. And the schism between me and Maureen Lipman, which is the manifestation of this chasm, causes me pain.”

Lipman is a very public supporter of Israel. IN 2015 she demonstrated with pro-Israeli groups outside a production of a pro-Palestinian play in London. “She feels that I am a wicked traitor to my people,” says Margolyes. “And I feel that she’s a fool.” The two appeared together in a 1989 British Telecom commercial spoofing Jewish domestic life, now Margolyes admits it would be difficult if they met in the street. “I hope I would be civil. I’m sad because I admire Maureen, and I have known her for a long time. She’s been a friend, and now it’s not possible any more. I expect she might be said, too. But she said don’t communicate with me again and I haven’t.”

She says she feels compelled to stand against injustice in the world. “For me, it’s the same sort of cause as apartheid. I was marching on South Africa House when I was young and, unfortunately, it’s now my own people I’ve got to march against. That’s painful, but I won’t pretend. If you can’t tell the truth when you’re 77, when are you going to tell it?”

Jewish Opposition to Zionism as Anti-Semitism

Over a decade ago she was one of a number of public figures, who condemned the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and she made her Jewishness very plain then too. She stated that she was a ‘proud Jew, and an ashamed Jew’. She says in the interview that she doesn’t believe in God, but she loves Jewish life, the cooking, culture and community. She shares her happiness with her Jewish identity with many of the other Jewish critics of Israel, both Torah-observant and secular/ atheist, who have also been vilified for their stance against the Israeli oppression and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arabs. People like Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Martin Odoni and many others. And many Jewish critics of Israel find it utterly ridiculous, even anti-Semitic, that they should be considered traitors by their community, because they’d don’t support a foreign country that they weren’t born in. Greenstein, David Rosenberg, and the Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, have made the point that until recently the majority of the Jewish people rejected Zionism, partly because they were afraid that it would lead to accusations that Jews’ loyalties were divided between their homeland and that of the Jewish state. Indeed, at the beginning of the Zionist project, Zionism was strongly associated with anti-Semitism because of the number of real Jew-haters, who wanted to expel their Jewish populations to some other country, and the establishment of a Jewish state would be perfect for this purpose. The majority of Jews wished to stay in their native homelands and be accepted as equal citizens with their gentile fellow countrymen and women. The establishment of the state of Israel has indeed led to diaspora Jews being accused of being more loyal to Israel than their home countries, not least because Benjamin Netanyahu actually declared that the Jewish people and Israel are synonymous and identical. All Jews, everywhere, are citizens of Israel. The Palestinians, however, are not. Which is why activists like Tony Greenstein make it very clear that Israel isn’t a democracy, as it is not a state of its citizens but of a single, privileged ethnic group.

Maureen Lipman’s Attack on Ed Miliband

As for Maureen Lipman, she’s a great actor, but she has boiled her brain on this issue. She’s claimed to have left the Labour party because of Corbyn. She didn’t. She left it a few years ago when Ed Miliband, who’s Jewish, became leader. Miliband made some mild policy departures from a rigidly pro-Israel line, so Lipman threw a strop and left, ranting about how the party was now anti-Semitic. She wasn’t the only one. As Mike and the other left-wing bloggers have pointed out, the anti-Semitism smears date from this time, long before Corbyn became leader. Which makes utter nonsense of the claim that Corbyn, one of the most anti-racist and determined opponents of anti-Semitism, is a Jew-hater.

Other Victims of Witchhunt Silenced by Media

It’s refreshing that the Radio Times should give space to Margolyes’ views, and I’m sorry that she, too, is suffering vilification and smears for her opposition to Israel that other critics and activists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are also receiving. But unfortunately the media, including the Beeb, is still determined to repeat these smears and libels. Those abused, like Mike, may be able to correct these attacks through IPSO, but it’s very difficult for the victims to take their attackers to court for libel. This is largely because of the huge costs involved, but also because there are time limits on libel actions and the newspapers do everything they can to stall and stonewall them until they run out of time. And I have yet to see any part of the lamestream media invite those, who have been smeared as anti-Semites, onto their programmes to defend themselves. The noble exception to this have been the new, alternative broadcasters like RT and Novara Media. George Galloway has had Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein on his show, Sputnik, on RT to make their case and describe their experience of victimisation in the anti-Semitic witchhunt. But the Beeb, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and others have yet to do so. Meanwhile Laura Kuenssberg and the other liars of the BBBC newsroom have been free to continue their promotion of the lies and smears against Corbyn and his supporters without any criticism or dissent whatsoever, urged on by the rest of the mendacious right-wing media and Jewish establishment.

