Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

Donald Trump Predicted in Stephen Baxter’s 1995 Novel ‘Titan’

July 16, 2017

I’ve been making my way through Stephen Baxter’s SF novel, Titan, these last few weeks. Baxter’s a British SF writer, with degrees in maths and engineering. He applied to be an astronaut on the Anglo-Soviet mission to Mir in the 1980s, which went to Helen Sharman. He’s probably best known for his Xelee-sequence books. These are set in a universe dominated by the extremely advanced, but mysterious Xelee, who are engaged in a war across the entire universe with the Photino Birds, dark matter creatures determined to age and extinguish the universe of ordinary matter. He has also written other novels about a variety of parthenogenic humans, descended from a lost troop of Romans, a catastrophic flood in the Bronze Age, and the books The Long Earth and The Long War, about parallel worlds, with the late, great Terry Pratchett. His novel, Voyage, an alternative history in which NASA launches a final manned expedition to Mars, was adapted for Radio 4 by Audio Movies in the 1990s. He was also the scientific advisor for the 1990s BBC SF series, Invasion Earth, about aliens from the higher physical dimensions invading the planet.

Titan is also about a last, crewed NASA mission. This time its put together by a team of astronauts, space scientists and ground control crew as the Agency’s last, great space expedition before it is closed down following a shuttle disaster. It’s set in what was then the near future – 2004 onwards – in America increasingly falling into right-wing extremism, irrationalism and Christian fundamentalism. The leading politician and subsequent president, is Xavier Maclachlan, a Texan with standing on an aggressively anti-science platform. Here’s the description of the man and his policies on pages 284-5.

Hadamard was in Washington during the inauguration of Xavier Maclachlan, after his wafer-thin win in the 2008 election.

Maclachlan called it a ‘liberation of the capital’.

Armed militia bands came in from Idaho and Arizona and Oklahoma and Montana, to fire off black-powder salutes to the nationalist-populist who promised to repeal all gun control laws. In the crowd, Hadamard saw a couple of Ku Klux Klan constumes, a sight he though had gone into an unholy past. Come to that, there was a rumour that a former Klan leader was being made ready to become a future White House chief of staff. And in his speech Maclachlan appealed to the people to end what he called the ‘Israeli occupation of Congress’…

And so on.

As soon as Maclachlan lifted his hand from the Bible, US peacekeeping troops in the Balkans and Africa started to board their planes to leave. Foreign aid stopped. The UN was being thrown out of New York, and there was a rumour that Maclachlan was planning some military adventure to take back the canal from Panama.

Army engineers – set in place during the handover from the last Administration – started to build a wall, two thousand miles of it, along the Mexican border, to exclude illegal immigrants. White it was being built, troops brought home from peacekeeping abroad were operating a shoot-to-kill policy.

There was chaos in the financial markets. Machlachlan had withdrawn the US from the North American Free Trade Treaty, from the World Trade Organisation, from GATT. Reviews of the country’s membership of the World Bank and the IMF had started – arms of an incipient world government, Maclachlan said, designed to let in the Russians. He had raised tariffs – ten per cent against Japan, fifty per cent against the Chinese – and world trade collapsed.

The Chinese, particularly, screamed. And so Maclachlan sent the Seventh Fleet to a new station just off the coast of Taiwan.

Meanwhile all the strategic arms treaties with Russia were torn up, as Maclachlan orderd his technicians to dig out the blueprints for Reagan’s old dream of SDI. In fact, Maclachlan wanted to go further. He was inviting ideas for what he called his ‘da Vinci brains trust’. The press was full of schemes for fantastic new weapons: smart remote sensors; dream mines that could shoot at passing traffic; smart armour that would use explosive tiles to deflect incoming projectiles; maybe even an electrical battlefield in which electricity-propelled shells would be zapped in by low-flying aircraft.

And back home, Machlachlan had cut off any remaining programs which benefited blacks and other minorities, and any funding that appeared to support abortion, which had been made illegal in any form.

Xavier Maclachlan was a busy man, and he was fulfilling his campaign promises.

