Archive for May, 2019

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Confusion over Anti-Semitism Definition and Labour Anti-Semitism Smears

May 31, 2019

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is one of the very few columnists I make of point of reading in the I. She writes about racial issues, and I respect her because she’s even-handed. She not only attacks not only White, but also Black and Asian racism and prejudice. But I do have reservations and criticisms of her work. One of these is that she, like the rest of the British establishment media, completely accepts the smears and lies about the existence of massive anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

On Tuesday, 28th May 2019 Tony Greenstein put up a piece on his great blog, praising her for condemning the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism. This is the definition of anti-Semitism that, as its author, the Zionist Kenneth Stern, has testified, has been used by the Israel lobby and militant Zionists to try to silence critics of Israel and its crimes and atrocities against the Palestinians. Alibhai-Brown had said that she does not support it in a piece she wrote in her column in the I the previous week. This was actually about how she rejected the latest attempts to formulate an official definition of islamophobia. This condemns hatred of Muslims or expressions of ‘Muslimness’. She objected to it because, as a modern, liberal Muslim, she was afraid that her community’s reactionary bigots would use this definition to try to silence critics of their intolerance. She pointed in particular to the current mass demonstrations against the teaching of homosexuality to primary school children in a school in Birmingham. It is not just Muslims who are protesting against this – they’ve been joined by Christians and members of other faiths, and the teacher who tried to introduce it was forced out when he did the same at a Christian school a little while ago. Alibhai-Brown said in her article that she objected to the proposed official definition of islamophobia, just as she objected to the I.H.R.A.’s definition of anti-Semitism. Both could be used unfairly to silence criticism.

This is where I think that, at best, her thinking is confused. As someone, who professes genuinely to take an interest in combating racism and is unimpressed with the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism because of its chilling role in silencing legitimate criticism, she must, you would think, realise that so much of the anti-Semitism smears against the Labour party are precisely that. Last year the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, not to mention the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, all made accusations screaming that the Labour party was institutionally anti-Semitic because it first did not accept the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, and then, when it did, didn’t accept the examples. They then carried on baying their smears until the party finally accepted it in full. As Tony Greenstein has pointed out again and again on his blog, along with Martin Odoni, David Rosenberg and so many other Jewish bloggers and activists, this has zero to do with actually trying to defend Jews from real anti-Semitism. As they, and other non-Jewish activists like Mike over at Vox Political have said, this is all about trying to silence critics of Israel, or those, like Mike, who’ve defended critics of Zionism like Ken Livingstone.

And if Alibhai-Brown really is serious about combating racism, she should know that, actually, there’s very little of it in the Labour party, as has been made very plain by Jewish organisations like Jewdas and Jewish Voice for Labour. Instead the accusations were motivated primarily to oust Jeremy Corbyn, not because he’s an anti-Semite – he never has nor will be – but because he’s genuinely anti-racism and pro-Palestinian. And he threatens to overturn the wretched neoliberal politics that have seen Brits from nearly all Britain’s diverse communities, including Jews, robbed of control over their lives and thrust into grinding poverty and misery. Because Corbyn is traditional Labour, the Thatcherites within and without the Labour party tried smearing him as a Trotskyite and a Communist. This didn’t stick, and so they took up the rants from the Jewish establishment that he was an anti-Semite because these did, with some help from a very biased media that was more than economical with the truth. Like the Sunday Times and its correspondent, Gabriel Pogrund, who libeled Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier simply because he’s a Corbyn supporter, who pointed out that Livingstone was quite right when he said that the Hitler initially supported Zionism. Which he did, and is recorded fact, as noted on the website of the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem in Israel, in its piece on the Ha’avara agreement between the two.

But the British lamestream media as a whole, including Private Eye, supports and promotes the myth that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour Party. Indeed, anyone, who dares say that it isn’t is accused of being an anti-Semite in turn, just as the critics of the witch hunt at Salem are accused of being witches themselves in Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible. As I’ve said ad nauseam, it’s long past time that the witch hunt was ended and shown up for the travesty it is, and proper restitution given to the victims of the smears and libels. Victims like Tony, Martin, Mike, and also Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and Cyril Chilson.

I am glad that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown does condemn the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, but deeply disappointed that she still promotes the myth of rabid anti-Semitism in the Labour party. But I’m not surprised. Given the way the Israel lobby freely used smear and libel, I guess it’s more than her reputation and career are worth. 