I’m pleased Margolyes has been able to present the other side of the argument in the RT, and would like other anti-Israel activists also to have the opportunity to explain their position and rebut the anti-Semitism smears. But the majority are ordinary people, like Mike, Greenstein, Walker, Odoni, Wadsworth and Chilson, who aren’t already media figures and so are denied a proper, sympathetic platform. And so the lies and smears continue.

Radio Programmes Next Week on Homelessness, Conspiracy Theories and Aliens

February 6, 2019

Looking through next week’s Radio Times for 9th-15th February 2019 I found a number of programmes which might be of interest to some people following this blog.

On Monday, 11th February at 8.00 pm on Radio 4 there’s Beyond Tara and George, about rough sleepers. The blurb for this programme reads

Last year there were nearly 600 deaths on the streets of the UK. In this follow-up to last summer’s Radio 4 series on east London rough sleepers Tara and George, presenter Audrey Gilan catches up with the pair to ask what it would take to prevent the unnecessary deaths of homeless people. (p. 137).

Then a half hour later at 8.30 on the same channel, Analysis covers conspiracy theories. The Radio Times says of this

Professor James Tilley explores the current spate of political conspiracy theories, and examines what belief in them tells us about voters and politicians.

The next day, Tuesday 12th February, at 1.30 pm on the Beeb’s World Service there’s Documentary: So Where Are the Aliens?, which the Radio Times describes thus

Space, to quote the late, great Douglas Adams, is mindboggling big. So huge, in fact, that the probability of there being civilized life elsewhere in the universe is almost a mathematical certainty. This begs an obvious question, to which Seth Shostak – chief astronomer of the Seti institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has devoted his career. He speaks with fellow scientists Frank Drake and Jill Tarter about their pioneering work chasing extraterrestrial radio signals as well as the new listening and light-based techniques designed to open up the sky like never before. Last year’s tantalizing fly-by of the mysterious cigar-shaped Oumuamua has revived interest in this topic, although in 2019 ET could be forgiven for giving Earth a wide berth. (p. 138).

Regarding the programme on preventing the homeless dying, one way to stop it would be to fix the welfare state so that poor and vulnerable people didn’t become homeless in the first place. Giving more funding and expanding the number of homeless shelters so that they were safe and able to provide accommodation for rough sleepers would also be very good. As would support schemes for those with drug, alcohol or mental health problems. And as Mike’s pointed out in his reports on attacks on the homeless, it would also be very good idea for the right-wing media to stop portraying the homeless, as well as the disabled, the unemployed and those on benefits generally all as scroungers committing welfare fraud and generally demonizing them. But as the Tory party, the Scum, Express and Fail all depend on this for votes and sales, it isn’t going to happen.

The prgramme on conspiracy theories could be interesting, but I doubt it will actually face up to the fact that some conspiracies are real. Not the malign and bogus myths about a Jewish plot to destroy the White race, or that the business and political elite are really evil Reptoid aliens, a la David Icke, or have made a demonic pact with grey aliens from Zeti Reticuli to allow them to abduct us for experimentation while giving them the benefits of alien technology. Or similar myths about the Illuminati, Freemasons or Satanists.

The real conspiracies that exist are about the manipulation of politics by the world’s secret services, and secret big business think tanks and right-wing pressure groups. Such as the various front organisations set up by the CIA during the Cold War, the smears concocted by MI5 during the 1970s presenting Harold Wilson as a KGB agent, and the contemporary smears by the Integrity Initiative, funded by the Tory government, claiming that Corbyn and other left-wing figures across Europe and America were agents of Putin. And, of course, the real conspiracy by Shai Masot at the Israeli embassy to have Tory cabinet ministers, who didn’t support Israel, removed from government. As well as the embassy’s role in making fake accusations of anti-Semitism against entirely decent people in the Labour party.

But I’ve no doubt that the Beeb will shy well away from these real conspiracies, not least because of Britain’s sordid role in the West’s history of regime change in Developing nations that dared to defy the Americans and ourselves. The Beeb has put on similar programmes before, and the person being interviewed or presenting the argument was former Independent journo David Aaronovitch. And his line has always been to ignore these real conspiracies, and concentrate on all the mythical rubbish, which he presents as typical of the conspiracy milieu as a whole. Which you’d expect from an establishment broadcaster, that now seems to see itself very much as the propaganda arm of the Conservative British state.

