Archive for June, 2020

Radio 4 Programme on DNA and Art

June 25, 2020

Radio 4 are also broadcasting next week what looks like an interesting programme on art and poetry based on DNA science. It’s titled The Art of Now: Recombinant Rhymes and DNA Art. The blurb for it in next week’s Radio Times simply says

Anna McNamee meets the artists and poets collaborating with genetic scientists to create work inspired by biotechnology, examining the connection between DNA and art.

Some genetic engineers and biotech scientists have already used their skills to create works of art. Way back in the ’90s a group of such scientists created specially genetically engineered organisms. This included a cactus that had hairs instead of spines. Later on another pair of scientists created a jacket made out of living skin. I’m not sure whether these creations were art, or simply monsters created by people with twisted morals and a perverse aesthetic sense.

If you want to listen to it, the programme’s on at 11.30 am on Thursday, 2nd July 2020.

Radio 4 Programme Next Week Claiming Universal Credit during Lockdown

June 25, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times, for 27th June – 3rd July 2020, Radio 4 is broadcasting a programme next Monday, 29th June 2020, on Universal Credit claimants and their experience of having to wait five weeks for their first payment during lockdown. The programme’s title is Your Call Is Important to Us, and the blurb for it simply says

The personal stories of people claiming Universal Credit for the first time during lockdown, waiting in isolation for up to five weeks for their first payment to arrive. (p. 119).

The addition piece on it by Tom Goulding on the previous page, 118, runs

In times of prosperity, it is easy to feel detached from the conversation surrounding benefits. But with around three million applying for Universal Credit since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, more people are finding themselves at the sharp end of the process, made all the more torturous by weeks of isolation. This programme delves into some of these individual stories, including a warehouse manager who has been forced to shield and saxophonist who has moved back in with his parents. For balance, we also hear from staff of the Works and Pensions department on how they have coped in the crisis.

I think part of Tory policy towards the poor, the disabled and the unemployed was always about keeping the numbers below a certain level so that they voting base wouldn’t become too alarmed and start to wonder if it would happen to them. If it did, then some of them might actually catch on to the fact that they really aren’t doing anything to help people, just punishing and victimising them for being poor and daring to be a burden on society, or rather, the super-rich. This strategy is obviously threatened when a significant part of the workforce is suddenly thrown out of work, or furloughed, as has happened during lockdown.

Labour should have been protecting these people and holding Johnson and his gang of thugs and profiteers responsible for their continuing persecution of the unemployed and the disabled. Despite everything, the Tories have continued with their dreadful, murderous policy of austerity. But Starmer has said zip about all of this.

As for the DWP and its staff, I dare say some are genuinely conscientious people, who care about their clients. But those are not the qualities desired or encouraged by the Department’s chiefs, like the odious Iain Duncan Smith. Their concern is simply to get people off benefit. If they can’t find them work, then they invent utterly fake, spurious reasons to sanction them, all to provide the tax breaks the Tories give to the 1 per cent. When questioned about their policies, the Tories simply lie, and I have no doubt that is exactly what many of the staff interviewed on the programme will do in order to justify what is frankly unjustifiable.

The programme’s on at 11.00 am, if you want to listen to it.

Hurrah! Katie Hopkins Evicted from Twitter

June 24, 2020

Earlier this week anti-racism activists finally succeeded in having hatey Katie Hopkins banned from Twitter. Hopkins started her notorious career as one of the contestants in the British version of The Apprentice. She was one of the runners-up, but her noxious right-wing beliefs nevertheless got her taken on as a columnist for the Scum and the Heil. She lost these thanks to her very outspoken racism.

In this clip from Novara Media’s Tysky Sour, Michael Walker and Aaron Bastani discuss her noxious career. This included such lows as her infamous description of immigrants and asylum seekers as ‘cockroaches’ for whom she had absolutely no love. This made that last sentiment very clear in a Tweet aimed at Philip Schofield after the sinking of a migrant ship and its human cargo in the Med. The newspapers covered this with a picture of a grieving father, who had stopped at Turkey, looking at the body of his infant son, which had just been washed up on the beach. Hopkins went on to say that illegal immigrants should be gunned down if they tried to cross into Britain. But perhaps the nadir came in a Tweet she made after the Manchester bombing in which she called for a ‘final solution’. This was too much even for whatever paper was then employing her, and she was given the heave-ho. But she was still free to spew her hate on Twitter. And now she’s lost even that.