 

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Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

Change UK Candidates Warned against Speaking to Hack Who Libeled Mike

May 31, 2019

This fortnight’s edition of Private Eye for 31 May – 13 June 2019 carries a very interesting little snippet on its ‘HP Sauce’ column on page 11. The article ‘The Rachel Papers’, reported how BoJo’s sister, Rachel Johnson, opened her loud mouth to Henry Zeffman of the Times and bitterly criticised her party’s leadership and fellow members. In the words of the article, her comrades Heidi Allen, Sarah Woolaston, Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry and indeed the rest of their politicos, were presented by Johnson as ‘blithering idiots’. But the most interesting part of this article for me and other friends and followers of Mike and his work, was the beginning of the piece. Which stated that the candidates had been warned that Gabriel Pogrund of the Sunday Times wanted to contact them, and that they should not speak to him. The article said

ON 14 May the new Change UK party warned everyone on its candidates’ confidential WhatsApp grou about Gabriel Pogrund from the Sunday Times. He had been “trying to contact various candidates for a pieces he’s working on. If he contacts you, please do not speak to him.”

“Understood,”said Carole Tongue, who stood for Change in London. “what’s he after?” asked Kathryn Heywood in the North East. “I smell a stitch-up,” said Michael Taylor from the North West.

Pogrund, or Poo-Grunt, as I think he should be better called – and yes, I know it’s just infantile name-calling, but that’s all I think this poisonous hack deserves – was the journo, who wrote the article back in 2017 smearing Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, partly based on material leaked to him from the Blairites in the Labour party. From this, and the Eye’s article, it can be inferred that Pogrund is a known smear merchant. There’s more than a little irony here, as the ex-Labour politicos, who split to form Change UK, were more than happy to claim that they were leaving because of the rampant anti-Semitism they claimed was in Labour. And now they stand revealed as being terrified of speaking to one of the hacks responsible for promoting this vile lie.

In fact I think they’re quite right to avoid talking to him. Mike had a call from him, and despite Mike telling him the truth about these smears against him, the Sunset Times still went and libeled him anyway. He, or at the very least, his editor, is not remotely interested in truth, just in smearing and destroying the lives and careers of anyone who dares to criticise Israel, neoliberal Thatcherite capitalism and the Tory party.

He’s a poisonous liar, and even the politicos keen to promote some of his lies realise it and try to avoid him.

Majority of British Public Want Railways Nationalised

May 31, 2019

Here’s a piece of encouraging news, courtesy of Wednesday’s I for 29th May 2019. According to the article, ‘Public sector should run railways’, over half of people polled supported the nationalisation of the railways. The article ran

A majority of people believe railways would be better value if they were publicly owned. Just over half of 1,000 people surveyed supported the public sector, with only one in five backing privatisation. Lobby group  We Own It said people believed fares would be cheaper under public control.

They aren’t wrong, either, but I think some caution must be taken because, reading the article, the poll seems to have been taken by the lobby group. Nevertheless it is true that privatisation has not brought the improvements to the railways promised by John Major and the Conservatives back in the 1990s when they sold them off. Instead of bringing in more investment, the companies running the railways have consistently done as little as possible to improve services, instead cutting them back as far as possible, in order to boost their chief executives’ pay and the companies’ share value. The result has been less value for money as fare prices have increased, and the rail companies now enjoy far more public money in subsidies than they did when the rail network was nationalised under British Rail. The situation is so bad that a few years ago Ian Hislop went on a rant about how the private rail companies were running a shoddy service so that they could play at being the executives of blue chip companies instead of the minor civil servants they had been on Have I Got News For You.

One of Labour’s policies is the return of the rail network to public ownership, along with electricity and water. These policies, along with Labour’s commitment to restoring the welfare state, renationalising the NHS, strengthening workers’ rights and creating effective, powerful trade unions, are extremely popular with the electorate. Which is, no doubt, why the Tories and the Blairites have started yet another campaign of anti-Semitism smears and accusations against the party. Especially as the Tories have done very badly indeed at the elections.

Soubry Turns on Allen for Massive Election Defeat of Change Party

May 28, 2019

Here’s an interesting little piece from today’s I for the 28th Mary 2019. Change UK came very much bottom of the poll in the Euro elections this Thursday, and the recriminations have started. Anna Soubry as criticised her party leader, Heidi Allen, for telling people to vote tactically. She considers that Allen was effectively telling them not to vote for their party.

The article by David Hughes, titled ‘Allen’s bizarre strategy hit votes, says Soubry’, on page 10, runs

Senior figures in Change UK were involved in a public row after the party formed by breakaway Tory and Labour MPs failed to win any MEPs.

Anna Soubry, the party’s Brexit spokeswoman, accused leader Heidi Allen of “bizarre” behaviour for suggesting their supporters engage in tactical voting.

Former Tory minister Ms Soubry said “over 600,000 people went and voted for us, a genuinely new party”, which was an “extremely good” result, she claimed.

