Science

Woo-hoo! China Mieville’s ‘The City and The City’ Coming to BBC 2 Next Friday!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/03/2018 - 7:24pm in

Next Friday, 6th April 2018, BBC 2 screens the first part of its four part adaptation of China Mieville’s SF novel, The City and the City. The blurb for it in the Radio Times read

Detective thriller based on the novel by China Mieville, starring David Morrissey. A dead girl is recovered at Bulkya Docks on the border between Beszel and Ul Qoma – two cities with a division like no other – and inspector Borlu is surprised by the similarities to an old case that still haunts him. The entire series will be available on iPlayer. (p. 114).

There’s more information on the series earlier, on page 112, where the series is declared ‘pick of the day’ by the magazine. David Butcher’s description of the show runs

Imagine a kind of double city where citizens on either side are forbidden from looking at each other, and the frontier between the two – a frontier of the mind, partly – is ruthlessly policed. That’s the premise of China Mieville’s fantasy novel, adapted into a queasy, unsettling drama.

It has the air of a slow-motion Philip K. Dick fable, layered with retro seediness. David Morrissey plays a hangdog copper investigating the murder of an American woman stabbed with a glass shard. But he is haunted by the loss of someone dear to him and by parallels between her case and this one. “I knew there was another city I dare not see,’ he growls, ‘Just on the other side of where I was permitted to look.”

Gradually, we gather what the characters mean by words like “unseeing” and “Breach”,, so it’s best not to explain too much here. As a procedural, the plot moves through treacle, but the look and feel of the story create an oppressive mood that is hard to shift.

This looks very interesting, and I need my dose of TV SF now that the X-Files and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams have ended.

The Science of Tomato Flavors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/03/2018 - 3:35pm in

by Jalees Rehman

TomatoDon't judge a tomato by its appearance. You may salivate when thinking about the luscious large red tomatoes you just purchased in your grocery store, only to find out that they are extremely bland and lack flavor once you actually bite into them after preparing the salad you had been looking forward to all day. You are not alone. Many consumers complain about the growing blandness of fruits. Up until a few decades ago, it was rather challenging to understand the scientific basis of fruit flavors. Recent biochemical and molecular studies of fruits now provide a window into fruit flavors and allow us to understand the rise of blandness.

In a recent article, the scientists Harry Klee and Denise Tieman at the University of Florida summarize some of the most important recent research on the molecular biology of fruit flavors, with a special emphasis on tomatoes. Our perception of "flavor" primarily relies on two senses - taste and smell. Taste is perceived by taste receptors in our mouth, primarily located on the tongue and discriminates between sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory. The sensation of smell (also referred to as "olfaction"), on the other hand, has a much broader catalog of perceptions. There are at least 400 different olfactory receptors present in the olfactory epithelium – the cells in the nasal passages which perceive smells – and the combined activation of various receptors can allow humans to distinguish up to 1 trillion smells. These receptors are activated by so-called volatile organic compounds or volatiles, a term which refers to organic molecules that are vaporize in the mouth when we are chewing the food and enter our nasal passages to activate the olfactory epithelium. The tremendous diversity of the olfactory receptors thus allows us to perceive a wide range of flavors. Anybody who eats food while having a cold and a stuffy nose will notice how bland food has become, even though the taste receptors on the tongue remain fully functional.

When it comes to tomato flavors, research has shown that consumers clearly prefer "sweetness". One obvious determinant of sweetness is the presence of sugars such as glucose or fructose in tomatoes which are sensed by the taste receptors in the mouth. But it turns out that several volatiles are critical for the perception of "sweetness" even though they are not sugars but instead activate the smell receptors in the olfactory epithelium. 6-Methyl-5-hepten-2-one, 1-Nitro-2-phenylethane, Benzaldehyde and 2-Phenylethanol are examples of volatiles that enhance the positive flavor perceived by consumers, whereas volatiles such as Eugenol and Isobutyl acetate are perceived to contribute negatively towards flavor. Interestingly, the same volatiles can have no effect or even the opposite effect on flavor perception when present in other fruits. Therefore, it appears that for each fruit, the sweetness flavor is created by the basic taste receptors which sense sugar levels as well as a symphony of smell sensations activated by a unique pattern of volatiles. But just like instruments play defined yet interacting roles in an orchestra, the effect of volatiles on flavor depends on the presence of other volatiles.

This complexity of flavor perception explains why it is so difficult to define flavor. The story becomes even more complicated because individuals have different thresholds for olfactory receptor activation. Furthermore, even the volatiles linked with a positive flavor perception – either by enhancing flavor intensity or letting the consumer sense a greater "sweetness" then actually present based on sugar levels – may have varying effects when they reach higher levels. Thus, it is very difficult to breed the ideal tomato that will satisfy all consumers. But why is there this growing sense that fruits such as tomatoes are becoming blander? Have we simply not tried enough tomato cultivars? A cultivar is a plant variety that has been bred over time to create specific characteristics, and one could surmise that with hundreds or even thousands of tomato cultivars available, each of us might identify a distinct cultivar that we find most flavorful. The volatiles are generated by metabolic enzymes encoded by genes and differences between the flavor of distinct cultivars is likely a reflection of differences in gene expression for the enzymes that regulate sugar metabolism or volatiles generation.

The problem, according to Klee and Tieman, is that the customers of tomato breeders are tomato growers and not the consumers who garnish their salads or create tomato-based masalas. The goal of growers is to maximize shelf-life, appearance, disease-resistance, yield and uniformity. Breeders focus on genetically manipulating tomato strains to maximize these characteristics. The expression GMO (genetically modified organism) describes the use of modern genetic technology to modify individual genes in crops and often provokes a litany of attacks and criticisms by anti-GMO activists who fear potential risks of such genetic interventions. However, the genetic breeding and manipulation of cultivars has been occurring for centuries or even millennia using traditional low tech methods but these do not seem to provoke much criticism by anti-GMO activists. Even though there is a theoretical risk that modern genetic engineering tools could pose a health risk, there is no scientific evidence that this is actually the case. Instead, one could argue that targeted genetic intervention may be more precise using modern technologies than the low-tech genetic breeding manipulations that have led to the creation of numerous cultivars, many of whom carry the "organic, non-GMO" label.