Bastani and Walker agree that her banning is an open and shut case. She deserved it. But they also point out that the people who enabled her by giving her platforms and newspaper columns are still around. Stig Abell was the editor of the Scum who took her on. He hasn’t been damaged, and is now at the Times, where he’s pretending to be the voice of moderation. Well, I’ve absolutely no respect for the Times and its sister paper, the Sunday Times, because of their repeated smears and libels against the left, and particularly of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, including Mike. While they use a much more extensive vocabulary and are aimed at a far better educated readership than the Scum, those two rags are still utter, disgraceful trash. The time’s long past when all of the mendacious Tory press should have been cleaned out of his liars, propagandists and smear merchants.

I’ve no doubt that there are complaints against Hopkin’s ban as well as accusations of censorship, but I don’t think her defenders really have a case. There have been cases like Hopkins’ before, in which a right-winger with very racist or intolerant views has been banned from a social media platform like Twitter or YouTube. Their supporters have always tried to defend them on the grounds of free speech. But in America, this clause of the Constitution only applies to the government. They can’t imprison or persecute citizens for expressing their beliefs. But it doesn’t apply to private corporations.

Twitter is a private company. According to Conservatives and Libertarians, private industry should be left to do whatever it likes within reason in the pursuit of profit. Government should respect the rule of laissez faire economics and not interfere. But Twitter is a private company, and so it can, by the same reasoning, decide who or what it wants on its platform. And if it decides that hatey Katie has violated its terms and conditions, it has every right to throw her off. Also, Britain and other European countries don’t quite have free speech. A wide variety of opinions are permitted, but nevertheless it is an offence under British law to incite racial hatred. I’m not sure if someone has ever tried to prosecute her under the terms of the act, but she has certainly sailed close to the wind.

Hopkins has moved to Parler, which according to Zelo Street is rapidly becoming a cesspool full of racists like her and other extreme right-wingers, like the vile Toby Young. This is bad news for Hopkins as it means that she will probably never recover her popularity or audience. One of her fellows down there is Milo Yiannopolis, formerly of Breitbart. Yiannopolis is gay, half-Jewish and married to a Black man. But he’s another extreme right-wing propagandist, who made his name with attacks on ethnic minorities and feminism. All was going well for him. He had a speaking tour of American universities and a book deal with Simon & Schuster’s right-wing imprint. Then he appeared on the Joe Rogan Show and made comments suggesting he approved of paedophilia. At this point, it all vanished, including Yiannopolis’ invitation to CPAC or some other Conservative event. Yiannopolis tearfully retracted his comments, apologised and said that he now recognised that he also was a victim of child abuse. But it was to no avail. He was also turfed off Twitter, and has no joined in his fellow rightists in Parler.

Yiannopolis was also a massive grifter. He was also begging for money. One of his money-making schemes was appealing for donations for a bursary he was setting up so young White men could afford to go to college. He received plenty of money, but it all went straight into Yiannopolis’ own bank account. There was no bursary, and he never paid any aspiring underprivileged White male student anything. When last I took notice of him, Yiannopolis was claiming that he debts of £4 million. His chances of paying this off are slim. According to Zelo Street, his messages on Parler have included whinges that he now only has 1001 followers, who never go to anything he does, or buy anything from him. Well hard cheese. If only the same thing happened to others like him, who preached race hate and exploited the gullible. Now Hopkins is in the same boat, and likely to have the same difficulty recovering anything like her former success.

The only pity is that Abell and the rest of the ‘respectable’ Tory horrors that facilitated her haven’t also suffered the same treatment.

See also: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/parler-vous-racist-sewer.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/so-farewell-then-katie-hopkins.html

 

Norman Tebbitt Thinks Nazis Must Have Been Far Left Because of Name

June 24, 2020

Here we go again. Things must be desperate for the Tories, as they’ve got Thatcher’s bully-boy, Norman Tebbitt, to write a piece declaring that the Nazis were far left and socialists. Because they had the word in their name, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It’s an old like that’s been going around for years. It surfaced about the beginning of this decade with the publication of Joshua Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Now Communism as genuine far left socialism is guilty of horrendous atrocities by Stalin and other monsters, but the Nazis were never socialists. They had their origins in radical right-wing patriotic movements around the time of the First World War, which believed that the Second Reich of the Wilhelmine emperors had failed to capture the support of German workers, and thus left them exposed to the allure of democracy and socialism.

