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Tags  →  politics

The Bright Side

Great therapy from the wonderful cartoon collection of moonshadow68 - don't miss the rest!

Farewell, America

Words fail me, and my heart sinks, when I see how much of the America that this Brit loved has been lost.

The America I loved will return, I hope, but it will be a long hard road. I wish it well.

We could all place many more images here, I'm sure, to commemorate our fond memories of America-that-was

It's a bitter consolation that less than a quarter of American voters voted for this

Visitors to this blog will know that I prefer to concentrate on the positive aspects of life - or at least on positive efforts to improve life.

However it's impossible to ignore what's happening in the USA, which includes the forcible separation of children from their undocumented immigrant parents and keeping these children in cages.

Melania Trump's disgusting “fashion statement” with a jacket that read “I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?” prompted this wonderful response by New York artist Justin Teodoro, which you can read more about by clicking the image.

I see all efforts to combat the evil in the USA as a positive step towards improving the world.

FWIW you can find my contributions in that respect here on this blog and here on Twitter, and among the cartoons in moonshadow68's great collection.

The New Crusades

Wars fuelled by religion are no new thing. But there are at least two crusades taking place today against (some forms of) religion itself - campaigns fought with words and ideas rather than with swords, bombs or bullets.

And some of them are very entertaining.

The Book of Dust Vol 1: La Belle Sauvage is the first volume in Philip Pullman's long-awaited prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy: Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the USA), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

The original trilogy, and now its prequel, are gripping stories for younger and older readers alike. But they are also Pullman's crusade against forms of religion that I would describe as "a waste of life" - denying pleasure in this one life that we have in the expectation of a glorious (or eternally damned) life to come.

The two images and quotes below come from this really excellent Guardian review.

“Philip Pullman … a tension between deep attraction to magic and fierce atheistic pragmatism resolves itself into a commitment to art. Photograph: Michael Leckie”

“Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra in The Golden Compass, the 2007 film adaptation of Northern Lights. Photograph: Allstar/New Line Cinema”

From the Guardian review (click any of the images to read it):

Bible Belt America didn't know much about the original trilogy until the movie came out, and was then horrified. The books were withdrawn from libraries and schools because "they are teaching atheism to our kids", and no movies of the remaining books in the trilogy were made.

Such censorship is the opposite of education, closing minds instead of opening them - something that I find wholly destructive and evil.

Which brings us to the second crusade, this one being waged against science-denying forms of religion, particularly prevalent in the USA:
America still living in the Dark Ages - rejection of science by religion

In today's Dark Ages, many Conservative Evangelical Christians support a morally-degenerate President and a morally-degenerate political culture that are as far from real Christian values as you can get. It seems that they only had to be told that Hillary Clinton is a satanic figure who will deny your religious freedoms (an Internet-multiplied lie), and be fed and feed each other with distorted and falsified versions of her views on abortion, for them to bring about and support something that is truly evil.

The really frightening thing about the situation in the USA (and increasingly on the other side of Atlantic) is that truth in politics matters less and less - a situation for which science-denying religion is, of course, only partly responsible. To some extent politics has always been "a dirty business", but this is different. Donald Trump rose to power by telling literally thousands of flat-out, easily-disproved lies, spread by supporters on the Internet, and has gone on doing so since becoming President (at an average rate of 5.5 lies per day, see the CNN analysis here).

It is no accident that Trump constantly vilifies the free Press (violating the 1st Amendment) and is actively damaging (among other things) the country's Environmental Protection Agency, Intelligence Services and Science (follow these links for a current damage report). What all of these have in common is that they deal in reality, something to which Trump and his supporters are seriously allergic.

It is also no accident that the crusade against science-denying religions has become a wider crusade against the “post-truth culture” of today, which thrives on easy labels, fake news and the power of the Internet to spread misinformation, and which enemies of democracy (and I unhesitatingly include Trump, Steve Bannon and Putin among them) have clearly been exploiting.

It includes the world-wide protests that had a hashtag #StandUpForScience.