But she criticised Ms Allen, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think it is rather bizarre for an interim leader on the eve of a poll to tell people essentially not to vote for their party.” Mocking the leader, she added: “Let’s engage now in big, grown up politics.”

Former Tory MP Ms Allen acknowledged that her party needed to learn from what went wrong in the European Parliament elections before the next general election.

I caught a snippet of one of the female members of Change UK talking on the Beeb the other day comparing her party’s performance with that Farage’s Brexit. She said that Brexit’s success wasn’t surprising, as it wasn’t really a new party. It was simply another vehicle for Nigel Farage and his campaign against the EU. Which is exactly true. It’s simply another version of UKIP when it was under Nigel Farage’s leadership, complete with the racism, anti-environmentalism, anti-feminism, planned destruction of the welfare state and privatisation of the NHS. All of which the female speaker for Change UK didn’t mention, probably because they’re also mostly policies shared by the Tories, Blairite Labour and Change UK, with the possible exception of the anti-feminism.

She then complained that Change UK really was a genuinely new party, trying a different type of politics. A politics that was no confined to party interests. Here she was utterly wrong. There was absolutely nothing new about Change UK. It was the same old Thatcherite neoliberalism, still demanding austerity, the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state. It very happily continued the existing system of parliamentary corruption by working for the interests of its rich, corporate donors, instead of the British electorate. That’s why it was registered as a private company, rather than a political party, so that they could hide their accounts. It was, unlike the Tories, pro-Remain, and tried to dress up its solid hostility to policies that would genuinely improving conditions for working people by claiming that it was somehow centrist and non-partisan. Which is what the Lib Dems have also been saying for decades. And many people would have been put off voting for Change UK because of their selfish rejection of democratic principle by refusing to hold by-elections in their constituencies after they switched parties.

The simple fact is that Change UK is a party no-one wants and practically no-one voted for. But they really can’t accept that, and so have to carry on with all this rubbish about being a brave, new party and finding someone they blame for a defeat all of them deserved. I doubt, however, that the recriminations and backbiting are going to stop here. Time to get the popcorn in and watch as they melt down!

The Good News in the Euro Election: Sargon, Dankula and Tommy Robinson Lose Massively

May 28, 2019

There was some crumb of comfort to Labour supporters and other anti-Fascists after the Euro elections. Although Farage’s disgusting Brexit party got 36 per cent of the vote, UKIP was wiped out. And that meant that their far right candidates Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula, and the infamous Tommy Robinson are very definitely not going to the European parliament.

In this video from the American left-wing Youtube news site, the Progressive Voice, the host goes through the stats for the Euro election. He mentions that UKIP’s leader, Gerard Batten, whom he describes as ‘Sargon’s daddy, in a way’, also failed to get elected to the European parliament. He explains that the entry of Sargon, Dankula and Robinson, who ran as an independent, and others like them caused Farage to leave UKIP, complaining that they were too right-wing for him. He states that Farage was also on the verge of becoming anti-Islam, like Robinson, however. The host then reads out the report on the massive losses of the extreme right Kippers from the Independent. At the time the article was written, the results had yet to be announced for Scotland, so it was unknown how Mark Meechan had fared. Nevertheless, the Progressive Voice states that he definitely lost, though he didn’t know what the exact result for him was.

But the results for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or Tommy Robinson, as a prefers to be known, were very clear. He lost spectacularly in England north-west constituency, coming eighth, and lost his deposit. He lost his deposit and left the count early, complaining about how he had been banned on social media by the ‘establishment’. It was this, he claimed, that had stopped him from winning.

In the south-west, UKIP fared a little better, but not much. They were sixth on the ballot, with only 3.2 per cent of the vote. Sargon was their second candidate in that constituency.

The Progressive Voice then shows the figures for all the parties from Britain Elects twitter account for the south-west. The Brexit Party were first at 36.7 per cent, Lib Dems 23.1 per cent, Greens 18.1 per cent, Conservative 8.7 per cent, Labour 6.5 per cent, then UKIP, and finally Change UK at 2.8 per cent. He explains that the Brexit Party were able to make their massive leap to nearly 37 per cent because they’re a new party founded by Farage after he left UKIP. And UKIP’s share of the vote has fallen by 29.1 per cent. The Progressive Voice then declares that Sargon, Dankula and Robinson are clowns, who should stay on YouTube. But Sargon’s YouTube account has been demonetized because of his antics, so the Voice doesn’t know where he gets his money from. He suggests it might be from subscribers. He also mentions that Sargon has taken a couple of milkshakes, referring to the incidents where he had them thrown at him, and says he doesn’t know how he feels about that.