As Social Darwinists, the Nazis believed that the aristocracy and the leaders of big business were biologically superior to the rest of humanity. Hitler made it clear to the genuinely anti-capitalist elements in the Nazi party, led by Otto and Gregor Strasser, that he didn’t intend to nationalise anything. Businesses and enterprises would only be taken into state ownership if they were failing. He courted the support of German industrialists by giving a speech in which he declared that private enterprise could only survive through the personal autocracy which the Nazis were going to introduce. Hitler had introduced the word ‘socialist’ into the party’s name against the wishes of its founder, Anton Drexler. He did so with the deliberate intent of luring voters away from the real socialist parties – the SPD, USPD and later Communists. Yes, thanks to Stalin’s order, the Communists did demonstrate alongside the Nazis after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact. But once the Nazis seized power, socialists and communists were among the first prisoners in the concentration camps, as well as trade unionists after they smashed them.

Nazi Germany was a centrally-planned economy, like the Soviet Union and Fascist Italy, in which the government controlled production and issued commands to business. But industry was largely not nationalized. It was controlled through a series of state-mandated trade and industrial associations. German law divided property into three categories: private, public, and private, but used for public purposes. The industries they controlled fell into the last. They also embarked on a massive privatisation campaign. Even when the industries remained largely in state ownership, like electricity, the heads of the associations managing them were drawn from private industry. The Nazis also took over private businessmen as heads of the government department managing the economy. It’s a method very similar to New Labour’s and the Tories’ appointment of senior business chiefs to run government departments in the new corporativism.

The Nazis weren’t socialists at all for all Hitler’s propagandistic claims. But Conservatives, including the American Republican Party, like to claim that they were as a smear on the left. They also contradict themselves by trying to deny that the Nazis were nationalists, despite the glaringly obvious fact that it is precisely what they said they were. Candace Owens, a young Black lady whose one of the leaders of the American Conservative youth organisation, Turning Point, infamously denied that the Nazis were nationalists when she and the equally loathsome Dave Rubin turned up over here trying to promote their British branch, Turning Point UK. Owens declared that Hitler wasn’t a nationalist, because he wanted everyone to be German. This is flat wrong – he wanted a Europe ruled by Germany, in which those races deemed biologically unfit or hostile would be exterminated. This started with the Jews, but as he makes very clear in Mein Kampf and his Table-Talk, would have gone on to the Slav peoples like the Czechs. She also thought that Hitler’s policies would have been all right, if he’d only put them into practise in Germany. Which means presumably that she believed the ending of democracy, the imprisonment of political prisoners and the Holocaust would all have been acceptable if he’d just stuck to Germany. She was naturally torn to shreds for this stupid, ridiculous and vile remark.

As for Norman Tebbit, he became notorious in the 1990s for his remark that British citizenship should be decided on who you supported at cricket. If a Black or Asian person didn’t support England, then they weren’t really Brits. Not surprisingly, people also tore into him for this piece of prize bigotry.

Mike’s put up a piece criticizing this latest piece of Tory lying, including some very amusing and interesting Tweets by the very many peeps not impressed with the Chingford Skinhead’s knowledge of such matters. My favourite is the comment wondering, based on Tebbitt’s logic for telling the world that the Nazis were socialists, whether he has had spotted dick. It’s a good question, as while I don’t doubt Tebbitt enjoys good, traditional British fare, he also has a reputation for homophobia.

Joking aside, this is a deliberate attempt by the Tories once again to misinform the public and distort history. Tebbitt always had a reputation for thuggish ignorance, but the Torygraph is supposed to be an upmarket, informative newspaper. Well, it lies badly and constantly, like the Tories themselves. This highly mendacious claim is yet another demonstration why shouldn’t believe anything it says.

The newspaper is making a loss hand over fist, and is heading down the tubes at a rate a knots. And this piece has just shown that when it finally goes under, British journalism will improve.

Raving racist Norman Tebbit admits he’s more right-wing than Hitler

Trailer for AppleTV’s ‘Foundation’ Series

June 24, 2020

Here’s another video that has zilch to do with politics. Apparently, the computer giant Apple has, or is launching, their own TV channel. And one of the shows they’ve made for it is an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation series of books. This is one of the works for which Asimov is best remembered, along with his Robot books – I, Robot, The Caves of Steel and others. I, Robot was filmed a few years ago with Will Smith playing a human detective investigating the suicide of a robotics scientist. Together with the chief suspect, a unique robot with free will and a mind of its own, Smith uncovers a conspiracy to take over the city with a new generation of robots. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know how faithful the movie was to them. Something tells me that they took a few liberties, but I don’t know.

