Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

Book on the Evolution of the Human Brain

December 30, 2017

The Human Brain Evolving: Paleoneurological Studies in Honor of Ralph L. Holloway, edited by Douglas Broadfield, Michael Yuan, Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth. Stone Age Institute Press, Gosport Indiana and Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. 2010.

This is another book I got much cheaper than the cover prise through Oxbow Books’ bargain catalogue. The book is a collection of papers from a two day conference by the Stone Age Institute in April 2007 to celebrate the life and work of Ralph Holloway, one of the great founders of the field. Holloway as he explains in the first paper in which he gives his personal perspective, started out studying metallurgy at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia in the 1950s. He then moved to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he took courses in anthropology and geology. After this, he enrolled in the Ph.D. programme in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. There he became interested in exploring how evolution had shaped the development of primate brains. His interest in this area led him to do research in the brain casts from australopithecine skulls in South Africa, where his mentor was professor Phillip V. Tobias. In 1969 he settled down to study paleoneurology fulltime. His decision was partly made by the testicular trauma he suffered the previous year by the cops while in a student demonstration in New York. This gave him considerable with Prof. Tobias as the struggles he was having against apartheid and the fuzz in South Africa.

As Holloway himself explains, any study of the evolutionary development of the specialised structure of the human brain was very strongly discouraged when he was a student. The simple assumption was that humans got more intelligent as their brains got bigger. There was no investigation about how the particular areas of the brain, in which specific brain functions are located, developed. Indeed this was actively and vehemently discouraged. He says that his first mentor at Berkeley was Professor Sherwood Washburn, who kindly suggested that he take various courses in anatomy. When Holloway told him that he wanted to take the course in neuroanatomy, however, Washburn was horrified, and said that he would no longer be Holloway’s mentor if he did so, fearing that it would make him too specialised to be a physical anthropologist, an argument Holloway found unconvincing. He goes on to point out the paucity of material in physical anthropological textbooks from the 1950s to the present, pointing out that only one, published in 2008 actually does because its co-author, John Allen, is a neurologist.

The book’s contents include the following papers.

Chapter 1: The Human Brain Evolving: A Personal Retrospective, Ralph L. Holloway.

Chapter 2: The Maternal Energy Hypothesis of Brain Evolution: An Update, Robert D. Martin and Karen Isler.

Chapter 3: The Meaning of Brain Size: The Evolution of Conceptual Complexity, P. Tom Schoeneman.

Chapter 4: Human Brain Endocasts and the LB1 Hobbit Brain, Ralph L. Holloway.

Chapter 5: The Fossil Hominid Brains of Dmanisi: D 2280 and D2282, Dominique Grimaud-Herve and David Lordkipandze.

Chapter 6: The Evolution of the Parietal Cortical Areas in the Human Genus: Between Structure and Cognition, by Emiliano Bruner.

Chapter 8: Study of Human Brain Evolution at the Genetic Level, by Eric J. Vallender and Bruce T. Lahn.

Chapter 9: Brain Reorganisation in Humans and Apes, by Katerina Semendeferi, Nicole Barger and Natalie Schenker.

Chapter 10: Searching for Human Brain Specializations with Structural and Functional Neuroimaging, by James K. Rilling.

Chapter 11: Structural and Diffusion MRI of a Gorilla Brain Performed Ex Vivo at 9.4 Tesla, by Jason A. Kaufman, J. Michael Tyszka, Francine “Penny” Patterson, Joseph M. Erwin, Patrick R. Hof, and John M. Allman.

Chapter 12: The role of Vertical Organisation in the Encephalisation and Reorganisation of the Primate Cortex, Daniel P. Buxhoeveden.

Chapter 13: The Evolution of Cortical Neurotransmitter Systems Among Primates and their Relevance to Cognition, Mary Ann Raghanti, Patrick R. Hof, and Chet C. Sherwood.

Chapter 14: Sex Differences in the Corpus Callosum of Macaca fascicularis and Pan troglodytes, by Douglas C. Broadfield.

Chapter 15: Dental Maturation, Middle Childhood and the Pattern of Growth and Development in Earlier Hominins, by Janet Monge and Alan Mann.

Chapter 16: Perikymata Counts in Two Modern Human Sample Populations, by Michael Sheng-Tien Yuan.

Chapter 17: Mosaic Cognitive Evolution: The case of Imitation Learning, by Francys Subiaul.

Chapter 18: The Foundations of Primate Intelligence and Language Skills, by Duane M. Rumbaugh, E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, ,James E. King and Jared P. Taglialatella.

Chapter 19: Hominid Brain Reorganisation, Technological Change, and Cognitive Complexity, Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick.

Clearly this is a written at an advanced, technical level for a specialist academic audience. I’ve done little but skim through it so far, but have found some fascinating facts. For example, Holloway’s paper on the brain of the Flores Hobbit recognises that it does share some features of modern microcephalics, but also others that are very different. This could mean that the creature could have been an archaic hominid suffering from a peculiar form of neurological defects that now no longer exists.

