davegodfrey: Flying Spaghetti Monster : Touched by his noodly appendage (FSM)
Yes. I admit it. I watched a BNP Party Election Broadcast. Its OK I've had a shower.

Its all rather unpleasant to be perfectly honest (I think you knew that). Lots of stock footage of WWII, photos of Winston Churchill on Nick Griffin's desk, etc. (I didn't check if the Spitfire was Polish, and I can't bring myself to watch it again). Its got all the usual crap about how great Britain is, and how much Nick loves his country, interspersed with some really nasty graphics. Universally aimed at the Muslim community. There's the "Immigration Open your eyes" union flag, and the cartoon of a woman in a burkha next to a map of the UK covered in minarets.

Architecturally speaking I like minarets. I'm less enamoured of Islam, but that's got rather more to do with my dislike of all organised religion, and the various brands of extremists who make the average believer hold their head in their hands. (Steven Green, I'm looking at you.) I'm not overly keen of the burkha either, but that has rather more to do with whether or not the woman in question has a free choice to wear it or not. Speaking to various Muslim friends over the years there's certainly nothing in the Koran that states its compulsory, its very much a cultural thing. And when it is a free choice I do not find it the least surprising that first, second or third generation immigrants choose to wear it, in order to identify more closely with their faith and ancestral culture. Especially when faced with the consistent islamophobic, anti-immigration rhetoric of the Daily Mail and co.

I like immigration. Immigration is a good thing, My grandfather's family came from Poland and Lithuania, via Canada. (I don't have a UK passport, but a Canadian one for this reason). In the wke of the leader's debate twitter is currently full of people pointing out why #iloveimmigration (I'll just repeat [livejournal.com profile] miss_s_b - "Freddie Mercury. 'Nuff said"). Our culture, cuisine, scientific progress, history, etc, etc would be very much poorer without it. The Huguenots came in as refugees, and within a generation had strongly influenced the lands they settled in. Wikipedia has a list of people who can trace their ancestry back to the Huguenots. Oh look. Winston Churchill's on it.

The broadcast asks what would our veterans think of multicultural "politically correct" Britain? Well as many WWII veterans were conscripts I think their views would be very diverse. I'm sure some thought Hitler was right about the Jews. Equally many others would have volunteered for the International Brigade and gone off to fight Franco in Spain had they been old enough, and of course there would have been all points between the two.

As for "Political Correctness" well, yes perhaps people go a bit too far in trying to avoid offending groups, who, had they been asked would probably wonder what the fuss was about. Mostly however what is reported to have happened, and what actually happened are usually rather different. Ultimately its about recognising that not everyone is a straight, white, cis-sexual, Christian male. And I think the country would be rather better if more people lived by that maxim, rather than any of the strange ideas they have about what constitutes "British Culture".

Ultimately were the BNP to get in virtually everyone I know and value as a friend or colleague would be made to feel unwelcome in the country that either they were born in, or have chosen to call home.
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davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
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This was actually rather difficult. I know very little about technology and invention, apart from that involved in the industrial revolution, and those inventors and industrialists who I am familiar with were all male. I can think of far more female scientists, both modern and historical, but associating them with technology is difficult. For instance Madame Lavoisier, Caroline Herschel and Marie Stopes, did important, or just plain interesting science, yet I find it hard to associate them with "technology". Stopes studied palaeobotany and Herschel discovered comets.

So I have decided to sidestep the issue and discuss a scientist whose work has important implications for technology, and who was among the first to realise the importance computers could have for her research.

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin, O.M, F.R.S. (12th May 1910 - 29th July 1994)

Dorothy Hodgkin was born in Cairo and it was while her father was serving as Assistant Director of Education in the Sudan that Hodgkin became interested in chemistry. In 1928 she studied chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford. While at college she participated in archaeological expeditions and settled on an interest in X-ray crystallography. After a brief time at Cambridge, where she was involved in producing the first X-ray photographs of a protein, she returned to Oxford to set up her own laboratory, working on the crystal structure of cholesterol (1937), vitamin B12 (1945), penicillin (1954), and insulin (1969). IN 1964 she received the Nobel Prize for her work on penicillin. She remained at Oxford for the rest of her academic career, retiring in 1977, but continued to do research, public speaking and attending conferences. She died in 1994 after a fall at her home.