I haven’t read Foundation either, but I gather it’s an epic about an academic, Hari Seldon, who invents the science of psychohistory. Using its techniques, he predicts that the vast galactic empire that is so ancient, no-one actually knows where Earth is anymore, is about to fall into a new Dark Age. He prepares for this by setting up the eponymous Foundation on a barren planet with the intention of collecting all human knowledge in preparation for the restoration of civilization. It’s one of the major influences behind both Frank Herbert’s Dune and George Lucas’ Star Wars. The heart of the galactic empire is Trantor, a world that has become one vast, planet-wide city. This is the model for Coruscant, the city planet which is the capital of the Republic and then the Empire in Star Wars.

The video shows scenes from the new series along with clips of others as they were being shot. There’s also a comment from the director or one of the producers, who says that Asimov was keenly interested in technology, and so would have approved of Apple making the series. There have been attempts to adapt Foundation before, apparently, but they’ve all failed due to the complexity and immense time span covered by the books. I do remember way back in the ’70s there was an LP version, where it was read by William Shatner. Less reverently, back in the ’90s one of the Oxbridge theatre groups decided to stage a play which combined it and Dr. Strangelove, titled Fundament! This ended with a Nazi scientist shouting, ‘Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!’, just like the end of Kubrick’s movie.

Take a look at the trailer. It looks awesome, though unfortunately there have been movies where all the best bits were in the trailer, and the film itself actually dull. I hope this isn’t the case here. My problem with it at the moment is that it’s going to be on another streaming channel, which will mean having to subscribe to that, rather than getting it with a satellite/cable TV package.

Elon Musk and Tom Cruise to Film Movie on International Space Station

June 23, 2020

Here’s another fascinating video that has absolutely nothing to do with politics. It’s from the YouTube channel Screen Rant, and reports the news that tech mogul Elon Musk and Tom Cruise are planning to film an action movie on location in space. They’re planning to use the International Space Station. Neil Lehmann, who was worked with Cruise before on previous movies, is going to be the director. And no, apparently it’s not a hoax or publicity stunt. NASA’s Jim Bridenstine has announced that the space agency is totally behind the idea, and hopes that it will inspire more people to be interested in space, and to become scientists and engineers.

There aren’t, however, any details yet regarding the movie’s title or what it will actually be about. It won’t be a sequel to Mission: Impossible nor to Top Gun: Maverick. Neither is it connected to another film set in space that starred, or was to star Cruise, Lunar Park. What is certain, however, is that it’s going to be expensive. It cost Musk $90 million to launch his $100,000 Tesla car into space. Another film-maker, Richard Garriott, also spent two weeks in space at the station, where he filmed a five minute short, Apogee Lost. NASA charged $30 million for those two weeks. The station is open to paying guests, who are charged $35,000 per night for their stay.

According to Garriott, the station isn’t the best place to shoot. Because of the weightlessness, anything not stuck down with velcro tends to float away, and he did have trouble with the sets and props he was using floating off the walls. It also gets hot up there, so the station has a multitude of ventilator fans going, whose noise may pose a problem when recording sound.

There’s also a problem in that Cruise, and everyone of the film crew who goes with him, must pass NASA’s stringent astronaut fitness tests. They also have to be proficient swimmers and pass the course on water survival as part of the rigorous astronaut training.

The film is being billed as the first to be shot in space. It isn’t that – that honour belong’s to Garriott’s, but it will be the first full-length movie shot in space. And Screen Rant says that it will be interesting to compare it with other SF films shot on Earth.

The video naturally includes clips from a number of Cruise’s movies, including Top Gun and Mission: Impossible.

I’m particularly interested in this news because I presented a paper at a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society recommending the same idea. 

It was at a symposium at the Society’s headquarters in London on the popular commercialisation space in September 2001. All of the talks presented were really fascinating, but the one that justly received the greatest interest and applause was on how space could be used for sport, especially Harry Potter’s school game, Quidditch. Some of the papers, including mine, were later published in the May/June 2002 issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS). The paper is quite long, so I’ll just put up the abstract:

Space exploration is the subject of intense media interest in a way unparalleled in any other branch of science. It is the subject of countless films and television programmes, both fact and fiction, many using original footage from space. Astronauts have broadcast live from the Moon, and TV journalists have travelled to Mir, similar to the use of exotic terrestrial locations for filming by professional film crews. Although prohibitively expensive at the moment, the next generation of spacecraft may lower launch costs to an affordable level, so that space locations become competitive against computer graphics and model work. The constructions of orbital hotels will create the demand for human interest stories similar to those set in holiday locations like the south of France and Italy made just after the Second World War, at a time when much tourism on foreign holidays was just beginning, aided by the development of large transport aircraft able to cater to the demand for mass flight.

