Mathematics

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‘I’ Obituary for Stage Magician and Sceptic James Randi

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 10:43pm in

Last Tuesday, 20th October 2020, the stage magician and sceptic James Randi passed away at the age of 92. Randy was a controversial. After starting out as a stage magician, Randi turned to exposing fake psychics. He was a prominent member of the Sceptics’ organisation CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, along with scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan and the mathematician Martin Gardner. CSICOP’s founders were alarmed at the growth of interest in the occult. Sagan, a Humanist, published his attack on the supernatural in the Demon Haunted World. He seemed to be frightened that we were entering a new Dark Age of superstition, where science and rationality would be forgotten, and in which people would begin their day by poring over their horoscopes.

The I published this obituary of Randi in their weekend edition for 24th-25th October 2020, reprinted from the Washington Post. It runs

James Randi, who has died aged 92, was an internationally acclaimed magician and escape artist who spent much of his career debunking all things paranormal – from spoon bending and water dowsing to spirit channelling and faith healing.

Randall James Ham Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto in 1928. A child prodigy, he was shy and often lonely. Bored by rote classroom learning, he sought refuge in the library. At a young age, he developed an interest in magic, and at 17 he dropped out of high school, turned down several college scholarships and joined a travelling carnival as junior magician.

He overcame a stammer and fear of speaking in public, affected a turban and goatee, and honed his illusionist skills under a series of stage names, including Zo-Ran, Prince Iblis, Telepath and the Great Randall.

After a stint at faking clairvoyance, in which many took his prophecies seriously – he correctly predicted the winner of baseball’s World Series in 1949, for example – he said he was unable to persuade believerss that his powers were strictly terrestrial. He said he “couldn’t live that kind of lie” and returned to conventional magic as The Amazing Randi.

He also became an escape artist and held Guinness world records for surviving the longest time inside a block of ice (55 minutes) and for being sealed the longest in an underwater coffin (one hour and 44 minutes), breaking a record set by Harry Houdini.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Randi’s many appearances on television made him a fixture of prime time entertainment. In 1973 he toured with heavy metal rock star Alice Cooper as an executioner simulating the beheading of the singer at each performance.

Randi cheerfully described himself as a “liar” and “cheat” in mock recognition of his magician’s skills at duping people into thinking they had seen something inexplicable when it was, in fact, the result of simple physical deception. He was equally dismissive of psychics, seers and soothsayers. “The difference between them and me,” Randi told The New York Times in 1981, “is that I admit that I’m a charlatan. They don’t. I don’t have time for things that go bump in the night.”

Randi and the research organisation he helped found in 1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, offered payouts ranging up to $1m (£77,000) to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal phenomenon under controlled conditions. While he had many takers, he said, none of them earned a cent.

In 2010, at the age of 81, Randi publicly announced he was gay. He married a Venezuelan artist, Deyvi Pena in 2013. The following year, film-maker Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein released An Honest Liar, a documentary of Randi’s life.

I first became aware of Randi in the early 1980s, when he appeared in the pages of the Absurder attacking Doris Stokes. Stokes was a medium, who was then in news, much like Derek Acorah and other celebrity psychics a few years ago. Randi showed that much of her comments and remarks when she was supposedly getting in touch with the dead were ‘bunkum statements’. They sounded true and unique to the reader or listener, but they were actually vague and described the way most people felt. Her descriptions of the deceased and the questions she asked her audience were also so vague that they would apply to someone there, who would then become convinced that Stokes was genuinely in contact with a dead friend or relative.

Several times Randi’s own outspoken comment about those he judged to be frauds landed him in legal. In one case, he was sued for libel by a man he claimed was called by the police ‘the shopping mall molester’. Er, not quite. The target of Randi’s wrath had been arrested for sexually assaulting a 12 or 13 year old girl in a shopping centre. But he hadn’t been charged with the offence, as it was dropped due to plea bargaining. And because he hadn’t been charged with it, Randi’s comments were technically libel.

He also got into similar trouble with Uri Geller. He called him a fraud, at which Geller sued him in every country in the world. This resulted in Randi settling out of court with the notorious spoon-bender.

Actually, I think Randi is probably right here. Geller’s most famous trick of bending spoons has been around since at least in the 18th century. It’s mentioned in a book of such amusements from that time, Rational Recreations. Geller was also successfully sued in the 1970s or so by an Israeli engineering student for misleading advertising. Geller’s publicity claimed his act presented overwhelming proof of the paranormal. The student went to see it and wasn’t impressed. He sued, claiming that all he’d seen was standard stage magic. The beak concurred, and judged in his favour.

There was also a scandal a few years ago when it turned out that Randi’s partner was actually an illegal immigrant, who was living in the US under an identity he’d stolen.

Randi was a colourful figure, but I was never a fan of his. While I agree that fake psychics and mediums certainly exist, and should be exposed because of the way they exploit the grieving and vulnerable, I don’t share his dismissal of the supernatural. I think it’s genuine, but that its very nature makes scientific verification extremely difficult, if not impossible. CSICOP also came off as arrogant, smug and vindictive in their attacks on the paranormal and its believers and practitioners. So much so that they were seen as a kind of scientific witch hunt by their victims. A few years ago the organisation changed its name to CSI, which stands for the Committee for Scientific Investigation. And not Crime Scene Investigation. The name change was not occasioned because there was a cop drama with that acronym as its title playing at the time.

So RIP James Randi. He was a colourful character, who entertained millions, particularly in his bust-up with Geller. Gray Barker, the former Ufologist who began the Men In Black myth with his book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, took great pleasure in Randi’s antics, calling him ‘the Amusing Randi’. But I leave to the reader to decide for themselves whether the paranormal exists. And not everybody who believes in it deserves sneers and ridicule.

A Common Sense Exorcism from a Sceptical Medieval Monk

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 13/10/2020 - 6:27am in

The view most of us have grown up with about the Middle Ages is that it was ‘the age of faith’. Or to put it more negatively, an age of credulity and superstition. The scientific knowledge of the Greco-Roman world had been lost, and the Roman Catholic church retained its hold on the European masses through strict control, if not an outright ban, on scientific research and fostering superstitious credulity through fake miracles and tales of the supernatural.

More recently scholars have challenged this image. They’ve pointed out that from the 9th century onwards, western Christians scholars were extremely keen to recover the scientific knowledge of the ancients, as well as learn from Muslim scholarship obtained through the translation of scientific and mathematical texts from areas conquered from Islam, such as Muslim Spain and Sicily. Medieval churchmen had to master natural philosophy as part of the theology course, and scholars frequently digressed into questions of what we would call natural science for its own sake during examinations of theological issues. It was an age of invention which saw the creation of the mechanical clock, spectacles and the application of watermills as pumps to drain marshland and saw wood. There were also advances in medicine and maths.

At the same time, it was also an age of scepticism towards the supernatural. Agabard, a medieval Visigothic bishop of what is now France, laughed when he was told how ordinary people believed that storms were caused by people from Magonia in flying ships. The early medieval manual for bishops listing superstitions and heresies they were required to combat in their dioceses, the Canon Episcopi, condemns the belief of certain women that they rode out at night with Diana or Herodias in the company of other spirits. Scholars of the history of witchcraft, such as Jeffrey Burton Russell of Cornell University, argue that this belief is the ancestor of the later belief that witches flew through the air with demons on their way to meet Satan at the black mass. But at this stage, there was no suggestion that this really occurred. What the Canon Episcopi condemns is the belief that it really happens.