Clearly, much of this is an extrapolation from the policies and attitudes of the Republican party and the American extreme Right in the 1980s and 1990s. Reagan had brought right-wing Christian fundamentalists into the Republican party, who had previously stood aloof from politics as part of a corrupt, fallen secular order. He had also begun to wind up government welfare programmes, particularly those aimed at benefiting minorities, such as Black Americans. Fears of an imminent apocalypse, social breakdown and Russian invasion, even after the collapse of Communism, had resulted in the emergence of the survivalist and then Militia movements, armed right-wing paramilitary groups. These had a bitter resentment of the federal government, which culminated in McViegh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma. They also tended to be bitterly racist and anti-Semitic. They believed and still believe in stupid Nazi conspiracy theories that claim that the Jews are trying to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and that America is covertly controlled by the Jews through the ‘Zionist Occupation Government’, or ZOG. These groups and right-wing American fundamentalist organisations also believed that there was a secret, Illuminati conspiracy to create a one world Satanic superstate centred on the UN. Phyllis Schlafly, who was actually a Democrat, regularly denounced the UN as well as women’s rights. And one leading figure in the militias – I think it may have been Bo Gritz, who supposedly served as the model for ‘Rambo’ – stated that the way they would clear America’s international debt would be by minting a single coin with the legend ‘1 Trillion Dollars’. As for the Klan, there were a series of scandals in which senior Republican politicos were revealed as having links to or membership in the White racist terrorist group. The most notorious of these was David Duke in Louisiana, who is unfortunately still around and blaming the Jews for everything even today.

And political scientists and economists were predicting the rise of China and the other ‘tiger economies’, which would dominate the ‘Pacific Century’ even then.

Of course, there are things Baxter failed to predict, like 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also takes the conventional view that the various free trade agreements and UN organisations, like the IMF and the World Bank, are nice, liberal, benefificial institutions, rather than the way corporate America imposes its own neoliberal policies on the rest of the world, particularly the developing nations.

Not that the Democrats have been much different. Counterpunch has reported that Obama was considering removing the ‘No first strike’ policy towards a nuclear confrontation, and Killary has been every bit as aggressive in her stance towards Russia and China as the Republicans, perhaps even more so.

As for the White extremist and racist groups supporting the new president, all that’s different is that the Klan has been largely replaced, or subsumed, into the internet-based Alt Right. But the hysterical fear of gun legislation, promoted and lavishly funded by the gun manufacturers and the NRA, against the desires of the majority of Americans, and even the NRA’s own rank and file membership, remains strong.

It shows how long the attitudes held by the American right, and which led to the election of Donald Trump, have been around. Since his election, left-wing news sites such as The Young Turks, Secular Talk and the David Pakman Show have reported that Americans have become increasingly dissatisfied with Trump. Sixty per cent of the American public want him impeached. This dissatisfaction even extends to Republican voters.

Trump, however, in his racism, his isolationism, aggressive nationalism and hatred of the welfare state and women’s rights, is very much in line with the general political stance of post-Reaganite right-wing American politicians. Indeed, he’s so much a part of this political trend that, with caveats, his election – or rather, the election of someone like him – was predicted by Baxter over two decades ago.

No wonder an increasing number of young Americans are looking to progressive politicos like Bernie Sanders for leadership and the redemption of their country against a corrupt political elite and the military-industrial complex. And I fervently hope they win, and that humanity will continue to reach out to the cosmos in a spirit of genuine exploration and wonder, and not as another arena for warfare.

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

Book on Britain’s Medieval Jewish Heritage

July 10, 2017

Bristol is one of the few cities to have a miqveh, a Jewish ritual bath, surviving from the Middle Ages. It’s a chamber cut into hillside of Jacob’s Wells Road, if I remember correctly. It was identified as a miqveh as it has an inscription in Hebrew, ‘Zaklim’, which means ‘Flowing’. Not all archaeologists and historians are convinced that it is a ritual bath, as it’s some way away from the city’s medieval Jewry, and it’s also closer than was usually permitted to a Christian church, in this case that of St. Michael’s Hill. Nevertheless, they believe that it may still have been an important source of water for Bristol’s medieval Jewish community.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found a book listed, Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland, by Sharman Kadish, published by Historic England, paperback price £20.00. The blurb reads

Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland celebrates in full colour the undiscovered heritage of Anglo-Jewry. First published in 2006, it remains the only comprehensive guide to historic synagogues and sites in the British Isles, covering more than 300 sites, organised on a region-by-region basis. The new edition has been completely revised and features many new images including, for the first time, of sites in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