It includes (in their gentle and subtle support for reason and humanism) the highly entertaining books of Terry Pratchett.

It includes, in a small way, what you are reading now, and published letters like this one:

(Climate change denial has other causes, including corporate interests in fossil fuels. Also, the letter was actually written in response to a similar article in the same issue called THE TRUTH ON LIES.)

So... is there a bright side in all this? Are these crusades having any effect?

It seems true (whether you view it as good news or not) that religion is slowly declining in the USA. Part (but by no means all) of this is due to a backlash against what many Americans see as moral corruption in organized religion, examples being the political support for Trump and the pastor who refused to open his megachurch to victims of Hurricane Harvey. The effect of this last single incident in shifting the American religious landscape is probably very easy to underestimate.

In response the crusade against the “post-truth culture” of today, Google, Twitter and Facebook are finally taking action against fake news (the very latest links on that subject, relative to when you read this, will be found here).

Finally, as I asked in my previous article on a similar subject, how do we get out of this dark place?

Not easily, that's for sure - but FWIW here's my 2¢:

Moving forward, some suggestions for improving life after Trump

From this blog:

[PLEASE wake up, America. You are being “gaslighted”.]
[GPS: The Miracle in Your Smartphone]
[Science, Religion and Quantum Mechanics]
[“The Trump Diaries” (the Trump thread in this blog)]

From my web site:

[Thoughts on Science and Religion - and why this stuff matters]

From others:

[White Evangelicals Are Sticking With Their “Prince of Lies” (Newsweek)]
[Moving forward: the Obama Foundation ]

Trumpness rare personality type disrespect for evidence-based truth anti-science religions alt-reality
This is an ersatz definition of mine, but I believe it matters like hell.

Please click the image if you wish to see the full story so far.

Different Worlds

The magnificent sight on the left (more about which can be found here) summarizes everything that the space science and engineering community is about, and everything that the insane persons in the White House and the GOP are not.

I once had the immense privilege of meeting the Chief Engineer of the ground segment of the US's Space Program. He is one of the few people who can fully appreciate how the work, knowledge and care of thousands of people in many organizations in different countries leads to what we can see here.

In space, reality can seriously bite you in the ass.

I am waiting hopefully for it to do the same to some people on the planet below.

If we aren't happy with this:
How the president speaks to his nation tweets twitter
...then we need to fix this:
Trump's presidency the end result of flawed democracy
...and think hard about this:
Trumpness rare personality type disrespect for evidence-based truth anti-science religions alt-reality
...and (somehow) advance from this:
The Dark Ages in the USA and how they have led to Trump
...perhaps like this:
Moving forward, some suggestions for improving life after Trump

If you like this...

[PLEASE wake up, America. You are being “gaslighted”.]
[GPS: The Miracle in Your Smartphone]
[Science, Religion and Quantum Mechanics]
[“The Trump Diaries” (the Trump thread in this blog)]
[Moving forward: the Obama Foundation ]

From my web site:

[Why Science and Religion Need Not be Enemies ]

Seems that it's a bit harder than he thought. You've gotta pity the guy. Don't you?

Sometimes you just gotta laugh. Otherwise you cry.


[Many Republican voters boycotted the Star Wars Rogue One movie believing fake news about its “anti-Trump scenes”]
[Trump supporters burn their Harry Potter books... and get great replies from J.K. Rowling]
[Adverse reactions to Steve Bannon's control of the President]

Yes, I have joined Twitter, to share some good things and to join the fight against “The Shadow in the West”. You can find me there - as well as here, of course.

(If you're looking at my full blog and are kind enough to want to share this, PLEASE click the date/time at the top of the post FIRST in order to get a permalink - thanks!)

PLEASE wake up, America. You are being “gaslighted”.                     (updated 6 Feb 2017)

It will take just a little while to explain. Please bear with me.


Same time, same place, different inaugurations. The far lower turnout for Trump's inauguration compared to Obama's in 2009 (click the image for multiple sources of evidence) should not be a surprise, given that only about 25% of the electorate voted for Trump (nearly half of the nation's eligible voters didn't vote, for reasons best known to themselves, and less than half of those who did voted for Trump).