The twelfth century French scholar, William of Auvergne, considered that demonic visitations in which sleepers felt a supernatural presence pressing on their chest or body was due to indigestion. Rather than being a witch or demon trying to have sex with their sleeping victim, the incubus or succubus, it was the result of the sleeper having eaten rather too well during the day. Their full stomach was pressing on the body’s nerves, and so preventing the proper circulation of the fluids responsible for correct mental functioning. There were books of spells for the conjuration of demons produced during the Middle Ages, but by and large the real age of belief in witches and the mass witch hunts came in the later middle ages and especially the 16th and 17th centuries. And its from the 17th century that many of the best known spell books date.

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is G.G. Coulton’s Life in the Middle Ages. According to Wikipedia, Coulton was a professor of medieval history, who had originally studied for the Anglican church but did not pursue a vocation. The book’s a collection of medieval texts describing contemporary life and events. Coulton obviously still retained an acute interest in religion and the church, as the majority of these are about the church. Very many of the texts are descriptions of supernatural events of one kind or another – miracles, encounters with demons, apparitions of the dead and lists of superstitions condemned by the church. There’s ample material there to support the view that the middle ages was one of superstitious fear and credulity.

But he also includes an account from the Dutch/ German monk and chronicler, Johann Busch, who describes how he cured a woman, who was convinced she was demonically possessed through simple common sense and folk medicine without the involvement of the supernatural. Busch wrote

Once as I went from Halle to Calbe, a man who was ploughing ran forth from the field and said that his wife was possessed with a devil, beseeching me most instantly that I would enter his house (for it was not far out of our way) and liberate her from this demon. At last, touched by her prayers, I granted his request, coming down from my chariot and following him to his house. When therefore I had looked into the woman’s state, I found that she had many fantasies, for that she was wont to sleep and eat too little, when she fell into feebleness of brain and thought herself possessed by a demon; yet there was no such thing in her case. So I told her husband to see that she kept a good diet, that is, good meat and drink, especially in the evening when she would go to sleep. “for then” (said I” “when all her work is over, she should drink what is called in the vulgar tongue een warme iaute, that is a quart of hot ale, as hot as she can stand, without bread but with a ltitle butter of the bigness of a hazel-nut. And when she hath drunken it to the end, let her go forthwith to bed; thus she will soon get a whole brain again.” G.G. Coulton, translator and annotator, Life in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967) pp.231-2).

The medieval worldview was vastly different from ours. By and large it completely accepted the reality of the supernatural and the truth of the Christian religion, although there were also scientific sceptics, who were condemned by the church. But this also did not stop them from considering rational, scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena when they believed they were valid. As one contemporary French historian of medieval magic has written, ‘no-one is more sceptical of miracles than a theologian’. Sometimes their scepticism towards the supernatural was religious, rather than scientific. For example, demons couldn’t really work miracles, as only God could do so. But nevertheless, that scepticism was also there.

The middle ages were indeed an age of faith, but it was also one of science and rationality. These were sometimes in conflict, but often united to provide medieval intellectuals with an intellectually stimulating and satisfying worldview.

Anti-White Black Racism in Seattle’s Decolonised Mathematics Syllabus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/09/2020 - 8:25pm in

This is another video from Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP. He put it up nearly a year ago in October 2019, and the subject he discusses comes from a Daily Caller article two years before that in 2017. It’s about the move from Seattle’s public schools board to get Black students to do better at mathematics by producing a syllabus that aims to teach them how White mathematics is being used to oppress them, and how they also use it to liberate people and communities of colour.

The maths syllabus is the creation of Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle public schools, and deals explicitly with issues like ‘origins, identity and agency’, and ‘power and oppression’. The article shows the syllabus itself and what it aims to teach Seattle’s schoolkids. This starts off by teaching them that mathematical theory is rooted in ancient histories and empires of colour. Sargon doesn’t have a problem with this, as mathematical theories and formulae have been discovered independently by different peoples over time. The Babylonians, he rightly says, had versions of Pythagoras’ theorem. But he makes the point that ’empires of colour’ can also mean ‘oppressors of colour’, as this is what empires are: one ethnic group ruling another.

The syllabus then moves to demand that teachers and students ‘create counterknowledge to origins of mathematical knowledge’. This teaching ‘power and oppression in western maths’. The syllabus claims that western maths is seen as the only legitimate mathematics, and is used to disenfranchise people of colour. It erases the historical contribution of people of colour. Sargon replies by stating that different peoples have indeed independently discovered different maths theorems and formulae, but that Western maths is based on the Greeks. The syllabus also requires students to learn the history of resistance and liberation of people of colour using maths, engineering and technology. Sargon says he knows some great stories, but they are all about western maths. Like how Archimedes defended Syracuse against a Roman invasion by having the Greek soldiers align their bronze shields so that they reflected the sun’s rays as a kind of death ray. He also tells the story of Archimedes’ death. The Romans sent a soldier to capture him. When the soldier finally caught him, Archimedes was busy trying to draw a perfect circle by going through as many small points as possible. He told the soldier not to bother him, so that the soldier stabbed him with his sword.

The syllabus also includes more general questions, asking students how the feel about themselves as mathematicians and who is a mathematician? Sargon argues that a mathematician is someone who gets a problem right. But he also says that he doesn’t know, because he’s been using maths in ordinary life since he left school, as well as in computers, but doesn’t think of himself as a mathematician. He also remarks that he studied logarithms at school, and after twenty or so years still hasn’t been in a sitution that requires them. Students are also asked what it means to make a mistake, and where does power and oppression show up in people’s maths experiences. Sargon jokingly responds to this that it shows up in his maths teacher, who told him off for getting his maths wrong. there are also questions like ‘how and why does data-driven processes prevent liberation?’, ‘how is maths manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist?’, ‘how has maths been used to liberate people and communities and colour from oppression?’ and ‘Can you advocate against oppressive mathematical practices?’

As Sargon points out at the beginning of his video, this is all about teaching Black children that they are oppressed, and White children that they should feel guilty. It’s political activism that shouldn’t have a place in maths. He also argues that some of this is actually dangerous when it comes to claiming that there is a distinction between White and Black mathematics. mathematical facts are true regardless of race or culture, and lives may depend on their correct application. For example, planes depend on engineers understanding the equations governing aerodynamics. These have to be correct, and it doesn’t matter whether the person doing these is White or Black. It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong, then people may die.

I realise that Sargon is a man of the right, even extreme right, and that he himself says that this subject has already been discussed in right-wing newspapers and internet sites. Nevertheless, I think this is important and needs to be discussed and refuted. Because it, or something similar, may well come over here. Black activists are worried about Black schoolchildren’s underperformance in maths. It’s why, when I still got on with the Black and Asian Studies Association they asked me if I knew anything about Black mathematics. I didn’t, but sent them material on medieval Muslim mathematicians – Persian and Arab – for which they expressed their thanks. It wouldn’t surprise me if a group in Britain was demanding a similar approach in British schools following Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the video:

There have been other attempts to create a maths syllabus that would engage and inspire Black American pupils with controversial results. Back in the 1990s Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column carried a piece about the anger that had been sparked by one American school’s or schoolboard’s attempts to appeal to its Black students. It attempted to do so by framing maths problems in the setting of Black urban gangsta culture. One of the problems set featured two gangsters, Lucius and Rufus. They had guns that had different rates of fire and held clips of different numbers of bullets. The question was on how many times these gangsters would have to fire their weapons before they had to change the guns’ clips. The schoolboard attempted to justify this and and similar questions by claiming that it reflected the home environment of their students, and they were just trying to engage them through using it. But naturally, this horrifies everyone, Black and White, who doesn’t want violent criminals to be glamourised, or feels that Black children should be inspired to identify and aim for something better. There is a caveat to this story. Some of the items in the column are, shall we say, far-fetched and others have been shown to be urban legends, so it’s quite possible that the story’s fake and was made up as a spoof or joke. But looking at the blatant bias in Seattle’s maths syllabus, as bonkers as it is, it could also be true.