Klee and Tieman argue that consumers prefer flavor, variety and nutrition instead of the traditional goals of growers. The genetic and biochemical analysis of tomato cultivars now offers us a unique insight into the molecular components of flavor and nutrition. Scientists can now analyze each cultivar that has been generated over the past centuries using the low-tech genetic manipulation of selective breeding and inform consumers as to their flavor footprint. Alternatively, one could also use modern genetic tools such as genome editing and specifically modify flavor components while maintaining disease-resistance and high nutritional value of crops such as tomatoes. The key to making informed, rational decisions is to provide consumers comprehensive information based on scientific evidence as to the nutritional value and flavor of fruits, as well as the actual risks of genetically modifying crops using traditional low tech methods such as selective breeding and grafting or newer methods which involve genome editing.

Reference

Klee, H. J & Denise M. Tieman (2018). The genetics of fruit flavour preferencesNature Reviews Genetics, (published online March 2018)


Cyborgisation and Mass Technological Mind Control

One of the big stories this week has been the scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica’s datamining of the personal details of people on Facebook, in order to target them for electoral propaganda. Not only have they been doing it in America, but they’ve also been contracted by other governments around the world, including the Tories in Britain, as well as Kenya, and Israel, who wanted to interfere in elections in Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis. But reading Alex Constantine’s Psychic Dictatorship in the USA (Portland, Oregon: Feral House 1995) the other night I found a couple of chapters discussing CIA and Russian experiments in technological mind control. These were based on implanting electrodes in the human brain, which could then be operated remotely through a computer, which would effectively turn the person operated upon into a meat puppet. Constantine writes

The CIA’s experiments in radio control of the brain are based on the development of the EEG in the 1920s. In 1934 Drs. Chafee and Light published a pivotal monograph, “A Method for Remote Control of Electrical Stimulation of the Nervous System”. Work along the same lines allowed Dr. Jose Delgado of Cordoba, Spain, to climb into a bull-ring and, with the push of a button, trigger an electrode in the head of a charging bull and stop the beast in its tracks.

Further groundbreaking advances were made by L.L. Vasiliev, the famed Russian physiologist and doyan of parapsychology, in “Critical Evaluation of the Hypnogenic Method” . The article detailed the experiments of Dr. I.F. Tomashevsky in remote radio control of the brain, “at a distance of one or more rooms and under conditions where the participant would not know or suspect that she would be experimented with … One such experiment was carried out in a park at a distance,” Vasiliev reported, and “a post-hypnotic mental suggestion to go to sleep was complied with within a minute.”

By 1956 Curtiss Shafer, an electrical engineer for the Norden-Ketay Corporation could explore the possibilities at the National Electronics Conference in Chicago. “The ultimate achievement of biocontrol may be man himself,” Shafer said. “The controlled subjects would never be permitted to think of themselves as individuals. A few months after birth, a surgeon would equip each child with a socket mounted under the scalp and electrodes reaching selected areas of brain tissue.” In this psycho-Arcadia, “sensory perceptions and muscular activity could be either modified or completely controlled by bioelectric signals radiating from state-controlled transmitters”. (pp. 2-3). Constantine goes on to describe the various experiments in mind control and the sadistic scientists involved in them. Several involved using microwaves to beam auditory signals to people, and their possible use as a tool to manipulate assassins. One of these was supposedly Sirhan Sirhan, the killer of Robert Kennedy. He then goes on to describe the development of the technology of brain implants to control humans, and the connection to research into creating human-machine hybrids – cyborgs – a few pages later. He writes

The development of remote mind-reading machines in secret academic enclaves picked up again with ARPA backing in the early 1970s. Scientists mapped the brain, gigahertzed the nervous system and gauged biohazards at MIT, NYU, and UCLA. NASA launched its programme. A story on the ARPA brain effort appeared, not in the corporate press, but in the National Enquirer for June 22, 1976. ‘The Pentagon did not exactly deny the story. Robert L. Gilliat, an assistant general counsel for the Department of Defence, replied meekly: “The so-called ‘brain-wave’ machine is not capable of reading brain waves of anyone other than a willing participant in the laboratory’s efforts to develop that particular device.” Presumably, the brain of an unwilling subject was impenetrable to microwaves.

In 1972 an ARPA report in Congress announced, after Helms, that “the long-sought goal (is) direct and intimate coupling between man and the computer.” Four years later ARPA reported that thought-wave research had gone beyond to communication to enhance memory by downloading information into the brain. Based on these capabilities, the post-PANDORA team set out to upgrade the interpretation of neural signals, and broaden the program to invent realistic tasks of “military significance”.

‘This side of the electronic battlefield, the experiments contributed to medicine the “transmitter-reinforce”, a device that transmits data on a patient’s health. Ford:

The transmitter-reinforce utilizes space age technology to send accurate readings on the patient’s condition to a computer, which digests the data. The computer can monitor many patients simultaneously. If a patient needs a dose of aversion treatment, the computer acts as controller, delivering a tone signal or shock.

The original, clandestine purpose of the “reinforcer” was not lost on authoritarian types in the psychiatric wings. Rowan:

One study suggested that radio transmitter receivers should be implanted into the brains of patients to broadcast information to a computer which would monitor and control the patients’ behaviour.

Other “constructive” uses of CIA/PANDORA telemetric brain implants were championed by criminologists. In 1972, Drs. Barton Ingraham and Gerald Smith advocated the implantation of brain transmitters to monitor and manipulate the minds of probationers. “The technique of telemetric control of human beings offers the possibility of regulating behaviour with precision on a subconscious level,” the authors enthused in a 1972 Issues in Criminology article.

Surveillance expert Joseph Meyer of the DoD carried the idea a step further, proposing that electromagnetic mind control devices “surround the criminal with a kind of externalised conscience, an electronic substitute for social conditioning, group pressure and inner motivation.” The ideal subject for testing the implants was “the poor and uneducated urban dweller (who) is fundamentally unnecessary to the economy,” Meyer said.

Military doctors with hard-right political views were naturally drawn to electronic mind control as the final solution to the “useless eaters” quandary. One Air Force doctor went so far as to recommend, in the New England Journal of Medicine, that if a criminal’s brain waves did not test “normal” after five years, he should be put to death.

Dr. Louis Jolyon West, formerly a CIA brainwashing specialist and LSD experimenter, proposed establishing a computerised system of employing space technology to monitor and control the violence-prone. … This sort of Orwellian thinking led opponents of West to fear the prospect that computer data on young children could be used as justification for implanting them for state control.