The Progressive Voice is, like the rest of us, highly amused by Robinson and Sargon losing the election, laughing as he reads their results out. And he goes on to describe Robinson’s antics when he lost later in the video as ‘hilarious’. This was when Robinson left early claiming he’d lost because of the media. The Voice concludes by saying that these three are clowns, and this is the result they got for so being.

The male feminist and anti-Fascist Kevin Logan, who has put up a number of videos on his channel attacking Sargon, put up another yesterday showing his sober analysis of the statistics for Sargon’s failure. In the titles, he puts it all down to Benjamin’s ‘reverse Midas touch’. In Greek legend, everything that Midas touched turned to gold. In Sargon’s case, everything he touches turns, well, something really smelly that usually gets used to fertilise the garden.

He starts with the statistics for the party, narrowing down to where it states that UKIP now have zero MPs. Their vote share is 3.2 per cent, down 29. 7 per cent, and Benjamin only got 53,739 votes. He then shows a picture of Batten with Sargon, both of whom have ‘Not an MEP’ written in front of them. There’s then photographs of Sargon with milkshake all over him and various logs from Burger King, which may have supplied them, and being pelted with fish in Cornwall. The soundtrack for the video is laughter from the old record, The Laughing Policeman.

As you can see from the above title photograph, Sargon’s been the kiss of death for just about every organisation and issue he’s taken up, from Gamergate, Kek, the Skeptics, his brief Liberalists organisation and now UKIP.

I admit, it’s not much consolation now that the biggest number of votes when to the Brexit party, who are scarcely less as extreme and dangerous as UKIP. But it is something.

Jeanette Winterson’s Cyberfeminist New Tale of Frankenstein, AI and Sex Robots

May 26, 2019

A week or so ago I put up several articles criticising Ian McEwan’s latest book as another example of mainstream, literary writers’ appropriation of Science Fictional subjects. As I said in these articles, what annoys me about this is the higher respect given to these works, even though genre authors have frequently tackled the subjects much better. Private Eye in its piece describing how the literary set were turning to robots and AI said that after McEwan’s book would come one by Jeanette Winterson. This is Frankissstein: A Love Story, which was reviewed in Friday’s issue of the I, for 24th May 2019 by Lucy Scholes, on page 44 of the paper.

I realise that it’s dangerous to comment on a book you’ve never read, and that reviews can be notoriously inaccurate guides to what a book or other work is actually like. I can remember the Oxford poet, Tom Paulin on the Late Review about two decades or more ago really attacking the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, as a piece of Nazi cinema in precisely so many words. He had a point in that some groups had felt that the film was somehow racist and discriminatory, particularly in the portrayal of Jar Jar Binks. Binks, it was held, was a caricature of Blacks, Hispanics or gays. But many others didn’t find anything racist or homophobic in the movie, and Paulin’s attack was itself a grotesque misrepresentation of the movie itself.

But Scholes’ brief description of the book and its themes raise issues that deserve comment and criticism.

The Plot

The book is split between two periods. The first is that night in 1816 in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva when Byron, his lover, Claire Clairmont, the Shelleys and their doctor, John Polidori, all met to write a ghost story, the evening which saw the birth of Mary Shelley’s tale of the monstrous creation of artificial, human life, Frankenstein. The second is a contemporary tale about a romance between a young transgender doctor, Ry Shelley, who meets and falls in love with the charismatic Victor Stein at a cryonics facility in the Arizona desert. Stein is a leader in the field of Artificial Intelligence, who, according to the review, ‘envisions a bodyless utopia in which race, faith gender and sexuality no longer exist.’

Caught up in this tale is Ron Lord, a millionaire, who has made his fortune from advance sex robots, and his partner, the evangelical Claire, who has designed a version for Christians, and an investigating journalist, Polly D. Ron Lord’s empire of sex robots its misogynistic. His deluxe model offers three orifices and interesting conversation, in which they tell the user he’s very clever and asks him if he knows anything about Real Madrid. Looking at their names, it seems very clear to me that they’re supposed to be the modern counterparts of Byron’s party 200 years ago. But it’s a moot point how accurate this portrayal is about what they would be like if they lived now. As for Claire’s invention of the ‘Christian Companion’, this seems to be a gibe by Winterson at Christian hypocrisy. Winterson’s a lesbian, who had a miserable childhood growing up in an extreme Christian sect. This formed the basis for his book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was adapted as a TV drama by the Beeb. This seems to have established the 9.00 Sunday night slot as the venue for intense dramas about gay women. It was followed a few years later by Fingersmith, a lesbian drama set in the Victorian underworld. And now there’s Gentleman Jack, now playing on BBC 1, based on a real Victorian aristocratic lady, who married her gay lover. I’m very much aware that many Christians do hate gays, and that in response many gay men and women have turned away from Christianity and religion. But this isn’t necessarily the case. I know one woman, who was brought up by her mother and her lesbian partner, who grew up perfectly well adjusted. She was deeply religious herself, and went on to marry a vicar. She also loves her mother, and respects her for the excellent way she feels her mother brought her up.