I’ve suggested before in a previous video that if educators really want to inspire Black children in maths, they could teach them about some of the maths problems studied by the ancient Egyptians, or failing that, the kind of maths problems they studied, as some of the formulae the Egyptians used aren’t accurate. They might also teach them the type of maths problems studied and taught in the schools of the great Islamic civilisations in north Africa. That would clearly be better than telling them that Whites have appropriated maths to oppress Blacks and other non-White peoples.

There is clearly a viciously anti-White racism in some of the academic doctrines and approaches now being advocated and taught as pro-Black. Critical Race Theory is another one, as it teaches that all White people are racist and any institutions they set up will automatically oppress non-Whites. Trump passed an executive order last week banning its teaching in federal government. services, including the police. But Trump is himself determined to indoctrinate children with his attack on anything he considers to be liberal propaganda being taught as part of history. He has just launched the 1776 Initiative, which aims to make American history teaching even more patriotic.

Such indoctrination, whether coming from the left or right has no place in schools. Children need to be taught objective facts, both in maths and history, and encouraged to make up their own minds about race, country and politics.

Sargon of Gasbag on Black Lives Matter’s Material for Schools’ Day of Action

I’m no doubt going too far in some people’s eyes by reblogging this. After all, this is Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the Sage of Swindon and the man who broke UKIP. Sargon’s a true-blue Libertarian Tory. He supports Boris Johnson’s Tories, Donald Trump and was formerly a member of UKIP. He passionately supports Brexit, capitalism and doesn’t believe that the Tories are privatising the NHS on the grounds that he thinks no-one would buy it. Although he is anti-racist and has debate the Alt Right, his own nationalist views are so extreme that he himself has been accused of racism. He has very conservative views on women and gender. When he was adopted by the Kippers as one of their candidates in a Euro election a few years ago, it became a national scandal. There were protests against him when he tried speaking in Bristol and Cornwall. People threw milkshakes and buckets of fish over him, and he was banned from a local restaurant here in Bristol. There were letters of protest against his candidacy from the other Kippers. The Gloucestershire branch dissolved itself in disgust, and a very large proportion of the party’s membership resigned.

I don’t share his political views and strongly disagree with him about Brexit. It’s destroying Britain. As is Johnson’s free trade Thatcherism. And the NHS is most definitely being privatised.

But I’m reblogging his post about the materials Black Lives Matter had put together for a proposed day of action in schools this summer because I believe that while he misses the point and is wrong about many of the issues BLM raise with their teaching materials, there are others that he is right to tackle and criticise.

Someone leaked the school syllabus Black Lives Matter had put together onto the web, and Sargon makes it clear that it’s a full-one attempt to indoctrinate children. He then goes on to critique some of BLM’s proposals one by one.

He begins with BLM’s call for a week of action in schools. This declares itself to be a national uprising that affirms the lives of Black students, teaches and families. This week centres classroom lessons on structural racism, intersectional Black identities, Black history and anti-racism through the thirteen guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sargon declares that this is an attempt to indoctrinate children with a one-sided view of history, politics and moral philosophy without their parents’ presence or even knowledge, in order to turn them into activists. Sargon naturally states that this not something he would like them to do to his children.

He then goes through Black Lives Matters’ Guiding Principles. They are

Restorative Justice: We intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a peaceful struggle that is restorative, not depleting. This strikes Sargon as like a cult, like some of those he read about a while ago, where they interrogated each other in order to form a tightly-knit community in which they were emotionally connected in a weird and unfriendly way.

Diversity: We respect and acknowledge differences and commonality. Sargon doesn’t comment on this, but this seems to be the standard attitude now being taught in schools and promoted as the norm throughout society.

Empathy: We practice empathy. We engage comrades with intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.

Loving Engagement: We embody and practice justice, liberation and peace in our engagements with one another.

Queer Affirming: We foster a queer-affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual unless s/he or they express otherwise. Sargon doesn’t comment on this either, but at one level it’s also unremarkable. Schools have also come under pressure to tackle homophobia and promote gay tolerance and equality. There are problems with this when it comes to what is age appropriate. Homophobia is certainly not confined to the Black community, but it does seem to be particularly strong there. A few years ago back in the 1990s BBC Radio 4 broadcast a documentary, The Roots of Intolerance, in which the Black British gay presenter went across Britain and the Caribbean seeking to understand where the deep hatred of gays in Black society came from. This was a particular issue at the time, as there was a spate of extremely homophobic songs emerging from Black artists. That controversy has now died down somewhat, but I don’t believe the situation has altered in the past 25+ years. I disagree with this part of BLM’s manifesto because the attack on heteronormativity is too extreme and should not be taught and encouraged.

Transgender Affirming: We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women, who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence. We particularly make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead. Sargon states that if he caught a school teaching his children this, he would take them out. He even says he’d send them to a Catholic school – and he was a militant atheist. This radical stance is aimed particularly at the Black community, but seems to be part of the general trend throughout American and British society. Trans activists are campaigning for this to be taught in schools. Again there are problems with what is age appropriate, and also the indoctrination of the vulnerable. Some children are being taught by the medically unqualified that they are transgender, while in fact they may simply be mentally ill. There is particular concern that those convinced that they are transgender may be simply autistic. Girls are being particularly affected, and so some opponents of the radical trans movement feel that it is an anti-feminist ideology.

Unapologetically Black: We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter we do not need to qualify our position to love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others. Sargon makes the point that this also validates the idea that White lives matter as well. In fairness, Black Lives Matter has never said that they didn’t, although some of their members, like Sasha Johnson, almost certainly don’t believe they do. But Sargon also argues that their statement about being unapologetically Black means that their opponents can also argue that they are unapologetically White. Their stance legitimates White nationalism. The only way they can combat this is by adopting Robin Di Angelo’s tactic of stating ‘it’s rules for me but not for thee’.

Black Women: We build a space that affirms Black women and is free of sexism, misogyny and environments in which men are centred. Sargon doesn’t mention it, but this seems to be just another approach Black Lives Matter shares with other radical groups and which reflects the anti-sexism campaigns in general society.

Black Families: We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work double shifts so they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work. This confuses Sargon as he says that he thought patriarchy wanted women in the home, barefoot and pregnant. But I think he’s failed to reaslise that this section appears to written for those poorer families, where the absence of a father means that the children aren’t supported by the second income that is now required to support a family. This situation is particularly acute among the Black community, but certainly isn’t unique to it. It is also found among the White poor.

Black Villages: We disrupt the western prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and villages that collectively care for one another, especially our children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable. Sargon states that this is a fantasy world.

He has a point in that it appears to be a racialised view, that idealises the African model of communal childcare. For example, in many traditional African cultures the women of the village also breastfeed each other’s children. And then there’s that supposed African proverb about it taking a village to raise a child. But no-one has ever been able to find such a saying in traditional African lore.

