Month: July 2007


Sometimes I do wonder what the f*ck some people are thinking.

This is from the BBC

Concern over gorilla ‘executions’

Conservationists have expressed concern over the “senseless and tragic” killing of four mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The bodies of three females and one male were discovered by rangers earlier this week in t1.jpghe Virunga National Park.

Officials said the “executions” were not the work of poachers because they would have taken the bodies.

Since January, seven of the large apes in the region have been shot dead.

“This is a senseless and tragic loss of some of the world’s most endangered and beloved animals,” said Deo Kujirakwinja of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Congo programme.

“This area must be immediately secured or we stand to lose an entire population of these animals,” he added.

Scare tactics’

The four animals belonged to a group of 12 gorillas, known to researchers as the Rugendo family, which was often visited by tourists.

Because poachers would have sold the bodies as food or trophies, conservationists think the apes were killed by a group that was trying to scare wardens out of the park.

The WCS said the protected area was coming under increasing pressure from “outside exploitation”, including the charcoal trade.

“Whatever the motive underlying this tragedy, the gorillas are helpless pawns in a feud between individuals,” said Mark Rose, chief executive of Fauna and Flora International.

“We are deeply concerned about this incident, which follows more than 20 years of successful collaboration for mountain gorilla conservation.”

A census carried out in 2004 estimated that 380 gorillas, more than half of the world’s population, lived in the national park and surrounding Virunga volcanoes region.

The latest killings take the number of shootings in the area to seven. Earlier this year, two silverback male gorillas were shot dead in the same area of the park, while a female was killed in May.

I don’t even begin to understand the thinking behind this.

Here is the little film I made about gorillas…



Logic-dodging. I love that expression, and there is always a lot of it about.

My uncle sent  me this picture of some builders in England. They have just finished erecting the bollards so that people can’t park their car in  the place where they are standing. Look at the picture and tell me what you notice.


THE A-Z OF NEPAL – Part 7 (the last)

Here is the last part of the Nepal thing. A few years ago I spent some time doing voluntary work (building a school) in rural Nepal.It was far and away the best experience of my life. The warmth and the friendliness of the people despite everything they have to put up with is something I will never forget.When I got home I wrote a 6000 word A-Z of Nepal for the volunteers the next year so they would have a bit more of an idea when they arrived.

This was all 4 years ago so some of the information is out of date. Nevertheless, I am going to serialise it here.

Here is the 7th part, U – Z.

THE A-Z OF NEPAL – Part 7 (the last)


U is for Unfinished (as in buildings) – In Nepal this is a common sight. The frame will be constructed to the level of two floors. The ground floor will be completed and then the building will be left. This is due to a tax by-law whereby if the building is not finished no tax need be paid on it, which makes it cheaper to (non)construct in this way. The owner may simply fill in a form saying that they do not have money to complete the building.

U is also for Urchins (Dickensian style) – In Kathmandu this is an all too common sight. Many are at school but are forced to beg. A standard of the youngsters is to ask the name of your country and then they will name the capital city, for which you give them money. There is appalling child poverty in Nepal so its best not to get too uppity about it.


V is for Villages

village_life.jpgIf you really want to know what Nepal is like you have to leave Kathmandu or Pokhara and head to the villages (see picture above). It is in rural Nepal that you will see the best hospitality that the country has to offer. There is a Nepali saying that “ Guests are Gods” and nowhere is this better seen than in the villages. Most of Nepal’s population is rural rather than urban and 27 different ethnic groupings and a whole host of different terrains make for a wide spectrum of cultural knowledge to pick up.


W is for Whisky – they make their own and before you ask – yes, it is foul. The most common is “Bagpiper” which features an illustration of an Indian man in a kilt on the front of the bottle playing something that looks like how someone who had never seen bagpipes would draw them.

W is for Women – the conditions for women in most of Nepal are fairly bad. In the villages they work in the paddy fields as well as cleaning, cooking, all the washing and raising the children too. When one Nepali male was questioned about this his reply was that the men “ didn’t feel like working” (though it must be said that many Nepali men do work hard and this was a particularly lazy specimen). 73% of women are subject to domestic violence and some young girls are sold into prostitution in Indian brothels. It is also one of the few countries in the world where men live longer than women. Thankfully not all of Nepal is like this. Some villages are forward thinking and give young girls one extra year of education free more than boys.