The nagging ethical considerations prompted a report on future applications and possible abuses. Scientists as Lockheed and Stanford Research Institute prepared the report, which postulated the rise of “a technocratic elite” with dominion over intelligence and identification systems to monitor whole countries. Wars would be waged by robots.

Technological advances anticipated by the authors include computer operated artificial organs, biocybernetic device to provide “social conversation, entertainment, companionship and even physical gratification,” and a “machine-animal symbiont,” an animal or human monitor that transmits its perceptions to a central authority. Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, the report recommended the formation of an oversight panel of artificial intelligence specialists to uphold ethical standards. (pp. 16-17).

This is clearly the classic stuff of the paranoid, conspiracy fringe, the kind of material that informs Alex Jones’ Infowars net programme and the X-Files. However, the information in Constantine’s book is meticulously documented, and the CIA’s experiments in mind control have been discussed elsewhere, such as in the conspiracy magazine, Lobster. The suggestion that the technology could used to strip whole populations of their humanity and individuality clearly bring us close to Star Trek’s Borg and Dr. Who’s Cybermen, while the use of computer technology to control the brains of criminals recalls the limiter in Blake’s 7. This was a computer device implanted into the brain of one of the heroes, Gan, to rob him of his ability to kill after he slew a Federation trooper. And Pat Mills portrayed the use of this technology in an episode of Nemesis the Warlock in 2000AD, when the Terminators electronically monitoring the thoughts of the citizens of Termight pick up a dream of the heroine’s father, in which he fights against the future Earth’s evil Grand Master, Torquemada. The man is arrested shortly after. This episode is obviously inspired by a similar passage in Orwell’s 1984, but it does show the sinister uses this technology could be put to.

And there have been numerous stories in the papers over the past few months that scientists are coming closer, or have discovered ways of reading the human mind electronically. Mostly this is connected to the development of artificial limbs, and the creation of methods by which amputees or people, who have lost the use of their limbs, can move artificial arms or operate other machines, to give them more independence and movement. No-one would object to the development of this technology to benefit the physically handicapped. But this chapter also shows it can also be used for far more sinister purposes. And the comments quoted from various far-right military officers and doctors shows how they viewed the poor: as suitable victims for experimentation, who otherwise have no social or economic value.

Kitty S. Jones on Cambridge Analytica’s Datamining of Facebook

Aside from the Skripal poisoning, one of the major issues this week has been Cambridge Analytica and their datamining of Facebook to get the personal particulars of something like 50 million people, so that they could be targeted for political manipulation. Kitty’s article is a long one, but she makes some very good points. Not least is that GCHQ and the other western intelligence services discussed ways of using the internet to target particular individuals to manipulate them or disrupt groups that posed a threat to national security. She also connects this to ‘behavioural economics’ and the infamous Nudge Unit, which uses subtle psychological techniques to manipulate people into making decisions the government wants. With those two, we are well into the kind of dystopian future, where a totalitarian government manipulates the minds of its subjects portrayed in the Beeb’s classic SF series, Blake’s 7. Some of this datamining appears to have been done to benefit Russian oil interests. Michelle, one of the great commenters here, posted this to her piece, commenting on the immense value of personal information on the Net:

“The Wiley disclosure certainly had quite a media make over, he sits in a trendy bare room with a big photo shoot light for the Guardian and in a graffiti tunnel for ITV news, yet with all his intellectual prowess his deductive reasoning interestingly falls short on his employer making a link with Russian oil: “It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

REF: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

The spotlight on this company must be just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2010 I had blogged about the EU intending to make it clear how internet users would have their digital data exploited and the New York Times had a comment re the intended EU overhaul of privacy regulations. I had written that the publishers value was not based on content or brand but on the information that can be collected about each digital visitor, as we click away our preferences and online patterns are being delivered up to the advertising market because the ability to sell this information about us is the true value a publisher holds. Here is the comment in the New York Times (20 Nov 2010) about the E.U´s intention to overhaul the online privacy rules to protect personal data which would hamper the “development of services” – a great euphemism for snooping:

“Rules requiring Internet companies to secure users’ consent upfront could hamper the development of services that align online advertising with Web users’ personal interests, as reflected in the Web sites they visit or the preferences they express in social networks and other online forums. From a marketer’s perspective, this could dilute one of the big advantages of the Web over traditional media.”

REF: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/05/technology/05privacy.html?_r=2

Evidently the misuse of data has been understood for many years, (as you have pointed out Sue), I also noted in 2010 a New Scientist article: “EVERY move you make, every twitter feed you update, somebody is watching you. You may not think twice about it, but if you use a social networking site, a cellphone or the internet regularly, you are leaving behind a clear digital trail that describes your behaviour, travel patterns, likes and dislikes, divulges who your friends are and reveals your mood and your opinions. In short, it tells the world an awful lot about you.”

REF: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727701-100-social-networks-the-great-tipping-point-test/

So how did the ‘security services’ miss Cambridge Analytica’s flagrant misuse of data when it has been clearly understood even in the public realm for almost a decade? These supposed revelations at this juncture come at a time when the hype to cold war status is already far too high…”

Kitty’s article is at: https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2018/03/18/cambridge-analytica-the-commodification-and-marketisation-of-democracy/

And the Americans are not alone in using Cambridge Analytica, it seems. I found this report by RT about our government also using them and their parent company, SCL, to gather data on us. RT’s presenter, Polly Boiko, states that the two were hired by the Ministry of Defence, and paid for providing staff with training and for keeping government secrets on their computer, amongst other services. Yvette Cooper has demanded a wider investigation into their activities. They have also been hired by some very dodgy governments around the world. Like Kenya, where Cambridge Analytica was hired by the ruling party to gather data on its opponents, and create a psychological strategy that would allow them to hold on to power. The company has been accused of stirring up ethnic tensions as part of this. They were also hired by Ukraine to undermine the breakaway Donetsk Republic. This ended in failure, but the company’s report not only went to the Ukrainians who commissioned it, but was also shared with the British government. She concludes that the next stage of the scandal will probably be the company’s connections to the world’s governments.

This has been touched on today in the I newspaper, which reported that Israel had also hired the company to swing elections Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis.

This is a real threat to democracy, but I doubt that many people are paying attention, because of the way May and her team are ramping up tensions with Russia to distract everyone from just how terrible they are. And if the MOD have been using them to gather data on British citizens, then the immediate comparison that comes to my mind is with the Stasi and the other totalitarian secret police. It ain’t Corbyn who’s a threat to democracy, but Cambridge Analytica and their Tory government paymasters.