However, there is a general principle here that is perfectly acceptable. When my parents were settling down to raise us, they had the support of relatives and neighbours. People at that time did look out for each other, giving poorer friends items they had no longer use for, doing each others’ shopping and looking after each other’s children in sickness and emergencies. That hasn’t completely vanished, but it was done much more than is now common. That sense of community has been damaged by the extreme individualism that is atomising society.

Globalism: We see ourselves as part of a global Black family and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world. This seems to follow the pattern of much Black activism. Black civil rights campaigners have seen the struggle of western Blacks as part of a general, global struggle of Black nations for independence from White domination since at least W.E.B. DuBois, who moved to Ghana after it gained independence.

Intergenerational: We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn. Sargon believes that this erases children, but thinks this is good for the kind of people this would attract. This is wrong. The statement simply means they value older people. Again, it’s in line with the general, mainstream attack on ageism.

Collective Value: We are guided by the fact that all Black Lives Matter regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status or location. This, Sargon declares, is the endpoint of the radical left’s thinking in race. Or it could be an attempt to create a united Black community with its own sense of pride in order to combat some of the real issues plaguing the Black community, like drugs and Black on Black violence.

Sargon on BLM’s ‘Talking to Young Children

Sargon then moves on to the section about Talking to Young Children about the Guiding Principles of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Sargon states that this section uses phraseology, that could only be by people who don’t have children. He then singles out the sections on ‘diversity’, ‘globalism’ and ‘transgender-affirming’. The last says that ‘everyone get to choose their own gender through listening to their heart and mind. Everyone gets to choose whether they are a girl or a boy or both or neither or something else, and no-one gets to choose for them’. Which Sargon sarcastically warns will leave children rather confused. And I believe that is one of the dangers of adopting such a radical stance when it comes to gender identity. I don’t doubt that some people do feel that they are in the wrong body, and that after very careful thought and medical advice they should be able to transition. But this is something rather more complicated than saying people choose their own gender identity.

‘Collective value’ – Sargon thinks this is the same as individual value.

‘Unapologetically Black’. This section states that there are lots of different kinds of people and one way that we are different is through the colour of our skin.’ Sargon believes that this highlights the issue of race, and will turn children into a generation of racists. The section goes on ‘It’s important to makes sure that all people are treated fairly, and that’s why we, and lots of other people all over the country and the world, are part of the Black Lives Matter movement.’ This tells children that they are going to be a race warrior for the Black Lives Matter movement. But this section also connects with what the movement was saying in their thirteen principles about also valuing people from other races, but that it had to start with Black people’s own first. It therefore does not mean that they necessary disparage other races.

Plans for Week of Action

He then goes on to critique their plans for a week of action, which is a week of activism. This is simply to train children how to be activists. The programme includes sections like ‘Show Solidarity’, ‘Post on Social Media’, ‘Teach a Lesson’, ‘Attend an Event’, create things. He believes this document is real, because it has too many graphics to be otherwise. He points out the contradiction between their statement that they embody and practice justice, liberation and peace in their engagements with each other with a raised fist, a representation of violence.

The materials also include abstracted posters that can be used. Sargon believes that the consistency of the messages shows that this was planned in a central committee. He then goes on to discuss their suggestions for what should be taught at elementary school. Which includes youth activism. The plans for their week of action include ‘Day 1 kick-off: using your voice for a cause; Day 2: past and present youth activism’; guiding questions like ‘what is a cause?’, ‘what does it mean to use your voice for a cause? ‘, ‘why is it important to stand up for what you believe in?’, ‘what are the different ways we can create change?’, ‘home issues and the home community’, a project day. Sargon criticises this on the grounds that they are training children who are unable to think critically about what they are being taught, nor do they know any of the facts of the matter behind it. Sargon does not assume that they will give them a fully informed picture either. He calls it indoctrination.

Postmodernism and Afro Futurism in High School

Moving on to the material for high school, he says that this is where it gets really good. Like ‘Afrofuturism’ and ‘Postmodern Principles’. Sargon asks rhetorically whether he wants a group of radical race warriors, who consider everything about our society racist, to indoctrinate his children into a postmodern education? He says ‘No’, and adds that it’s only because he doesn’t want his child to come out of school believing that the world around him into which he’s been born and raised is evil and that he has to do everything in his power to tear it down. And that he himself, as a White person, is going to be part of the problem. And that every Black person he meets is some kind of inferior species, that needs his help and guidance to be saved. He doesn’t agree with that kind of worldview at all, nor with postmodernism as the kind of lens to view things with.

Sargon is absolutely right about Postmodernism. I extensively criticised it earlier when this blog was centred on Christian Apologetics. Postmodernism and cultural relativism are entirely inadequate as the basis for morality because of their rejection of the idea that it is objective. This was also the attitude of the Italian Fascists and Nazis. Mussolini took over Nietzsche’s idea that there was no objective morality, and the Nazis believed that morality and philosophical values differed from nation to nation according to race and ethnicity. Hence the Nazis’ insistence on Aryan science, maths and other racist nonsense. But the idea of racial and gender equality, for example, demands an objective morality that applies to all humans and is universally valid. Postmodernism, despite its pretensions to do this, actually doesn’t support such universal and objective values.

He believes this comes out in the section on Afro Futurism. This begins with a section on ‘Utopia’, which defines it as ‘an imagined place where everything is perfect, and asks the reader to define their utopia.’ It asks people to dream about their perfect place, a consistent theme throughout the documents. It asks the students what problems they could solve with their superpowers and what they would look like in this imaginary world. Sargon responds with ‘Who cares? You live in the real world’ and points out that they have limited resources at hand and limited options. So they should stop talking about an imaginary freedom of the will, as if the will is something separate to the physical world and gets to decide everything for it. He doesn’t want them thinking about superpowers, but asking how they can get good grades, how can they get a good job, how can they be healthy and stable, how can they raise children of their own, how can they form a family and be a healthy person.

This is a fair criticism. From what I can see, Afro Futurism simply means Black science fiction and particularly the imagining of Black advanced technological societies, like Wakanda in the film Black Panther, based on the Marvel comic books. There’s nothing wrong with such dreams, but schools should be teaching more immediate and achievable goals and aspirations to their students.

High School Materials

From this he moves on to the high school section, where there is more interesting stuff. Like ‘the BLM High School: the Black Panther Party’; ‘Social Justice Mathematics Materials’; ‘Black Lives Matter Haiti’, ‘Chicago Race Riots’, all of which Sargon describes as full-on Black Lives Matter propaganda. Sargon states that this doesn’t mean that they’ll get the opportunity to pump this out, but the fact that they’ve prepared it shows that there is time, money and materials behind it and it will get somewhere.