Moreover, special effects and studio artificiality have been eschewed by a new generation of auteur directors in pursuit of cinema verite like the Danish Dogme ’94 group. These directors will prefer to travel to orbit to film, rather than use terrestrial studio locations and special effects. The construction of zero-gravity playrooms in orbital hotels may create new spectator sports which can only be played in low or zero gravity, necessitating sports journalists to travel into space to cover them. The lack of human-rated vehicles for the Moon and the great distance to Mars will rule these out as film locations for the foreseeable future, although journalists may well accompany colonists to Mars, and a native, Martian film industry may develop when that colony matures. (p.188).

I can’t claim that Musk and Cruise stole my idea, as I doubt Musk and Cruise are even aware my article exists, let alone have read it. When I wrote the paper, NASA was testing advanced spacecraft designs using aerospike engines, which they hoped would significantly reduce launch costs. These never materialised due to the repeated failures of the spacecraft leading to the programme’s cancellation. It may be, however, that the development of Musk’s SpaceX rocket, which has just successfully carried a crew to the ISS, may lead to the emergence of further spacecraft vehicles which may do this. NASA is also is also involved in the development of landers for a possible crewed mission to the Moon. Space hotels aren’t a reality yet, but a first step towards them was made in 2016 with the addition of an inflatable section, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the International Space Station. This was launched aboard the Spacex rocket, and was developed by the hotel magnate Robert Bigelow.

Despite the immense costs involved, I hope this movie does get made and that it inspires other film makers to use space as a location. And I also hope they do start building proper space tourist hotels and start playing and broadcasting sports in space. After all, one of the last Apollo crewmen played golf on the Moon.

And if there are other billionaire space entrepreneurs looking for a few ideas to develop, perhaps they might consider another I had, which I discussed in a previous post. I had a piece published in one of the British Interplanetary Society’s magazine’s looking forward to competitive, human-carrying hobby rocketry, similar to hang gliding and microlights in aviation. I’d be delighted to see someone start developing that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book on Slavery Around the World Up To the Present

June 23, 2020

Jeremy Black, Slavery: A New Global History (London: Constable & Robinson 2011).

One of the aspects of the contemporary debate over slavery is that, with some exceptions, it is very largely centred on western, transatlantic slavery. This is largely because the issue of slavery has been a part of the controversy over the status of Blacks in western society and the campaigns for improving their conditions and combating anti-Black racism since the abolitionist movement arose in the 18th and 19th centuries. But it ignores the crucial fact that slavery is a global phenomenon which was certainly not confined to the transatlantic slavery of the European empires. One of the arguments marshaled by the slaveowners was that slavery had existed since antiquity. Both the Romans and the ancient Greeks had possessed slaves, as had ancient Egypt. It still existed in Black Africa, the Turkish empire, the Arab states and India. Hence slavery, the slaveowners argued, was a necessary part of human civilisation, and was impossible to abolish. It was ‘philanthropic’ and ‘visionary’ to demand it.

This was partly the reason why, after the British had abolished slavery in their own empire, they moved to attack it around the world. This meant not only freeing the slaves in the West Indies and their South American colonies, but also at Cape Colony in South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Hong Kong and further east in the new territories of Malaya, Fiji and the Pacific Islands, and Australia.  Most histories of slavery focus on transatlantic slavery. However, Jeremy Black’s book discusses it as existed around the world.

The book’s blurb concentrates on European slavery in the Americas. It runs

The story of slavery – from the ancient world to the present day

In this panoramic history, leading historian Jeremy Black explores slavery from its origins – the uprising of Spartacus and the founding of the plantations in the Indies – to its contemporary manifestations as human trafficking and bonded labour.

Black reveals how slavery served to consolidate empires and shape New World societies such as America and Brazil, and the way in which slave trading across the Atlantic changed the Western world. He assesses the controversial truth behind the complicity of Africans within the trade, which continued until the long, hard fight for abolition in the nineteenth century. Black gives voice to both the campaigners who fought for an end to slavery, and the slaves who spoke of their misery.