Combined with his post-election behaviour among other things, it should not then be a surprise that Trump entered office with the lowest initial approval rating of any US president.


Prior to his inauguration ceremony, Trump is reported to have become angrier and angrier at tweets pointing out how poorly attended his inauguration was shaping up to be, and at the very well attended protests that were obviously building.

His typical reaction after the event was to make evidence-free claims that reality was what he said it was.

Sean Spicer, an excellent choice for Trump's press secretary, put Trump's totally ridiculous assertion that there had been record crowds to the press: "This was the largest audience every to witness an inauguration. Period." and refused to answer questions. He railed at the media for "misleading the public" and trying to "delegitimize the president" and warned that "they would be held accountable" - a very sinister but meaningless remark.

It is no accident that Trump has fallen out with Science, his Intelligence Services, and the media. What they have in common is that they deal in various ways with reality, something to which Trump is seriously allergic. We can already see that one of his first priorities is to gag any sources of real news that he can control, and try to substitute his own sources of "alt-reality news".

The "alt" in "alt-reality" stands, of course, for "alternative"...


Luckily for the rest of us, intelligence is not a defining feature of the new administration (with the unfortunate exception of evil genius Steve Bannon).

Kellyanne Conway, Trump's Counselor to the President, had a memorable encounter with NBC in which she used the words "alternative facts" in an explanation of the ridiculous assertions mentioned above - and then got extremely shirty, even threatening, when NBC's Chuck Todd told her that "alternative facts" were falsehoods - in other words, flat-out lies.

With this glorious gift to the opposition, the Boggart was out of the wardrobe (you could almost hear shouts of "Riddikulus" echoing around the Internet)...


Alternative Facts: The Musical

HEALTH AND SAFETY WARNING: make sure that the space around you is clear before playing the above video, since people report that they have fallen off their chair laughing while watching it.

Thanks to Kellyanne, the hashtag #alternativefacts has exploded all over the Internet. You can see one collection of examples if you click the image below, and you will find lots more here.

Other countries are joining in. This contribution is from the Netherlands, a video made in a style that they believe Trump will be comfortable with:

Laughter is good therapy and a strong weapon against tyranny - but it's time to get serious again. Very serious.


(Click the image for how to inoculate yourself against it - and also see here)

Fake news (by which I don't mean the kind of news that angers Trump) is no new thing.

Starting in 2016, however, [writes BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan on 16 January 2017 in this must-read article] “it has been energised by the viral power of social media, spreading deceit and polluting the well of civility on which strong societies must draw.”

Until you look at what's actually happened, it is hard to believe just how much of the information that people based their votes on was simply false.

It is easy to reject news (fake or otherwise) that you don't like. But (since you are still reading this) here is a popular example that may have appealed to you (it certainly did to me, before my fake-news detector cut in):

This image displays typical hallmarks of fake news: a message that you may agree with (and which might even be true in some cases), followed by a lie (explicit or otherwise) that you believe either because you wish it were true, or because it appears to follow on from the rest of the message, or both.

And thanks to social media, one click is all it takes to multiply it on the Internet.

Another example, sad and relatively harmless in itself, was the "Dump Star Wars Rogue One Movie" Twitter campaign that was built on a self-feeding cycle of fake news. It successfully put off an unknown number of Republican voters from seeing the (superb) movie because, the fake news said, “it had been rewritten to include anti-Trump scenes”.

Of course, any movie that features a struggle against oppression could be construed as anti-Trump, but I doubt that that was the motivation of the troll who started it. Possibly (and here I am simply guessing) the motivation was the multi-racial cast of the movie. I sure hope that I'm wrong.

Although harmless in terms of damage caused, it is highly disturbing that it took only one tweet to start it, and that so many people swallowed it without evidence and shared it to multiple other people.