Then on to their reading materials. These include the Black Panther’s Apologia. This is the Panther’s 10 point programme, which were:

  1. We want freedom. We want the power to determine the destiny of our Black and oppressed communities.
  2. We want full employment for our people. They believed that the federal government had the responsibility and obligation to give everyone either a job or a guaranteed income. Sargon shows his libertarianism here by saying that it shows that they believed that they were the serfs of the state. This part of their manifesto is certainly radical. If you read it, it says that if businessmen are not willing to provide employment, the technology and means of production should be taken away from them and placed in the hands of the people, so that they can do so. It’s certainly a communist demand. But at the time this was written, in Britain the social democratic post-war consensus was still governing British politics. This meant that the government believed it had the responsibility to create full employment. This was through a mixed economy and state economic planning. Attlee only nationalised a very small number of industries, and so it did not necessarily mean that the state would employ everyone, only that it would help create the economic framework for everyone to be able to get a job. As for a guaranteed income, this could just mean proper unemployment benefit. This was part of the minimum welfare provision set up by Roosevelt’s New Deal, but I don’t know how far it extended. Like the British unemployment benefit before the creation of the welfare state, it may have only reached certain sections of the working class. In which case the Panther’s demands are entirely reasonable.
  3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our Black and oppressed communities. Sargon questions this by stating that if they believe the state is robbing them, why do they want it to provide them with a job, as they wouldn’t be free. This section goes back to the old promise of 40 acres and two mules. Sargon asks what they would do with this if they were dumped in the middle of the Midwest. They wouldn’t be able to take care of two mules. He knows he wouldn’t know what to do with them, and that they wouldn’t know either. Again, if you actually look at what they’re proposing, they also say they would accept the monetary equivalent. They’re talking about reparations for slavery, and for the slaughter of 50 million Black people they believe America has committed worldwide.
  4. We want decent housing, fit for human beings.
  5. We want decent education for our people. This also includes the statement that it should expose the true nature of decadent American society. They want to be taught the true history of their people and role in present-day society. Which looks like the origin of Black History Month.
  6. We want completely free healthcare. Sargon reads this out, but makes no comment. But it’s a reasonable request, and is behind the NHS in Britain, now under attack from the same forces of capitalism that the Panthers saw as oppressing Black Americans.
  7. We want an end to police brutality and murder of Black people, and all other people of colour, all oppressed people inside the United States. From what little I know of the Black Panthers, it was the casual police killing of Blacks that provoked the rise of the Panthers in the first place. They believed the only way they could protect Black people was to take up guns and shoot back. Hence Sasha Johnson’s bizarre fantasy of setting up a Black militia here in the UK, despite this country’s rather different history.
  8. We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression. This was obviously written during the Vietnam War, but it’s still applicable now.
  9. We want freedom for all Black and oppressed people. Sargon skips over this, omitting that it’s about freeing people in jail, and that they also want trial by a jury of peers for everyone charged with so-called crimes under the country’s laws. This is a central cornerstone of western justice.
  10. We want bread, housing, education, justice, peace. Sargon declares that these are flights of fantasy that sound like radical communist agitation, and for the Black Panthers, a militant, murderous party. Certainly the Panthers do seem from this to have been very radical left, and influenced by communism. But the demand for decent housing, full employment and free healthcare could be solved simply through a social democratic mixed economy welfare state. Horrifyingly radical to Americans, but the norm in Britain at the time.

Social Justice Maths

Sargon goes on to other topics, which he thinks are very weird. Like materials for social justice mathematics, a copy of Oakland police statistics for 1st July 2013, and Stanford university’s big study of racial disparites, and the stats for New York police’s stop and frisk.

Sargon’s Concluding Criticisms

Then there’s the Teaching Tolerance Guide, subtitled ‘Discussing Race, Racism and other Difficult Topics with Other Students’. There are also videos. Sargon once again describes it as a social justice package – which is quite correct – and states that the same talking points are repeated over and over again throughout it. He states that it is to present a one-sided narrative on all these points in order to construct the belief that American and other societies are uniquely evil, encouraging children to go into flights of fantasy about what might be, instead of being pragmatic, responsible and trying to build a better world one step at a time.

Sargon says that this should be resisted at all costs. If you’re a parent, you should enquire at your local school if they have any Black Lives Matter teaching materials that they will be teaching your children and request a copy of them. And if they don’t, you should kick up a stink, threaten to pull your child out and tell other parents to do so, because this is racial indoctrination. He even says that you could send the other parents this video to show what these materials look like.

He then ends the video by plugging his merchandising, based on Orwell’s statement that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. And with Black Lives Matter we have entered that time of deceit. Our societies are not evil. They are good societies. Black Lives Matter is a malign cult, which he believes has spread through our societies because they are good, decent and people do not want to be racist. This is partly right. Black Lives Matter exists because society does treat Black people unfairly, but it has spread because people do not want to be racist as the mixed race crowds of their protests show. He believes it has spread through a postmodernist education establishment with a deconstructionist agenda which says that if things are looked at in a certain way, White societies are uniquely evil when they aren’t.

Here’s Sargon’s video.

The materials Sargon analyses and critiques in this video seem to show that in many ways Black Lives Matter is unremarkable. It has much in common with other left-wing movements demanding racial and gender equality and promoting gay and now trans rights. It also seems to follow much previous Black activism in connecting the deprivation of Blacks in the west with White western imperialism and colonialism. I don’t dispute either that its view that Blacks are particularly disadvantaged in America is due to institutional racism, as certainly legislation has been used to disqualify Blacks from opportunities, jobs and services, including welfare provision, that has been reserved for Whites.

This is not the whole story, however, and such a view should not be taught in school. What is appropriate as voluntary community activism becomes dangerous indoctrination when taught in the classroom. The idealisation of the Black Panthers is a particular problem. While much of their demands were reasonable and entirely justified, they were a violent paramilitary terrorist organisation. It’s intoxication with the Panthers and their violence that has inspired Sasha Johnson to style herself as a Black Panther and try to set up her own, similar Black paramilitary organisation.

I also share Sargon’s objections to teaching children that western society is uniquely evil and persecutes Blacks, who always require particular assistance. And that Whites are responsible for this, and somehow intrinsically racist unless taught otherwise. This is only part of the story, and the reality can be far more complex.

Despite its careful wording about tolerance and diversity, the materials for BLM’s proposed day of action would only create more racial hostility, division and resentment. They should definitely not be taught in schools.

History Debunked Demolishes The Black Curriculum

This is another fascinating and well-argued video by Simon Webb of History Debunked. This time he takes aim at The Black Curriculum, the group behind the demands that the teaching of Black History should not just be for a month, but all through the year.

Black History Not Inclusive, Solely for Black Minority

Webb starts his video by stating that, demographically, only three per cent of this country’s population are African or Caribbean. This is a problem for those groups desperate to show that Blacks have made a major contribution to British society. There are other, larger ethnic groups. Indians comprise 8 per cent, and we could also reasonably ask why there also shouldn’t be an Asian history month, or Chinese, Polish or Irish. But the demand is specifically for history that concentrates exclusively on Blacks. He returns to the same point at the end of the video.

The Black Curriculum

He then moves on to Black Curriculum group themselves, who have been favourably mentioned by the Beeb, the Groaniad and other newspapers. Their website, to which he provides a link, contains template letters for people to use to send to government ministers. They also produce educational videos which they distribute free. One of these is about Mary Seacole, the Afro-Caribbean who supposedly nursed British squaddies during the Crimean War, and whom Black activists have claimed was a rival to Florence Nightingale. Webb describes it with the Russian term disinformazia, which means deceitful propaganda. He wonders whether this is a bit a harsh, as they might actually believe it. The Black Curriculum also runs workshops for schools and want to have their video widely adopted. He then proceeds to demolish their video on Seacole.

Lies and Bad History in Seacole Video

It starts by claiming that she came to England to nurse British soldiers because she’d heard that conditions were so bad. Not true. She came to England, leaving her restaurant in Panama, because she’d invested in mines in Grenada, and wanted to know why her shares weren’t doing well. She felt they should have been sold on the British stock exchange. It goes on to claim that she applied to be a nurse, but her application was refused. Wrong again. Those applying to be nurses had to send a written application accompanied by references. She didn’t do that, but lobbied one or two people but never made a formal application. It also claims that she opened a hotel for sick and wounded officers. But it was simply a bar and restaurant. There was no accommodation there at all. He backs this up with a contemporary picture of the ‘hospital’, which shows exactly that it wasn’t one.