I don’t know how many of this blog’s readers are interested in medieval history, but this book appears to be a useful exploration of this part of Britain and Ireland’s medieval heritage. One that came to an end in England when Edward I expelled them from England, which set off a series of similar ethnic cleansings which saw many other countries forcibly remove their Jewish citizens, expulsions which some medieval historians have compared to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Cartoon – Thatcher and Von Hayek as Monstrous Idols

July 3, 2017

Welcome to the latest instalment in my series of cartoons attacking the Tories, the right-wing press, and the ideologues and economists responsible for today’s misery and exploitation.

Two of the cartoons I’ve previously posted up have shown Maggie Thatcher and various other Tories as malign pagan idols, and this is another portrayal of her in the same vein. The inspiration for it was a photograph of a place in Turkey where the statues of ancient gods from Greece, Rome and perhaps elsewhere from that country’s long history emerge from the hillside.

In this picture, the deities of the ancient Graeco-Roman world have been replaced by Maggie Thatcher on the left, and von Hayek on the right. Von Hayek was one of the founders of the Libertarian free market economics that Thatcher embraced as her official policy. He was another bitter opponent of Socialism, which he attacked in his book, The Road to Serfdom. He served the Austrian government in the 1920s formulating an anti-Socialist economic policy based on classical Liberalism. After embracing the free market economists of Von Mises and others in the 1920s, he fled to Britain in 1931, where he taught at the LSE. He wasn’t quite the worst of the leaders of the New Right free market economists, as he still believed in some minimal kind of welfare state. But he was highly influential in the Libertarian attacks on state intervention and the welfare state.

And Thatcher was a big fan. The Financial Times over a decade ago carried an article on him, which attempted to argue that some of his ideas can still be embraced by those on the Left. For example, he stressed the importance of central institutions for a country’s political and economic life. These were the fundamental parts of its political constitution. In Britain’s case, these would include the monarchy and parliament. That both of these are of major importance to the British constitution is unquestionable, but I don’t think you need to be any kind of Libertarian to recognise this. And of these two institutions, the monarchy isn’t indispensable to orderly government by any means. It’s extremely popular, and there is a very good argument for retaining a head of state, who is above politics. But at the same time, there’s also a sizable minority of people in Britain, who would prefer a republic as a far more democratic, and less expensive alternative.

As for parliament, constitutional theorists have also pointed out the importance of middle level associations, such as professional associations, trade unions, employers’ organisations and so on to act as checks on the centralisation of political power and defend the rights and liberties of the rest of the population.

Standing between them, if you can make it out, is a statue of a demon dating from Celtic Gaul, from a photograph of a sculpture in the Musee Nationale in Paris. The ancient Celts were head hunters, keeping and displaying the heads of their victims after death. This demon appeared to have been part of a temple or shrine displaying severed heads taken in battle. The monster has two human heads beneath its two front paws, and the space between the creature’s legs held circular depressions. These appear to have been the places were real human heads were placed for veneration or display.

Again, I thought this creature was a very fitting metaphor for Thatcher and von Hayek. Their economic policies have proven to be a dreadful failure. Rather than bringing prosperity and freedom, they have only brought poverty, misery and death. As I’ve mentioned over and again before, there are a hundred people forced to use food banks to keep themselves from starving. There are 7 million more people, living in ‘food insecure’ household. In 2015, 30,000 people were killed by austerity.

And instead of peace and security, we live in an age of seemingly endless war, as our government joins the Americans in military campaigns in the Middle East. These are supposedly against Islamist terror and brutal despotisms, but the reality is that it’s just more western imperialism with a very thin humanitarian guise.

At home, the government and the press are whipping up hysteria and hatred against immigrants, including refugees fleeing from the very wars and dictators the West has begun and installed in power around the world. Muslims are particularly singled out because of atrocities committed by Salafist terrorists, despite the fact that time and again the majority of British Muslims have shown they don’t support such outrages. The real responsibility for these terror attack does not lie with ordinary British Muslims. It lies with our government, who used radical Islamist groups as soldiers in the proxy war against Communism, the Soviet Union and secular, Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East, and the Saudis, who are backing them to export their brutally intolerant brand of Islam. These Islamist groups have killed far more Muslims, as they attempt to carve out their wretched caliphate, in attacks and massacres across the Dar al-Islam than other religious groups.