nepal10.jpgW is also for the World Bank – the World Bank (WB) surmised that for Nepal to be on the way to development a priority would be a good road from the east to the west of the country linking up all the major sites on the way. This is obviously a sensible idea but the staggering thing about the project is that it demonstrates just how much it is possible to ruin a good idea. When the route the road would take was being decided the WB in all its infinite wisdom opted to neglect the advice given to it by the locals (what do they know?). The WB wanted the road to follow the river through the country as rivers carve their way through mountains and therefore there would be less difficulty constructing the road. The Nepalis advised against such a route because the areas surrounding the river are the areas where most landslides occur (especially in monsoon season). The WB (as it always does) decided that it knew best and insisted that the road had to be built along a specific route, by the riverside. The net result of this is that many are killed and injured by landslides every year on this road (around a hundred deaths in 2003 alone). The landslides also wash away huge chunks of the road and mountainside too which means that the costs of repairing the road are a constant drain. But is doesn’t end there. The frequency and severity of landslides has increased along the roadside because building the road where they did meant a large amount of deforestation. The WB were forewarned by the Nepalis about the effect this was likely to have but again chose to ignore it (the roots of the trees bind the soil together thus steadying it and preventing landslides). After the problem became noticeably worse the WB decided to give another loan in order to replant as many trees as possible along the route. They insisted (for reasons best known to themselves – most likely because they were cheapest) that eucalyptus trees should be planted. These are not indigenous to Nepal. The outcome of this scheme was that the fragile ecosystem was put out of kilter by the non-native trees. But it doesn’t end there either. The WB has now given a third loan to Nepal which is to be used to rip up the eucalyptus trees and plant native Nepali trees. All of this may seem to just be negligence or incompetence but it isn’t – it’s much worse than that. People die every year because of this incompetence and not just in the immediate way brought on by landslides. In a country where average earnings are $200 per year the average person simply cannot afford to be burdened with paying their share of three huge World Bank loans, two of which shouldn’t have been necessary and one of which was botched. Incompetence on this scale costs lives. It is not funny.


X is for the Nepali X-factor – this is funny. It is an algebraic equation. To illustrate this we must provide an example. If a job that has to be done (e.g. changing a tyre) requires 2 people to do it properly, then X will be the number of times that 2 has to be multiplied to arrive at the number of other people that have crowded round to give opinions on the way the job is being performed or just to stand and watch. All of this will of course be done after the preliminary debate about how the job is to be done, which may go on for up to an hour.


Y is for Yetis – a Japanese scientist claims to have finally disproved the existence of the yeti. He is certain that bears in fact make the tracks that have been found. Y is for Youth more elusive than yetis in Nepal can be the younger generation in the villages. Young males in particular can be harassed from all sides. If they remain in the villages the Maoists will harass them to join. If they manage to get away from the Maoists without being recruited then the army will come and arrest them for being suspected Maoists. Consequently, most of the young people have moved to Kathmandu or Pokhara and work in the tourist trade.


Z is for Zoom-Zoom which happens to mean “lets go” in Nepali, which is handy because this is the end.

PHERI BETOLA (speak to you later)


Monbiot’s latest article in the Guardian is excellent.

But I also loved this one from a whole ago about our new bono-in-waiting Chris Martin from Coldplay, who wants to do for/to the environment what Bono did for/to Africa (which is nothing, at best).

Green hypocrisy means that we can’t tackle climate change without government intervention.

By George Monbiot. Published in the New Statesman 30th June 2005.

Show me an environmentalist, and I will show you a hypocrite. In an interview with the Guardian recently, Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay and all-round good guy, spoke of his concerns about climate change. On his new album there’s “an intense, angry track encouraging people to make the right decisions about how they live their lives and how they treat the planet.” A few paragraphs on, he revealed that he was about to “fly by private jet to Palm Springs … The band can now afford to fly wherever possible”.(1) Neither Martin nor the interviewer appeared to recognise the contradiction.

At the beginning of his “Organic Bible”, Bob Flowerdew explains that organic gardening means minimising “any bad effects we may have on the environment.” He goes on to boast that “when most people are only planting their [new potatoes] on Good Friday … I am eating mine.” How? By growing them in a heated greenhouse.

I do not excuse myself. I rail against cars, but try to forget about the impact of the train journeys I take. I convince myself that when I fly to other countries, the work I do there somehow counteracts the effect of my carbon emissions. There’s no environmental difference, of course, between my journey and that of the person next to me. And as for flying to my in-laws’ home in Sweden …

But I’m not half as bad as most prominent environmentalists. I know men and women who spend their lives telling other people what not to do, but take their holidays snorkelling in the Pacific, throw their bottles and cans in the bin, eat tuna and cod. I don’t know how many times I have seen that embarrassed smirk when I’ve asked, apple core in hand, where the compost bin is.

