fredag 16 augusti 2019

Peterloo bicentenary - the irony of it

Today is the two-hundredth anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, when a peaceful meeting at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, was violently dispersed by the military. Eighteen people were killed and over 600 injured. The meeting was set up to air people’s many and well justified grievances, most of which had their origin in the enclosures of agricultural land, a process which began in 1760 and resulted in the displacement of the English peasantry, who were deprived of their livelihoods and forced into city slums where their only means of supporting themselves was to work long hours in terrible conditions for penurious wages.

An important object of the protest was the Corn Laws, which was one of the objects of the St Peter’s Fields protest. The Corn Laws were a body of tariffs and other regulations intended to restrict the importing of cheap foreign wheat and other food, which put up the cost of the food on people’s tables. The massacre was followed by a cover-up. An important event in the wake of Peterloo was the founding of The Manchester Guardian, to continue the campaigning. The Corn Laws were finally abolished in 1846.

But victories for freedom are never more than provisional. The Corn Laws were reintroduced surreptitiously in 1973 when the UK joined the then EEC, since the Common Agricultural Policy operates in precisely the same way, and has the same aims and purpose, as the Corn Laws.

Here comes the irony. The Guardian, the lineal descendent of the Manchester Guardian, has taken a leading role in the campaign against leaving the EU, despite the evidence of forty years that the organisation is impervious to reform. Only yesterday, there was an article in the Guardian by Polly Toynbee, arguing that British farmers would be ruined without these latter day Corn Laws – exactly the same argument that was used to maintain the Corn Laws for a quarter of a century after Peterloo. I am alone is seeing this irony?

söndag 11 augusti 2019

Horrible Brexit coin

The government has announced plans for a commemorative Brexit coin, to be issued on the day. It will be a 50p coin with the inscription ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.’ What a pity that is the best the authorities can come up with.

It has a horrible script typeface (bog-standard Zapf Chancery by the look of it) and the horrible seven-sided shape which is overdue for change. A £2 coin would have been more suitable; the inscription could go round the edge and the image could have been a traditional one; perhaps the original Britannia as on the Victorian penny, with a ship and lighthouse, or the thrift from the old threepenny bit, or the ship from the halfpenny, or the wren that used to be on the farthing, or Pistrucci's classic St George and the Dragon. If this is the best the authorities can do, it does not augur well.

måndag 29 juli 2019

Swedish justice in the spotlight

The A$AP Rocky business has provoked a lot of criticism from the USA, who have expressed shock at the Swedish justice system, judged by US standards. It does not look good by British standards, either. Swedish justice is on trial in front of the world. 

The video material which has been published shows that there was harassment by the Afghan youths; however, since they ended up in hospital, it looks as if excessive force was used. We also do not know how the fight began, or the background to the whole incident. It seems improbable that the performer would have initiated the trouble.

The Afghan youths should also be charged, since they are possibly guilty of a criminal act. If, as seems to be the case, the incident was the result of a provocation, then anything more than a suspended sentence gives the wrong message to people like these youths who go about harassing the public. I have experienced the same thing myself in Gothenburg.

The Afghan youths are probably not refugees and could be in the country illegally. This also needs to be investigated. If they are not illegal immigrants I would frankly be surprised. Few of the Afghans are in the country legally as refugees. If they are not, and do not have permission to be in the country, they should be deported.

Children’s book which cannot be a film

The book is one of the Narnia series, by C S Lewis, ‘The Horse and his Boy.’ The book would probably be considered racist and Islamophobic. In the narrative, the boy is a slave to a cruel master in a desert country. The horse and boy escape, and on their way the pass through a magnificent and vast city where they catch a glimpse of the great and tyrannical ruler, the Tisroc.

The references are obvious: the Tisroc is modelled on an oriental potentate such as the Sultan of the Ottomans, or the Caliph of Baghdad. It would no longer be safe to make and show such a film, such would be the threats and protests. What have we come to?

lördag 27 juli 2019

Carbon dioxide peril

Being a science graduate, I would expect to be able to understand how the Greenhouse Effect works, but have not seen a convincing explanation for how a concentration of one part in 2,500 of the gas can have such a disproportionate effect. The greenhouse effect theory has been around for over a century, when it was first noted by the Swedish chemist, Arrhenius. However, carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation (IR) in three narrow bands of wavelengths, which are 2.7, 4.3 and 15 micrometers (µM). This means that most – about 92% – of the heat producing radiation escapes it. About 8% of the available black body radiation is picked up by these characteristic frequencies of CO2.