Craig Murray: Boris Lied When Claimed Porton Down Identified Salisbury Poison as Russian

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/03/2018 - 10:30pm in

My thanks to Michelle, one of the great commenters on this blog, for pointing this out.

Craig Murray, formerly our man in Uzbekistan, before he was thrown out and smeared for having a conscience about dealing with dictators, has an important post up at his blog. And it contradicts what Boris Johnson is trying to tell us all that the Russians are definitely responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Porton Down have submitted their evidence at the court case, which was to decide if they could be permitted to take further blood samples from the Skripals for testing. Their evidence states

The Evidence
16. The evidence in support of the application is contained within the applications themselves (in particular the Forms COP 3) and the witness statements.
17. I consider the following to be the relevant parts of the evidence. I shall identify the witnesses only by their role and shall summarise the essential elements of their evidence.
i) CC: Porton Down Chemical and Biological Analyst
Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the
findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples
tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent OR CLOSELY RELATED AGENT.

The emphasis is Murray’s. He points out that this means that Porton Down have not positively identified the toxin used as a Novichok, as it could be a closely related agent. And even if it were a Novichok, this would still not mean that it was necessarily manufactured in Russia. The poison could have been produced by any number of states or terrorist/ criminal organisations. This contradicts what Johnson has been telling the rest of the world, including the journos at the German magazine, Deutsche Welle, where he told them that the poison was very definitely Russian.

He concludes

This constitutes irrefutable evidence that the government have been straight out lying – to Parliament, to the EU, to NATO, to the United Nations, and above all to the people – about their degree of certainty of the origin of the attack. It might well be an attack originating in Russia, but there are indeed other possibilities and investigation is needed. As the government has sought to whip up jingoistic hysteria in advance of forthcoming local elections, the scale of the lie has daily increased.

On a sombre note, I am very much afraid the High Court evidence seems to indicate there is very little chance the Skripals will ever recover; one of the reasons the judge gave for his decision is that samples taken now will be better for analysis than samples taken post mortem.

Murray also states that for the last few days he’s come under a Denial Of Service cyberattack, as well as some form of ‘ghostbanning’ for his posts on Facebook and Twitter. He therefore asks people to reblog and repost his article, for which he waives all copyright.

Go to his blog at https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/03/boris-johnson-a-categorical-liar/ for more information.

More Warmongering by the Beeb and the Tories over Salisbury Poisoning

Quite a few people have put up pieces tearing great, raw chunks out of the government’s story that the Russians are responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Salisbury. Last week, Leftwingnobody, one of the great commenters on this blog, posted up a link on his blog to a piece in the Irish Times, which stated that it was unlikely the Russians were responsible. Leftwingnobody’s link is at https://leftwingnobody.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/unlikely-that-vladimir-putin-behind-skripal-poisoning/?wref=tp. Go to it, and follow the link for more information.
Craig Murray, who was formerly our man in Uzbekistan, before being kicked out because he had moral objections to our dealing with a corrupt, repressive tyrant, has also cast doubt on the government’s story. And Mike has also posted up continuing developments, which add more questions. Today he put up a piece quoting the Russians, who said that if they had used military grade nerve agents, then far more people would have been affected than the Skripals and the poor cop, who was poisoned. And they would all be dead, not incapacitated. Which is how it struck me. Furthermore, the Russians couldn’t use their original stocks of the Novichoks poison, because this would have decayed after 27 years. Quite apart from the fact that the international chemical weapons authority confirmed the Russians had destroyed them. But as the scientist, who developed the toxin revealed, the knowledge of how to manufacture it is now out in the public sector, and so any number of countries or individuals could be behind the attack. Porton Down has refused to confirm that the Russians were responsible, and stated only that the nerve agent was of ‘Russian manufacture’.

But as far as May and the Tories, and their lapdogs in the Beeb are concerned, the Russians are responsible, and we’re facing a new threat from Putin. Who, according to BoJo, is now like Hitler. At least in the way he’s going to use next year’s world cup in Moscow, which will be like the Berlin Olympics in 1938.

I caught May pontificating on the Six O’clock News about how the Russians were threatening us and our European allies. The report also said she was trying to persuade the other European leaders to join her. Queue a shot of Angela Merkel going down a corridor, looking grim and serious. Then it moved on to Boris, saying that he wasn’t trying to stoke tensions with his wild comparison with Hitler. And on the local news this evening, they were also talking about the Salisbury poisoning and described the chemical used as ‘the Russian nerve agent’, although this is still open to doubt. Back to the Six O’clock News, the Beeb showed an Estonian diplomat talking about the Russian threat.

This is dangerous talk, whatever nonsense BoJo might try to bluster in order to justify his absurd comments. The Russians lost 20 million people fighting Hitler during the War. Millions of their squaddies were starved and worked to death as slave labourers after being captured as P.O.W.s by the Nazis. It’s therefore highly offensive for BoJo to make this stupid, insulting comparison. Also, as Simon Reeve showed in his documentary series about Russia a few months ago, the Russians are genuinely proud of their armed forces and the way they defended their homeland during the Great Patriotic War. Their equivalent of Remembrance Day/ Veteran’s Day is far more like a party, with food and drink, as well as marches and speeches, than the very solemn and austere ceremonies we go through every November 11.

I don’t doubt that Putin will try to exploit the World Cup to promote his government and his country, but the accusation that he will is more than a little hypocritical. Every government uses international sporting events like the World Cup, or the Olympics, to promote themselves. I can still remember the Americans at the Atlanta Olympics in the 1980s. As for Russia threatening Europe, in many cases it’s the other way. Russia is ringed by NATO bases right along its borders. This was after the original treaty with Gorbachev pledged NATO not to expand up to its borders in return for Gorby withdrawing all their troops from eastern Europe and allowing the former satellites to go their own way. I’m sympathetic to the fears of the Baltic States, who were reincorporated into the USSR after a brief period of independence when Stalin threw the Germans back in World War II. But at the same time, the Estonians are building monuments to Nazi collaborators as national heroes. And the supposedly democratic government of the Ukraine includes real, uniformed Nazis, who are now out on the streets of Kiev to keep order. But you won’t find that mentioned on the news, because obviously, the vast majority of people in this country will not want to support a blatantly Fascist regime.