X-ray crystallography depends on analysing the angles and intensity of the scattering of the X-ray beam. Several 2D images are taken as the crystal is rotated and a 3D model of the density of the electrons within the crystal is produced using Fourier transforms. Performing the calculations for all but the smallest molecules was extremely slow, and after after resolving the structure of Penicillin using a punch-card system. Hodgkin realised that computing was essential if crystallography could reach its potential. Hodgkin chaired the committee that recommended the University establish a computing laboratory for scientific research. Hodgkin's work on insulin took 35 years to complete, due in part to the size of the molecule, and the difficulty of resolving its structure. She considered this her greatest scientific achievement.

The discovery of the structure of insulin led to the design of genetically modified insulins that have improved the lives of diabetes sufferers. Discovery of the crystal structure identified the surfaces involved in the biosynthesis of the protein, and investigate receptor binding. Computers are now used routinely in determining the structure of molecules in X-ray crystallography, and over 39,000 X-ray crystal structures of biological molecules have been determined. X-ray crystallography is used routinely to discover how drugs interact with their protein targets and make improvements in their effectiveness. The pioneering work of Hodgkin and her collaborators has had far reaching implications for biomedical sciences.

Hodgkin was not just a scientist, but a passionate humanitarian, strongly averse to the use of nuclear weapons and the actions of the US in Vietnam. She was president of the Pugwash organisation from 1975 to 1988, and maintained good relations with colleagues in the Soviet Bloc, and China. It was a mark of her understanding of the situation in Eastern Europe during the Cold War that one of her former students consulted Hodgkin on conditions in Eastern Europe and this led to visits to Hungary and meetings with Gobachev. That student was Margaret Thatcher.

As well as her Nobel Prize Dorothy Hodgkin received the Order of Merit in 1965, and was made an honorary member of many scientific academies. In 1987 she received the International Lenin Peace Prize (the Soviet Union's version of the Nobel Peace Prize).

DOROTHY MARY CROWFOOT HODGKIN, O.M., G. Dodson, 2002 Biogr. Mems Fell. R. Soc. Lond. 48, 179–219
davegodfrey: Coelacanth (Science)
Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. Best known for formulating the theory of evolution by means of Natural Selection (which explains how the peacock got its wings), less well known for coming up with the theory of Sexual Selection (which explains how the peacock got its tail), and totally ignored for explaining how coral reefs formed.

What is remarkable about Darwin's theory is that the:

"...whole theory was thought out on the west coast of S. America before I had seen a true coral reef."

"But it should be observed that I had during the two previous years been incessantly attending to the effects on the shores of S. America of the intermittent elevation of the land, together with the denudation and the deposition of sediment. This necessarily led me to reflect much on the effects of subsidence, and it was easy to replace in imagination the continued deposition of sediment by the upward growth of coral."
Darwin observed volcanic islands in the Atlantic, and the second of his books on the geology observed on the voyage of the Beagle (Volcanic Islands, published in 1844) discusses the evidence for crustal uplift as caused by volcanic activity, and corresponding subsidence after the volcano became extinct. On the coast of South America he saw (and when caught in an earthquake, felt) the evidence for large-scale, and long-term movements of the Erth's crust. Having worked out how coral reef ought to form he was in a position to study real reefs to confirm or refute this hypothesis.

Gathering data from soundings taken by the Beagle's Captain Fitzroy, and from a wide range of other sources Darwin confirmed that the "polypifers" that created coral reefs were shallow water organisms. Darwin was unaware of the diversity of deep-water organisms, nor of the range of organisms that contribute to reef formation- had he been, he would have needed to qualify these observations. Rosen (1982) notes that this lack of knowledge probably helped Darwin to formulate the theory.