Cyberspace as Disembodied Platonic Realm

Some of the ideas in Winterson’s book also seems strangely dated. Like the idea of AI as offering a utopia in which people are disembodied entities without race, gender, sexuality or religion. This sounds like it’s based on the views of some of the cyberfeminists back in the 1990s. They hailed the internet as forum in which women would be free to participate as individuals without gender. Now there is a real issue here with misogyny on the internet. There are some sites and forums which are very hostile to women, so much so that a few years ago there were comments that there no women on the internet, as those who were seemed few and far between. But the solution to that problem is to create a culture in which women are free to participate and interact without their gender being issue, rather than forced to disguise or deny it.

It’s also vulnerable to the opposite criticism from feminist academics like Margaret Wertheimer. In her The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Wertheimer criticised cyberspace for being too masculine. It was a disembodied, Platonic realm of mind like the heaven of religious belief. Women weren’t interested in such ideal states, and so were put off it. This idea was influential. One of the museums and art galleries held an exhibition of Virtual worlds created by artists experimenting with the medium. One of the women artists, whose work was featured, included as part of her world the sound of the viewer breathing as they entered her artificial reality. She had done so, she told New Scientist, because the absence of any kind of physical interaction in these Virtual worlds was the product of male scientists and engineers, who made the passage through them like that of a disembodied being. As a woman, she wanted to rectify this through the inclusion of details that made it appear that the viewer was physically there.

It’s over 20 years since these arguments were made, and much has changed since then. There are now very many women on the internet, with female sites like Mum’s Net and the feminist Jezebel. And some of the online games and worlds, like Second Life, do allow their users to interact as physical entities as the games’ characters or citizens.

Robot-Human Romance and Sex

As for her view of sex robots, it’s true that the creation of an artificial woman purely as a sex slave is misogynist. At the moment such machines aren’t really much more than sophisticate sex dolls, and some of those, who use them do seem to be very misogynist. One of the denizens of the Manosphere, the Happy Humble Hermit, who really does despise women and feminism, apparently has a link on his web page to a firm making them. But despite dire warning that these machines are a threat to women’s status and real, genuine, loving or respectful sexual relationship, the existing sex robots aren’t popular. A Spanish brothel which specialised in them has had to get rid of them because of lack of custom. Women don’t have to fear being replaced by compliant, subservient female robots, as in Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives, just yet.

But science fiction also shows that there is an interest, at least among some people, for genuine romantic relationships between robots, and humans and robots. One of the Star Wars spin-off books published in the 1980s was Hardware Honeymoon, whose cover showed C-3PIO holding hands with a female robot. The robot seems to have become the subject of some women’s fantasies. One of the independent comics from California was Wet Satin, whose female creator based her stories on women’s sexual fantasies. One of these was about a robot, which looked remarkably similar to the Star Wars robot. Rather less luridly, Tanith Lee wrote a book in the 1980s about a woman having a romance with a robot in The Silver Metal Lover. You could go on. There is a desire for sex with robots, but this seems in most cases to be within the framework of a romantic relationship with a genuinely sentient being, not a mechanical sex slave.

Stein’s Disembodied Utopia Horrific

As for Stein’s idea of a post-human utopia of disembodied minds, this is profoundly unattractive, as Scholes herself says in her review, saying ‘As with all brave new worlds, though, the reality is rarely perfect’. It seems to be based on the Transhumanists hope that in the near future technology will have advanced so far that that humans will be able to download their minds into computers, so that they can exist as pure disembodied entities in cyberspace, or move into robot bodies, like the hero at the end of the South African SF film, Chappie. But Winterson’s, or Stein’s cybernetic dream of posthuman, post-flesh utopia is horrifically sterile. Part of what makes diversity and multiculturalism such powerful ideologies is that people are naturally drawn, fascinated with and treasure difference. It’s why western tourists travel around the world, to Asia, Africa and South America, to enjoy the experience of different cultures and meeting people of different races and religions. There is friction and hostility between different peoples, all too often exploding into horrific violence. But the reduction of humanity to disembodied minds doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t genuinely promote tolerance, equality and the feeling of common humanity so much as negates the problem by destroying the physical and spiritual differences that form the basis of human identity. It’s certainly not an idea that’s popular in SF. In just about all the Science Fiction I’ve read, people retain their gender and other aspects of their identity even after they cross over into cyberspace. When they appear, either in cyberspace itself, or conjured up in computer displays for characters in the real world, they appear as they did in life, complete with their gender and race. And I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of people would find that far more preferable to the strange disembodied existence Stein offers in Winterson’s book.