He notes that there are other problems with the video, but says that these will do for now, though he might say more in a later video about it and The Black Curriculum. He offers two explanations why they made a video as terrible as this. The first is that they knew nothing about Mary Seacole, and hadn’t read her autobiography. The other possibility is that whoever made the video knew the facts, and set out deliberately to deceive adults and children, which is quite malicious. Someone like that – either ignorant or malicious – should definitely not be in charge of what is taught in the curriculum.

Important Mainstream Subjects that Might Have to Be Dropped to Make Room for the Black Curriculum

Webb also wonders how the issues demanded by the Black Curriculum could be fitted into the present curriculum, as it is packed as it is. There is already enough struggle fitting the present material in. He looks at some of the material the Black Curriculum is already putting forward, and what important subjects in history might have to be dumped to make room for it. This, Webb suggests, might be the Magna Carta, or the Bill of Rights, or perhaps the Holocaust. He then looks at the modules The Black Curriculum suggest on their website. This is material aimed at 7-8 year olds, in other words, kids at Key Stage 2. It’s a time when children are learning basic literacy, arithmetic, science, art and PE. It’s very intensive and there’s a lot of work there. Well, reading and writing might have to be cut back to make room for ‘Collectivism and Solidarity’. A few maths lessons could be dropped in favour of ‘Cultural Resistance’ and ‘Food Inequality’. Science is obviously not as important to children as ‘Activism’, ‘Colonialism’ or ‘Systemic Racism’. He describes this proposed curriculum as ‘largely agitprop’. It’s political propaganda.

He then sums up the problems of the Black Curriculum. There are three.

  1. It’s concerned mainly with Black people. If it was geared to broaden the cultural understanding of the average child he might be in favour of it. He states that he homeschooled his daughter, and as result they visited various different cultures. These included a Black evangelical church, a mosque, synagogue, Hindu temple and Sikh gurdwara. If the proposed syllabus included these as well, he might be in favour of it. But it is not.
  2. It seems prepared by the ignorant or malicious. And that’s an insurmountable object to adopting material of this kind.
  3. And if you’re considering cutting material from the national curriculum, then as many groups as possible should be consulted. Like Indians and Bengalis, Chinese, the Jewish community, which has a long history in this country. If you want to broaden the cultural horizons of British children, which is a noble enough enterprise, it shouldn’t be restricted to just three per cent of the population. It needs to be much broader entirely.

Here’s the video.

Now it’s clear that Webb is a man of the right, but I think he makes valid points, and his remark about trying to broaden children’s horizon is both fair and shows he’s not a racist.

I admit I found myself reacting against the demand to have Black African civilisations taught as part of the national curriculum. It undoubtedly would benefit Black children, or at least, those of African descent. David Garmston interviewed several Black schoolchildren about it in an item in the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West. One of them was an African lad, Suhaim, who said he had had very low self-esteem and felt suicidal. But this was raising his spirits. You can’t want anyone, of whatever race or culture, to suffer like that. I’ve been interested in African history and its civilisations since studying the continent as part of the ‘A’ level Geography course, at which I got spectacularly bad marks. It’s a fascinating continent, and I encourage anyone to learn about it. But I think I objected to the proposal because it seems that what should be a voluntary pleasure and a joy was being foisted on British schoolchildren for the benefit of foreigners or a minority of people, who find it unable to assimilate and identify with the host culture. I know how unpleasant this sounds, but this is how I feel. I also think that activism like this creates more division, by presenting Blacks as an ‘other’ with a completely different history and culture, who need to be treated specially and differently from Whites and other ethnic groups.

Black people have contributed to British, American and European civilisation and not just through slavery and the riches they produced for planters and industrialists. But until the late 19th century, the continent of Africa was effectively closed to westerners through a mixture of the tropical diseases around the malaria-infested swamps of the coast and strong African states that kept European traders confined to ghettos. Hence Europe and Africa have little shared history until the European conquests of the 1870s, except in some areas like the slave forts of the Gold Coast, and Sierra Leone, founded in the late 18th century as a colony for freed slaves. Liberia was also founded as such a colony, but by the Americans.

Webb’s description of the overall syllabus proposed by The Black Curriculum as disinformazia and agitprop is also fair. It looks like propaganda and political indoctrination, and that’s dangerous. I realise that I should agree with its hidden curriculum of anti-colonial resistance, solidarity and exposure of food inequality, but I really can’t. I believe that teachers have to be balanced and objective as far as possible. This is what is demanded by law. I don’t want children indoctrinated with Tory rubbish about how Britain never did anything wrong and the British Empire was wonderful. Far from it. Topics like those recommended by the Black Curriculum are fine for universities, which should be centres of debate where students are exposed to different views. But it’s not suitable for schools. Our mother was a teacher in a junior school here in Bristol She states that teachers are required to keep their personal opinions out of what they teach their students. If this in unavoidable, such as if a child asks them what they personally believe, then they have to reply that it is just their personal belief, not objective fact.

The Black Curriculum, therefore, certainly does seem to be peddling mendacious pseudo-history and should not be allowed near schools. But I fear there will be so much pressure from well-meaning activists to include them, that they will have their way.

History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.

Private Eye Criticises Rachel Riley for Hypocrisy over China

Could the media support for Rachel Riley be waning just a little? This last fortnight’s edition of Private Eye for 14th – 27th August 2020 carried a piece calling her out for hypocrisy. She’d published a link to a petition against the persecution of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government, urging people to sign it. However, a few months ago Riley had also declared that she’d made a deal with the Chinese-owned company, Tiktok, to help it produce maths tips. The Eye’s article runs

Countdown mathematical whizz Rachel Riley recently tweeted a link to a petition drawing attention to the plight of the Uyghur Muslims. It called on the UK government to impose sanctions on China for its human rights violations. “We’re listening, we’re with you… Thanks to everyone who signed this,” she wrote.

Is this the same Rachel Riley who tweeted “This should be fun” in response to an announcement in June that she’d signed up to help TikTok’s move into the UK education market, producing mathematics tips for the platform?

The Chinese-owned video sharing app has long attracted privacy concerns and has been banned by the Indian government after claims that it was using data illegally and secretly collecting information from phones when the app was downloaded. Meanwhile, TikTok’s domestic Chinese version, Douyin, is heavily censored under Chinese government rules.

Most concerning to Riley, however, might have been the news in November that TikTok had suspended the account of 17-year-old Feroza Aziz after she highlighted human rights abuses against … the Uyghur Muslims. As Riley puts it, this should indeed be fun.

