Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

‘I’ Newspaper on Labour’s Plans to Liberate University Regulator from Market Forces

February 16, 2019

Today’s I for Saturday, 16th February 2019 has an article by Florence Snead on page 4 reporting Labour’s plans to overhaul the universities regulator, and remove the free market ideology currently underpinning its approach to higher education in the UK. The piece, entitled ‘Universities ‘should not be left to the mercy of market forces’ runs

Labour has unveiled how it would overhaul the higher education system as it claimed the system’s new regulator was “not fit for purpose”.

The shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner will criticize the Office for Students – established by the Government in 2018 – in a speech today at the annual University and Colleges Union conference.

She will say the regulator represents a system “where market logic is imposed on public goods” and where “forces of competition run rampant at the expense of students, staff and communities.”

Labour said it wants the regulator to report on diversity in university staff and student bodies and to take action to make universities “genuinely representative of the communities they serve”.

Staff should also be represented on the regulator’s board to ensure their views are heard, it added.

The party said it would also ban vice chancellors sitting on their own remuneration committees.

Ms Rayner is also expected to address the issue of universities being on the brink of bankruptcy, as previously revealed by I.

“Students would be left with immense uncertainty about their futures and entire communities would lose one of their major academic, economic and social institutions.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore responded: “Universities know they can’t trust Corbyn as his plans would crash the economy, mean less investment in our higher education, compromising its world class quality”.

Actually, if anything’s trashed our world class education system, it’s been the Thatcherite programme of privatization and free market ideology. Scientific research at UK universities has been hampered ever since Thatcher decided that university science departments should go into partnership with business. Which has meant that universities can no longer engage in blue sky research, or not so much as they could previously, and are shackled to producing products for private firms, rather than expanding the boundaries of knowledge for its own sake. Plus some of the other problems that occur when scientific discoveries become the property of private, profit driven industries.

Then there’s the whole problem of the introduction of tuition fees. This should not have been done. I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol when Mandelson and Blair decided to do this, and it’s immediate result was the scaling down of certain departments and shedding of teaching staff. Those hardest hit were the departments that required more funding because of the use of special equipment. This included my own department, Archaeology, where students necessarily go on digs, surveys and field expeditions. This means that the department had to have transport to take its staff and students to wherever they were excavating, provide digging equipment, although many students had their own trowels. They also needed and trained students in the use of specialist equipment like the geophysical magnetometers used to detect structures beneath the soil through the measurement of tiny changes in the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, as well as labs to clean up and analyse the finds, from the type of soil in which they were found, the material out of which the finds were made, chemical composition of various substances, like food residue in pots, so you can tell what people were eating and drinking, and the forensic examination of human and animal remains.

I’ve no doubt that this situation was made worse when Cameron and Clegg decided to raise tuition fees to their present exorbitant level. Which has meant that students are now saddled with massive debt, which may make it difficult for some ever to afford to buy their own homes. Student debt was already an issue just after I left college, when the Tories decided to end student grants. After the introduction of tuition fees it has become an even more critical issue.

Then there’s the whole issue of proper pay and conditions for university lecturers. This is nowhere near as high as it should be. A friend of mine in the ’90s was one of the Student Union officers at our old college/uni. He told me one day just what some of the highly skilled and educated lecturers were earning. And it was low. Many of them were on part-time work, and I think the pay for some of them was at average wage level or below. And that was then. I’ve no idea what it’s like now. I’ve come across reports of a similar crisis at American universities and colleges, where the pay for the managers has skyrocketed while that of teaching staff has fallen catastrophically. And this is all part of the general pattern throughout industry as a whole, where senior management has enjoyed massively bloated pay rises and bonuses, while staff have been laid off and forced on to short term or zero hours contracts and low pay.

All this has been done in the name of ‘market forces’ and the logic of privatization.

I am not remotely surprised that British higher education is in crisis, and that an increasing number of colleges and universities are facing bankruptcy. This was always on the cards, especially as the population surge that inspired many colleges and polytechnics to seek university status on the belief that there would be enough student numbers to support them, is now over. Market logic would now dictate that, as the universities are failing, they should be allowed to collapse. Which would deprive students and their communities of their services.

The structure of British higher education needs to be reformed. The entire Thatcherite ethic of privatization, free markets, and tuition fees needs to be scrapped. Like everything else Thatcher and her ideological children ever created, it is a bloated, expensive and exploitative failure. My only criticism about Corbyn’s and Rayner’s plans for the unis isn’t that they’re too radical, but that they’re too timid.

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Rapper Fab 5 Freddy to Host Beeb Film on Renaissance Art

January 25, 2019

More arts news. Also according to yesterday’s I for Thursday, 24th January 2019, the New York rapper Fab 5 Freddy is due to hos a Beeb documentary about the Renaissance. The article, written by Adam Sherwin, ran

Move over Simon Schama, Fab 5 Freddy wants your spot. The New York hip-hop pioneer and former graffiti artist is the unlikely choice to present a BBC 2 documentary on Italian Renaissance Art.

Fab – real name Fred Brathwaite – was approached to do the film, ‘A Fresh Guide to Florence with Fab 5 Freddy’, after the BBC learnt that he was an art lover who worked closely with Jean-Michel Basquiat in the early 80s, curating the cult artist’s Manhattan shows.

