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From the aske chairman michael Heap Sir Winston and Eugenics



Skeptical Adversaria

2005, Number 3 (September)




The Newsletter of The Association for Skeptical Enquiry




FROM THE ASKE CHAIRMAN


Michael Heap


Sir Winston and Eugenics


With the sixtieth anniversary of the ending of World War II upon us, the life, exploits and achievements of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) have been much in evidence on television recently. Most celebrated for his wartime leadership, without which, informed consensus tells us, our country would have been overrun by Nazi Germany, any single one of his many accomplishments would have guaranteed him a place in history. ‘Life piled on life’, in the words of Tennyson, is an apt epitaph for his 92 years, even towards the end, with his progressive enfeeblement by senility.

What will be less celebrated is Sir Winston’s early enthusiasm for eugenics. He was one of the directors of the first International Congress of Eugenics, held in London in 1912, the 750 delegates of which were addressed by the former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. As Home Secretary in 1910, he had instructed his civil servants to investigate a programme for the enforced sterilisation of thousands of British people. He informed the then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, ‘The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feebleminded and insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to exaggerate. ... I feel that the source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed.’

As so often in his political life, both in peace and in wartime, there were people around to restrain him in his wilder moments. But surely these cannot be the words of the man who later dedicated ‘blood, tears, toil and sweat’ in the fight against Nazism?

Indeed they are, and it seems that this affair with racial improvement was no passing dalliance. Concerning the displacement of the indigenous populations of America and Australia he had this to say: ‘I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race, has come in and taken their place.’ And concerning the use of gas warfare in quelling insurrections in former territories of the Ottoman Empire (specifically by Kurds) he proclaimed, ‘I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. … I am strongly in favour of using (poisonous) gas against uncivilised tribes’. And, though a lifelong supporter of Zionism, in an essay in the Illustrated Sunday Herald in 1920, under the title ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’, he wrote, ‘This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky [Russia], Bela Kun [Hungary], Rosa Luxemburg [Germany], and Emma Goldman [the United States] ... this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing.’
The need to fight
A perusal of the story of Sir Winston’s life reveals time and again that he was a fighter. Naturally he trained as an army officer (4th Hussars cavalry) and in 1898 took part in hand-to-hand fighting with the Dervishes at the Battle of Omdurman. He was a war correspondent in the in the second Anglo-Boer War, but was`soon involved in the combat. As Home Secretary he took personal control of the sige of a building in Sydney Street, London, where the Scots Guards had cornered a group of anarchists. He is reported to have denied access to the fire brigade when the building caught fire. And when he lost his ministerial post during the First World War, even though he was still an MP, he wasted no time in joining the troops on the Western Front.

What seems to have energised him most was the prospect of an enemy to fight against. Where this belligerence came from I do not know. It was certainly evident in his political life (viz. trade unionists, striking coal miners, suffragettes, Bolsheviks, Indian nationalists, the Labour Party (whom he accused, in 1945, of planning to set up a form of Gestapo if elected) Russia, black immigrants, and so on).

Clearly he was the man our country needed in its ‘darkest hour’. Perhaps had he been someone of gentler qualities, ours would have been the greater loss.



______________________________________________________________

___________________________________________

LOGIC AND INTUITION


Some puzzles have such a simple solutions that, if we do not spot them immediately, when we do so or when it is pointed out to us, we may exclaim, ‘Oh! Yeah!’, elongated and intonated to mean ‘Of course, I should have realised that’ (and not to be confused with ‘Oh yeah?’ which means something like the converse).

We often have such experiences as children. When I was at primary school we would end each morning session by standing and, with eyes solemnly closed and palms pressed together, praying and giving thanks for the meal to come. On one occasion, scarcely had the word ‘Amen’ escaped our lips when the unmistakable voice of Jacqueline Shuttleworth piped up and announced, ‘Miss, Sheila Braithwaite `ad `er eyes open’. Alas, Jacqueline’s triumph was short-lived. Sharp as ever, her rival immediately delivered the obvious repost. How Sheila ever managed to fail her 11-plus I’ll never know.

No, really. I was quite impressed by her reply, as I hadn’t, in the time available, thought of it myself. As a result, I had that ‘Oh! Yeah!’ sensation when you feel you’ve learned or understood something about the world that was there all the time. You want to give others the same experience so they will be grateful to you. Accordingly, for some time afterwards I would now and again peep during prayers in the hope that someone would pull me up about it. Nobody ever did.