I’ve got absolutely no problem with Riley supporting a petition against the vicious genocide being waged against the Uyghurs. She’s quite right to point it out and demand government action. And I don’t find her support for TikTok particularly hypocritical either, even if it does conflict with her new attitude towards the state persecution of the Muslim people by the Chinese authorities. What I do find hypocritical is her own vicious bullying and smearing of decent, anti-racists and genuine opponents of anti-Semitism, simply because they support Jeremy Corbyn or are critical of the Israeli state’s 70 year long campaign of ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Palestinians. Riley certainly isn’t alone in this. The smears were made and repeated by just about the entire right-wing British political and media establishment, including Private Eye. Which makes the Eye’s article, now criticising Riley for hypocrisy, somewhat ironic. Riley and her best buddy Tracy Ann Oberman were given extensive support for their accusations and smears by the media, who have promoted her as some kind of doughty campaigner against anti-Semitism. Except, when it comes to critics of Israel, in my opinion she isn’t. She’s confusing it with anti-Zionism. Anti-Semitism, as defined by Wilhelm Marr, who founded the League of Anti-Semites in 19th century Germany and coined the term, is hatred of Jews simply for being Jews. Zionism is a political ideology, which has historically been adopted by both Jews and non-Jews. In the early 20th century Zionism was itself so closely associated with real anti-Semitism, that one sympathetic German nobleman refused to support Theodor Herzl’s movement because he was afraid that people would think he was a Jew-hater. And Israel, of course, is a country. It is not synonymous with the Jewish people as a religion or people, no matter how much legislation Netanyahu passes declaring that it is. And it is definitely not anti-Semitic to criticise it for its barbarous maltreatment of the indigenous Arabs.

But Rachel Riley and Oberman appear to believe that it is. As an example of how twisted their views are, one of the two even compared the Durham Miners’ Gala last year to the Nazis because the band played ‘Hava Nagila’. Which they do every year. And their response to personal criticism appears to be to threaten their critics with a libel action. Mike is currently fighting Riley, because he reblogged and commented on her calling a 16 year old schoolgirl with anxiety an anti-Semite on social media. This led to the girl being attacked online by a crowd of Riley’s supporters, all because the girl had declared her support for the former Labour leader. And a few days ago, Oberman threatened Gary Spedding with a libel action for stating that she had her faults. These included, according to Spedding, not standing with Jewish people of colour. Oberman decided that Spedding was accusing her of racism, and so threatened him with a writ. See https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/tracy-ann-oberman-meltdown.html

In my view, Oberman and Riley are legalistic bullies, seeking to close down legitimate political and personal criticism through malicious accusations of anti-Semitism and suits for libel. I don’t quite know what has caused the Eye to publish an article critical of Riley, but it might be that some in the media might just have realised that just as Riley and Oberman can threaten and sue ordinary members of the public, so they can also turn on them. Of course, it may also be that the Eye is entirely disinterested in this matter, and is just calling out what they view as double-standards by another celeb.

Whatever the reality, Riley and Oberman’s malicious behaviour, as I see it, needs to be stopped. Which is why it’s important that Mike wins the case they have brought against him. Perhaps if Riley and Oberman meet with enough failure, the rest of the media may also stop giving the two their uncritical support.

The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education

There’s massive outrage at the way the education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have downgraded pupils’ marks according to a set a algorithms. This has unfairly affected the mass of these children, damaging the hopes of all-too many for a university education. In the poorer areas, according to an I headline yesterday, 36 per cent of students have been affected. This is despite the hard work, time and effort these children and their teachers have put in despite the lockdown and necessary school closures. Teachers are angry, students and their parents are angry, and the schools are protesting. The Scots are trying to correct their errors, but there’s been precious little from the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, except excuses and bluster. And only the mildest criticism from the useless Blairite leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer.

Private Schools and the British Class System

But strangely, none of this downgrading has affected students at the elite private schools, like the Eton from which our clownish, mass-murdering prime minister Boris Alexander, DePfeffel Johnson and so many of his cronies and cabinet have attended. Mike has published a couple of excellent articles pointing out the class dimension to this marking down of the hoi polloi on their schools.

And he’s right. This isn’t accidental. The elite private schools are an intrinsic part of the British class system. They supply and educate this country’s elite, who heartily despise not just those below them, but the state schools that educate them.

Britain is one of the few country’s in Europe that has this devotion and the attendant promotion of elite private schools. It simply doesn’t exist in France and Germany, where most children, I believe, attend state schools. Private schools exist, but there isn’t the same cult surrounding them. There have at times been attempts to introduce it in Germany, but it’s failed. And a Fabian pamphlet on education I read in the 1980s stated that in France many pupils at private schools were there because, er, they were less intelligent than those at the state schools.

Some of this difference in attitude comes from the different history of education on the continent. In France following the French Revolution, there was a bitter conflict over schooling between the Church and the liberal, secularist authorities. This has been decided in favour of the latter, so that French republican society has an official policy of laicism – secularism. Germany also had its Kulturkampf with the Roman Catholic church in the 19th century over the Roman Catholic schools. But I think both countries, as well as Italy, had a very strong tradition of state support for schools and state or parish school provision. There was mass illiteracy in these countries in the 19th century, but I got the general impression that after the Napoleonic invasions where education was provided, it was through local school boards. In Britain education tended to remain a matter of private industry and provision. I’d also argue that the attitude that Eton and the rest of the private schools represent the acme of the British education system is actually only quite recent. Well into the 19th century wealthy children had a broader education at the grammar schools – the public schools were criticised for their narrow specialisation on the Classics – and bullying and brutality by the teachers was rife. The diet was also so poor that the pupils boarding there sometimes died of starvation. This changed after Matthew Arnold became the visionary headmaster at Rugby, and his massive improvement in the standards there and influence across elite private education.

There is, apparently, also a class divide in France in their secular, state education system. The children of the technocratic elite attend a set of similarly exclusive, but state-run schools, which are very difficult for someone outside that class to get into. This was part of the argument the Daily Heil advanced in favour of the British public school system in article back in the 1990s, when Eton and its fellows were coming under attack again as bastions of class privilege. According to this article, British public schools were superior because they developed in their pupils an independence of thought impossible in the French state system. This was roughly at the same time the journo Danny Danziger was interviewing old Etonians in his book, Eton Voices, who droned on about how wonder the old school was, praising it for its tolerance. How ideologically independent private school education is, is a highly questionable point. I’ve met a number of ex-public schoolboys who have rebelled against their upbringing and affected a very working class persona. But for the most part, since Arnold there has been a definite emphasis on moulding character – no bad thing in itself – and the existence of these schools and their very narrow class background is responsible for the maintenance of the British class system and all its attitudes against those further down the British social hierarchy.

Tory Hatred of State Education

And the Tories themselves hate state education. Some of us can still remember how they tried to part-privatise it in the 1980s by encouraging schools to leave the Local Education Authorities to become City Academies. That failed, and was quietly wound up. Until it was revived and expanded again by Blair and New Labour. And the Tories have continued, expanding the academy chains and even trying to bring back grammar schools to absolutely zero enthusiasm. I also remember the ignorant pronouncements of some Tory businessmen in the 1980s, who showed their own contempt for education. Pupils, according to these ignorant blowhards, should just be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else was necessary, and they should then be sent out to work. But although it wasn’t said, they probably didn’t mean children from the upper and upper middle classes.

Elite Feminist Attacks on State Education

And part of the defence and promotion of elite private schools has come from ex-private schoolgirls arguing from feminism. There’s a reasonable point there, but it’s mixed up with much elite class ideology. And it includes the liberal, Blairite elite as well as Tories. Way back in the 1980s there were articles in the paper during the debate about girls’ education which pointed out that girls in single-sex schools had better grades than their sisters in mixed schools. Girls tended to be pushed into the background in school performance by boys. I don’t know if this has changed, but since then there has been a reversal in academic performance between the sexes. Girls have been outperforming boys for several years now, and the worse performing demographic are White working class boys. Despite this reversal, feminist arguments are still being used to defend what it basically class privilege. Single-sex schools are centres of female excellence, and away from boys, more girls take STEM subjects. So said an article by one of the female hacks in the I. I don’t doubt she’s right.

