Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tues 12th April - Global Day of Action on Military Spending

Some events and links

London :-

Welfare or Warfare public meeting

Friends House, Euston Rd

Husna Ahmed, Faith Regen Foundation
John Hilary, War on Want
Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Vijay Mehta, Uniting for Peace
Stuart Parkinson, Scientists for Global Responsibility

Leeds :-

Leeds Metropolitan University: Dr Steve Schofield on The true cost of UK military spending, 7pm

Dublin :-

Picket outside Irish Dept of Defence and the Irish Dept.of Enterprise Trade & Employment.  Contact: Roger Cole

Campaign Against the Arms Trade :-

MPs slam UK arms exports

On Tuesday the UK Parliament published an unusually critical report from MPs on UK arms exports, especially to the Middle East and North Africa. 

The story appears on the Parliament website. So far I haven't seen anything about it in the media.

The report states:

"Both the present Government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain authoritarian countries in North Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression"

I've seen the following comment on a mailing list I subscribe to:

It appears that the committee is unaware that the major intended purpose of these arms is for internal repression, and that this is in the economic interests of both the authoritarian rulers in this region and the owners of the UK's large corporations.

All the dictators in the Middle East and North Africa were put in place by the rich countries of the West, or have been supported by the West. Their assigned role is to sell the raw materials of their country to the West at low prices, and in return they get to keep the money for themselves personally. They necessarily also have the role of keeping their populations under control - if a real democracy ever was established in this region then the dictators would get nothing. The democratic government could set a much higher price on the raw materials and the returns would be spent on projects of benefit to the whole population. The West's corporations would not be able to make huge profits based on raw materials bought at artificially low prices, and would probably risk collapse.

So there is a huge 'economic incentive' (or greed, if you like) on the part of the West's rich corporations to keep the dictators armed and in power - not just the profits on the arms sales.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Geoid image released by ESA - sailing uphill in the ocean

Even were the Earth covered in water it wouldn't be round. And no it wouldn't be an ellipsoid either (of which more below).  It would be lumpy as shown in this highly exaggerated model.   Notice the deep dent south of India, indicated by the dark blue colouring.

This is a geoid, a model of the Earth showing the shape that the oceans would take were there no tides, winds or currents, and were the oceans extended through the continents (say with very narrow canals).

The image was issued last week by the European Space Agency (ESA) and it's the most accurate model of the geoid ever.  An animated version appears on the ESA website.

After two years in orbit, their GOCE satellite has gathered enough data to map Earth's gravity with unrivalled precision, and these images are the result.

I didn’t find ESA's explanation quite explanatory enough, so here's a clarification I've put together from various sources. 

The satellite’s sensor measures tiny variations in gravity generated by an uneven distribution of material inside the Earth’s core, which cause the earth to vary in shape.

Red and yellow has been chosen to represent those areas where gravity is strongest and the blue shows where it is weakest. So for example the seas off Europe (yellow) appear to be higher than to the south of India.

Boat sailing uphill

The maximum differences in heights are around 200 meters. The south of India has the lowest values (-100 meters) since gravity is weakest there, and this leads to less water in this area of the Indian ocean, because the water is pulled to the areas with higher gravity (in red and yellow).  I've been told that when you take a boat from south of India to the Red Sea, you actually go 100 meters up-hill.  This is 100 meters in 2,000 kilometers, but still, wow!

However other factors counteract the effect of gravity.  The Earth is not a sphere but a rotational ellipsoid. Meaning a little flattened at the poles due to the centrifugal force.  As a result, the seas off Indian and Europe are effectively on a level plane.

The ESA image is about 10,000 times exaggerated.

The data from the GOCE sensor is of interest to those geographers who are concerned with monitoring events such as sea level rise or changes in ocean dynamics.

Thanks to Dr Fiona Cawkwell of UCC’s geography department and Dr Robert Meisner, ESA’s Earth Observation Communication Programme Officer, for the information I used in putting together the above explanation.  Which, I hasten to add, is highly simplified.   It was stressed to me that several other factors influence the geoid, but I decided not to enquire what those were, lest I get brain ache.

And thanks to Paddy Brennan for alerting me to the ESA geoid in the first place.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Earliest Christian books found – may predate letters of St Paul

A story to watch if you're interested in early Christian history.  News is just emerging that a few years ago 70 or so lead "books", were apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan.  The find occurred between 2005 and 2007.  Each book has between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings.

The director of the Jordan's Department of Antiquities, Zia al-Sad, says the books might have been made by followers of Jesus in the few decades immediately following his crucifixion.

Here's the story on the BBC website.

The letters of St Paul written about 40 to 60 CE provide, hitherto, the earliest documentary evidence of the Christians. If these leads books turn out to provide evidence of Christian beliefs and practices even earlier, that would be a massive advance in Christian historiography.