“Amidst superstar artists such as Michelangelo and powerful patrons such as the Medicis, Fab discovers groundbreaking images of a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society that have slipped through the cracks of art history,” the BBC said. (‘A ‘Fresh’ take on the Renaissance’, p. 21).

It might be a surprising choice, but it seems to be a good one in line with current arts policy of getting different voices to open up the arts. A number of BAME artists have appeared in the news complaining that there aren’t enough Black artists shown in museums and art galleries, and that when they were small they weren’t interested in visiting them because there was nothing for them there. It therefore looks like the Beeb is trying to appeal to a younger, Black audience with Fab 5 Freddie in order to stop it being viewed as just something made by old White guys for White guys.

I am also not surprised that they chose a former graffiti artist for other reasons. Archaeologists have been working with graffiti artists for several years now in order to explore rock art and its links with modern graffiti art. I can remember attending an archaeological seminar at Bristol university at least six years ago in which one of the speakers presented a piece about their research about the graffiti in a particular area of one of the Spanish towns. And Radio 4 a few years ago also presented a programme about rock art which included comments from some of Britain’s leading street artists.

As for the Renaissance, Florence was a major centre of trade and industry, but historians have pointed out in books like The Renaissance Bazaar that many of the commercial innovations that made the Renaissance possible had their origins further east in the Islamic world. This was also a period when Europeans were turning from the Slavic east to Africa for a supply of slaves, so that you do find Blacks portrayed in art in this period. Not that they weren’t here before, of course. A 12th century manuscript from London in the National Archives shows a Black person, while one of the books that used to be stocked in shop in Bristol’s M Shed was on Blacks in fifteenth century England.

I’ve no doubt critics of the programme will decry it as ‘dumbing down’ and complain about ‘diversity’, but this could be a programme worth watching because of the original insights Fab 5 Freddie could bring.

Antony Gormley Presents Programme on Stone Age Art

January 25, 2019

According to the Radio Times for 26th January to 1st February 2019, tomorrow, Saturday, 26th January, Antony Gormley will be presenting a programme on the origins of art way back in the Stone Age. As well as trotting round the world looking at various Paleolithic sites, he also meets and talks to the modern practitioners of this ancient art, Aboriginal Australians. The programme’s entitled ‘Antony Gormley: How Art Began’, and the blurb for it on page 52 of the Radio Times runs

One of Britain’s most celebrate sculptors travels back in time and journeys across the globe to piece together how art began. Once we believed that it all started with the cave paintings of Ice Age Europe, but new discoveries are overturning that idea. Deep inside the caves of France, Spain and Indonesia, Gormley finds beautiful, haunting and surprising works of art. The creator of the Angel of the North asks what these images from millennia ago tell us about who we are.

There’s rather more information about the programme by David Butcher on page 50, which says

Yes, it’s a documentary about prehistoric cave art. How often over the years have we seen an arts presenter in torchlight, sighing about the ineffable power of cave painting?

But this is different. This is Antony Gormley, one of our great artists, who by lucky chance is also a better talker about art than most presenters, making a pilgrimage not just through the French caves that he first visited on his honeymoon (we see a holiday snap) but also venturing further afield to Indonesia and Australia, looking for the first stirrings of human creativity.

“This is a cathedral of joy in living things,” he says in a cave called Les Combarelles. “I think we’ve found a Palaeolithic Picasso,” he jokes in Niaux. And in an extraordinary scene at Pech Merle, with its 28,000-year-old paintings of horses, a local expert demonstrates how they were made, by chewing up charcoal and delicately blow-spitting on the rock.

The ancient cave paintings of northern Spain and southern France are superb, extremely naturalistic depictions of the creatures roaming that part of the Mediterranean during the Old Stone Age 28,000 years ago. Some of them seem to have been deliberately painted on distinctly shaped pieces of rock, so that if you come into the part of the caves where they are they appear to move. When Picasso saw them over a century ago, he was so utterly astonished at their superb quality that he declared ‘We have invented nothing!’

At the turn of the Millennium 18 years ago, Hugh Quarshie, one of the actors in Casualty, presented a programme on the art and artefacts of the Stone Age on New Year’s Eve. One of the speakers he interviewed about them was a director of Horror flicks – I’ve forgotten whom. But he made some very interesting points about the parallels between Palaelithic art and his type of movie. They were both initiatory experiences which you viewed in darkness.

There seems to have been a definite religious/ritual purpose to their production. Most of them are found in chambers deep in the cave systems, which are extremely difficult to reach. To get to one of them you literally have to squeeze through on your stomach. There was very probably an aural component to their painting as well. Quite often the rocks near them have musical properties. Their lithophones which produce musical tones when struck. It therefore seems that some of them were being played while the artists worked producing these amazing pieces of work.

No-one quite knows why these wonderful paintings were made. It’s been suggested that they may have been made to secure success in hunting, or for fertility. Others have suggested that they were produced as part of shamanic rituals, in which the painters attempted to pass through the membrane between this world and that of the spirits. Whatever the reason they were created, they’re superb. I’m not a fan of Gormley’s work, but this looks well worth watching.