In this comprehensive and thoughtful account of the history of slavery, the role of slavery in the modern world is examined and Black shows that it is still widespread today in many countries.

But Black begins his introduction with the case of Hadijatou Mani, a Niger woman, who was sold into slavery at the age of 12 and subsequently beaten, raped and prosecuted for bigamy because she dared to marry a man other than her master. She successfully brought her case before the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, which ruled in her favour and fined her country. She stated that she had brought the case in order to protect her children. Slavery is officially outlawed in Niger, but the local customary courts support the custom by which the children of slaves become the property of their masters.

Black then describes how slavery was truly a global phenomenon, and the treatment of slaves at Cape Coast in Ghana resembles the treatment of Christian slaves taken by the Barbary pirates. And its history extends from the ancient world to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. He writes

The mournful, underground dungeons at Cape Coast Castle and other bases on the low, watery coastline of West Africa where African slaves were held from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries prior to shipment to the New World are potent memory of the vile cruelty of slavery, and notably of the approximately 12.5 million Africans forced into this trade and transported on about 35,000 transatlantic voyages, yet these dungeons are not alone and should not crowd out other landscapes where slavery was carried on and the slave trade conducted. Nicholas de Nicolay’s mid-sixteenth-century account of slave dealers parading their captives naked to show that they had no physical defects, and so that they could be examined as if they were horses, with particular reference to their teeth and feet, could have referred to the world of Atlantic slavery, but actually was written about Tripoli in modern Libya, where large numbers of Christians captured from Malta and Sicily by the Barbary pirates of North Africa were sold.

Indeed, the landscapes of slavery span the world, and range from the Central Asian city of Khiva, where the bustle of the slave market can still be visualized in the narrow streets, to Venice, a major entrepot for the slave trade of medieval Europe albeit not one noted by modern tourists. The range is also from Malacca in modern Malaysia, an important centre for the slave trade around the Indian Ocean, especially under the Muslim sultans but also, from 1511, under, first their Portuguese and, then, their Dutch successors, to the few remains of the murderous system of labout that was part of the Nazis’ genocidal treatment of the Jews. The variety of slavery in the past and across history stretched from the galleys of imperial Rome to slave craftsmen in Central Asian cities, such as Bukhara, and from the mines of the New World to those working in spice plantations in east Africa. Public and private, governmental and free enterprise, slavery was a means of labour and form of control. (p.2).

The book has the following chapters

  1. Pre-1500
  2. The Age of Conquest, 1500-1600
  3. The Spread of Capitalist Slavery, 1600-1700
  4. Slavery before Abolitionism, 1700-1780
  5. Revolution, Abolitionism and the Contrasting Fortunes of the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1780-1850
  6. The End of Slavery, 1830-1930?
  7. A Troubled Present, 1930-2011
  8. Legacies and Conclusions.

I feel very strongly that the global dimension of slavery and the slave trade needs to be taught, and people should be aware that it isn’t simply something that White Europeans forced on to Black Africans and other indigenous peoples. British imperialism was wrong, but the British did act to end slavery, at least officially, both within our empire and across the world. And odiously slavery is returning. After Blair’s, Sarkozy’s and Obama’s bombing of Libya, the Islamist regime in part of the country has allowed slave markets selling Black Africans to be reopened. Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, posted a video on YouTube discussing the appearance of yet more slave markets in Uganda. He pointedly asked why none of the ‘SJWs’ protesting against the racism and the historical injustice of slavery weren’t protesting about that. Benjamin is a member of the extreme right, though I would not like to accuse him personally of racism and the question is a good one. As far as I know, there are no marches of anti-racist activists loudly demanding an end to racism in countries like Uganda, Niger, Libya and elsewhere. Back in the ’90s the persistence and growth of slavery was a real, pressing issue and described in books like Disposable People. But that was over twenty years ago and times have moved on.

But without an awareness of global history of slavery and existence today, there is a danger that the current preoccupation with western transatlantic slavery will just create a simplistic ‘White man bad’ view. That White Europeans are uniquely evil, while other cultures are somehow more virtuous and noble in another version of the myth of the ‘noble savage’.