What wasn't (and isn't) harmless was the extent to which the Trump campaign used these mechanisms to flood the Internet with lies and hatred, assisted by supporters who in many cases were ordinary, decent people but whose critical brain functions had been switched off.

What isn't harmless is that the person now leading the country has been tweeting lies since he joined Twitter on March 18th, 2009, including this extraordinary collection of falsehoods, and obviously intends to go on doing it.

What isn't harmless is that Steve Bannon, the evil genius behind the Presidential throne, is a master of manipulating people's perceptions. Forget Marvel movies - this is the real thing, a fact that is recognized by the recently trending hashtag #stoppresidentbannon.

(As a chilling example of Bannon that should be studied carefully, see the section How Does Breitbart Depict & Deny Climate Change? in this article. If you are curious about how people are brainwashed into denying climate change, follow the link to see how the master does it. He is applying the same technique in other directions right now.)

What most definitely isn't harmless is that we are now seeing the term gaslighting being used more and more frequently in connection with the Trump administration.

“Gaslighting” is defined in Wikipedia as “a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, hoping to make the target question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target's belief.

“Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film, and has been used in clinical and research literature.”

Please read that definition again carefully. It tells you everything you need to know about the danger we are all in. Then, if you want to know more about Trump, Bannon, Breitbart and Gaslighting, or feel that you should, look here.

However - there are some faint silver gleams around the dark clouds that threaten us all.

The world has finally woken up to the dangers of fake news and gaslighting. For example, a Parliamentary Inquiry in the UK has just been launched to investigate "the growing phenomenon of fake news", recognizing that the rise of propaganda and fabrications is "a threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general".

Google and Facebook are finally taking action against fake news (the very latest links on that subject, relative to when you read this, will be found here).

Steve Bannon has claimed that "The Media is the real Opposition Party". Unusually, there is some truth in this (although I am incompetent to comment on the current effectiveness of the Democratic Party). Bannon's strategy (and Trump's, of course) is to destroy the public's confidence in the normal media, so that his own messages can become dominant with the public.

The danger is so real that something unprecedented is happening: in the face of their common enemy, journalists of different newspapers and websites and television programs are now collaborating and cooperating with each other.

And in response to the implied charge that "The Media is partisan" I can do no better than to quote again from Amol Rajan's article:

“As a BBC journalist I am required to be politically impartial; but as my distinguished colleague Nick Robinson has argued, I am under no obligation to be impartial about democracy (as against tyranny, for example).

“Nor am I under any obligation to be impartial about truth, as against lies. The possibility of truth is a necessary condition for democracy.

“Fake news is an assault on truth [and journalists must fight it].”

The brightest gleam, perhaps, is that after just one week in office Trump's own party is seriously dismayed by him.

So who or what do we turn to now?

For many people, one answer seems to be...

Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling's books have been translated into more than 60 languages, and more than 500 million copies have been sold worldwide. (Those are real facts.)

Many people have noticed that although the books concern themselves with a fight between good and evil, between liberty and tyranny, and between fake news (controlled by an evil power) and truth (broadcast by resistance radio), they don't actually mention God.

(Did you know that Conservative Christians in San Diego denounced the books for insidiously undermining their faith, and asked their members to retrieve any that their children possessed and bring them to their Immaculate Conception Catholic Church for a ceremonial burning?

No, of course you didn't, because that is fake news that I just made up. Just testing.)

It is quite true, however, that faced with the Trump administration, more and more people are turning to Harry Potter for comfort and opposition (and unbelievably, some Trump supporters really are burning their Harry Potter books).

Here is a good example from George Takei, the well-known actor from Star Trek and (among other things) a committed social activist. He uses his high profile Facebook page and Twitter account to highlight and oppose many things that need opposing - but he does so with considerable humour.

Just after the Inauguration he wrote a landmark post that was deadly serious (and which I strongly recommend to you). It concluded with this message, drawing from the world of Harry Potter:

(Click the panel above if you would like to read the whole thing)

I am left with one burning question, to which I don't have an answer (I pray that someone does):

How manifestly unfit for office does a US President have to be, and how many characteristics of historical dictators does he have to exhibit, before he can be removed from office?