Anthropologist, TV presenter and former member of Time Team Alice Roberts also talked about the ancient cave paintings of Europe this week in the last edition of her The Incredible Human Journey, the series in which she traced humanity’s emergence and spread out of Africa tens of thousands of years. This week she talked about some of the very earliest human remains found in Europe, including those of modern Homo Sapiens from around 30-40,000 years ago from a cave in Romania. A forensic artist then reconstructed what one of them may have looked like from one of the skulls found. Roberts and the artist remarked on the person’s absence of any distinct racial characteristics. It was a definite human face, but it was neither Black, White or Asian, although they pointed out that we believe the people at this time had dark, Black skin. But it comes from a time before the development of modern racial characteristics.

They also reconstructed the face of a Neanderthal from about this time. They were stocky, powerfully built people with big noses and strong brow ridges. Although they died out, some of them interbreed with the invading modern humans, so that the DNA of modern people outside Africa contains about 3%-9% Neanderthal genes. The reconstruction didn’t have any hair. Contemplating it Roberts said that although Neanderthal women probably found modern human men very handsome, and that human women obviously found something in Neanderthal males, she wouldn’t have fancied mating with them. Well, each to his or her own taste. Looking at the reconstructed Neanderthal head, it reminded me of nothing so much as that of Beeb TV presenter and former felon, Dom Littlewood.

She also covered the ancient cave paintings, talking to a French artist who worked using the same techniques. He was shown blowing charcoal on to the rock behind his hand trying to create a stenciled handprint, just like those left by the ancient artists. Like the article in the Radio Times, Roberts said that it had to be made using a distinct technique. You couldn’t take it all into your mouth and just spit it out. Instead the artist blew it out in a constant stream of spitting, leaving his hand black with charcoal. It’s quite a time consuming process, and Roberts and the artist said that some works could take as long as week.

The art of the palaeolithic is fascinating and enigmatic. We’re learning more about it and the people who produced it, but so much still remains lost in the mysteries of time.

Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space: Land of Dopes and Tories

January 5, 2019

Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space were a local band in Devon. Downes was into cryptozoology, the study of unknown animals, and, with others, ran the Centre for Fortean Zoology. Back in the 1990s they published a small magazine, Animals and Men, which covered developments in zoology ranging from recent discoveries in paleontology and dinosaurs, the new species then being discovered in South East Asia, and creatures like the Yeti and other ape creatures and the Loch Ness monster, whose existence is very definitely not accepted by mainstream scientists. His band was also unsurprisingly steeped in Fortean high weirdness, hence its bizarre name. One of the songs on their album was about the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, a mysterious figure who stalked American suburbia around the 1940s. The Mad Gasser got his name because he was believed to be responsible for knocking people unconscious with some kind of anaesthetic gas. Despite the panic he caused and an intense police search, no-one was ever caught and the Mad Gasser is thus one of those mysterious figures of urban folklore like Spring-Heeled Jack in Britain.

Downes’ lyrics often included explicit social and political comments. ‘God Bless Amerikkka/Petsurfing’ contained references to the Beach Boys as well as bitter comments on Reagan’s America and the Vietnam War. It’s lyrics ran

The Beach boys in the Whitehouse took the president out dancing
took in a drive-in movie threw a frisbee with Charles Manson.
The American dream was sweet sixteen and no-one gave a damn
and thousands of asshole students were praying for their very own Vietnam.

“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” give me concepts I can see
“Give me Librium or Give me Meths” it’s all the same to me,
God Bless America!
(I don’t mean to annoy ya as you drown in Paranoia got no reason to destroy ya in the land of the brave).
God Bless America!
(You’ve got to catch that one last wave!)

The western world just genuflects and licks its paltry leavings
so three stupid generations have got something to believe in
now style over content is the way they measure worth,
and a grinning fool has just become the most powerful man on earth.

The cretin culture faced the wall and found it couldn’t win against it
the peasants in the jungle or the troops of Ho Chi Minh,
the profit motive is a joke when there isn’t any money,
there’s no point to a joke like that, it really isn’t funny.

It also struck me that his track ‘The Stranger (L’Etranger)’ is also partly a comment on Thatcher and the British secret state, while the title is a reference to Camus’ existentialist classic.

She’s got half a mind to kill you if you don’t agree with her programme
she’s got half a mind to stop you in your tracks.
She’s got a 10% dead army, she’s got heroes ten a penny,
she’s got men she’d pay to stab you in the back.

There’s a new ideal on the night-time breeze,
(won’t you wait a while till midnight?)
There’s a new man coming through the trees,
(won’t you watch him dance by lamplight?)

In the darkness at the edge of town there’s a stranger with a knife,
and he swears he’s going to stop her with his life.
She knows he won’t forgive her, (and that he never wanted to live there),
but she still thinks he loves her like his wife.

In her mind she’s built a castle and peopled it with fear,
if you look too hard you know that it will all disappear,
she’s so lonely in her madness, it’s so lonely at the top,
If you got that far it’s really hard to stop.