So once again, we’re being fed lies by the Tories and the media, lies which could take us to war. And who benefits? Well, May and the Tories, obviously. She was seven points behind Labour in the polls, and the Tories are looking at being wiped out in London. Thus, she’s trying to copy Thatcher, and act like a ‘bargain-basement Boadicea’, rattling her sabre furiously. The real reason for this tension is less a military threat from Russia, and far more the fact that the American multinationals, who thought they would get to control the Russian economy under Yeltsin, have found themselves stymied by Putin. It’s like the Iraq invasion all over again: dodgy claims of weapons of mass destruction, and economic motives – western corporate interests – disguised as an attack, or resistance to, an evil tyrant.

Putin is a thug, and a real enemy of democracy. Journalists and opposition politicians in Russia have been arbitrarily arrested, jailed, beaten and murdered by his thugs. And I don’t doubt that at least some of the 14 Russians, who’ve died over here in suspicious circumstances, have been assassinated by him. But Corbyn is right about the Salisbury poisoning. It isn’t clear that he’s behind it, and we need far more proof before stoking up international tensions.

But the Tories are doing it anyway, for their own cynical electoral advantage, and those of their corporate financers. And if there is a war, the people who will pay the price will be ordinary working people. When Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the Republican Neocon leadership were very careful to make sure that none of their sons or daughters were likely to be posted to the conflict zone. As opposed to the poor and working class, whose districts were targeted by the recruiting sergeants.

As for Boris, looking at the way he has conducted himself as foreign secretary, I can only agree with the Russians. It is amazing that he is the spokesman of a nuclear power. Actually, it’s downright terrifying.

For all our sakes, we need the media to hold May and the rest to account, to ask the hard questions that Laura Kuenssberg and the rest of the Beeb’s pro-Tory lackeys aren’t asking. Before the Tories start another war for the benefit of multinational capital.

Dreams of a technocrat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 19/03/2018 - 4:40pm in

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Pid_25448Technocrats have had a mixed record in guiding major policies of the United States government. Perhaps the most famous technocrat of the postwar years was Robert McNamara, the longest serving secretary of defense who worked for both John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Before joining Kennedy’s cabinet McNamara was the president of Ford Motor Company, the first person from outside the Ford family to occupy that position. Before coming to Ford, McNamara had done statistical analysis of the bombing campaign over Japan during the Second World War. Working under the famously ruthless General Curtis LeMay, McNamara worked out the most efficient ways to destroy the maximum amount of Japanese war infrastructure. On March 9, 1945, this kind of analysis contributed to the virtual destruction of Tokyo through bombing and the deaths of a hundred thousand civilians in a firestorm. While McNamara later expressed some regrets about large-scale destruction of cities, he generally subscribed to LeMay’s philosophy. LeMay’s philosophy was simple: once a war has started, you need to end it as soon as possible, and if this involves killing large numbers of civilians, so be it.

The Second World War was a transformational conflict in terms of applying the techniques of statistics and engineering to war problems. In many ways the war belonged to technocrats like McNamara and Vannevar Bush who was one of the leaders of the Manhattan Project. The success that these technocrats achieved through inventions like radar, the atomic bomb and the development of the computer were self-evident, so it was not surprising that scientists became a highly sought after voice in the corridors of power after the war. Some like Richard Feynman wanted nothing to do with weapons research after the war ended. Others like Robert Oppenheimer embraced this power. Unfortunately Oppenheimer’s naiveté combined with the beginnings of the Cold War generated paranoia and resulted in a disgraceful public hearing that stripped him of his security clearance.

After McNamara was appointed to the position by Kennedy, he began a tight restructuring of the defense forces by adopting the same kinds of statistical research techniques that he had used at Ford. Some of these techniques go by the name of operations research. McNamara’s policies led to cost reduction and consolidation of weapons systems. He brought a much more scientific approach to thinking about defense problems. One of his important successes was to change official US nuclear posture from the massive retaliation adopted by the Eisenhower administration to a strategy of more proportionate response adopted by the Kennedy administration. At this point in time McNamara was playing the role of the good technocrat. Then Kennedy was assassinated and the Vietnam War started. Lyndon Johnson put pressure on McNamara and his other advisors to expand American military presence in Vietnam.

To obey Johnson’s wishes, McNamara used the same techniques as he had before, but this time to increase the number of American troops and firepower in a remote country halfway around the world. Just like he had during the Second World War, he organized a series of bombing campaigns that laid waste not just to North Vietnamese military installations but to their dams and rice fields. Just like it had during the previous war, the bombing killed a large number of civilians without having a measurable impact on the morale or determination of Ho Chi Minh’s troops. The lessons of the Second World War should have told McNamara that bombing by itself couldn’t end a war. The man who had studied moral philosophy at Berkeley before he got ensnared by the trappings of power failed to realize that you cannot win over a nation through technology and military action. You can only do that by winning over the hearts and minds of its citizens and understanding their culture and history. Not just McNamara but most of Kennedy and Johnson’s other advisors also failed to understand this. They had reached the limits of technocratic problem solving.

William Perry seems to have avoided many of the problems that beset technocrats like McNamara. Perry was secretary of defense under Bill Clinton. His memoir is titled “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink”. As the memoir makes clear, this journey is one the entire world shares. The book is essentially a brisk and personal ride through the journey but there is little historical detail that puts some of the stories in context; for this readers would have to look at some of the references cited at the back. Perry came from a bonafide technical background. After serving at the end of the war and seeing the destruction in Tokyo and Okinawa, he returned to college and obtained bachelors and graduate degrees in mathematics. He then took the then unusual step of going to California, at a time when Silicon Valley did not exist and the transistor had just been invented. Perry joined an electronics company called Sylvania whose products started getting traction with the defense department. By this time the Cold War was in full swing, and the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations wanted to harness the full potential of science and technology in the fight against communism. To provide advice to the government, Eisenhower set up a president’s science advisory committee (PSAC) which included accomplished scientists like Hans Bethe and George Kistiakowsky, both of whom had held senior positions in the Manhattan project.

One of the most important uses of technology was in reconnaissance of enemy planes and missiles. Perry’s company developed some of the first sensors for detecting radar signatures of Soviet ICBM’s and their transmitters. He also contributed to some of the first communication satellites and played an important role in deciphering the images of medium range nuclear missiles installed in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Perry understood well the great contribution technology could make not just to offense but also to defense. He recognized early that electronic technology was moving from analog to digital with the invention of the integrated chip and decided to start his own company to exploit its potential. His new company built sophisticated systems for detecting enemy weapons. It was successful and ultimately employed more than a thousand people, making Perry a wealthy man. It was while heading this company that Perry was invited to serve in the administration of Jimmy Carter in the position of undersecretary of defense for research and development. He had to make a significant personal financial sacrifice in divesting himself of the shares of his and other companies in order to be eligible for government service.