May this be answered before too much damage is done - and may the truth be with you.

(If you are kind enough to share this post while looking at my full blog, please click the date/time at the top of this post first, in order to get a permalink. Thanks.)

Further developments (may be added to - check back):

[Conservative billionaire Charles Koch will vigorously oppose Trump]
[Feb 2nd: Jenna Bush shames Trump with her father's non-hateful words about Islam after 9/11]
[Jan 30th: Bipartisan coalition opposes Trump's executive order on immigration]
[Calls to impeach or otherwise remove Trump]
[Adverse reactions to Steve Bannon's control of the President]
[Trump supporters say that they are sorry for voting for him (too late, but thanks)]
[Reforming the Presidential election and candidate selection systems]

How did this happen? (from my web site):

[The Shadow in the West]

If you would like to see all of my posts about Donald Trump:

[Go here (to save you having to click the Donald Trump tag at the top of this post)]

HD wallpaper available from here

This picture pretty much sums up how I feel right now - trying to see the bright side in the darkness. I have been lucky enough to enjoy many things in 2016 (including these), but this has also been the year of Brexit and Donald Trump.

Many people must be celebrating either or both of those, but many more probably are not.

If you are in the “not” camp, then you might like my long blog post that you will find here on my web site.

The Shadow in the West

"Daybreak at Rain Forest Lagoon" © by Christoph Wiemann

Please share this, if you will (but click the date/time FIRST in order to get a permalink - thanks!)

If you like this, you might also like...

[A friendly letter to America]

and from my web site:

[The Shadow in the West - the full version]
[My thoughts on science and religion, and why this stuff matters]

Please share this, if you will (but click the date/time FIRST in order to get a permalink - thanks!)

Some therapeutic reading (may be added to, newest first, check back...):

[Mike Pence on Facebook invites people to the Inauguration - some hilarious responses]
[Remembering Obama, by people who actually met him]
[BBC: Trump team moving away from supporters on climate science]
[Bushes write a touchiing letter to Obama sisters]
[Obama's final address to the nation as commander-in-chief]
[Guy shuts down friend's Obamacare rant by pointing out he's on Obamacare (both hilarious and sad)]
[Obama enacts permanent ban on new oil and gas drilling in federal waters in Atlantic and Arctic Oceans]
[DoE rejects Trump Transition Team's request for names of staffers who worked on climate change programs]
[California's governor issues serious warning to Trump on climate change]
[Bill Gates and other billionaires have launched a fund of more than $1 billion, focused on fighting climate change]
[Trump voters complain that already he isn't delivering what he promised]
[America's Finest]
[Things Donald Trump can and can't do with his Executive Power]
[Why business will step in to save Obama's sustainability agenda]
[The Shadow in the West - how we can make the world a nicer and safer place]
[What Trump's 2,000-mile wall on the U.S.-Mexico border would actually look like]
[Gatorindo: The Oxford English Dictionary's editors nominate "post-truth" as word of the year]
[George Takei: The challenge ahead under Donald Trump, and the way out of darkness]
[US Election 2016 — in-depth views from Oxford University]
[TED: Beware online "filter bubbles" that distort your view of the world]
[Trump: The best thing ever for climate change? (unintentionally, but really)]
[Nov 18: World's poorest countries to aim for 100% green energy ]
[Nov 18: Elon Musk's announcement just changed the solar industry]
[Oct 26: The world just made a major shift toward renewable energy]

and from my web site:

[The Shadow in the West - the full version]

In her final days as Commander of the International Space Station, Sunita (Suni) Williams of NASA recorded an extensive tour of the orbital laboratory and downlinked the video on Nov. 18, just hours before she, cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Flight Engineer Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency departed in their Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft for a landing on the steppe of Kazakhstan. The tour includes scenes of each of the station's modules and research facilities with a running narrative by Williams of the work that has taken place and which is ongoing aboard the orbital outpost.