The most explicitly anti-Tory lyrics in the album are in Part Two of his song, ‘English Heritage’. The song was about the government’s privatization of Stonehenge to English Heritage, who then surrounded it with a wire fence, put up a souvenir shop and charged an entry fee. The second part of the song was an explicit attack on Tory patriotism, ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’, and was an obviously parody of Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. It ran

Land of Dopes and Tories, gameshows and TV,
the land our fathers fought for don’t seem the same to me.
Something’s subtly different, something must have changed,
‘cos England’s now just a refuge for the terminally deranged.
Land of Dopes and Tories, land of the living dead,
land where the hope and glory only lives on in my head,
land of idiot violence where innocent blood is shed,
land where only the assholes heard what Mosley said.
Land of Dopes and Tories I don’t see the point,
Anarchy and Freedom is everything I want.
Anarchy and Freedom is everything I want.

The sleeve notes explain that the line about Mosley refers to his comment that whoever won the Second World War, Britain would be ruined as a world power.

Time and the world have moved on since the album came out, and the ’90s ended nearly two decades ago. Reagan is gone, and we had another grinning fool enter the White House in the shape of George ‘Dubya’ Bush. He’s now been succeeded in his turn by another maniac, Trump, who doesn’t grin but glowers and struts like Mussolini. Over here, Maggie also passed from power to be succeeded by John Major, the grey man who handed Stonehenge and other ancient sites to English Heritage, and who was succeeded in his turn by Blair and his sickly grin. Blair has also left government, and instead we’re run by Tweezer. Who would like us all to believe that she’s Maggie Mark 2. And she does have men ready to kill people. Not just the staff at the DWP, who are determined to throw people off benefits to starve and die at the slightest excuse – she’s also put legislation in place to put 3,500 troopers on the streets in case of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. And British television and popular culture in the shape of the right-wing press is doing its best to distract people from how dire and desperate the situation is for very many people, not least by smearing and misrepresenting Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. And like Maggie Thatcher, Tweezer’s also using the secret state to smear and lie on her behalf.

Maggie, Reagan and their era are gone, but Tory and Republican tactics and policies are carrying on. It’s time they were utterly discarded, and genuinely left-wing, progressive governments voted in under Jeremy Corbyn here in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US.

Bakunin on the Sociological Origins of Crime

December 28, 2018

Here’s another passage from the anarchist Bakunin that’s still very relevant today, in Tory-run Britain. Bakunin was strongly impressed by sociology, and believed, like the French philosophes of the Enlightenment, that humanity and society were governed by laws. So strong was this belief, that he rejected free will completely. I very much reject this philosophical stance, along with his atheism and denial of divine providence, which he claimed made science impossible.

Humans do have free will and not just meat machines, running according to a set of biological or sociological imperatives, and while sociology is a powerful tool for investigating the basis of society and suggesting solutions to social problems, it’s very different from the natural sciences based on experiment and prediction. People are still responsible for their actions. Nevertheless, sociological influences are a powerful cause of crime. Bakunin discusses this in his piece ‘All Round Education’, quoting the stastician Lambert Queteler on the sociological origins of crime, which he believed were completely responsible for its incidence. Bakunin writes

A science of statistics is possible only because of this natural and social inevitability. This science is not satisfied with ascertaining and enumerating social facts but looks for their links to and correlation with the organization of society. Criminal statistics show, for example, that in a given country, in a given town, over a period of ten, twenty, thirty or more years, the same crime or misdemeanor occurs every year in the same proportion [to the total], if the fabric of society has not been altered by political and social crises. Even more remarkably, a given modus operandi recurs from year to year in the same proportion, for example, the number of poisonings, knifings, and shootings, as well as the number of suicides committed one way or another, are almost always the same. This led the famous Belgian statistician Quetelet to utter the following memorable words: ‘Society prepares the crimes while individuals merely carry them out.’

In Robert E. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), p. 122.

Now I can remember one of the postgraduate archaeological students at Bristol University making much the same point as Bakunin in a talk she gave explaining her research into the physical structure of one of Bristol’s historic hospitals. She said that the total number of prison and mental hospitals tends to remain the same, although the proportions of people going to one or the other changes. She went on to discuss the beneficial effects of natural light and contact with the natural world in healing hospital patients and reforming criminals. Despite pressures from government across the political spectrum to cut costs in the prison service and abolish them, prison farms have remained because of their demonstrably strong influence in reforming convicts.

At present, Britain is suffering a very high incidence of crime and suicide. The media has reported the shocking number of knife crimes in the capital. There has been a rise in hate crime, not just against ethnic minorities, including Muslims, but also against the disabled. Suicides have also increased, and as Mike, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and so many other left-wing and disability rights bloggers have pointed out, these have included disabled people, who were left in misery and starvation due to being thrown off their benefits. Several left notes explicitly stating that they were ending their lives due to sanctions by DWP, or being judged ‘fit for work’ under the Work Capability Tests.

Predictably, the Tories have held up their hands and claimed that there is no absolutely no link between their shabby, degrading and vicious welfare policies and the tragic deaths of these people.