Moving on to the programme on SETI, Shostak, Tarter and Drake are veterans not only of the search for intelligent alien life, but also of programmes and documentaries on the search. Drake was the creator of the now famous equation which bears his name, which is supposed to tell you how many alien civilisations we can expect to exist in the galaxy. He was one of the brains behind Project Ozma, alias ‘Project Little Green Men’ in the 1960s to listen for alien signals from two nearby, roughly sun-like stars, Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani. Which found zilch, unfortunately. Shostak and Tarter were two of the leaders of the new wave of SETI researchers in the 1990s, and Shostak wrote a book about the possibility of alien life and what they would possibly be like. This concluded that they wouldn’t be anything like us, ruling out aliens like Mr Spock in Star Trek. In size they would probably be the same as Labradors.

It’s been known now that the Galaxy is old enough and big enough, with the right kind of stars and an increasing multitude of known planets, some of them possibly suitable for life, for alien civilisations to have emerged several times. And if they only advanced at the speed of light, they should be here by now. But they’re not. So far we’ve detected no sign of them. Or no absolutely indisputable signs. So where are they? This problem is called the Fermi paradox after the Italian-American physicist, Enrico Fermi. Suggested answers are that life, or perhaps just intelligent life, is extremely rare in the universe. Space travel may be extremely difficult. Aliens may exist, but they may be completely uninterested in talking to us. In this respect, we may even be a ‘protected species’ considered too fragile at our current level of civilization for contact with the rest of the Galaxy. Or perhaps there really are predatory alien intelligences and civilisations out there, who automatically attack any culture naïve and trusting enough to announce their presence. In which case, all the alien civilisations out there are paranoid and keeping their heads well down. One of SF writer even wrote a collection of short stories, each of which gave one solution to the Paradox.

New Channel 4 Series on Life on Universal Credit in Hartlepool

February 6, 2019

According to the Radio Times for next week, 9th-15th February 2019, Channel 4 begins a new series on Wednesday, 13th February, Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits, on people in Hartlepool trying to live on Universal Credit. The blurb for it on page 101 says

Following some of the residents of Hartlepool as they became guinea pigs fro the roll-out of Universal Credit, and the events that followed. Featuring unemployed Nathan and Abbey who hunt for rabbits and squirrels to cook.

There’s a little piece offering more information about the programme on page 98, which also reads

Welcome to Hartlepool, one of the “guinea pig” towns where the new welfare benefits system Universal Credit was tested, and a sharply observed series following the day-to-day trials of people looking for work there.

In one scene, a hungry Nathan and his girlfriend Abbey take their dog Twister out to hunt rabbits. “You can improvise, provide yourself with some scran,” he advises. Meanwhile, partially sighted Dave holds up a letter telling him that his payment for this month will be 5 pounds. It’s a hard story of vulnerable people in real poverty, but filmed with wit and insight – and with glimmers of hope.

I recall people being forced to go hunting rabbits and other animals for food during the Great Depression in the ’30s, although people in country areas have always hunted them.

But the big question hanging over this series is whether it really will be a genuinely sympathetic look at the desperately poor, or will it yet be more poverty porn designed to make them all look like scroungers, like past series produced by Esther McVie’s wretched production company.

The programme’s on at 9.00 O’clock in the evening.

Antony Gormley Presents Programme on Stone Age Art

January 25, 2019

According to the Radio Times for 26th January to 1st February 2019, tomorrow, Saturday, 26th January, Antony Gormley will be presenting a programme on the origins of art way back in the Stone Age. As well as trotting round the world looking at various Paleolithic sites, he also meets and talks to the modern practitioners of this ancient art, Aboriginal Australians. The programme’s entitled ‘Antony Gormley: How Art Began’, and the blurb for it on page 52 of the Radio Times runs

One of Britain’s most celebrate sculptors travels back in time and journeys across the globe to piece together how art began. Once we believed that it all started with the cave paintings of Ice Age Europe, but new discoveries are overturning that idea. Deep inside the caves of France, Spain and Indonesia, Gormley finds beautiful, haunting and surprising works of art. The creator of the Angel of the North asks what these images from millennia ago tell us about who we are.

There’s rather more information about the programme by David Butcher on page 50, which says

Yes, it’s a documentary about prehistoric cave art. How often over the years have we seen an arts presenter in torchlight, sighing about the ineffable power of cave painting?

But this is different. This is Antony Gormley, one of our great artists, who by lucky chance is also a better talker about art than most presenters, making a pilgrimage not just through the French caves that he first visited on his honeymoon (we see a holiday snap) but also venturing further afield to Indonesia and Australia, looking for the first stirrings of human creativity.