Suni, who is of Indian and Slovenian extraction, is a Captain in the US Navy, where she was a helicopter test pilot, and (I discovered) has a very impressive career in both the USN and NASA.

Click on any screenshot to play the video... 25 minutes of privileged viewing not to be missed!

Columbus, the European Laboratory, one of many on the Space Station (this one on the right hand side) where a lot of medical experiments are done

A sleep station module, containing 4 of these sleep stations...

"It's sort of like a little phone booth. It's also like a little office, with a computer and some toys and books and other things that make it sort of like home"

No gravity, so each of the 4 sleep stations...

...are in a separate wall

One of the space suits in storage, a miniature space vehicle...

"...your head turns inside the fixed helmet, you need a wide angle of vision and usually it's pretty sunny out there, so you need sunglasses, which make you look pretty cool"

A tour of a space toilet...

...with more information on cleaning up null-gravity messes than you may want to know!

Heading down from here, we get to "one of the coolest places on the Space Station, like a glass bottom boat"

You might want to take a look at this link (opens in a separate window)...

[Tracy Caldwell Dyson in the Cupola Module of the International Space Station observing the Earth below]

...the Cupola, with windows all around... (over Africa at the moment)

"That's the Soyuz spacecraft that's taking us home to Planet Earth today"

After showing us the exercise equipment, Sunita heads for the Soyuz spacecraft (a long way!)

A diversion to fly down the PMM, a big silver canister when seen from the outside - essentially a closet where things are stowed, "and a lot of fun to play in - and much bigger than the Soyuz"

Entering the Russian segment (Kevin, the next Commander, is doing the filming) "you don't need a passport either"

A long way, passing Yevgeny coming in the other direction

The Russian segment was the first section to come up to the Space Station, in 1988. The Station has been manned 12 years, and been up in space 14 years.

After another long passage... "here we are in the heart of the Space Station, really - the Service Module or Central Post". The service module is also the place to come when there's an emergency (fire, depressurization, toxic atmosphere) - "we gather here to figure out how to deal with whatever it is".

Controls to help fly in visiting spacecraft if they need it, and Russian and American computers that "help to control anything we need to on the Space Station"

Two Russian crew members, and on the wall behind them, pictures of Russian heroes of the space programme "which reminds us of our roots"

After showing us a lot of other stuff, Sunita heads down another long stretch to the Soyuz spacecraft that will take her home later today

...and at the end of that passage, she drops down another long shaft, arriving at...

...the docking probe which incoming spacecraft use to dock to the ISS (and we get an explanation of that, too)

Squeezing into the top section of the Soyuz (this part gets burnt up on re-entry - in a few hours time, in fact)

Looking up, that's Kevin, the next ISS Commander, looking down into the Soyuz

Squished into the tiny Descent Module, which has been getting made ready over the past couple of days, Sunita sitting in one of the three personalized custom-made seats (which she'll be using later today for real). "It's a pretty safe ride home... behind us is the parachute, all of our survival gear just in case we land in some strange place on the planet and nobody's there to rescue us right away..."

Some of the instruments, including hand controllers you can fly the module with

Listening to this lady, you would think she is talking about taking the bus home after a day at the office, instead of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in a tiny capsule after a few months commanding one of humanity's outstanding political and scientific achievements. (She did get home safely, by the way.)

I take my hat off to her, and to NASA for providing us with the privilege of seeing so much detail of what goes on up there.

(Thanks so much to ensemble5 for this share.)

If you like this...

[A view of Endeavour docked to the International Space Station - and some thoughts to go with it]

Aung San Suu Kyi, amazing human being, politician and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, at the age of 65 (she is now 67).
Photograph © Platon (2010)

Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world's true heroines. I learnt most about her from that wonderful 2011 movie The Lady, where she was played so well by Michelle Yeoh, with David Thewlis as her Oxford-based husband Michael Aris. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

On 16th June, in a very moving ceremony, she accepted the Nobel peace prize more than 20 years after it was awarded to her.