LGBTQ and Transgender Issues With Winterson’s/ Stein’s Utopia

Which also raises the question about its handling of LGBTQ issues. The inclusion of a transgender character seems to be a deliberate attempt to make the book very relevant to contemporary issues, now that transgender rights have overtaken gays as the issue of the moment. Some transgender people seem to look forward to a future without physical gender. I can remember reading an interview with the first, or one of the first, people to undergo the operation, April Ashley, in an interview in one of the Daily Mail’s Sunday supplements years ago. She looked forward to a time when humanity would have moved beyond gender, and pregnancy would become a matter of simply taking a pill. But I think such people are a very small minority. Back in the 1990s there was a demand from gay Science Fiction fans for Star Trek to tackle homosexuality and include gay characters or stories. This was several years before the new, revived Dr. Who did so, and so would have been extremely controversial. Star Trek – The Next Generation tried to make an effort in that direction with a story in which Lieutenant Riker formed a relationship with a member of an alien species, the J’Nai, who had evolved past gender. However, from time to time there were throwbacks, who were persecuted. They would be hunted down and then treated so that they were proper neuter members of their society. The alien with whom Riker has fallen in love is one such throwback, a female. She is caught by the authorities. Riker tries to free her, but it is too late. She is now neuter, and so has no interest in any sexual or romantic relationship with him. The story’s a metaphorical attempt to deal with the underlying issues around homosexuality, gender identity and forbidden sexuality, but was bitterly criticised by gay SF fans because it didn’t tackle the issue of homosexuality overtly. The Federation was, remember, an organisation in which humanity had moved beyond racial and cultural prejudice and sexism, and gay Trekkers and their supporters felt that the prejudice against homosexuality would also have no place in such a future. But they were also highly critical about how the story presented gays. They felt that it showed them unfairly as wanting to abolish gender. And Winterson’s book does seem to do the same with its depiction of a romance between the transgender character, Ry Shelley, and Stein, with his dream of an asexual disembodied world.

Conclusion

I may well be doing Winterson’s book a great disservice, but it does seem peculiarly dated for a book which is trying so desperately to be acutely relevant. And I do feel that readers would probably get a better idea of the issues about cyberspace and AI by going elsewhere. I think there’s probably a better fictional treatment of these subjects waiting to be written. And as for human-robot romance and sex, this has also been very extensively explored in genre SF. And some of this almost certainly represents what people really want from such relationships than simple sex robots.

As for the book’s inclusion of Mary Shelley, Byron, Claire Clairmont and Polidori, Brian Aldiss also did it, or something like it, in his 1970’s SF story Frankenstein Unbound. This was filmed by B-movie maven Roger Corman. It’s not supposed to be a good film, but even so, it seems far more to my taste than Winterson’s book.

 

 

 

May Resigns, But Her Replacement Will Be as Bad or Worse

May 25, 2019

On Friday, after months of obstinate refusal May finally gave in to pressure and metaphorically fell on her sword. She resigned as Tory leader, but has said that she will stay on as Prime Minister until June 7th, when her party will select her successor. According to one of the videos of her resignation speech put up by one of the newspapers, she was quite lachrymose about it. The video’s title was about how she cried at her resignation.

Well, call me hardhearted, but I’ve no sympathy at all. May has been a disastrous Prime Minister, and before that was a disastrous home secretary. And her party has had no sympathy for Britain’s working people, and particularly the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. She was part of Cameron’s cabinet when he was pushing through the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS, the massive rise in tuition fees for students, the establishment of workfare, and the expansion of the benefit sanctions regime and the infamous work capability tests. She was there when they cut public spending, froze wages and allowed the establishment of highly exploitative part-time and zero hours contracts. It was Cameron’s Tory government that instituted the bedroom tax, and created the mess we have today where most people now cannot afford to buy their own home, and an increasing number of people are priced out of even rented property. All this was done in order to reduce the tax burden on the super rich elite. This would all somehow reduce public debt and create more jobs and prosperity. With prudent Tory financial management, the economy would soon be back on its feet and we could call an end to austerity.