And whatever the Libertarians have said about shrinking the state to expand the sphere of personal liberty, in practice nearly four decades of Thatcherite regimes, including Blair’s New Labour, have done the exact opposite. The power of the security services to intrude and monitor our private communications has been ruthlessly expanded under the pretext of keeping us safe from terror. There’s a real danger of Britain becoming a surveillance state, exactly like 1984. And Blair’s New Labour and the Tory-Lib Dem coalition under Cameron and Clegg passed legislation providing for secret courts. These are Kafkaesque courts, where a man or woman can be tried in secret, with critical evidence against him or her and his/her lawyer and even the identity of the person accusing them withheld, if it is considered necessary for reasons of national security. Which was exactly like the travesties of justice in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

But Thatcher and von Hayek still remain idols on the right. The Daily Mail, Scum and other right-wing rags fly into paroxysms of rage if anyone dares to insult her memory, or point out that the terrible state of the country today, with a deliberately failing health service, mass poverty, poor and exploitative public services and utility industries, and the erosion of civil liberties are ultimately all the products of her policies and ideas.

And so Thatcher and von Hayek stand, like Ozymandias, on a desolate hillside, surveying the ruins they have created. While their followers kill and maim, offering terrible human sacrifices to them and their failed doctrines.

It’s long past time they were swept away, and replaced by a decent government, that would renationalise the NHS, nationalise the railway and parts of the electricity infrastructure, prevent the privatisation of schools, and reverse the benefit cuts and sanctions that are killing tens of thousands and forcing millions into poverty.

It’s about time May was forced out, along with the rest of the Tories, and replaced with Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour administration.

History Book on Working Class Gardens

July 2, 2017

Gardening is one of Britain’s favourite pastimes, with programmes like Gardener’s World one of the long-running staples of BBC 2. The Beeb also devotes week-long coverage to the annual Chelsea Flower Show. A few years ago, one of the gardening programmes told a bit of the history behind popular gardening in Britain. It was deliberately started by the Victorians, with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert themselves as the patrons, as a way of encouraging the labouring poor to be respectable. Among the other virtues gardening would foster in them was neatness, from what I remember of the programme.

Looking through a copy of the Oxbow Book Catalogue for autumn 2015, I found a blurb for a book, The Gardens of the Working Class, by Margaret Willes, published by Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300212358. The price of it in paperback was £12.99. The blurb ran

This magnificently illustrated people’s history celebrates the extraordinary feats of cultivation by the working class in Britain, even if the land they toiled, planted and loved was not their own. Spanning more than four centuries, from the earliest records of the labouring classes in the country to today, Margaret Willes’ research unearths lush gardens nurtured outside rough workers’ cottages and horticultural miracles performed in blackened yards, and reveals the ingenious sometimes devious, methods employed by determined, obsessive, and eccentric workers to make their drab surroundings bloom. She also explores the stories of the great philanthropic industrialists who provided gardens for their workforces, the fashionable rich stealing the gardening ideas of the poor, alehouse syndicates and fierce rivalries between vegetable growers, flower-fanciers cultivating exotic blooms on their city windowsills, and the rich lore handed down from gardener to gardener through generations.

Garden history is taught in some universities in their archaeology departments, and the archaeology of gardens is also part of the wider field of landscape archaeology. Much of what is known about gardens in history comes from those of the rich, the great parks and gardens of royalty and the aristocracy, and the work of the great landscape gardeners like Inigo Jones and Capability Brown. They were also an important part of the lodges constructed by the medieval and early modern mercantile elite just outside town limits, to which they went at weekends to escape the cares of weekday, working life.

This book looks like it attempts to complete this picture, by showing that the working class were also keen gardeners. And its particularly interesting that the rich were nicking ideas from them.