In the absence of government action, environmentalism is, and always will be, for other people. At its best, it is a faltering and contradictory effort to do the right thing. At its worst, and especially when articulated by the elite, it is a means of securing ecological space for yourself against the competing claims of the hoipolloi. The environment movement in Britain and its colonies arose in part from anti-poaching efforts: game reserves were turned into nature reserves for the continued benefit of the hunting class. Will climate change campaigns now reserve airspace for pop stars?

Nothing of any substance can happen through self-enforced abstinence. However well-meaning we are, we will overlook our own assaults on nature, while recognising other people’s. We will persuade ourselves that we are doing the right thing by making the odd meaningless gesture, while continuing to consume as much as our credit cards allow. The only way in which climate change, or any other environmental impact, can be addressed is through government action: rules and taxes which apply to everyone, rather than to everyone else.

“Consumer democracy”, “voluntary simplicity” and “mindful living” have proved to be a disastrous distraction from the political battle. They don’t work for all sorts of reasons, but above all because of the staggering hypocrisy of well-meaning people. If we want to change the world, we must force governments to force us to change our behaviour.

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This, of course, is the last thing they want to do. The leaked drafts of the G8’s climate change agreement have placed the future in square brackets. The latest version refuses even to accept that climate change is taking place, let alone that anything should be done about it. Tony Blair is as big a hypocrite as any of us, boasting that “we have led the world in setting a bold plan and targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions”,(2) while planning an airport expansion sufficient, by itself, to cancel out all the initiatives he’s launched.

As he admits, “there is a mismatch in timing between the environmental and electoral impact”.(3) By the time the decisions he makes come home to roost, he will be writing his memoirs. The political cost of preventing us from spending our money as we please is high, while the political cost of letting us get on with it is low. Our task must be to raise the cost of the second option. We must turn the greatest threat we’ve ever faced into the world’s foremost political issue.

Blair was incautious enough to make climate change “a top priority for our G8 presidency”. He has invited us to hold him to account if he fails to call in his political loans to George W Bush, and fails to use all the brutal tactics he has deployed elsewhere to strike a meaningful agreement. But he will listen to us only when we stop pretending that we don’t need his help.


1. Craig McLean, 28th May 2005. The importance of being earnest. The Guardian.

2. Tony Blair, 14th September 2004. Speech. No title or location given.

3. ibid.

He followed that up with this….

Greenwash Exposed – Chris Martin

Who could possibly be mean enough to attack the angelic frontman of the world’s most inoffensive band – Coldplay? Well someone’s got to do it. I recognise that he’s an all-round Lovely Bloke who really wants the world to live in peace and harmony. Unfortunately he’s doing a pretty good job of ensuring that this won’t be possible.

Let me begin by admitting that almost every environmentalist I know – and I include myself – is a hypocrite. We all want people to live by codes rather stricter than those we apply to ourselves, which is why real action on climate change isn’t possible without intervention by the government. But Chris is in a league of his own.

In an interview for the Guardian conducted in Las Vegas in 2005, he spoke about the songs on his album X&Y.

Twisted Logic is an intense, angry track encouraging people to make the right decisions about how they live their lives and how they treat the planet.

A few paragraphs later, he revealed that he was about to fly by private jet to Palm Springs, 35 minutes from Las Vegas. The band can now afford to fly wherever possible, and the increased privacy and speed mean that Apple will be able to join her father on tour more often. I certainly don’t want her to stay at home all the time,Martin says. As she gets older, hopefully she’ll come out as and when she wants. I always thought it’ be cool to be in school and say,  I’m not coming in today – I’m off to Costa Rica to see my dad play. I do think that wins you a few points.(1)

The following week, Alison Goldfrapp told an interviewer that, during his tours, Chris flies home between gigs. We supported Coldplay and Chris Martin used to fly home on his jet, go home, write songs then fly to the next gig. I thought, What? Are you insane?(2)

As Goldfrapp suggested, his trips back ‘home’ (this could be one of a number of places) were plainly unnecessary. While the rest of the tour hopped from gig to gig, he must have travelled twice or even three times as far. But even if it was absolutely essential, for some reason, that he went back to Gwyneth and Apple and Mangosteen, why couldn’t he travel in a commercial plane?