This is a lie. The anti-immigration rhetoric and stance of many of the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, and anti-EU parties and organisations like UKIP has led to an increase in racist hate crime. And the Tories are also responsible for stoking this hostility through their campaigns to get illegal immigrants to turn themselves, their attempt to deport the Windrush generation, despite the fact that they had a perfect right to stay in Britain, and the racist and islamophobic comments of many of their members. Like Boris Johnson and his wretch article describing women wearing the niqub as looking like dustbins and letterboxes. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear it, and many pro-Muslim political figures, like George Galloway are opposed to it. But Galloway also believed that women had a right to wear it, and condemned Johnson’s comments as racist. He was also bitterly critical of Johnson’s remarks along with many other people, including Mike on his blog, because after Johnson made them attacks on women wearing the burka increased. At least woman was killed. Despite this, the Tories concluded that BoJo’s article wasn’t racist, but ‘tolerant’ and ‘respectful’.

There have also been vicious attacks on the homeless and the disabled, again due to Tory policies and the rabid right-wing press, which demonizes the poor and the unemployed as scroungers and the disabled as malingerers. Thanks to rags like the Scum and the Heil, people believe that a quarter of all benefit claims are fraudulent, while the reality is that fake claims account for less than 1 one per cent of them.

The crime figures, and particularly the increase in hate crimes, clearly shows that the Tories have had a disastrous effect on British society, making it more suspicious, hateful and violent. Individuals are still responsible for the crimes they commit, but Quetelet’s and Bakunin’s views are correct. Society is a powerful influence in the amount of crime and suicide.

And the conclusion is undeniable: the Tories have prepared these crimes by deliberately creating a society where they are carried out, however much they scream and try to deny it. They have to be got out, before they cause any more attacks and deaths of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Book on Early Islamic Palestine in Oxbow Bargain Catalogue

December 2, 2018

Another book I found in the Oxbow Book Catalogue, which might be of interest to some readers of this blog, is Jodi Magness’ Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine. The blurb for this runs

Archaeological evidence is frequently cited by scholars as proof that Palestine declined after the Muslim conquest, and especially after the rise of the Abbasids in the mid-eighth century. Instead, Magness argues that the archaeological evidence supports the idea that Palestine and Syria experienced a tremendous growth in population and prosperity between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries.

The book’s published by Eisenbrauns. It’s normal price is 42.95 pounds, but it’s being offered by Oxbow at 14.95.

I’ve no doubt that the area did receive a boost after the Islamic conquest. The Muslims were helped to seize the region by its indigenous peoples, including Christians. Many of them belonged to sects which were judged heretical by the Byzantine Empire, and so were terribly persecuted. Quite apart from the fact that Byzantine Empire was declining economically and demographically, so that many Byzantine towns dwindled to villages or vanished during the centuries of the Empire’s fall before the conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century by the Ottomans. The Muslims were aided in their conquest of Palestine and Egypt by indigenous peoples of those countries because they offered them tolerance and peace. And materially, inclusion in the new Arab Empire made them part of state that stretched right across north Africa, Arabia and the former Persian Empire to the borders of India, and into Spain, which obviously gave a massive boost to long distance trade.

The book also adds more evidence against the Israeli assertion, completely disproven but still being repeated, that Palestine was empty before the Israelis arrived, and that the Palestinians who occupied it only arrived comparatively recently.

Book on Ancient Philosophy in Gaza

Similarly, the catalogue also includes book on ancient Greek philosophy in the Palestinian city of Gaza. This is Explaining the Cosmos, by Michael W. Champion. The blurb for this reads

This volume analyses the writings of three thinkers associated with Gaza, Aeneas, Zacharias and Procopius. Together, they offer a case study for the appropriation, adaptation and transformation of classical philosophy in late antiquity, and for cultural transitions more generally in Gaza.

That’s by the Oxford University Press. It was 62.00 pounds, but is now 14.95

The philosophers studied in the book seem to be Christian Greeks, rather than Jews or Syriac Christians. Nevertheless, this shows that Gaza, now a beleaguered ghetto under the Israelis, was a centre for intellectual enquiry and learning when it was part of the Byzantine Empire, the Greek Roman Empire of the East.

Book on Nubia in the Oxbow Bargain Books Catalogue

December 1, 2018

I got the latest issue of Oxbow Books’ bargain catalogue through the post earlier this week for Winter 2018. Oxbow specializes in books on history and archaeology. In the ‘Asia, America and Egypt’ section of the catalogue on age 11 is a book on ancient Nubia, Acta Nubica, edited by I. Caneva and Alessandro Roccati. The blurb for this read

This substantial volume resulting from the Tenth International Conference of the Nubian Society held in 2002, surveys the recently discovered antiquities of the Nile Valley and beyond, throughout Egypt and the Sudan. In these numerous archaeological, archaeometrical, and epigraphical discoveries, scientists present new groundwork the understanding of Egypt, not as a lone oasis of civilization, but rather as a key part of a larger ancient world.

The original published price was 150 pounds, but it’s been reduced to 19.95.

The book’s clearly aimed at academics, but it might be of interest to some ordinary people with an interest in ancient Egypt, Nubia and African civilisations.