The fatal dream



A variant of the following story once provided me with an ‘Oh! Yeah!’ sensation. It was told to me by a school pal who always insisted on giving you the answer to a joke or puzzle before you had time to work it out yourself. I have jazzed the story up a bit.

All but one member of the History class were listening attentively to a lecture on the French Revolution. The exception was Dick Thomson. The previous night’s revelries were exacting their toll; his eyelids grew heavier and heavier, the lecturer’s voice gradually faded away, and Dick fell asleep. And as his sleep deepened he began to dream. It was a vivid and terrifying dream. The year was 1793 and Dick was a French aristocrat being transported in a tumbrel with other unfortunates on their way to the guillotine! The shouting and jeering of the crowd grew ever louder, the tumbrel halted, its occupants were pulled out, and Dick was the first to be dragged onto the platform. He was thrust forwards; his head positioned, and the signal was given to release the blade. Just as the blade was making its swift descent, the student sitting behind Dick, concerned by his audible, rapid breathing, tapped him on the back of the neck. To everyone’s horror, Dick Thomson slumped forward, dead! A true and tragic story. Or is it?

The chess genius



Here’s another puzzle with a deceptively simple solution.

I haven’t had a game of chess for years. Yet I’m confident that even now I could play six simultaneous games, each opponent being a grandmaster, give a creditable performance in all of them, and probably even beat one or more of my opponents. I don’t need any help from any person or machine. How can I do this?

Answers on page 4.





COMING UP IN THE NEXT ISSUE OF THE SKEPICAL ADVERSARIA

REPORT OF THE 12TH EUROPEAN SKEPTICS CONGRESS

BRUSSELS, OCTOBER 14-16

A DAMAGING OBSESSION


Mark Newbrook




Judy Kay King, who has an MA in English and has taught literature and mythology, has recently proclaimed a novel decoding of Egyptian symbols in terns of (guess!) unrecognised advanced (21st-Century level) scientific learning in ancient times. According to her, this body of learning was deliberately obscured by its practitioners. Specifically, she argues that the images found in ancient Egyptian artwork relate to the microscopic shapes of bacteria and viruses. In addition, the mythological stories are metaphors for the relevant biological systems. See e.g. http://www.record-eagle.com/2005/aug/06author.htm.

Allegedly, ‘The ancient Egyptians carved a sophisticated symbolic system of art and hieroglyphs into the tombs of pharaohs and nobility to disguise their Science’.

A skeptical commentator will note the profusion of unconvincing theories equating entities from one domain with those from another, and will call for persuasive statistical evidence that the similarities between the two sets of shapes are not coincidental. Likewise for the myths and the biological facts. Also, evidence that the Egyptians possessed the necessary technology for investigating these matters. Previous claims along these lines have failed to find adequate support.

In another recent offering (http://archonic.net/Tampa_Social_Theory_Conf_2003/rs05V09.pdf), another wide-ranging author links Plato, Aristotle, Jung, Derrida, Hegel, alchemy, Buddhism, Taoism, acupuncture, homeopathy, quarternions, the Möbius strip, string theory, quantum mechanics, Egyptian gods, relativity, Atlantis, etc, etc. It is true that many academics are forced to overspecialise by a skewed system of preferment; but almost infinitely cross-disciplinary theses such as these – while definitely trendy - surely represent an equally unhealthy opposite extreme! Holism can easily become a damaging obsession!

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

ONE OF US



The following extract is from the newspaper column of Mr Nicholas Lezard, radio critic of the Independent on Sunday (‘ABC’ Section, page 16-17), 28.8.05. It is reprinted with the kind permission of Mr Lezard. The title of the feature is ‘They’re broadcasting astrology on Radio 4 – can you believe it?’

Thursday saw the last in the current series of

Devout Sceptics

. This is the programme in which people at the peripheries of celebrity who feel vaguely spiritual impulses but are otherwise not conventionally religious are allowed to bang on and on to Bel Mooney about their wishy-washy belief systems for half an hour. Listeners may pass the time more profitably by smashing crockery or shouting at the children. I did both.

The interviewee this week was Nicholas Campion, the late Princess of Wales’s astrologer. It always strikes me as extremely foolish to advertise the fact that one held such a position. For if there was ever a failure of the predictive industry, it was in the little matter of poor Princess Di’s horoscope. While delighted to take advantage of her credulity and spout any amount of bollocks about her love life and the like, none of these frauds, loonies and blackguards saw fit to tell her to buckle up on the day of her fatal accident.