None of the accounts I have read give the make of his jet, but I will assume itis that standard celebrity vehicle, the Learjet 45. The reports suggest that even if he is not the sole passenger, he is the sole beneficiary of the journey: those who travel with him – minders, servants or crew – go only for his convenience. So I will place the plane’s carbon emissions on his account.

The Learjet 45 has a normal cruising speed of 846 kmph. Its fuel consumption at this speed is 579 litres/hour, which means it burns 0.68 litres of kerosene per kilometre(3). The Airbus A321, a standard medium-haul commercial plane, travels at 853kmph and uses 3000 litres per hour, or 3.52 litres per kilometre(4). It seats around 189 people. Assuming that average occupancy is 70%, or 132, then every passenger is responsible for burning 0.027 litres per kilometre, or one 25th of Chris Martin’s consumption. But, as Heat shows, even one return trip across the Atlantic on a commercial airliner equates to a person’s entire sustainable carbon ration for a year.

It’s probably fair to assume that he flies at least 100,000 miles (or ten return journeys averaging 10,000 miles each) in his private jet each year. If so – and even before taking the rest of his activities into account – he would be exceeding his fair share of carbon by 250 times. If we were to take the other climate changing effects of air travel into account, we would multiply this by 2.7 times.

As if to prove that making the right decisions about how to treat the planet really is for lesser mortals, in December 2005 Chris Martin pranged his car, whereupon we learnt that the model he drives is a BMW X5. This is one of the thirstiest 4×4s on the road. The US Environmental Protection Agency reveals that in cities (he rammed someone’s hatchback in Belsize Park in London) they manage just 16 miles to the gallon(5).

Chris Martin claims to care about the poorest people on earth. Why then does he seem to be mounting a one-man campaign to sweep them off the planet?


There is no point in trying to reach him directly. It would better to post comments on the sites dedicated to the adulation of Coldplay. When large numbers of his fans start asking questions, he might be forced to respond.

Here’s the forum on the official Coldplay site:

And here’s the fans’ biggest site:

Ask, politely, whether this is the example he wants his socially-conscious, eco-friendly fans to follow.

I have no wish to be unfair and would love to hear your response to what I’ve said about you. If you want to respond then e-mail me at and we’ll post your response here.


1. Interview with Craig McLean, 28th May 2005. The Importance of Being Earnest. The Guardian.






I really appreciate what people like Dawkins and others are trying to do, though I think with a certain Mr Hitchens there is an alternative motive and I would be anxious to point out that I seriously doubt I am in the same camp as him on any issue.

 Anyway, a lot of people seemed to like the Isaac Asimov essay I put on here a couple of weeks ago…so here is another one…

The Relativity of Wrong – Isaac Asimov

pg.. 35-44

I RECEIVED a letter the other day. It was handwritten in crabbed penmanship so that it was very difficult to read. Nevertheless, I tried to make it out just in case it might prove to be important. In the first sentence, the writer told me he was majoring in English literature, but felt he needed to teach me science. (I sighed a bit, for I knew very few English Lit majors who are equipped to teach me science, but I am very aware of the vast state of my ignorance and I am prepared to learn as much as I can from anyone, so I read on.)

It seemed that in one of my innumerable essays, I had expressed a certain gladness at living in a century in which we finally got the basis of the universe straight.

I didn’t go into detail in the matter, but what I meant was that we now know the basic rules governing the universe, together with the gravitational interrelationships of its gross components, as shown in the theory of relativity worked out between 1905 and 1916. We also know the basic rules governing the subatomic particles and their interrelationships, since these are very neatly described by the quantum theory worked out between 1900 and 1930. What’s more, we have found that the galaxies and clusters of galaxies are the basic units of the physical universe, as discovered between 1920 and 1930.

These are all twentieth-century discoveries, you see.

The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern “knowledge” is that it is wrong. The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. “If I am the wisest man,” said Socrates, “it is because I alone know that I know nothing.” the implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.

My answer to him was, “John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that “right” and “wrong” are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.

However, I don’t think that’s so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts, and I will devote this essay to an explanation of why I think so.

…When my friend the English literature expert tells me that in every century scientists think they have worked out the universe and are always wrong, what I want to know is how wrong are they? Are they always wrong to the same degree? Let’s take an example.