It hasn’t worked. As Mike’s shown on his blog, the debt’s higher than ever. And the time when it will finally be cleared keeps getting put back and back. The I today ran one article on her, listing the arguments for and against. One of the arguments for her was that she had ended austerity. This is, in my opinion, a flat out lie. She said that austerity was over, but has not reversed her policies. The poor are still seeing their services cut. Actions, it is said, speak louder than words. And the actions say that austerity is still very much Tory policy. They also listed under the ‘for’ column her announcing that £260 million or so extra cash would be pumped into the NHS. But an examination of that announcement reveals that it’s much less impressive than it sounds, as it’s still far short of the money needed to restore the NHS. And I got the distinct impression when the announcement was made that there were no promises on how this would be financed, or when and how the money would be put it into the health service. It seemed another one of Tweezer’s promises, promises that are always broken.

And to add insult to injury there’s the continuing lies and denials about the number of people, who have been killed by the Tories’ welfare cuts. It’s now tens of thousands, and the poverty that the Tories have inflicted is so horrific that they stand condemned – again! – by the UN.

Now I realise that Tweezer wasn’t directly responsible for these policies under Cameron’s administration, and that the Ian Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and the other heads of the DWP are responsible for the horrors of the benefit cuts. But May never raised her hand against them, as far as I know, and she certainly continued them once she got her rear into No. 10.

But as the Home Secretary she was responsible for the government’s racist immigration policy. This included posters encouraging people to inform on illegal immigrants, vans going round to pick up any illegals, who wanted to hand themselves in. She was responsible for the hostile environment policy. A policy that found its lowest expression in the forced, illegal deportation of the Windrush peeps and their children. These were immigrants who, under the terms of the immigration treaties at the time, were perfectly entitled to remain here. Many of the people deported had never seen the country to which they were to be returned, or had last seen it when they were very young. But Tweezer wanted to show she was hard on immigration, as the racists in her party wanted, and so broke the law to have these people removed from their real homes hjere in Blighty.

Far from lamenting her departure, my initial reaction was to quote the Wizard of Oz: ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is dead!’

Unfortunately, her successor is likely to be as bad or worse. We now have a selection of contenders which includes Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom. Even Esther McVey threw her hat into the ring a few days ago, when she gave a speech to the Blue Collar Conservatives group. She was obviously trying to pose as the one thing she is not and has never been, the working man’s and woman’s friend to get the populist vote. As for the Blue Collar Conservatives, I could write a whole rant about them. The whole organisation strikes me as being made up of the type of people Johnny Speight drew on for his monstrous creation, Alf Garnet. I got the impression that BoJo is probably the bookies’ favourite. He has received Murdoch’s blessing, as his papers have been praising him and presenting him, despite all the evidence to the contrary, as some kind of future statesman. Instead he’s a vain, treacherous incompetent with the same savage hatred of the poor and a long streak of racism.

Just flicking through the I today I also caught headlines predicting that if a hard Brexiteer is chosen, confidence in the Tory party could collapse and a general election called. And the Labour party, or at least one of its leaders, has indeed called for one. Quite right. I’m sick of Prime Minister’s handing on the reigns of government to their successors safely in their allotted term, so that the next general election somehow acts as a public acclamation of the new Premier, rather than a proper democratic selection. It’s just a way in which democracy effectively becomes a rubber stamp for a transition of power really done by the party elite. As far as I can remember, it came in with Thatcher. She was ousted part-way through her term, and Major installed by the party faithful. He then went on to win the next election. It doesn’t always work – Blair tried it with Gordon Brown, who lost spectacularly, but the process carried on with Cameron’s departure and the installation of May. And now the Tories are set to do it again with May’s successor, whoever he or she is.

I’m sick of it. I’m sick of the Tories. I’m sick of the misery, the starvation, the deaths and deportations. I want them all gone, not just May.

It’s time we had proper general election to decide her successor. One that will hopefully get rid of them and her, and put Labour and Jeremy Corbyn in instead.

To Stop the Fash, Vote Labour against Farage

May 23, 2019

At the risk of repeating myself, I’m asking everyone to vote Labour today to stop the rise of Fascism generally and Nigel Farage’s grubby Brexit party in particular. Mike’s put up a piece this morning making this point, and citing some great tweets from people who know exactly what’s at stake.

As Zelo Street pointed out yesterday, Farage is not a man of the people. He’s one of the elite he rails against, hobnobbing with George Osborne and nipping round to Buck House for garden parties with the Queen. He’s a millionaire financier who wants to privatise the NHS and destroy the welfare state. He will do absolutely nothing about low wages and exploitative part time and zero hours contracts. And if he wins, he will receive immense support from Tory defectors and donors, flocking to him in reaction to the failures of their own party. Or else his victory will encourage them to become even more virulently right-wing.