I wonder which of the above categories Mr Campion falls into. Let us simply suggest, for I can hear this newspaper’s lawyers hyperventilate, that he sincerely believes what he says, without the slightest intention to deceive, bamboozle, or milk any of his clients. So when he tells Bel Mooney, and ourselves, that those who put their trust in science to explain the universe are merely using a belief system as valid as any other, then we say that he has as much right to do so as the man with the sandwich board who had to walk around handing out leaflets which warned us against eating beans. The only essential difference is that the BBC gave one of them half an hour of airtime with pat-a-cake questions from Bel Mooney.

Note from the Editor: Readers are invited to send in extracts from newspapers, magazines, etc. in which the writer gives a readable sceptical critique of a topic of interest to members of ASKE.



LOGIC AND INTUITION: ANSWERS



The solutions are as follows.

The fatal dream



The answer is that there is no possible way of knowing if this story is true or not, as only Dick Thomson knew what he was dreaming, if anything at all, and he died before waking up. It might be true unless, say, a medical expert were able to prove that it is impossible. But then you may ask, ‘How can you prove that it is impossible?’

The chess genius



On the first game my opponent makes the first move. I immediately go to my second opponent and copy my first opponent’s move. I then see what move he makes and I go back to my first game and copy this move. I keep doing this. I do the same with my third and fourth opponents and with my fifth and sixth opponents. Hence I am simply pairing one grandmaster against another. I can even do it by being told the moves without looking at any of the boards. And I don’t even have to know how to play the game!




_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

MISCELLANEOUS




From Sid Rodrigues



Society for Psychical Research



Lecture Programme



Lectures are held in the Lecture Hall of the Kensington Central Library, Campden Hill Road, London, W8 7RX. All meetings begin at 6:35pm. Members and associates, free; non-members, £5; students, over 60s or unwaged, £2.

Thursday 6th October 2005



Death is not the end?



Tricia Robertson

Wednesday 7th December 2005


Some cases I haven't written up yet


Alan Gauld

More, including the 29th International Annual Conference of the SPR, on:

http://www.spr.ac.uk/index.php3?page=activities

From the Argentina Skeptics



Evolution Report (Vol. 4, No. 1, June 2005) is now online. It can be found at

http://www.argentinaskeptics.com.ar/EvolutionReport06.pdf

Evolution Report contains updated local and international news about creation and evolution. Also, you can now find Proyecto Darwin (Darwin Project) at:

http://proyectodarwin.blogspot.com

Proyecto Darwin is a new blog about the creationism/ evolution controversy.

The Amazing Meeting



Hosted by the US Skeptics Society. For details see .

‘Our last

Amaz!ng Meeting

was highly successful, and this year we’re hoping to outdo ourselves. We invite you to join us in exciting and decadent Las Vegas, January 26th to 29th, 2006, again at the Stardust Resort and Casino on The Strip, as The James Randi Educational Foundation hosts

“The Amazing Meeting 4.”

Our theme this time:

“Science In Politics & the Politics of Science.”

An even more varied list of exciting speakers and the usual “extra” attractions will entertain, edify, and educate you. Take a peek at only a part of our very special lineup of honored guests, panelists, and speakers:

‘Back from last year, we have provocative folks such as

Christopher Hitchens

, close friend

Michael Shermer

. UK savant

Richard Wiseman

, Official TAM Poster Star

Julia Sweeney

, and Wiseman’s secret twin brother

Phil Plait

. To entertain us, the omnipresent

Jerry Andrus

, the inimitable “Bullshit!” Boys

Penn & Teller

, Carny King

Todd Robbins

, Comedy magician

Mac King

, and the inimitable Finger-Flinger

Jamy Ian Swiss

. Returning to TAM action after well-deserved rests are good friend and statistician

Chip Denman

and

USAF Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack

. New to TAM this year are

ACLU President Nadine Strossen

– a featured speaker, NASA astronomer and designer-of-Mars vehicles

Carolyn Porco

, actor/director

Paul Provenza

, political savant

Lawrence O’Donnell

, American Atheists President

Ellen Johnson

, and Afro-American atheist/political analyst

Karen Russell

. Very special speakers will be parapsychologist

Dr. Stanley Krippner

and leading philosopher author of “Freedom Evolves”

Daniel Dennett

. Our keynote speaker is

Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann

, who discovered the family of quarks and has promised to bring a small supply with him. And don't miss

Mythbusters Jamie Hyneman

and

Adam Savage

!’


ASKE, P.O. Box 5994, Ripley, DE5 3XL, UK

email: aske@talktalk.net;

website: http://www.aske.org.uk or http://www.aske.clara.co.uk


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