In the early days of civilization, the general feeling was that the earth was flat. This was not because people were stupid, or because they were intent on believing silly things. They felt it was flat on the basis of sound evidence. It was not just a matter of “That’s how it looks,” because the earth does not look flat. It looks chaotically bumpy, with hills, valleys, ravines, cliffs, and so on.

Of course there are plains where, over limited areas, the earth’s surface does look fairly flat. One of those plains is in the Tigris-Euphrates area, where the first historical civilization (one with writing) developed, that of the Sumerians.

Perhaps it was the appearance of the plain that persuaded the clever Sumerians to accept the generalization that the earth was flat; that if you somehow evened out all the elevations and depressions, you would be left with flatness. Contributing to the notion may have been the fact that stretches of water (ponds and lakes) looked pretty flat on quiet days.

Another way of looking at it is to ask what is the “curvature” of the earth’s surface Over a considerable length, how much does the surface deviate (on the average) from perfect flatness. The flat-earth theory would make it seem that the surface doesn’t deviate from flatness at all, that its curvature is 0 to the mile.

Nowadays, of course, we are taught that the flat-earth theory is wrong; that it is all wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely. But it isn’t. The curvature of the earth is nearly 0 per mile, so that although the flat-earth theory is wrong, it happens to be nearly right. That’s why the theory lasted so long.

There were reasons, to be sure, to find the flat-earth theory unsatisfactory and, about 350 B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle summarized them. First, certain stars disappeared beyond the Southern Hemisphere as one traveled north, and beyond the Northern Hemisphere as one traveled south. Second, the earth’s shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse was always the arc of a circle. Third, here on the earth itself, ships disappeared beyond the horizon hull-first in whatever direction they were traveling.

All three observations could not be reasonably explained if the earth’s surface were flat, but could be explained by assuming the earth to be a sphere.

What’s more, Aristotle believed that all solid matter tended to move toward a common center, and if solid matter did this, it would end up as a sphere. A given volume of matter is, on the average, closer to a common center if it is a sphere than if it is any other shape whatever.

About a century after Aristotle, the Greek philosopher Eratosthenes noted that the sun cast a shadow of different lengths at different latitudes (all the shadows would be the same length if the earth’s surface were flat). From the difference in shadow length, he calculated the size of the earthly sphere and it turned out to be 25,000 miles in circumference.

The curvature of such a sphere is about 0.000126 per mile, a quantity very close to 0 per mile, as you can see, and one not easily measured by the techniques at the disposal of the ancients. The tiny difference between 0 and 0.000126 accounts for the fact that it took so long to pass from the flat earth to the spherical earth.

Mind you, even a tiny difference, such as that between 0 and 0.000126, can be extremely important. That difference mounts up. The earth cannot be mapped over large areas with any accuracy at all if the difference isn’t taken into account and if the earth isn’t considered a sphere rather than a flat surface. Long ocean voyages can’t be undertaken with any reasonable way of locating one’s own position in the ocean unless the earth is considered spherical rather than flat.

Furthermore, the flat earth presupposes the possibility of an infinite earth, or of the existence of an “end” to the surface. The spherical earth, however, postulates an earth that is both endless and yet finite, and it is the latter postulate that is consistent with all later findings.

So, although the flat-earth theory is only slightly wrong and is a credit to its inventors, all things considered, it is wrong enough to be discarded in favor of the spherical-earth theory.

And yet is the earth a sphere?

No, it is not a sphere; not in the strict mathematical sense. A sphere has certain mathematical properties&emdash;for instance, all diameters (that is, all straight lines that pass from one point on its surface, through the center, to another point on its surface) have the same length.

That, however, is not true of the earth. Various diameters of the earth differ in length.

What gave people the notion the earth wasn’t a true sphere? To begin with, the sun and the moon have outlines that are perfect circles within the limits of measurement in the early days of the telescope. This is consistent with the supposition that the sun and the moon are perfectly spherical in shape.

However, when Jupiter and Saturn were observed by the first telescopic observers, it became quickly apparent that the outlines of those planets were not circles, but distinct eclipses. That meant that Jupiter and Saturn were not true spheres.

Isaac Newton, toward the end of the seventeenth century, showed that a massive body would form a sphere under the pull of gravitational forces (exactly as Aristotle had argued), but only if it were not rotating. If it were rotating, a centrifugal effect would be set up that would lift the body’s substance against gravity, and this effect would be greater the closer to the equator you progressed. The effect would also be greater the more rapidly a spherical object rotated, and Jupiter and Saturn rotated very rapidly indeed.