Anti-Tory Cartoon – Esther McVey and Wasserman

June 28, 2017

Welcome to another instalment in my ongoing series of cartoons attacking the Tory party and their vile attack on the poor, the sick, the unemployed and disabled in the name of corporate profit. Yesterday I put up a drawing I’d made of Evan Davies, Andrew Lansley, David Cameron, Eric Pickles and George Osborne as members of a cannibalistic pagan cult, like the Aztecs or those of ancient Mesopotamia, because of the immense death toll their policies have inflicted on the British public. As I’ve blogged before, according to Oxford University, 30,000 people were killed by austerity in 2015. Over a hundred thousand people are forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together, and 7 million people live in ‘food insecure’ household, where they don’t know if they’ll be able to afford to eat tomorrow.

This cartoon continues the pagan theme of the last one. It therefore has a picture of Baal, the ancient pagan god of the Canaanites, and other gods from what is now Iraq, with human skulls and a strange, demonic creature, part man, part serpent. The two Tories depicted are, if I remember correctly, Esther McVey and Wasserman – I’m sorry, but I’ve forgotten this Tory functionary’s first name.

McVey was the Tory minister for the disabled in Iain Duncan Smith’s wretched and murderous DWP. She used to be the MP for Merseyside or one of the other constituencies in the Liverpool area, before the good burghers of that fair city got fed up with her and threw her out at the last election. Those Liverpudlians not enamoured of her – and there were quite a few – called her the ‘Wicked Witch of the Wirral’. Unfortunately, losing an election doesn’t seem to have put a stop to her political career, and she flew off on her broomstick to take up a position with the Tories in another constituency. She was also one of the proprietors of a TV production company, which produced the ‘poverty porn’ documentaries, intended to confirm the prejudices of all good Conservative voters that those on benefit are unemployed, not because there are no jobs due to structural problems with the economy, but because they’re really lazy.

So to express the deep festering corruption in this woman’s soul – Mike and the other bloggers and disabled rights’ activists found that in one year, 13-14,000 disabled people had died after being found ‘fit for work’ by Atos – I’ve drawn one half of her face a seething mass of malignant pustules. So great was the carnage inflicted by this woman and her superiors in the department, that one wag amended her Wikipedia page so that she became ‘The minister in charge of culling the disabled’. Which is exactly how Mike and many other bloggers and commenters, like Jeffrey Davies regard her. Mike has made it very clear that this is the genocide of the disabled.

As for Wasserman, he was one of the two ministers, who prepared various documents for the privatisation of the NHS for Maggie Thatcher. She was forced to back down from this policy after there was a mass cabinet revolt, and her personal private secretary, Patrick Jenkin, told her just how bad the American system was. Nevertheless, it did not stop her from trying to get more people to get out private health insurance – she aimed at 25 per cent of the British public. And successive right-wing administrations, including Tony Blair’s New Labour, have been aiming at the privatisation of the NHS ever since, gradually selling off parts of it and passing legislation to allow private hospital management chains and healthcare companies, like Circle Health, to take over the running of doctor’s surgeries and hospitals. Wasserman later appeared in David Cameron’s cabinet, where I would guess that he was doing much the same there as he did under Thatcher.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised that he will end the fitness to work tests and the sanctions system, which have seen so many people thrown off benefits for the most trivial of reasons. He has also promised to renationalise the NHS, thus ending nearly forty years of creeping Thatcherite privatisation.

So vote for him for a fairer Britain, where everyone has access to free healthcare, and tens of thousands are not dying of starvation just so that billionaires can have their tax bill lowered, or have a supply of cheap, subsidised labour supplied to them courtesy of the workfare industry.

If you wish to see the faces and know a bit more about some of individuals, who have been killed by the Tories’ assault on the welfare state, Mike, DPAC, Johnny Void and Stilloaks have published articles on individual victims, and lists of those, who have died, complete with brief descriptions of the circumstances of their deaths. The last time I looked, it was about 500-600 plus people, but the true figure is many times higher.

To stop the carnage the Tories have inflicted and are continuing to inflict, vote Labour.

Cartoon of the Tories as Pagan Cannibal Cult

June 27, 2017

This is another of the cartoons I drew a few years ago of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition under David Cameron and Nick Clegg and its cheerleaders and propagandists in the media.