She is currently in England, accepting today an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, and tomorrow on 21st June she will make an address to both houses of the British parliament in Westminster Hall - a rare honour for a foreign dignitary, as will be seen from this list.

21st June 2012:
[Video of Aung San Suu Kyi's complete address to both houses of the British parliament]

April 27th...

April 26th...

It's STILL raining...

(officially, it's still a drought!)

(Original post: August 7th, 2011)

From the page:

ISS027-E-036801 (23 May 2011) --- This image of the International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of approximately 220 miles, was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011 (USA time). The pictures taken by Nespoli are the first taken of a shuttle docked to the International Space Station from the perspective of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Onboard the Soyuz were Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev; Nespoli, a European Space Agency astronaut; and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. Coleman and Nespoli were both flight engineers. The three landed in Kazakhstan later that day, completing 159 days in space.

This picture (reduced by me as carefully as possible from the awesome full-size hi-res version, which you have to download specially) is a reminder of the incredible achievement that the space shuttle programme represents. Up here, lives depend on the work of so many people in so many industries and organisations being done perfectly, with total co-operation with each other. It's such a sharp contrast with the dysfunctional unintelligent mess going on in many parts of the planet below - in Washington DC, for example.

It also reminds me that in space, the need for scientific accuracy is a matter of life and death. The kind of "science" imagined by Creationists on the planet below, for example, does not contain the kind of truths that would pass the test up here.

(Original post: December 1st, 2008)

When I watched the Revd Jesse Jackson's reaction to Barack Obama's victory speech, I wondered what was going on in his (Jesse Jackson's) mind.

On 30th November, Andrew Marr (one of the UK's best political journalists and commentators) interviewed Jesse Jackson on The Andrew Marr Show about that same question.

Part of what Jesse Jackson said is:

It was both the joy of the moment and the journey. The joy was to think of we just had the right to vote as African Americans forty-three years and how we have advanced, how white America has changed. Those who once did not have the right to vote were voting for us that night. Those who once blocked school doors are now recruiting us.

And so white America is changing in very profound ways and African American and Latinos are achieving in very new and different ways. I could not help but think about children in the villages of Kenya and the Congo and squalor in South Africa and in Haiti, and even yes in Europe people, some without television, listening on the radio in the moment of great anticipation. And so I felt some sense of their joy running through my body. And then the journey itself. Since Dr King was killed, we did not concede to the killing. We said one bullet will not kill a whole movement.

We did not complain and threaten to go backwards. We went forward by working, registering voters and building coalitions and demonstrating and litigating and more civil rights laws. And so Barack, President Barack Obama really ran the last lap of a 54 year race. He is a strong finish in that race to make America a more perfect union and to redeem our nation's soul


You know you come to a time when there's a crisis, almost a civilisational crisis of trust in our nation, within the nation...

[Barack Obama is] like a light in contrast to that darkness and so his capacity to engender hope and trust and to be a source of redemption makes him uniquely fit for the moment. And the darker it gets, the brighter his light shines. And so to that extent, you think about Barack, you think about trust and hope and redemption, so I think the man and his times have converged rather prophetically.

... I'm not sure what radical is... Radicals do what? Change the roots of things. Dr King was seen as a radical.

To knock down the walls, you had to be willing to confront and risk and be bloodied and martyred and even to die. I think about President Reagan saying in Berlin, "Tear down that wall." It's a radical idea - tear down that wall - because you cannot get to the bridge until the wall comes down.

So those who had to be the demolition crew, those who fought to bring down the legal walls when race supremacy and by extension gender supremacy was legal, those who have fought to end public accommodation, denial, the legal apartheid had to tear down the walls. And we were jailed and our allies were murdered in the process. Now when the walls come down, then Barack's generation can build the bridge.

To build the bridge from the bricks that came from the wall that fell, the many whites who confronted us at the bridge now embrace us at the bridge and so it is a different stage of the same struggle. I repeat that without the building blocks of the 54th Supreme Court decision to make racism illegal, without the King's work to tear down those walls, then today's achievement would not be possible...

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