Perry’s background was ideal for this position, and it was in this capacity that he made what I think was his greatest contribution. At this point in history, the Soviet Union had achieved nuclear parity with the United States. They could achieve parity by building missiles called MIRVs which could house multiple nuclear warheads on one missile and target them independently against multiple cities. The introduction of MIRVs was not banned by the ABM treaty which Nixon had signed in the early 70s. Because of MIRV’s the Soviets could now field many more nuclear weapons than they could before. The US already possessed tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, most of them at hair trigger alert. Perry wisely recognized that the response to the Soviet buildup was not a blind increase in the US nuclear arsenal. Instead it was an increase not in nuclear but in conventional forces. Over the next few years Perry saw the development of some of the most important conventional weapons systems in the armamentarium. This included the Blackbird stealth fighter which had a very small radar signature as well as smart sensors and smart bombs which could target enemy installations with pinpoint accuracy. These weapons were very useful in the first Iraq War, fought two decades later. Today Perry’s contribution remains enduring. The strength of the US military’s conventional weapons is vast and this fact remains one of the best arguments for drastically reducing America’s nuclear weapons.

When Ronald Reagan became president he adopted a much tougher stance against the Soviets. His famous ‘Evil Empire’ speech cast the Soviet Union in a fundamentally irreconcilable light while his ‘Star Wars’ speech promised the American people a system of ballistic missile defense against Soviet ICBMs. Both these announcements were deeply flawed. The Evil Empire speech was flawed from a political standpoint. The Star Wars speech was flawed from a technical standpoint. On the political side, the Soviets would only construe Reagan’s stand as an excuse to build more offensive weapons. On the technical side, it had been shown comprehensively that any defense system would be cheaply overwhelmed using decoys and countermeasures, and it would take only a fraction of the launched missiles to get through to cause terrible destruction. Standing on the outside Perry could not do much, but because of his years of experience in both weapons development and talking to leaders and scientists from other countries, he initiated what he called ‘Track 2 diplomacy’, that is diplomacy outside official channels. He established good relationships with Soviet and Chinese generals and politicians and made many trips to these two and other nations. Like others before and after him, Perry understood that some of the most important geopolitical problem solving happens at the personal level. This fact was especially driven home when Perry spent a lot of his time as secretary of defense advocating for better living conditions for American troops.

In his second term Reagan completely reversed his stand and sought reconciliation with the Soviets. This change was driven partly by his own thinking about the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war and largely by the ascendancy of Mikhail Gorbachev. As Freeman Dyson has pointed out, it's worth noting that the largest arms reductions in history were carried out by supposedly hawkish right-wing Republicans. Reagan and George H W Bush and Gorbachev dismantled an entire class of nuclear weapons. Before that, Republican president Richard Nixon had unilaterally got rid of chemical and biological weapons. Republican presidents can do this when Democratic presidents cannot because they cannot be easily accused of being doves by their own party. I believe that even in the future it is Republicans rather than Democrats who stand the best chance of getting rid of nuclear weapons. Because people like William Perry have strengthened the conventional military forces of the US so well, the country can now afford to not need nuclear weapons for deterrence.

When Bill Clinton became president Perry again stepped into the limelight. The Soviet Union was collapsing and it suddenly presented a problem of very serious magnitude. The former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan suddenly found themselves with thousands of nuclear weapons without centralized Soviet authority. Many of these weapons were unsecured and loose, and rogue terrorists or states could have easily obtained access to them. Two American senators from opposing parties, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, proposed a plan through which the US could help the Soviets dismantle their weapons and buy the nuclear material from them. Nunn and Lugar worked with Perry and weapons expert Ash Carter to secure this material from thousands of warheads, blending it down from weapons-grade to reactor-grade. In return the US destroyed several of its own missile silos and weapons. In one of the most poignant facts of history, a sizable fraction of US electricity today comes from uranium and plutonium from Russian nuclear bombs which had been targeted on New York, Washington DC and San Francisco. The Nunn-Lugar program of denuclearizing Russia is one of the greatest and most important bipartisan triumphs in American history. It has undoubtedly made the world a safer place, and Nunn and Lugar perhaps along with Perry and his Russian counterparts surely deserve a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

When Perry became secretary of defense under Clinton, much of his time was occupied with North Korea, an issue that continues to confront the world today. North Korea has been fighting an extended war with the United States and South Korea since the 1950s ever since the Korean War ended only in a truce. In the 90s the North Koreans announced that they would start reprocessing plutonium from their nuclear reactors. This would be the first step toward quickly building a plutonium bomb. Both South Korea and the US had serious concerns about this. Perry engaged in a series of diplomatic talks, some involving former president Jimmy Carter, at the end of which the North Koreans decided to forgo reprocessing in return for fuel to help their impoverished country. Perry’s accounts of North Korea contains amusing facts, such as the New York Philharmonic organizing a concert in Pyongyang and Perry entertaining a top North Korean general in Silicon Valley. Today the problem of North Korea seems serious, but it’s worth remembering that someone like Kim Jong Un who relishes such total control over his people would be reluctant to lose that control willingly by initiating a nuclear war in which his country would be completely destroyed.

The greatest problem, however, was Russia and today many of Perry’s thoughts and actions from the nineties about Russia sound prescient. After the Cold War ended, for some time US-Russia relations were at an all time high. The main bone of contention was NATO. Many former Soviet-controlled countries like Poland and Ukraine wanted to join NATO to enjoy the same security that other NATO members had. Perry was in favor of letting these countries join NATO, but he wisely understood that too rapid an assimilation of too many nations into NATO would make Russia uneasy and start seeing the US as a threat again. He proposed asking these nations to join NATO along a leisurely timeline. Against his opinion Clinton provided immediate support for NATO membership for these countries. A few years later, after George W Bush became president, partly because of US actions and partly because of Russia’s, Perry’s fears turned out to be true. The US withdrew from the ABM treaty because they wanted to put ballistic missile defense in Eastern Europe, ostensibly against Iranian ICBMs. Notwithstanding the technical flaws still inherent in missile defense, the Russians unsurprisingly questioned why the US needed this defense against a country which was still years away from building ICBMs and construed it as a bulwark against Russia. The Russians therefore started working on their own missile defense and a MIRV missile as well as new tactical nuclear weapons themselves. Unlike high-yield strategic weapons which can wipe out cities, low-yield tactical weapons ironically increase the probability of nuclear war since they can be used locally on battlefields. When Obama became president of the United States and Medvedev became president of Russia, there was a small window of hope for reduction of nuclear weapons on both sides, but the election of Putin and Trump has dimmed the chances of reaching an agreement in the near future. North Korea has also gone nuclear by conducting a nuclear test in 2006.