And it may make genuine anti-racists blind to its existence today, an existence strengthened and no doubt increasing through neoliberalism and the miseries inflicted by globalisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book on African History

June 22, 2020

Roland Oliver and J.D. Fage, A Short History of Africa, 5th Edition (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1975)

As I discussed in an earlier post, the Black Lives Matter protests have led to calls for the greater teaching of Black history in schools. Africa does indeed have a very long and fascinating history and there were great African civilisations, such as Nubia, Ethiopia and the Muslim states of west Africa, like Mali, long before Europeans colonised the continent. There are now plenty of books on African history, but the one I’ve been using is the above book by Roland Oliver and J.D. Fage. I’ve no doubt it’s now very dated, as my copy is the revised version of the fifth edition, that was published in 1978. There’s obviously been 42 years of change and development on the continent since then. Nevertheless, I’ve found it useful in understand the history of the continent from the earliest antiquity through the middle ages and the colonial period.

Its blurb reads

During the twentieth century the centre of the world shifted…

The dramatic alterations in political power have corrected the vision of a European-centred world. While the centres of European culture flourished, decayed and sprouted in turn, empires in Africa rose, ruled, resisted and succumbed. Much of Africa’s past has now been excavated from ignorance and error, revealing a rich and previously little-known human heritage.

In this classic work, the authors have drawn on the whole range of literature about Africa and on the evidence provided by archaeology, oral traditions, language relationships and social institutions. A Short History of Africa not only marshals the most authoritative views of African specialists into an absorbing narrative, it also puts forward original conclusions that take the study of Africa a stage further.

The book has the following chapters:

  1. The Hunters
  2. The Farmers
  3. The Townsmen
  4. The Sudanic Civilisation
  5. Mediterranean Civilisation in Northern and Western Africa
  6. The Arab Empire in Africa
  7. Northern and Western Africa during the Great Age of Islam
  8. North-East and East Africa in Medieval and Early Modern Times
  9. The States of Guinea
  10. The Era of Firearms and the Slave Trade: (1) North and West Africa
  11. The Era of Firearms and the Slave Trade: (2) From the Congo to the Zambezi
  12. The Turn of the Tide in Europe
  13. The Nineteenth Century: North and West Africa
  14. The Nineteenth Century: Southern Africa
  15. The Nineteenth Century: East and North-East Africa
  16. The European Scramble for African Colonies
  17. The Colonial Period: First Phase
  18. The Colonial Period: Second Phase
  19. The Colonial Period: Third Phase – Economic Development and Welfare
  20. Independent Africa (1)
  21. Independent Africa (2).

Despite being published so long ago, I think the book is still useful and hope others will also find it so. And that it also stimulates peoples’ interest in this great and diverse continent and its myriad cultures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Artist Wants Her Statues Put Up on Colston’s Plinth

June 21, 2020

Since the statue of the slaver Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down from its plinth and thrown into the docks, there’s been a debate over what should replace him. Mike posted up a few Tweets from people giving their suggestions in his post about the statue’s forcible removal. One of these suggested that as the Ladies’ Abolitionist Society in Sheffield was the first to demand the emancipation of the slaves, a statue should be put up to them. I disagree, because although there should be a monument to them, it should be a matter for Sheffield to commemorate its great citizens, rather than Bristol. It’s for this same reason I got annoyed with a piece on Channel 4 News yesterday in which a Black sculptress spoke about how she would like her statues put up on Colston’s plinth.

She had created a series of sculptures of male and female slaves with the title We Have Made the World Richer. These depicted various figures from the history of slavery and the enslavement of Africans. The first two were of a man and woman, who had been newly enslaved. They had a slogan stating that they had been torn from their homes. Then there was a couple of plantation slaves, with the slogan ‘We Are Brave’. And there were more. I think there were something like six or eight statues in total. The statues had previously been exhibited in parliament, but had garnered little comment from the MP. Krishnan Guru-Murthy, interviewing her, asked her why this was. She felt it was because it was too raw and powerful for them. She described the fall of Colston’s statue as ‘cathartic’, and felt that the empty plinth should be taken up with one of hers. When Guru-Murthy asked her if Bristol knew she was coming, she laughed and said that she hoped they did now.

It would be entirely right for the plinth in Bristol to be occupied by a slave, representing one of Colston’s victims. But the statue and/or its artist should ideally be people, who actually had connections to the city. I wonder if there’s a local Black artist from somewhere like St. Paul’s or Stokes Croft that could create one. From the way the woman spoke, it was clear that she wasn’t a Bristolian and had absolutely no connection with it or its people. I wonder if she even knew where the city was or even that there was such a place before the events a week or so ago. It looked to me to be rather opportunistic. She was an outsider looking for a space for her art, and thought she’d found it in Bristol. There are also problems with the size of the plinth itself. It is only big enough to hold a statue of one person, not the many she created. Presumably one of the statues would have to be on the plinth itself while the others were arranged around it.