But this does create some very skewed attitude towards state education in ex-private schoolgirls. I came across about a decade ago when I studying for my Ph.D. at Bristol Uni. Passing through campus one day, I overhead two former private school inmates, who I think I had just met, who were overjoyed to find that they both had the same educational background. They were glad to find another you woman, who went to the same type of school. Which, one of them declared, was better than ‘the little woman thing they teach in state schools.’

What!

Not in my experience, nor my mother’s. I went to the local primary school, and my mother was a teacher in one of the other primary schools in Bristol. Mike and I were also lucky to get into a church school. This had been a grammar school, but was now a state-assisted comprehensive. And in none of them was there any teaching about the ‘little woman thing’. Now there was a debate within the education system at the time about gender and schooling. There was an article in an edition of Child Education about whether girls should be allowed to play with traditionally boys toys in school, like Meccano sets. But this debate, I think, has been settled a very long time ago. And I do remember that there was a positive attitude towards feminism amongst some of the staff at the Church school. I was in our house master’s office one day – I honestly can’t remember why, but I don’t think it was as a punishment for anything – when one of the women teachers came in. She had some materials on the Suffragettes she wanted to show him. ‘Ah, excellent!’ said the housemaster, ‘a bit of feminism!’

By  contrast, I’ve also come across teachers of both sexes, who in my opinion couldn’t teach boys. One of them was a male teacher, who gave sneers and put downs to the boys if they couldn’t answer questions or gave the wrong one, but was extremely encouraging to the girls. He clearly thought that girls needed gentle encouragement, while boys needed to be kept in line by shaming and humiliation. But it gave the impression he didn’t like teaching them. I’ve also come across some horror stories about the way girls have been treated in schools as well. Another story I heard back in the ’80s was about the headmaster of a London school, who immediately decided to divide the pupils into two classes, an ‘A’ and ‘B’. And all the boys ended up in ‘A’, and the girls in ‘B’. The headmaster, apparently, was Turkish, and this looks like the product of a traditionally Islamic cultural attitude to education. It was mostly definitely not common throughout the British state system and there were very loud complaints.

Blairite Feminism and Class Snobbery

My guess is that these skewed ideas about the sexism of state education are shared not just by Tories, but by Blairite liberals. The hacks writing in newspapers like the Groaniad and the I, although that’s technically non-aligned politically, seem to come from the same wealthy, privately educated class. And I think they share the same attitudes towards social class as the Tories, but argue for it from a liberal, feminist perspective. A few years ago the I carried a piece about a female Labour MP or activist, who was very definitely a Blairite. She commented on how male-dominated the old, trade union dominated Labour movement had been. And so we see the same attitude directed towards state education, by people, who have never once set foot in a state school except perhaps on an official visit.

Conclusion

Boris Johnson famously declared that every school should be like Eton. Well, every school could if it had the money spent on it Eton has. As for the academies, ditto. Once you account for the masses of money they have had spent on them, far in excess of the state sector, and the way they skew their results by excluding difficult and underperforming pupils, they are very definitely not better than state schools. See the book The great Academy Fraud for a very detailed discussion of their failings.

But ‘failing state schools’ is a nice mantra to justify the privatisation of the education system, even though one academy chain has gone down the toilet after the other. The Tories hate state education, and, in my opinion, will do anything to sabotage it. As will the Blairites.

And that includes deliberately marking down state school pupils, while awarding high marks and grades to the privately educated children of the elite.

 

NASA Film Explaining Their Plan to Return to the Moon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 11:47pm in

Here’s a short film from NASA. Narrated by William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk, it explains that the space agency intends to return to the Moon after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed there fifty years ago. This time the agency intends to stay.

It discusses some of the problems that have to be overcome, like isolation, radiation, gravity and the harsh environment of space. To get there, NASA has produced the SLS -Space Launch System – rocket, the most powerful yet developed, to lift heavier payloads into space. The crew will be carried by a new space capsule specially developed for the mission, Orion. The film also states that they’re developing new instrument system for exploring the Moon with their commercial partners.

They want to create fully reusable lunar landers that can land anywhere on the Moon’s surface. The simplest way to enable them to do this is to create an orbiting platform – a space station – around the Moon. This will also contain experiments as well as humans, and has been called ‘Gateway’. Gateway has been designed so that it will move between orbits, and balance between the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity.

It was discovered in 2009 that the Moon contains millions of tons of water ice. This can be extracted and purified for use as drinking water, or separated to provide oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.

They also state that the Moon is uniquely placed to prepare and propel us to Mars and beyond. The film also declaims that humans are the most fragile part of the mission, but humans are at the heart of it. NASA is going back for all humanity, and this time the Moon isn’t a checkpoint, but a way station for everything that lies beyond. Shatner ends with ‘Our greatest adventure lies ahead of us. We are going.’ This last sentence is repeated as a slogan by the many engineers, technicians, astronauts and mission staff shown in the video. They are shown working on the instruments, rocket engines, launch infrastructure, training aircraft, mission control centre, and the huge swimming pool used to train prospective astronauts in zero G. NASA’s staff and crew are both men and women, and people of all races, Black, White and Asian. One of the ladies is Black, clearly following in the footsteps of the three Afro-American female mathematicians who helped put America’s first men in orbit.

It also includes footage of the first Apollo astronauts walking to their Saturn V rocket and landing on the Moon, with computer simulations of the planned missions, as well as Mars and Jupiter.

From the video, it looks like NASA has returned to its original strategy for reaching the Moon. This was to build a space station between the Earth and Moon at which the powerful rockets used for getting out of Earth’s gravity well would dock. Passengers to the Moon would then be transferred to the landers designed to take them down the Moon. These would be less powerful because of the Moon’s lower gravity.

This was the infrastructure of lunar missions that Wernher von Braun originally intended. It’s the plan shown in Floyd’s journey from Earth to Clavius base on the Moon in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. America, however, needed to beat the Russians to the Moon in the space race for geopolitical reasons, and so chose to go directly to the Moon instead of building the intermediate space station. As a result, after the cuts of the 1970s, America and humanity never returned.

There was talk of a commercial mission to the Moon in the 1990s, using Titan-Centaur rockets assembled into a lunar vessel in orbit. Just as there were also confident predictions that by this year, humanity would have put an astronaut on the Moon. Or perhaps a taikonaut, the Chinese term for it. Stephen Baxter in an article on possible Mars missions in this present century suggested that the first person to walk on the red planet would be a Chinese woman. Who knows? The Chinese are making great strides in their space programme, so I think that’s still a real possibility.

 

Ren Wicks’ painting for NASA of 2019 mission to Mars, from Peter Bond, Reaching For The Stars: The Illustrated History of Manned Spaceflight (London: Cassell 1993).

Fifty years is far too long for us to have stayed away from the Moon. I can remember all the books on space from the 1970s and early ’80s which predicted that by this time there’d be holidays in space, orbital colonies, a base on the Moon and expeditions to Mars and beyond. These haven’t materialised. The last section of Shatner’s voiceover for the video was a piece of oratory designed to evoke JFK’s classic speech, in which he declared America was going to the Moon. ‘We intend, before this decade is out, to put a man on the Moon. We do this, and the other thing, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.’

I wish NASA and all the other space agencies and companies around the world all the very best in realizing the ancient dream of taking people into space. Despite the economic and medical crises caused by the virus, I hope they are successful and in four years’ time put people on the Moon at last. And that this will be just the first in a series of further steps out onto the High Frontier.

As somebody whispered on that fateful day when the Saturn V rocket carrying Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took off, ‘Godspeed’.