Perry’s greatest concern throughout his career has been to reduce the risk of nuclear war. He thinks that nuclear war is quite low on the list of public concerns, and this is a strange fact indeed. Even a small nuclear bomb used in a major city would lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths and severe social and economic disruption. It would be a catastrophe unlike any we have faced until now and would make 9/11 look like child’s play. With so many countries having nuclear weapons, even the small risk of a rogue terrorist stealing a weapon is greatly amplified by the horrific consequences. If nuclear weapons are such a serious problem, why are they largely absent from the public consciousness?

It seems that nuclear weapons don’t enter the public consciousness because of a confluence of factors. Firstly, most of us take deterrence for granted. We think that as long as most countries have nuclear weapons, mutually assured destruction and rationality would keep us safe. But this is little more than a false sense of security; mutually assured destruction is not a rational strategy, it is simply an unfortunate reality that emerged from our collective actions. We are very lucky that no nuclear attack has taken place after Nagasaki, but there have been scores of nuclear accidents that almost led to bombs being exploded, some near American cities. The book “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser describes dozens of such frightening accidents. Just a few years ago there was an incident in which American military planes flew from North Dakota to Louisiana without realizing that there were nuclear bombs onboard. In addition, even during events like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world came very close to nuclear war, and a slight misunderstanding could have triggered a nuclear launch: in fact it is now widely acknowledged that dumb luck played as big a role in the crisis not escalating as any rational action. There are also false alarms, one of which Perry recollects: an accidental playing of a training exercise tape led a general to the erroneous conclusion that two hundred nuclear tipped missiles were heading from the Soviet Union toward the US. Fortunately it was discovered that this was a false alarm in seconds, but if it had not, according to protocol American ICBMs would have been launched against Russia within minutes, and the Russians would have retaliated massively. The problem with nuclear weapons is that the window of prevention is very small, and therefore accidents are quite likely. The reason the American public does not fear nuclear weapons as much as it should is because it sees that the red line has never been crossed and it believes that the line will never be crossed, but it does not see how close we already came to crossing it.

Secondly, the media is much more concerned with reporting on the latest political or celebrity scandal and important but much less precipitous problems like climate change rather than on nuclear weapons. Of the two major problems confronting humanity – nuclear war and climate change – I believe nuclear war is the more urgent. The impacts of climate change are mixed, longer term and more unpredictable. The impacts of nuclear war are unambiguously bad, immediate and more predictable. Unfortunately climate change especially has been an obsession with both the media and the public in spite of its uncertainties, whereas the certain consequences of a nuclear attack have been ignored by both. The supposed dangers of climate change have been widely publicized by self-proclaimed prophets like Al Gore, but there are no such prophets publicizing the dangers of nuclear weapons. For one reason or another, both the public and the media consider nuclear weapons to be a low priority because no nuclear accident has happened during the last fifty years, but they keep on ignoring the very high costs of even a low risk attack. If nuclear weapons received the kind of massive publicity that global warming has received, there is no doubt that they too would loom large on everyone’s mind.

Changing attitudes is hard, although Perry certainly has tried. Nuclear weapons were born of science, but their solution is not technical. With his colleagues Sam Nunn, George Schultz, Henry Kissinger and Sidney Drell, Perry started an initiative whose goal is the reduction of nuclear weapons through both official and unofficial diplomacy. All four of these people have had deep experience with both nuclear weapons and diplomacy. Encouraging economic and trade relationships between traditional rivals like India and Pakistan for instance would be a key strategy in reducing the risk of nuclear conflict between such nations: one reason why an actual war between the US and China is highly unlikely is because both countries depend heavily on each other for economic benefits. The key objective in caging the nuclear genie is to remind nations of their common security and the fact that individual lives are precious on all sides. During the Cold War, it was only when the US and the Soviet Union recognized that even a “win” for one country in a nuclear war would involve large-scale destruction of both countries did they finally realize how important it was to cooperate.

Finally, Perry has made it his life’s goal to educate young people about these dangers, both through his classes at Stanford University as well as through his website. The future is in these young people’s hands, and as much of the world including Russia seems to be reverting to the old ways of thinking, it’s young people whose minds are unspoiled by preconceived notions who give us our best chance of ridding the world of the nuclear menace.


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

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/03/2018 - 6:33am in

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

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

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

Books on God and Religion

On Thursday, Jo, one of the great commenters to this blog, asked my a couple of questions on the nature of the Almighty, which I tried to answer as best I could. I offered to put up here a few books, which might help people trying to explore for themselves the theological and philosophical ideas and debates about the nature of God, faith, religion and so on. I set up this blog about a decade and a half ago to defend Christianity against attacks by the New Atheists. I don’t really want to get sidetracked back there, because some of these issues will just go on forever if you let them. And I’m far more concerned to bring people of different religions and none together to combat the attacks by the Tories and the Blairites on the remains of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, and the impoverishment and murder of the British public, particularly the disabled, in order to further enrich the corporate elite. Especially as the Tories seem to want to provoke war with Russia.

But here are some books, which are written for ordinary people, which cover these issues, which have helped me and which I hope others reading about these topics for themselves will also find helpful.

The Thinker’s Guide to God, Peter Vardy and Julie Arliss (Alresford: John Hunt Publishing 2003)

This book is written by two academics from a Christian viewpoint, and discusses the Western religious tradition from Plato and Aristotle. It has the following chapters

1. Thinking About God – Plato and Aristotle
2.The God of the Philosophers
3. The God of Sacred Scripture
4. Religious Language
5. The Challenge of Anti-Realism
6. Arguments for the Existence of God
7. The Attributes of God
8. Life After Death
9. Miracles and Prayer
10. Jesus, the Trinity, and Christian Theology
11. Faith and Reason
12 Attacks on God, Darwin, Marx and Freud
13 God and Science
14 Quantum Science, Multi-Dimensions and God

God: A Guide for the Perplexed, Keith Ward, (Oxford: OneWorld 2003)

1. A Feeling for the Gods
God, literalism and poetry, A world full of Gods, Descartes and the cosmic machine, Wordsworth and Blake, the gods and poetic imagination, Conflict among the gods, Friedrich Schleiermacher: a Romantic account of the gods; Rudolf Otto: the sense of the numinous; Martin Buber: life as meeting, Epilogue: the testimony of a secularist.