As I’ve written in my posts about the other cartoons I’ve drawn of them, the Tories are responsible for misery and deaths in Britain on a massive scale. This has been a direct result of their austerity policy of freezing wages, cutting benefits and their use of the sanctions system within the DWP to throw tens of thousands off benefits every year, often for the most trivial of reasons. Terminally ill patients on their death beds have been told that their benefit has been removed, because they’re ‘fit for work’. Amputees have been asked when they expect their limbs to grow back. People have had their jobseekers allowance removed, because they missed an interview at the jobcentre due to being in hospital at the time. Disabled people with mobility problems have been required to attend fitness for work interviews at offices situated several floors up, with little or nothing in the way of disabled access.

Whistleblowers have also come forward to say that the DWP and the outsourcing companies it employs, such as Atos, have a quota system in which they are supposed to get a certain proportion of claimants off benefits regardless of their actual physical condition. Staff in jobcentres have also been awarded prizes, such as gold stars, sheriff’s badges, Easter eggs and so on for being the clerk, who has got the most people off benefit that week.

The result has been carnage. Mike and other disability bloggers managed, after a very lengthy campaign, to get figures from the DWP showing that for a given period, 13-14,000 people died after being found fit for work by Atos and the DWP. Researchers at Oxford University have found that in 2015, austerity killed 30,000 people. This means that from 2015 to date, in mid-2017, and including Mike’s figures for an earlier period, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers, have killed 87-88,000 people with their policies.

Over a hundred thousand people are now forced to use food banks as they have no income due to their benefits being removed. Seven million people live in ‘food insecure’ households, where it’s a struggle simply finding the money for this week’s food. Women are going hungry, because if they feed themselves, they’ll starve their children.

Meanwhile, the assault on the state sector continues. The Tories are pushing ahead with the privatisation of the NHS, transferring state healthcare which is free at the point of use into a private, for-profit system like the American system.

And so I decided to draw them as members of a pagan, cannibalistic cult like the Aztecs, or like those of the ancient Canaanites and the demons in ancient Mesopotamian religion.

Thus I drew David Cameron eating a human arm, and George Osborne wearing a human skull as a headdress. I decided to depict Alan Duncan with empty eye sockets and eyes in the palms of his hands, like the sinister Pale Man in Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth. Behind Cameron and Duncan loom a sculpture of a demon from ancient Iraq, and a human skeleton. Below Duncan and to his right is the figure of an ancient Mesopotamian priest or king. Left of Cameron is a drawing of Eric Pickles, who was one of the ministers in Cameron’s cabinet. I’m afraid the drawing’s a bit smudged, so you may not be able to make him out. And behind and to the left of him is Evan Davies, the BBC presenter. I put him in after he made some comment supporting the Tories or austerity.

And below Davies and Pickles is Andrew Lansley, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s wretched health minister. Lansley was responsible for a piece of convoluted legislation way back in 2012, which effectively removes the health minister from his statutory obligation, dating from the establishment of the NHS in 1948, to provide state healthcare. This is one of the major legal foundations for the Tories’ planned eventual privatisation of the NHS. See the discussion of this in Jacky Davis’ and Raymond Tallis’ book, NHS-SOS. And so I gave Lansley a sign saying ‘NHS – For Sale. Apply A Lansley’.

Since I drew the cartoon, Lansley’s been replaced by the equally appalling Jeremy Hunt. Hunt has been responsible for plunging tens of British hospitals into massive debt as part of the Tories’ piecemeal privatisation of the NHS.

Adding insult to injury is the lies the Tories are spinning about this crisis. People, according to them, aren’t going to food banks because they’re hungry. No! It’s because it’s free food. In fact, you can only use a food bank if you have a chit from the Jobcentre to say that you don’t have any money. And when Theresa May was asked by a TV presenter whether it was right that nurses should have to use food banks, she could only reply the weak excuse ‘There are complex reasons.’

There aren’t any complex reasons. There’s a very simple one: the Tories are paying starvation wages. Whey they are actually paying anyone, that is.

Davis and Tallis also point out that the NHS was in budget under the Labour administration the Tories replaced. And state expenditure was actually lower under Labour. But despite massive cuts to the NHS, the Tories are lying that the financial crisis, which they are using as their pretext to cut services and benefits, was all due to ‘high spending Labour’, rather than the 2008 financial crash created by corrupt bankers. And while NHS budgets are being cut to the bone and beyond, they’re also trying to tell the public that real expenditure on the NHS is higher than ever before in real terms.