He is anti-feminist and racist. One of his old teachers has said that he used to sing Nazi songs when he was a schoolboy and was something of a Fascist even then. The Brexit party, like UKIP, is not just against the EU but against immigration, and particularly and most vehemently against non-Whites and Muslims. Under Farage, UKIP used an photograph of a long line of Muslim immigrants waiting to get into the West that was exactly like a similar picture of Jewish migrants fleeing eastern Europe used by the Nazis.

Hope Not Hate are so worried about the Far Right winning that they are urging their supporters to tweet that they are voting today, and that they will take people to the polling booths to stop Farage winning by voting for any other party except those of the far right. This is the message I got from them today by email:

I’ve just done the most important thing I can do in this campaign – vote.

This election has been extraordinary. From Nigel Farage to Carl Benjamin to Tommy Robinson, we’ve seen a huge number of people standing for office on a platform of hatred and division.

The most effective antidote to the poison they seek to spread is a simple act that all of us can engage in today – voting.

That’s why I’m sending you this email. I need you to do two things:

    1. Click here to send a tweet saying that you’re voting today
    2. Head to your polling station today and #VoteHOPE

Those standing on a platform of hate all have one thing in common – they are relying on a low voter turnout to win their elections. That’s why it’s so important that as well as voting yourself, you also get everyone you know to do the same.

Whether it’s taking your colleagues to the polling station on your lunch break, or posting on social media to reach as many people as possible, it’s vital that we get everyone we know to a voting booth before 10pm.

Good luck, and have a great day.

Nick Lowles

CEO, HOPE not hate

One of those links is for donations to the organisation. I haven’t done so myself, but I do encourage everyone to take their advice about voting. Obviously, they’re not asking people specifically to vote Labour. But I believe that only the Labour party will stand a chance of defeating the Fuhrage and the rest of the Fascists through creating a strong anti-Fascist bloc in Europe and attacking the root causes of the rise of Fascism: neoliberalism.

People have fought and died to get working men and women the vote. Use it, and vote wisely.

But if you can’t vote Labour, then please vote for one of the mainstream, non-racist parties.

It’s imperative to vote Labour. But even more so is the need to stop the Fash (Fascists) winning.

No pasaran!

 

Astronauts Could Live in Moon Caves

May 22, 2019

Bit of science news now. Monday’s I, for 20th May 2019, carried an article by Francis Blagburn, with the same title as this article, on page 22, reporting that an American lunar scientist, Daniel Moriarty III, has suggested that astronauts to the Moon could live in its caves. The article ran

Astronauts could make use of the Moon’s nature cave structures to live inside small, natural shelters, according to Nasa.

The novel approach could see astronauts making camp in tunnel-like chambers on the surface of the Moon left by molten activity.

Dr Daniel Moriarty III, a post-doctoral lunar scientist, was speaking as part of an “ask me anything” session on social networking website Reddit when he discussed the concept.

“I think it makes sense to work within some of the structures and resources that are already there,” he wrote.

“It could be interesting to set up shop within a pre-existing lava tube, which could provide shielding from temperature variations and incoming solar radiation.”

Nasa’s next bout of lunar exploration is the Artemis mission, due to be launched in 2024. President Donald Trump has backed the plans and embraced space travel as a theme. “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6bn so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!,” he tweeted last week.

It’s a good idea, but not as new as the paper believes. Scientists have argued for some time that future explorers of the Moon and Mars would have to build their bases underground in order to shelter from the ambient cosmic radiation. It’s why the lunar base in Kubrick’s class 2001 is underground, and the Martian city in Paul Verhoeven’s ’80s’ version of Total Recall is built into the sides of a canyon. As are many of the Martian cities in Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic trilogy charting the colonisation of the Red Planet, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. And the British space scientist, Duncan Lunan, suggested that future colonists of the Moon would live in the caves there in his book, Man and the Planets, published in the early 1980s. He drew on science fiction for some of the ideas discussed in the book, and the SF work he used for that suggestion had the colonists walking about in conditions of near nudity in lunar caverns. Well, I suppose the engineers would keep it at a constant, regulated temperature, so you wouldn’t have to worry about getting cold, except perhaps in an emergency when these systems failed. But that idea now seems very dated now in contemporary, post-AIDS culture. The idea clearly reflects the changing attitude towards nudity and sexual morality of the late ’60s and ’70s rather than a realistic prediction of future lunar fashions.

I am very solidly behind these proposals for humanity’s return to the Moon, whether done by NASA with the Artemis project or their private competitors, Jeff Bezos and co. Hopefully it won’t be too long at all before we see people living in lunar and Martian caverns for real. Though more suitably dressed for television reports back to Earth.