“This is a cathedral of joy in living things,” he says in a cave called Les Combarelles. “I think we’ve found a Palaeolithic Picasso,” he jokes in Niaux. And in an extraordinary scene at Pech Merle, with its 28,000-year-old paintings of horses, a local expert demonstrates how they were made, by chewing up charcoal and delicately blow-spitting on the rock.

The ancient cave paintings of northern Spain and southern France are superb, extremely naturalistic depictions of the creatures roaming that part of the Mediterranean during the Old Stone Age 28,000 years ago. Some of them seem to have been deliberately painted on distinctly shaped pieces of rock, so that if you come into the part of the caves where they are they appear to move. When Picasso saw them over a century ago, he was so utterly astonished at their superb quality that he declared ‘We have invented nothing!’

At the turn of the Millennium 18 years ago, Hugh Quarshie, one of the actors in Casualty, presented a programme on the art and artefacts of the Stone Age on New Year’s Eve. One of the speakers he interviewed about them was a director of Horror flicks – I’ve forgotten whom. But he made some very interesting points about the parallels between Palaelithic art and his type of movie. They were both initiatory experiences which you viewed in darkness.

There seems to have been a definite religious/ritual purpose to their production. Most of them are found in chambers deep in the cave systems, which are extremely difficult to reach. To get to one of them you literally have to squeeze through on your stomach. There was very probably an aural component to their painting as well. Quite often the rocks near them have musical properties. Their lithophones which produce musical tones when struck. It therefore seems that some of them were being played while the artists worked producing these amazing pieces of work.

No-one quite knows why these wonderful paintings were made. It’s been suggested that they may have been made to secure success in hunting, or for fertility. Others have suggested that they were produced as part of shamanic rituals, in which the painters attempted to pass through the membrane between this world and that of the spirits. Whatever the reason they were created, they’re superb. I’m not a fan of Gormley’s work, but this looks well worth watching.

Anthropologist, TV presenter and former member of Time Team Alice Roberts also talked about the ancient cave paintings of Europe this week in the last edition of her The Incredible Human Journey, the series in which she traced humanity’s emergence and spread out of Africa tens of thousands of years. This week she talked about some of the very earliest human remains found in Europe, including those of modern Homo Sapiens from around 30-40,000 years ago from a cave in Romania. A forensic artist then reconstructed what one of them may have looked like from one of the skulls found. Roberts and the artist remarked on the person’s absence of any distinct racial characteristics. It was a definite human face, but it was neither Black, White or Asian, although they pointed out that we believe the people at this time had dark, Black skin. But it comes from a time before the development of modern racial characteristics.

They also reconstructed the face of a Neanderthal from about this time. They were stocky, powerfully built people with big noses and strong brow ridges. Although they died out, some of them interbreed with the invading modern humans, so that the DNA of modern people outside Africa contains about 3%-9% Neanderthal genes. The reconstruction didn’t have any hair. Contemplating it Roberts said that although Neanderthal women probably found modern human men very handsome, and that human women obviously found something in Neanderthal males, she wouldn’t have fancied mating with them. Well, each to his or her own taste. Looking at the reconstructed Neanderthal head, it reminded me of nothing so much as that of Beeb TV presenter and former felon, Dom Littlewood.

She also covered the ancient cave paintings, talking to a French artist who worked using the same techniques. He was shown blowing charcoal on to the rock behind his hand trying to create a stenciled handprint, just like those left by the ancient artists. Like the article in the Radio Times, Roberts said that it had to be made using a distinct technique. You couldn’t take it all into your mouth and just spit it out. Instead the artist blew it out in a constant stream of spitting, leaving his hand black with charcoal. It’s quite a time consuming process, and Roberts and the artist said that some works could take as long as week.

The art of the palaeolithic is fascinating and enigmatic. We’re learning more about it and the people who produced it, but so much still remains lost in the mysteries of time.

Radio Programme on Controversy over Space Launch Site in Scotland

January 22, 2019

Radio 4 this Thursday, 24th January 2019, is broadcasting an edition of their Open Country programme on local attitudes and debate over the proposal to build a space launch complex in Scotland. The programme is entitled ‘Journey into Space, in Sutherland’, and the blurb for it in this week’s Radio Times runs

The A’Mhoine Peninsula in the Scottish Highlands has been chosen as the potential site of a spaceport that would launch small satellites at the rate of three a month. Many local people are enthusiastic about the plans; others are angry about building on a wilderness virtually unchanged since the last Ice Age. Ian Marchant travels to the peninsula and hears from people on both sides of the debate. (p. 137).

The programme is going to be broadcast at 3.00 pm in the afternoon, and will be repeated next Saturday at 6.07 am.