Can someone please explain how a concentration of 1 part of carbon dioxide in 2500 can cause a greenhouse effect?

fredag 26 juli 2019

Something wrong with Swedish justice

The case of US rapper A$AP Rocky concerns an incident which has led to him being imprisoned since late last month, leading to the intervention by President Trump and the rejection of his plea by the Swedish Prime Minister. From the published videos it is obvious that A$AP was being persistently harassed by two immigrant men. There may be more behind this; the original causes are not clear. To judge from the videos, the two men should possibly also have been arrested. It appears, though possibly misleadingly, that Rocky’s action was in self-defence.

It is improbable, though not impossible, that US rapper and his bodyguard would assault a couple of men for no reason at all. That the situation has got to this stage, however, reflects badly on the authorities, no least on the Swedish PM who, following the intervention by Trump, could and should have ordered an immediate investigation as to why this case has got to this point.

Unless a lot happened which was not recorded, I would hope that he will be cleared and the authorities successfully sued for substantial damages for wrongful imprisonment. It should also bring to attention shortcomings in the country’s legal procedures. It is not right that people should be held in what are notoriously harsh prison conditions while awaiting trial, often for several months, especially when in Britain, for example, they would qualify for release on bail.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, and the outcome, of this case, it illustrates yet again the need for reform, with the introduction of habeas corpus, a right to bail unless the charge is for a serious crime (obviously not, in this case), and trial by jury. In Britain, the alleged criminal would have been held in police custody for not more than 24 hours and then charged or released on police bail; if charged, unless there were previous convictions or the charge was for a serious crime, the accused would be released on conditional bail. He would not, as in Sweden, continue to be held in notoriously harsh conditions for several weeks while awaiting trial.

In Britain, the case would not be sufficiently serious to be dealt with in a Crown Court but would be heard in a Magistrates’ court. A first conviction for this charge, assault, would not normally result in a custodial sentence.

Swedish criminal justice seems to combine a defective system with absurdly light sentences for serious crime and a situation where serious crimes frequently never even result in arrests.

torsdag 25 juli 2019

Academic whitewashes Islam

In the run-up to the election for the Conservative leadership, the Guardian ran a determined campaign to discredit him. One of its initiatives was to dig out an essay written by Johnson in 2007, in which he had written that the Muslim world is “centuries behind” the west, because of a “fatal religious conservatism” that prevented the development of liberal capitalism and democracy. According to Johnson “virtually every global flashpoint you can think of – from Bosnia to Palestine to Iraq and Kashmir” is defined by “some sense of Muslim grievance”. Echoing his hero Winston Churchill’s view that there was “no stronger retrograde force” than Islam, Johnson believes “that the real problem with the Islamic world is Islam”.

The Guardian then enlisted Professor Jerry Brotton of Queen Mary’s College, London, to refute Johnson’s these in an article describing it as “historically illiterate

Brotton writes,  “But Johnson’s 2007 essay – an appendix to a later edition of his book praising the Roman empire – reveals a level of historical ignorance shocking even for such a political opportunist. He claims Byzantine Constantinople “kept the candle of learning alight for a thousand years”, while the Ottomans failed to develop printing presses in the city “until the middle of the 19th century”. Wrong. Byzantine rule had gone backwards for generations prior to its fall to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II in 1453, who repopulated the ruined city with Jews and Christians to help build one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan centres of its time, courted for its commercial power by Venice and a magnet for Renaissance Italian scholars and artists (Leonardo even proposed a design for a bridge across the Golden Horn for the sultan in 1502).”

This is a case of pots and kettles. The most authoritative study on this subject is probably “The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire” by Edward N Luttwak; presumably Brotton has read this book.