All lies.

Bloggers such as Stilloaks, Johnny Void, Mike and DPAC have blogged about some of the victims, who have been killed by this murderous policy, and there are lists, art works and videos commemorating them. At present, the people on these lists number 500-600 plus, but this is just a tiny fraction of those, who have died.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to undo the Neoliberalism and austerity that is killing tens of thousands of people every year. He intends to scrap the fitness for work tests, pay people proper benefits and renationalise the NHS.

So please, vote for him and end the Tories’ reign of death and misery against the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and the lower middle and working classes.

Cartoon of Iain Duncan Smith as ‘Leatherface’ Serial Killer

June 22, 2017

This week I’ve been putting up cartoons I drew a few years ago, expressing my absolute hatred of the Tory party, the right-wing press and their vile policies. This one is of Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the Tory party before David Cameron, and subsequently the head of the DWP under the Coalition between the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers, headed by Nick Clegg.

It was Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP that massively expanded the sanctions system already brought in by Tony Blair, for the benefit of New Labour’s corporate donors, such as the American private health insurance company and insurance fraudster, Unum. The result has been tens of thousands of people thrown off benefit for the most trivial of reasons, many of whom have died in misery and despair as a result.

Stilloaks, Johnny Void, Vox Political, DPAC and many other bloggers have carried articles and lists of the victims, putting the names and brief biographies of these tragic souls. They have also formed the basis for pieces by socially engaged – and outraged – artists. A few years ago Johnny Void showed one of these on his blog, an image made out the faces of some of those, who have been killed in this way.

So far the list of disabled people, as compiled by the above bloggers and organisations, is somewhere upwards of 500-600 +.

And the true figure is worse. Much worse. Mike and several other disability rights bloggers, and the Independent newspaper, tried to get the numbers of people, who have died after being thrown off their benefits, from IDS’ Department of Work and Pensions. The department did everything it could not to answer Mike’s and the others’ request. They were turned down on the specious grounds that the request was ‘vexatious’. When the Information Commissioner finally upheld their request, the DWP withheld the information until the very last day it could, and then launched an appeal. Eventually Mike and his colleagues won. But the DWP deliberately misinterpreted the request, so that they released a slightly different set of figures than Mike was asking for.

But those figures were still shocking. With in the period for the figures Mike requested, 13,000-14,000 people had died, if I remember correctly.

And researchers at Oxford University have reported that in 2015, austerity killed 30,000 people.

Mike and other bloggers are calling this what it is: murder. It is, as Jeffrey Davies and others describe it, the genocide of the disabled, although it also includes just the ordinary unemployed poor.

So I drew the following cartoon.

It’s of Iain Duncan Smith as a serial killer, wearing a mask made of the skin of one of his victims, like the villain ‘Leatherface’ in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Behind him is a skull, representing death. Behind him on the left is my attempt to copy the mummified remains of one of the bog bodies found in Denmark as another symbol of death.

I am not saying that Iain Duncan Smith is personally a murderer. I’m sure that he hasn’t personally killed anyone. But his department and the party he headed and serves, has. So as far as I’m concerned, he deserves to be portrayed as such.

IDS left office a few years ago, moaning about how people were blaming him for policies which Labour started. Well, New Labour did, but that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility, as he didn’t have to continue them. And neither does Theresa May now. But the sanctions, and the deaths, are continuing. Only yesterday Mike put up a piece about a single mother of nine, Jodie Whiting, who committed suicide after being sanctioned for missing an appointment.

The time is long past when all this was stopped.
No more sanctions. No more deaths. And benefits and wages paid at a level people can actually live on.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to end this vicious sanctions system in the DWP. We need new elections, to vote May out, and him in.