The vast majority of slaves traded by Bristol were taken to the West Indies, but there were some and free Blacks in the city. One of the villages just outside Bristol has the grave of Scipio, the enslaved servant of one of the local aristocracy. One of the bridges over Bristol’s docks, which is cantilevered with two, gigantic, trumpet-shaped horns, is called ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after another local slave. There is also a slave walk around the docks, and memorial plaque on one of the former warehouses by Bristol’s M Shed to the countless victims of Bristol’s trade in slaves. And the subjects of two existing sculptures in the city, John Wesley and Edmund Burke, were also opponents of the slavery and the slave trade. Burke, the city’s MP, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France became a foundational text for modern Conservatism, condemned slavery in an 18th century parliamentary debate. I believe Wesley also attacked in a sermon he gave at the Methodist New Room, now John Wesley’s Chapel in Broadmead in Bristol. I think that after 1745 Methodists were forbidden to own slaves.

I also wonder if figures from national history might make more suitable subjects for sculptures. Like Mary Prince, a West Indian slave from Bermuda, who was able to gain her freedom when her masters took her to London. The Mansfield judgement had officially ruled that slavery did not exist under English law, and so slaves brought to Britain were, in law, free. Prince got her freedom simply by walking away. She joined the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, and her account of her life as a slave, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, was published in London in 1831. Another British slave, who gave his voice to the abolitionist campaign was Louis Asa-Asa. Asa-Asa had been enslaved by the French, but gained his freedom when a ship carrying him put in at Cornwall. He was the author of a pamphlet, How Cruelly We Are Used, which was also published in 1831. I also suspect that there are other people in Bristol’s history, whether slaves or White abolitionists, who deserve to be commemorated but at the moment nobody knows about.

Without going into the murderous fear of outsiders of the League of Gentlemen’s Edward and Tubbs and their slogan ‘a local shop, for local people’, the vacant plinth should be occupied by a figure from Bristol’s history. Even if it is only someone, who simply visited the city as part of an abolitionist speaking tour. Many of Britain’s towns and cities had abolitionist societies, like those of Sheffield, and I’d be very surprised if Bristol didn’t have one. Even if the city did officially celebrate the failure of abolitionist bills before the eventual emancipation of 1837.

 

Adam Savage Hitches Rickshaw to Four-Legged Spot Robot

June 21, 2020

This is another video which has absolutely nothing to do with politics, but I’m putting it up simply because it’s fun. In it, Adam Savage, the engineer and Science Fiction fan behind Mythbusters, builds a joint for Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot so he can hitch a rickshaw he built for himself to it. Boston Dynamics have developed a series of robots, some of which are humanoid and bipedal. They produced another quadrupedal robot, Big Dog, as a carrier for the American army. However, the programme was cancelled because the robot’s electric motors produced too much noise for it to be used in combat, as this would have alerted the enemy to the soldiers’ approach.

Savage says of the rickshaw he built, that it was originally going to be very brightly coloured after the Indian vehicles. When he came to build it, it became darker, and much more European so that it had a Steampunk look. Steampunk is the type of Science Fiction that imagines what would have happened if the Victorians had really developed the kind of technology in the early SF of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and had space and time travel and computers. One of the founding books of this genre was William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which is set in a Britain where Lord Byron has led a revolution and is now the head of government and Charles Babbage’s pioneering early mechanical computer, the Difference Engine of the title, has been built.

The Spot robot itself is semi-autonomous. As Savage has shown in previous videos, it can be operated by remote control. However, it recognises and avoids obstacles, and so it’s impossible to steer it into a brick wall. It will just stop, or try to go round it. When Savage and two other engineers and technicians are testing how it performs with the rickshaw attached, the robot comes to a halt on a slope. This is because it doesn’t realise that it needs to put in more power to pull the rickshaw up it, and so the two technicians work on its software so that it can correctly assess the force it needs and perform accordingly.

The robot and rickshaw together really do look like something out of Steampunk SF, or the 19th century SF art of the French author, Jacques Robida. Or even a scene from the Star Wars’ galaxy, which similarly mixes high technology – spaceships, robots and landspeeders with very low-tech forms of transport like animals. The fact that this is reality in 2020 shows that we are living in an age of SF.