Zarjaz! Rebellion to Open Studio for 2000AD Films

November 26, 2018

Here’s a piece of good news for the Squaxx dek Thargo, the Friends of Tharg, editor of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. According to today’s I, 26th November 2018, Rebellion, the comic’s current owners, have bought a film studio and plan to make movies based on 2000AD characters. The article, on page 2, says

A disused printing factory in Oxfordshire is to be converted into a major film studio. The site in Didcot has been purchased by Judge Dredd publisher Rebellion to film adaptations from its 2000 AD comic strips. The media company based in Oxford hopes to create 500 jobs and attract outside contractors.

Judge Dredd, the toughest lawman of the dystopian nightmare of Megacity 1, has been filmed twice, once as Judge Dredd in the 1990s, starring Sylvester Stallone as Dredd, and then six years ago in 2012, as Dredd, with Karl Urban in the starring role. The Stallone version was a flop and widely criticized. The Dredd film was acclaimed by fans and critics, but still didn’t do very well. Two possible reasons are that Dredd is very much a British take on the weird absurdities of American culture, and so doesn’t appeal very much to an American audience. The other problem is that Dredd is very much an ambiguous hero. He’s very much a comment on Fascism, and was initially suggested by co-creator Pat Mills as a satire of American Fascistic policing. The strip has a very strong satirical element, but nevertheless it means that the reader is expected to identify at least partly with a Fascist, though recognizing just how dreadful Megacity 1 and its justice system is. It nevertheless requires some intellectual tight rope walking, though it’s one that Dredd fans have shown themselves more than capable of doing. Except some of the really hardcore fans, who see Dredd as a role model. In interviews Mills has wondered where these people live. Did they have their own weird chapterhouse somewhere?

Other 2000AD strips that looked like they were going to make the transition from the printed page to the screen, albeit the small one of television, were Strontium Dog and Dan Dare. Dare, of course, was the Pilot of Future, created by Marcus Morris for the Eagle, and superbly drawn by Franks Hampson and Bellamy. He was revived for 2000 AD when it was launched in the 1970s, where he was intended to be the lead strip before losing this to Dredd. The strip was then revived again for the Eagle, when this was relaunched in the 1980s. As I remember, Edward Norton was to star as Dare.

Strontium Dog came from 2000 AD’s companion SF comic, StarLord, and was the tale of Johnny Alpha, a mutant bounty hunter, his norm partner, the Viking Wulf, and the Gronk, a cowardly alien that suffered from a lisp and a serious heart condition, but who could eat metal. It was set in a future, where the Earth had been devastated by a nuclear war. Mutants were a barely tolerated minority, forced to live in ghettos after rising in rebellion against an extermination campaign against them by Alpha’s bigoted father, Nelson Bunker Kreelman. Alpha and his fellow muties worked as bounty hunters, the only job they could legally do, hunting down the galaxy’s crims and villains.

Back in the 1990s the comic’s then publishers tried to negotiate a series of deals with Hollywood for the translation on their heroes on to the big screen. These were largely unsuccessful, and intensely controversial. In one deal, the rights for one character was sold for only a pound, over the heads of the creators. They weren’t consulted, and naturally felt very angry and bitter about the deal.

This time, it all looks a lot more optimistic. I’d like to see more 2000 AD characters come to life, on either the big screen or TV. Apart from Dredd, it’d good to see Strontium Dog and Dare be realized for screen at last. Other strips I think should be adapted are Slaine, the ABC Warriors and The Ballad of Halo Jones. Slaine, a Celtic warrior strip set in the period before rising sea levels separated Britain, Ireland and Europe, and based on Celtic myths, legends and folklore, is very much set in Britain and Ireland. It could therefore be filmed using some of the megalithic remains, hillforts and ancient barrows as locations, in both the UK and Eire. The ABC Warriors, robotic soldiers fighting injustice, as well as the Volgan Republic, on Earth and Mars, would possibly be a little more difficult to make. It would require both CGI and robotics engineers to create the Warriors. But nevertheless, it could be done. There was a very good recreation of an ABC Warrior in the 1990s Judge Dredd movie, although this didn’t do much more than run amok killing the judges. It was a genuine machine, however, rather than either a man in a costume or animation, either with a model or by computer graphics. And the 1980s SF movie Hardware, which ripped off the ‘Shock!’ tale from 2000AD, showed that it was possible to create a very convincing robot character on a low budget.

The Ballad of Halo Jones might be more problematic, but for different reasons. The strip told the story of a young woman, who managed to escape the floating slum of an ocean colony to go to New York. She then signed on as a waitress aboard a space liner, before joining the army to fight in a galactic war. It was one of the comic’s favourite strips in the 1980s, and for some of its male readers it was their first exposure to something with a feminist message. According to Neil Gaiman, the strip’s creator, Alan Moore, had Jones’ whole life plotted out, but the story ended with Jones’ killing of the Terran leader, General Cannibal, on the high-gravity planet Moab. There was a dispute over the ownership of the strip and pay between Moore and IPC. Moore felt he was treated badly by the comics company, and left for DC, never to return to 2000 AD’s pages. Halo Jones was turned into a stage play by one of the northern theatres, and I don’t doubt that even after a space of thirty years after she first appeared, Jones would still be very popular. But for it to be properly adapted for film or television, it would have to be done involving the character’s creators, Moore and Ian Gibson. Just as the cinematic treatment of the other characters should involve their creators. And this might be difficult, given that Moore understandably feels cheated of the ownership of his characters after the film treatments of Watchmen and V For Vendetta.