2. Beyond the gods
Prophets and seers; The prophets of Israel and monotheism; Basil, Gregory Palamas and Maimonides: the apophatic way; Thomas Aquinas: the simplicity of God; The five ways of demonstrating God; Pseudo-Dyonysius the Areopagite; The doctrine of analogy; Three mystics.

3. The Love that moves the sun
The 613 commandments; Pigs and other animals; the two great commandments; The Ten Commandments; Jesus and the Law; Calvin and the Commandments, Faith and works; Theistic morality as fulfilling God’s purpose; Kant, the categorical imperative and faith, God as creative freedom, affective knowledge and illimitable love.

4. The God of the Philosophers

God and Job; Plato and the gods; the vision of the Good; Appearance and Reality; Augustine and creation ex nihilo, Aristotle and the Perfect Being; Augustine and Platonism; Anselm and Necessary Being; Evil, necessity and the Free Will defence; Creation as a timeless act; Faith and understanding.

5. The Poet of the World

The timeless and immutable God; The rejection of Platonism; Hegel and the philosophy of Absolute Spirit; Marx and the dialectic of history; Pantheism and panentheism; Time and creativity, The redemption of suffering; History and the purposive cosmos; Process philosophy; The collapse of the metaphysical vision.

6. The darkness between stars

Pascal: faith and scepticism; A.J. Ayer; the death of metaphysics; Scientific hypotheses and existential questions; Kierkegaard: truth as subjectivity; Sartre; freedom from a repressive God; Heidegger and Kierkegaard: the absolute
paradox; Tillich: religious symbols; Wittgenstein: pictures of human life; Religious language and forms of life; Religion and ‘seeing-as’; Spirituality without belief; Non-realism and God; The silence of the heart.

7. The personal ground of being

God as omnipotent person; The problem of evil; Fichte, Schelling, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: beyond good and evil; Omniscience and creative freedom; God: person or personal; Persons as relational; The idea of the Trinity; The revelatory roots of religion; Conclusion: Seven ways of thinking about God.

Bibliography

Teach Yourself Philosophy of Religion, by Mel Thompson, (London: HodderHeadline 1997)

Introduction
What is the philosophy of Religion?
Why study religion in this way?
What is involved?
The structure of this book
What this book aims to do.

1. Religious Experiences
Starting with experience
What happens when you experience something?
What is religious experience?
Induced religious experiences
Prayer
Conversion
Mysticism
Charismatic experiences
Revelation
Some features of religious experience
What can we know?
Authority and response
Conclusion

2.Religious Language
A private language?
Knowledge and description
Faith, reason and beliefs
The rational and the non-rational
Interpreting language
Cognitive and non-cognitive
Language games
The limitations of language

3. God: the concepts
God as creator
Eternal
Omnipotent
Omniscient
Transcendence and immanence
Theism, pantheism and panentheism
Atheism, agnosticism and secularism
Nietzsche: God is dead
Secular interpretations of God
A postmodernist interpretation
The Christian concept of God: the Trinity
Beliefs, language and religion
Saints?
Religious alternatives to theism
Basic beliefs

4. God: the arguments
The ontological argument
The cosmological argument
the teleological argument
the moral argument
the argument from religious experience
Conclusion

5. The Self
Bodies, minds and souls
Dualism
materialism
Idealism
Knowing our minds
Joining souls to bodies?
Identity and freedom
Freedom?
Life beyond death
Some conclusions

6. Causes, providence and miracles
Causes
Providence
Miracles
Summary

7. Suffering and evil
The challenge and the response
the problem
God as moral agent
Suffering and the major religions
Coming to terms with suffering
The devil and hell
Religion and terrorism
Summary

8. Religion and Science
The problem science poses for religion
the key issues
the changing world view
the methods of science and religion
the origin of the universe
evolution and humankind
Some conclusions

9. Religion and ethics
Natural law
Utilitarianism
absolute ethics
Morality and facts
How are religion and morality treated?
Values and choices
Conclusion

Postcript, Glossary, Taking it Further

God and Evolution: A Reader, ed. by Mary Kathleen Cunningham (London: Routledge 2007)

Part One
Methodology

1. Charles Hodge ‘The Protestant Rule of Faith’
2. Sallie McFague ‘Metaphor’
3. Mary Midgley ‘How Myths work’
4. Ian G. Barbour ‘The Structures of Science and Religion’.

Part Two
Evolutionary Theory

5. Charles Darwin, ‘On the origin of species
6. Francisco J. Ayala ‘The Evolution of life as overview
7. Michael Ruse ‘Is there are limit to our knowledge of evolution?

Part Three
Creationism

6. Genesis 1-2
7. Ronald J. Numbers ‘The Creationists’.

Part Four
Intelligent Design

10. William Paley ‘Natural Theology’
11. Michael J. Behe ‘Irreducible complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution’
12. Kenneth R. Miller, ‘Answering the biochemical argument from Design

Part Five
Naturalism

13. Richard Dawkins, ‘The Blind Watchmaker’
14. Richard Dawkins, ‘God’s utility function’
15. Daniel C. Dennett, ‘God’s dangerous idea’
16. Mary Midgley, ‘The quest for a universal acid’
17. Michael Ruse, ‘Methodological naturalism under attack’.

Part Six
Evolutionary Theism

18. Howard J. Van Till, ‘The creation: intelligently designed or optimally equipped?’
19. Arthur Peacock, ‘Biological evolution-a positive theological appraisal’
20. Jurgen Moltmann, ‘God’s kenosis in the creation and consummation of the world’.
21 Elizabeth A. Johnson, ‘Does God play dice? Divine providence and chance’.

Part Seven:
Reformulations of Tradition

22. John F. Haught, ‘Evolution, tragedy, and cosmic paradox’
23. Sallie McFague, ‘God and the world’
24. Ruth Page, ‘Panentheism and pansyntheism: God is relation’
25. Gordon D. Kaufman, ‘On thinking of God as serendipitous creativity’.

Physics Textbook on Cosmology and Gravitation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/03/2018 - 10:20pm in

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

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

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

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

1. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

there’s also a bibliography and index.

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

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

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

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