The Ancient Near East’s Influence on Roman and Ancient Greek Law

June 3, 2017

I’ve written several pieces about the possible origins of western democracy, not in ancient Greece and Rome, but in the ancient Near East. Early civilisations like Sumeria and Mari had popular assemblies and councils of elders, which voted on issues, while the karem, or chamber of commerce, also influenced royal decisions. Apart from being of interest in itself, the existence of these institutions in the political systems of the ancient Middle East, is something of a challenge to people like Boris Johnson. Johnson’s a public schoolboy, and so is steeped in the Classics. As shown in his TV series a few years ago about the splendour of the Roman Empire, he seems to believe that everything great and noble in the world came about through ancient Rome and its predecessor, Greece.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found this entry for Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, HB £38.50). This says

Throughout the twelve essays that appear in Ex Oriente Lex, Raymond Westbrook convincingly argues that the influence of Mesopotamian legal traditions and thought did not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but rather had a profound impact and the early laws and legal developments of Greece and Rome as well. A preface by editors Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub details the importance of Westbrook’s work for the field of classics, while Sophie Demare-Lafont’s incisive introduction places Westbrook’s ideas within the wider context of ancient law.

As I said before, perhaps if there was great appreciation of the achievements of the ancient Near Eastern world, and the debt that the modern West owes to its civilisations, there would be greater reluctance amongst the political and military class to invading and destroying these countries.

The Iraq invasion created the chaos that spawned ISIS, which, along with al-Qaeda and the other Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa, have destroyed millennia of culture and history, as well as butchering those regions’ people.

But the Americans and British have also done their share of cultural vandalism. Nicholas Wood and Annabelle Pellens in their book The Case Against Blair, describe how the Americans levelled the ancient city of Babylon in order to use it as military base.

Now imagine the sheer outrage from Classicists like BoJo if the same thing was done to the ruins of Athens. Not that Greece isn’t seeing it’s ancient heritage destroyed by Neoliberalism, as museums are closed, archaeological sites looted and antiquities sold off due to the EU’s austerity programme. And for all his avowed enthusiasm for the Classical world, I haven’t heard BoJo speak out against that, either.

It’s long past time that a halt was called to imperialism, neoliberalism, and the destruction of the world’s cultures, and the massacre and exploitation of its peoples.

The Ancient Near East as the Birthplace of Democracy

May 15, 2017

This is a bit of a rejoinder to Boris ‘Mugwump’ Johnson. Johnson, as a public schoolboy steeped in the Classics, believes that everything great and good began with ancient Greece and Rome. But a few years ago I put up a blog post about a book, The Origins of the Democracy in the Ancient Near East, which argued that the roots of democracy went further back, and further east, than ancient Greece. It began instead in the popular assemblies, which governed ancient mesopotamian civilisations such as the city state of Mari.

I found this passage about the democratic nature of ancient near eastern civilisation in the entry ‘Law (Mesopotamian)’ in Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (London: Pickering and Inglis Ltd 1966), 356-359. This states

The pattern of society in early Mesopotamia has been described as “primitive democracy”. There was an assembly (Sumerian ukkin, Akkadian puhrum) of the elders and young men with whom they chieftain or leader (antecedant of the later king) must consult. All major decisions were put to a vote. In addition, the cheiftain was obliged to give to his tutelary deity an annual account of his conduct of authority during the previous year. No doubt here also, as in the case of Egypt, there was drastic modification in practice especially in later years when, for example, such strong men as Sargon of Akkad, Hammurabi of Babylon or Sennacherib of Assyria ruled. But the principle remained in daily life as a unique characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization and spread into Syria and Anatolia as well. 356.

I don’t doubt that in the half century since the book was published, this view of ancient near eastern society as democratic has been revised. I think the book that came out about it a few years ago said that these states weren’t democratic. However, popular assemblies did exist.

Mesopotamia was the old name for the area that is now Iraq, and I wonder how much of its ancient history and precious archaeology has survived the western invasion by Bush and Blair, sectarian conflict and the destructive fury of ISIS. Nicholas Wood in his book, The Case Against Blair, describes how the Americans trashed Babylon when they chose to make it into one of the bases. And the barbarians of ISIS released a vide of them levelling Nineveh and destroying priceless antiquities in one of Iraq’s museums.

And their fury against anything they judge to be un-Islamic isn’t confined to the ancient past. They’ve also desecrated and destroyed Christian churches and the country’s Muslim shrines and mosques. And this is besides the horrific carnage and destruction which the war and its aftermatch have unleashed on the region and its people.

Iraq was one of the major centres of world civilisation, and the destruction of its ancient monuments and artefacts is a massive loss. And all because Bush, Blair and the Saudis wanted to steal the country’s oil and other state-owned industries for American big business.