I hope that there will be no problems getting the other 2000 AD creators on board, and that we can soon look forward to some of the comics many great strips finally getting on to the big screen.

Splundig vur thrig, as the Mighty One would say.

Jai Singh’s Observatory in India: A Great Location for Dr. Who

November 18, 2018

Maharaja Jai Singh’s observatory in Jaipur, as photographed by the Archaeological Survey of India

Last week on Dr. Who, the Doctor and her friends traveled back seventy years to the partition of India to uncover the secret of Yas’ grandmother’s marriage. Yas is surprised to find that the man her gran, a Muslim married, was a Hindu. And as nationalism and ethnic tensions surged on both sides, her groom was murdered by his own brother as a traitor. Yas’ gran survived, and held on to the watch her husband of only a few hours had given her as a treasured token of their doomed love.

It was a story of family history, doomed romance set against the bloodshed of the Partition, which resulted in 4 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs being slaughtered in bloody massacres. And its central theme was the inevitability of history, as Yas could do nothing to save her gran’s first husband. It was similar in this respect to the Classic Star Trek episode, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’. Written by Harlan Ellison, this had Spock, Kirk and McCoy travel back to Depression-era America. There Kirk falls in love with a woman running a soup kitchen. But she’s an opponent of America entering the war in Europe, who dies in car accident. If she lives, America will not enter World War II, and humanity will never go to the stars. Kirk is thus faced with the terrible necessity of letting the woman he loves die in order to preserve history.

It’s a good story, though I would have preferred one with a bit more science in it. The two aliens that appear, who the Doctor first believes are assassins and responsible for the murder of the Hindu holy man, who was to marry the happy couple, turn out instead to have reformed. Returning to find their homeworld had been destroyed, the two now travel through the universe to witness the deaths of those who pass unnoticed. They reminded me of the Soul Hunters in Babylon 5, an alien race, who travel through the universe to extract and preserve the souls of the dying at the moment of death. They are interested in ‘dreamers, poets, thinkers, blessed lunatics’, creative visionaries whose genius they want to preserve against dissolution.

Dr. Who has a tradition of the Doctor going back in time to meet important figures of the past. One such influential figure in India was Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur, who constructed great observatories in Jaipur and Delhi. As you can see from the piccy at the top, the measuring instruments used in astronomy at the time were built out of stone there. To my eyes, the observatories thus have the shape of the weird, alien architecture portrayed by SF artists like Chris Foss, as if they were monuments left by some strange future extraterrestrial civilization.

B.V. Subbarayappa, in his ‘Indian Astronomy: an historical perspective’, in S.K. Biswas, D.C.V. Mallik and C.V. Viveshwara, eds., Cosmic Perspectives: Essays dedicated to the memory of M.K.V. Bappu pp.41-50, writes of the Maharaja

In this respect, special mention needs to be made of Majaraja Sawai Jai Sing II (1688-1743) of Jaipur, who was not only an able king but also a skilled astronomer and patron of learning. He built five observatories in different locations in Northern India. The observatories now standing majestic and serene in Jaipur and Delhi bear testimony to his abiding interest in astronomy and to his efforts for augmenting the astronomical tradition with an open-mindedness. The observatory at Jaipur has a large number of instruments – huge sun-dials, hemispherical dial, meridian circle, a graduated meridianal arc, sextants, zodiacal complex, a circular protractor (which are masonry instruments), as well as huge astrolabes. Sawai Jai Singh II meticulously studied the Hindu, Arabic and the European systems of astronomy. He was well aware of Ptolemy’s Almagest (in its Arabic version), as also the works of Central Asian astronomers – Nasir al-Din at-Tusi, Al-Gurgani, Jamshid Kashi and, more importantly, of Ulugh Bek – the builder of the Samarqand observatory. In fact, it was the Samarqand school of astronomy that appears to have been a great source of inspiration to Jai Singh in his astronomical endeavours.

No less was his interest in European astronomy. In his court was a French Jesuit missionary who was an able astronomer and whom Jai Singh sent to Europe to procure for him some of the important contemporary European works on astronomy. He studied Flansteed’s Historia Coelestis Britannica, La Hire’s Tabula Astronomicae and other works. He was well aware ot he use of telescope in Europe and he spared no efforts in having small telescopes constructed in his own city. In the introduction to his manum opus, Zij Muhammad Shahi, which is preserved both in Persian and Sanskrit, he has recorded that telescopes were being constructed during his lifetime and that he did make use of a telescope for observing the sun-spots, the four moons of Jupiter, phases of Mercury and Venus, etc. However, in the absence of a critical evaluation of his treatise, it is rather difficult to opine whether Jai Singh was able to determine the planetary positions or movements with the help of a telescope and whether he recorded them. No positive evidence has yet been unearthed.

The principal court astronomer of Jai Singh II was Jagganatha who was not only well versed in Arabic and Persian but also a profound scholar of Hindu astronomy. He translated Ptolemy’s Almagest and Euclid’s Elements from their Arabic versions into Sanskrit. The Samrat Siddhanta, the Sanskrit title of the Almagest, is indeed a glorious example of the open-mindedness and generous scientific attitude of Indian astronomers. (pp. 36-8).