Darwin also considered the ecology of reefs, noting that the most exposed parts of the reef are mostly home to massive corals and red algae, and this was the area of most active reef growth. Once a reef has reached sea-level it then grows outwards. In the 130-odd years these basic observations have not been seriously challenged.

It was his work on coral reefs that earnt him scientific credibility, and made him a member of the scientific establishment. So by all means raise a toast to one of Natural Selection's founding fathers, but don't forget he was more than just a biologist. He was also a geologist, oceanographer, biogeographer and ecologist, long before many of these disciplines were recongised.
davegodfrey: Flying Spaghetti Monster : Touched by his noodly appendage (FSM)
I'm coming to this about a week after its pretty much played itself out in the blogosphere it seems. So no change there then. I've finally got round to hearing Reverend Joseph Lowery's benediction at Obama's inauguration. Quite why the BBC dropped it from the end of their coverage on iPlayer I don't know.



Cue lots of white people are clutching their pearls in horror and having attacks of the vapours. Just look at some of the comments on the Sun Times' transcript. Try not to read too many its just painful. Even supposedly liberal-minded people who say they voted for Obama are going frothing mad over this:

"Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."

Stereo Zeitgeist was also intrigued by the lines and its a story worth repeating. I could have sworn I'd heard those lines before. Turns out I probably have.They're based on a song by the early 20th Century blues singer Big Bill Broonzy. "Get Back (Black, Brown and White Blues)". A song recorded in 1951 documenting Broonzy and other's experiences of racism, where blacks who could pass for white were very much better at getting and keeping jobs.

"I went to an employment office,
I got a number and I got in line,
They called everybody's number,
but they never did call mine.

They said, "If you was white, you'd be alright,
if you was brown, stick around,
but as you's black, oh, brother, get back, get back, get back."


The website devoted to Big Bill Broonzy notes that in turn these lines are part of black oral culture describing internalised racism.

"Internalized racism ensures that the values encapsulated in this vernacular
rhyme serve as an insidious, self-fulfilling prophecy:

If you're white, you're right.
If you're yellow, you're mellow.
If you're brown, stay down [sometimes changed to 'stick around']
But if you're black, stay back."


Brenda Dixon Gottschild: Dancing in the Dark: African American Vaudeville and Race Politics in the Swing Era (New York, Palgrave, 2000; p. 135)

White people have a history of ignoring what is right. There are individuals who don't, but as a group? Jesus we're awful. Segregation no longer exists, but that didn't end racism did it now? America quite clearly still has problems with issues of race- black people are vastly overrepresented in the prison population for instance, and Native Americans have all kinds of health problems largely related to their social status. The rich white people who run Western countries have grudgingly handed over freedoms and civil rights to minority groups. If it wasn't for people like Lowery, Mandela, and Luther King it would be an awful lot worse. It isn't exactly peachy now is it? Frankly to everyone complaining about Lowery's choice of words. Shush. You're only making yourself look stupid.

Anyway shall we end on a song? )
davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)

If you haven't seen it yet, go and see 300. Now. What do you mean it's quarter-past twelve at night?

So I saw it with [personal profile] innerbrat and [profile] steely_glint and Duncan. Much fun was had (especially with the lashings of homoeroticism.)

This film is probably the most violent 15 I've ever seen. Limbs everywhere, blood all over the floor. walls made of corpses and that's before you get to the War Rhino. Some people don't like the film on the grounds that its historically inaccurate- they're using the wrong kind of spear, no-one has ever used rhino's in combat (or at least bothered to write down the results), and that Xerxes wasn't a seven foot bling fetishist with a crush on buff beardy men. To them I say the following:-


If the film inspires someone to read Herodotus or the Illiad, and study ancient history then I think that's far more important than arguments about (in the words of the director) a "graphic novel movie about a bunch of guys...stomping the snot out of each other". Given the target audience I suspect it won't, which is a pity.

If anyone is interested in the history of Thermopylae then they could do much worse than start with In Our Time's erudite discussion of the events before and after.

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davegodfrey: South Park Me. (Default)
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