There will be a lot of interpretation of this find in the next few years (provided a dispute over ownership doesn’t hold it up) but here is a selection of quotations by experts taken from the BBC article:
  • "The major discovery of Christian history"
  • "They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls"
  • “Maybe the most important discovery in the history of archaeology”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Isaac Newton on Ancient Wisdom

Isaac Newton 1643 – 1727
The Noahides, or Children of Noah, held – or hold if they still exist, I'm not sure – that Noah was the first to believe in one God, and was issued with Seven Laws. (I'll come to Newton in a minute so bear with me.) The Seven Laws of Noah included: that you must have but one supreme Lord God, that you must not profane his name, that you must abstain from fornication, from theft and all injuries, and must be merciful, even to brute beasts. 

Noahidism holds that whilst only Jews are obliged to abide by the Ten Commandments and rest of the Jewish Law, all humanity is required to observe the Seven Laws of Noah.

On a blackboard

This little factoid came to me from attending a lecture about Isaac Newton at UCC on Wednesday.  Cork Astronomy Club had rescheduled a committee meeting to enable members to attend this lecture and I must say it didn’t begin auspiciously. An elderly lecturer, a poorly photocopied handout, the first two pages of which were in Latin, and, deary me, chalk and a blackboard, no PowerPoint.

Moreover a good portion of the lecture went straight over my head.

So I'll stick to the bit that didn’t.   Lets start with my meagre store of knowledge about Newton when I entered to room: that he is considered by many to be the greatest scientist that ever lived, that he was a deeply unpleasant man, and that he said some quotable quotes.

My favourite being : “ I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than the ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me. ”

I was also aware he held strange religious beliefs. One of these, it turns out, was Noahidism. But a strange religious belief? From what standpoint do we call Noahidism strange? Actually from the brief outline I've read in Wikipedia it seems quite an attractive doctrine.


Professor George L. Huxley told us: “The more one studies Newton the more one feels humble in his presence”.  He had a thirst for facts.  Theology was of supreme importance for him.

The idea of the creator loomed over everything else in Newton’s mind. He was a Unitarian, meaning he was resolutely against the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  This conviction seems to have been the most important thing in his life, and made him intensely lonely.  Even with his friends he had to be circumspect.  For in those days, to be at Cambridge University you had to sign the 39 Articles, and one of these articles was belief in the Trinity. Had the authorities got wind of Newton’s belief that there was only God and no Trinity, he would have been expelled. It must surely have rankled with him that his Cambridge college was actually called Trinity.

And the worst of it was, that to be Lucasian Professor of Mathematics you had to be ordained a Church of England vicar.  Luckily a friend of his went out of his way to get this rule quashed so Newton could hold the post.

I want to go back to the professor saying Newton’s religious beliefs were the most important thing in his life.  Let’s scan this. It means that though Newton was perhaps the greatest scientist ever, there was something even more important to him than that! This needs pondering.

The professor speculated that Newton’s psychological makeup was strongly influenced by having to live his whole life outwardly conformist, yet knowing that he had unique access to the Truth.

Being anxious to prove that Noah took priority over the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks, Newton spent a huge amount of time, energy and erudition on comparative chronology.  He needed to prove that Noah lived before the Argonauts expedition of Greek legend. He did this by calculating the precession of the equinoxes.   (Don’t ask. But if you want to look it up, here's Wikipedia).  The precession of the equinoxes was a phenomenon unknown to the ancient Greeks, and Newton was able to use his knowledge of it to calculate from astronomical references (in Homer I suppose) that the Argonauts expedition took place 43 years after the death of King Solomon. Thus a long time after Noah.

Thereby Newton felt he had shown that the Seven Laws of Noah are the most ancient wisdom, and the lecture was called “Isaac Newton on Ancient Wisdom”.

Mythical events

Here I pause. Did I say Newton is possibly the greatest scientist that ever lived? Yet here he is applying his brain to whether one mythical event happened before or after another mythical event.  What conclusions can we draw from this?

(a)    Maybe Newton was actually a bit of bozo so can't possibly have been greatest scientist ever

(b)    Or maybe I'm not as smart as I think I am. I only know Noah and the Argonauts are mythical because of geology, Darwin etc. In which case, as Newton didn’t have access to this information, he remains eligible to be the greatest scientist.

Then there was Newton's biblical textual criticism. Newton may not have invented this but he must have been one of the first.  By comparing various New Testament texts including an early gospel from Ethiopia, he was able to reconstruct which text was the earliest. And by this means was able to work out that a supposed reference to the Trinity in a New Testament book known as the First Letter of John, has actually been corrupted to lend spurious weight to the doctrine of the Trinity.  (See footnote)

All this he did while inventing gravity and discovering the laws of nature in his spare time.  

Yes I'm glad we changed that committee meeting.  I've emailed the good professor with a few questions and eagerly await his replies. Professor Emeritus George L. Huxley was introduced to us as adjunct Professor of Maths and Ancient Classics at Maynooth.  That’s some combination.  A worthy successor to Newton I would say.  Sometimes it’s fun just to sit and listen to someone who’s right on top of their subject even if half of it does go over your head.

1 John 5:7 usually appears as "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one." This supports the doctrine of the Trinity. For a discussion of how it might
have been different and less Trinitarian, see this article on the Johannine Comma.