It would be brilliant if there was a Dr. Who story using this fascinating, historic location, but as it’s almost certainly a prized national monument, I doubt very much the Beeb would be allowed to film there. Still, perhaps something could be done using CGI and a lot of imagination.

Mike Launches Crowdfunding Appeal to Help Fight Libel Battle

June 16, 2018

On Wednesday, 13th June 2018, Mike annnounced that he had set up a crowdfunding page to raise money for him to take to court the organisations and publications that have libelled him as an anti-Semite. He has had to do this, because he simply doesn’t make enough from the Vox Political page to pay the legal fees himself, and so he has turned to the generosity of his readers.

He posted up the description of his case, and why he needs the money, which he has put on his JustGiving page. This runs

“My name is Mike Sivier. You may know me as the writer of the Vox Political website.

I am probably best-known as the man who forced the Conservative government to reveal the number of sick and disabled benefit claimants who had lost their lives after being denied benefit, after a two-year campaign.

In 2017, immediately before local government elections in which I was standing as a Labour candidate, an organisation calling itself the Campaign Against Antisemitism published an article falsely alleging anti-Semitism by me. I believe the intention was to corruptly spoil my chance of being elected.

The piece ‘quotemined’ investigative articles I had written about claims of anti-Semitism against Labour Party politicians, using only those words that could present the most prejudicial impression about me, in order to falsely suggest hatred of the Jewish people. A weblink to the article was then sent to the Labour Party, in an attempt to have my membership suspended. This led to newspaper articles including one in which my local Conservative MP libelled me.

Labour obligingly suspended my membership, and subsequently launched a one-sided investigation in which I was found guilty despite being absent from the proceedings, at which none of the evidence I had presented to the party was mentioned by the investigator.

A copy of the report to the Labour Party committee that heard my case was then handed to a member of the national press. This led to further newspaper articles claiming I was not only an anti-Semite but also a Holocaust denier (an innovation by the Labour Party investigator).

I have been trying to persuade all those involved to retract their unfounded claims and apologise. These lies have harmed my main business – the Vox Political website – by encouraging readers to believe I should be avoided because of the unacceptable views they have attributed to me.

My attempts seem unlikely to produce positive results so it seems I must resort to court action.

I need your support to fund the court campaign to clear my name.

Please support this case and share. As a Labour Party member, I believe in equal opportunities for all people, no matter the colour of their skin, their religion or ethnic background, or any other accident of birth. My campaign to force the Tory government to release its sickness and disability death figures was an example of my commitment to end discrimination, prejudice and hate based on such characteristics.”

He ends his article with an appeal to readers to support him, either by donating or sharing the link, or both, which is

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/mike-sivier

The article is at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/13/help-vox-political-writer-fight-anti-semitism-libels-in-court/

All this is absolutely true. And I’ve written time and again that Mike is no racist, Anti-Semite or any kind of Nazi. He and I had an uncle, who was of Jewish descent, with whom our family used to go on holidays when we were children. Our father had done his national service in Germany, not far from Belsen concentration camp, and showed us the photos he’d taken of the remains of that terrible place, and the memorial the British army put up to the Jews murdered there.

He has always enjoyed the friendship of people of different cultures, religions and nationalities. One of his mates at college was a Muslim Nigerian. And while he was there, he was one of the speakers reading out the names of some of the victims of the Holocaust in a performance commemorating them and the others butchered in the Shoah. He had done this at the invitation of a female Jewish friend, who was deeply moved by his performance.

One of the books I’ve got on my shelf on the Third Reich was given to me by Mike after he went on a College trip to Berlin. It’s on the Nazi Sicherheitsdienst – the infamous ‘Security Service’, which formed a part of the apparatus of state terror in the Third Reich. It was published by the-then West German government to acccompany an exhibition on the SD and the horrors they perpetrated following the redevelopment and archaeological investigation of the organisation’s headquarters in what was then West Berlin. As well as information on the SD and the other parts of the Nazi secret police, like the Gestapo and the Krimipolizei, the ordinary criminal police, who were also responsible for persecuting political and ethnic enemies of the Nazi order, the book also gave due coverage of the Nazis’ victims. It described the network of camps, and gave the figures for the number of Jews and other victims murdered in the occupied countries. It also had a photographs and potted biographies of some of the most notable victims. It is most definitely not the kind of book Nazis, ant-Semites and Holocaust deniers want people reading, let alone give to their relatives.

Mike and I grew up in the ’80s, when the NF and BNP were very much in the news and trying to make their presence felt through terrorising and attacking people of colour and lefties. It was also the decade when Blacks and Asians also fought back against racism with the support of White sympathisers. There was a real fear at the time that the BNP or something like them could gain power, especially under Thatcher’s noxious government, with its links to South American Fasciss like Pinochet and the horrific Rios Montt. This fear was expressed in some of the comic literature that both he and I read, which dealt with issues like racism and persecution.

It shows the absolute contempt for truth or any kind of journalistic integrity that he, and so many others like him, have been smeared and libelled by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the scumbags of the right-wing press. I full support Mike in his court battle, and hope others will too.