The earth rotated much more slowly than Jupiter or Saturn so the effect should be smaller, but it should still be there. Actual measurements of the curvature of the earth were carried out in the eighteenth century and Newton was proved correct.

The earth has an equatorial bulge, in other words. It is flattened at the poles. It is an “oblate spheroid” rather than a sphere. This means that the various diameters of the earth differ in length. The longest diameters are any of those that stretch from one point on the equator to an opposite point on the equator. This “equatorial diameter” is 12,755 kilometers (7,927 miles). The shortest diameter is from the North Pole to the South Pole and this “polar diameter” is 12,711 kilometers (7,900 miles).

The difference between the longest and shortest diameters is 44 kilometers (27 miles), and that means that the “oblateness” of the earth (its departure from true sphericity) is 44/12755, or 0.0034. This amounts to l/3 of 1 percent.

To put it another way, on a flat surface, curvature is 0 per mile everywhere. On the earth’s spherical surface, curvature is 0.000126 per mile everywhere (or 8 inches per mile). On the earth’s oblate spheroidal surface, the curvature varies from 7.973 inches to the mile to 8.027 inches to the mile.

The correction in going from spherical to oblate spheroidal is much smaller than going from flat to spherical. Therefore, although the notion of the earth as a sphere is wrong, strictly speaking, it is not as wrong as the notion of the earth as flat.

Even the oblate-spheroidal notion of the earth is wrong, strictly speaking. In 1958, when the satellite Vanguard I was put into orbit about the earth, it was able to measure the local gravitational pull of the earth–and therefore its shape–with unprecedented precision. It turned out that the equatorial bulge south of the equator was slightly bulgier than the bulge north of the equator, and that the South Pole sea level was slightly nearer the center of the earth than the North Pole sea level was.

There seemed no other way of describing this than by saying the earth was pear-shaped, and at once many people decided that the earth was nothing like a sphere but was shaped like a Bartlett pear dangling in space. Actually, the pearlike deviation from oblate-spheroid perfect was a matter of yards rather than miles, and the adjustment of curvature was in the millionths of an inch per mile.

In short, my English Lit friend, living in a mental world of absolute rights and wrongs, may be imagining that because all theories are wrong, the earth may be thought spherical now, but cubical next century, and a hollow icosahedron the next, and a doughnut shape the one after.

What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.

This can be pointed out in many cases other than just the shape of the earth. Even when a new theory seems to represent a revolution, it usually arises out of small refinements. If something more than a small refinement were needed, then the old theory would never have endured.

Copernicus switched from an earth-centered planetary system to a sun-centered one. In doing so, he switched from something that was obvious to something that was apparently ridiculous. However, it was a matter of finding better ways of calculating the motion of the planets in the sky, and eventually the geocentric theory was just left behind. It was precisely because the old theory gave results that were fairly good by the measurement standards of the time that kept it in being so long.

Again, it is because the geological formations of the earth change so slowly and the living things upon it evolve so slowly that it seemed reasonable at first to suppose that there was no change and that the earth and life always existed as they do today. If that were so, it would make no difference whether the earth and life were billions of years old or thousands. Thousands were easier to grasp.

But when careful observation showed that the earth and life were changing at a rate that was very tiny but not zero, then it became clear that the earth and life had to be very old. Modern geology came into being, and so did the notion of biological evolution.

If the rate of change were more rapid, geology and evolution would have reached their modern state in ancient times. It is only because the difference between the rate of change in a static universe and the rate of change in an evolutionary one is that between zero and very nearly zero that the creationists can continue propagating their folly.

Since the refinements in theory grow smaller and smaller, even quite ancient theories must have been sufficiently right to allow advances to be made; advances that were not wiped out by subsequent refinements.

The Greeks introduced the notion of latitude and longitude, for instance, and made reasonable maps of the Mediterranean basin even without taking sphericity into account, and we still use latitude and longitude today.

The Sumerians were probably the first to establish the principle that planetary movements in the sky exhibit regularity and can be predicted, and they proceeded to work out ways of doing so even though they assumed the earth to be the center of the universe. Their measurements have been enormously refined but the principle remains.

Naturally, the theories we now have might be considered wrong in the simplistic sense of my English Lit correspondent, but in a much truer and subtler sense, they need only be considered incomplete.


I have limited access to the web for the next little while but I will be making posts when not on the web and using the excellent timing feature on wordpress so that they come up once or twice a day.

I will also therefore be responding to comments in one big session every so often, and I am about to do it now.