Luttwak summarises thus: “The East Roman empire by us called Byzantine… was successively threatened from the east by Sasanian Persia, the Muslim Arabs, and finally the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, and from the north by waves of steppe invaders, the Huns, Avars, Bulghars, Pechnegs, Magyars, Cumans, and from the west, too by the ninth century.” Survival for 1,000 years after the fall of Rome was no mean achievement. What left it vulnerable in the end was, ironically the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by the Fourth Crusade – the Latin Christians, which had been sent to assist against the Saracens.

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was a brutal event, in which thousands were killed, 5,000 inside the church of Hagia Sophia itself. Naturally, Constantinople needed to be repopulated. Thereafter, Ottoman rule was no benign affair, which does not accord with the glittering picture painted by Brotton, “that Mehmed II transformed Constantinople into ‘one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan centres of its time’ ”

The Christian Balkans – Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece – were regularly plundered for slaves and soldiers. The Orthodox calendar lists hundreds who were martyred by the Turks because they held to their Christian faith. For over two centuries, south east Europe was under relentless pressure from the Turks, who were turned only in 1683 when the Polish army defeated the Ottoman forces who had besieged Vienna for several months; this was the result of a surprise attack by the Polish King Jan Sobieski, from a direction which the Ottomans had left undefended because their commander thought it was securely protected by the steep slopes of the Vienna woods. Hungary remained under Ottoman occupation until 1686.

The Ottoman Empire ended as brutally as it began. The Balkans gradually threw off the Turkish yoke from the beginning of the ninteenth century. Greece achieved liberation in 1830, following a ten year struggle in the course of which the Patriarch of Constantinople was hanged in public on Easter Sunday, 1821. The final phase was marked by a massacre in Bulgaria in 1876, followed by the genocides in 1915 and 1923, when three million died. Its dark legacy remains, as was seen in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and continues in the current ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo.

Brotton excuses the Ottomans’ belated adoption of printing thus: “The city’s first officially recognised printing press opened in 1727, not because of previous objections by zealous mullahs but because of the Islamic handwritten calligraphic tradition that regarded words as art – something print struggled to reproduce.”

That is feeble. Printing for the diffusion of knowledge can and does perfectly well co-exist with the production of calligraphic volumes of religious texts. The 250 years of banning of printing is a form of censorship.

Brotton, again, “But then there’s little sense that he even grasps the differences between the two Islamic denominations as he collapses the diversity of what he calls the Islamic world into one angry, ignorant monolith.”

Looking at the present-day manifestation of this ancient animosity, Brotton has a point here; ‘monolithic’ it is not, but ‘angry’ and ‘ignorant’, certainly; the description applies as much to the Iranian Ayotollahs which seek the death of every Jew as to the leaders of the Wahabi Mullahs.

Brotton “And hardly anyone within that field studies Arab or early Islamic history, or bothers learning Arabic. “So the myths and prejudices harden into facts. There is no awareness of the life of Muhammad, a merchant outside the Meccan trading elite, and the early history of the Qur’an...There is no space in Johnson’s rhetoric for the scientific and cultural achievements of medieval Islam. Nor is there any acknowledgement that the “fatal religious conservatism” is primarily down to the influence of Wahhabism, the puritanical doctrine founded in the 18th century that is now the official state religion of Saudi Arabia, which condemns millions of Muslims – including Shias – as apostates and has inspired terrorist organisations such as Isis.”

It is Brotton who is on shaky ground here. Wahabism is no more and no less than attempt to return Islam to its roots in the life of Mohammed and his associates. ISIS and the Salafists model themselves closely on Mohammed himself, as all faithful Moslems are required to do.

Brotton rightly criticises Johnson for his loose grasp of detail, but Johnson’s grasp of the overall picture is sound. How many scientists, philosophers, political thinkers, technological innovators, critics of rule by clerics, etc etc who underpin the ‘modernism’ that drives the contemporary world could Brotton could name who have come from Islamic states in the last 500 years or so? His main motivation, here and in others of his publications, seems to be to whitewash Islam and soften us up for the takeover which seems to be under way.

Peterloo bicentenary - the irony of it

Today is the two-hundredth anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, when a peaceful meeting at St Peter’s Fields, Manchester, was violently dis...