Emiliano Bruner’s paper argues from the study of Neanderthal and Early Modern Humans that modern humans’ parietal lobes are actually larger than would have been predicted by evolutionary theory for hominids of our size.

Anne Weaver’s paper argues that, in contrast to the standard view that this area of the brain has not evolved in the course of the development of modern humans, 30,000 years ago the size of the Cerebellum increased relative to the Cerebrum. The cerebellum is the part of the human brain dedicated to motor coordination and related tasks.

Douglas Broadfield’s paper on sex difference in chimp brains takes further Holloway’s and Kitty Lacoste’s 1982 paper, which controversially showed that that the corpus callosum in women was larger than those of men. His study of this part of the brain in chimps shows that this development is unique to humans.

Paleoneurology is still controversial, and Holloway holds some very controversial opinions. He’s an evolutionary reductionist, who considers culture to be the sole product of evolution, and religion and politics to be intrinsically evil. It’s an opinion he recognises is not held by the vast majority of people.

He also laments how the anthropology course at Columbia has abandoned physical anthropology, and been taken over completely by social anthropology, stating that the majority appear ‘postmodern, post colonialist, feminist and political’. This led to him being marginalised and isolated at the faculty.

He also states that it is stupid, for reasons of ‘political correctness’ not to consider that the same evolutionary processes that have shaped the different physical forms of the various human races, have not also affected their mental capacities and evolution too. He describes this research as intensely political and near-suicidal, and describes how he was accused of being a Nazi because of his investigation into it. He states that one critic described it as the kind of research that got his relatives put into concentration camps.

Professor Holloway is clearly a decent, humane man, who has in his day stood up for liberal values and protested against institutional racism. However, while he states that the neurological differences between male and female brains are ‘more or less accepted’ today, there are still women neurologists, who argue against them. More recently they’ve argued that sex difference in the brain are a continuum between the extremely male and extremely female, with most people lumped somewhere in between. In fact, the sex differences in the brain are so small that you simply can’t tell by looking whether a brain is male or female.

Furthermore, anthropological science was used in the period of full-blown European colonialism to justify White rule over their non-White subject peoples, and certainly has been used by Nazis and Fascists to justify their persecution of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other ‘subhumans’. After the War, the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley cited scientific papers on the differences in intelligence between the races to argue for a form of apartheid that would lead to the complete separation of Blacks and Jews from White, gentile Brits. This would affect only those, who were allowed to remain in Britain, because their culture was compatible with White, gentile British civilisation. See the section 13, ‘The Colour Question in Britain, Immigration, the Racial Question’ in his wretched book, Mosley – Right or Wrong, published by Lion Books in 1961. And of course, like all Fascist after the War, Mosley denied that he was actually racist!

Holloway knows from personal experience just how touchy this subject is, and is aware that the lower IQ scores made by Black Americans is still a subject of intense and acrimonious debate. But he thinks it silly to rule out the question of racial differences in human brain structure because of current political dogma.

This is too complacent. My impression here is Prof. Holloway has this rather more tolerant view of the acceptability of this direction of neurological investigation, because he is a White man from a privileged background. After all, in the 1950s very few working or lower middle class Americans could afford to do a university or college degree. It simply has not affected him personally, although he has stood on the barricades to denounce racism and support other liberal causes during the student unrest of the late ’60s. The same applies to women. In the second edition of the BBC popular science programme QED in the ’80s, a female scientist presented a programme on how male scientists down the centuries had tried to argue that women were biologically inferior, before concluding that ‘the tables are turning’.

Racial neurology and the neurology of gender differences is particularly dangerous now with the rise of the Alt Right and real White supremacists and Nazis surrounding Donald Trump, and the whole milieu of the Republican party and Libertarians in America. These are intensely racist, despising Blacks, Asians and Latinos, and using scientific evidence like the highly controversial ‘Bell Curve’ to argue that Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites. I’ve also seen the islamophobes argue that Muslims also shouldn’t be allowed into Britain from the Middle East and Pakistan, as the average intelligence of the people from those regions is 75! Which to my mind is just ridiculous.

I’ve also heard from a friend, who keeps up with the latest neurological research by talking to some of the scientists involved, that recent studies of neuroplasticity have cast doubt on the amount of specialisation of brain function in specific brain regions. Moreover, everyone’s brain, male and female, is weird up differently. We may in fact know far less about the nature of the human brain, a point made by the neurologist and Humanist Professor Raymond Tallis in his book, Aping Mankind, written against precisely this kind of reductionism, which tries to reduce human cognition and culture by viewing it solely in terms of Darwinian theory in which humans are simply another species of ape.

This is a fascinating book, and offers many insights into the evolution of the human brain. But this is an area that is still developing, and intensely controversial. As such, other scientific opinions are available and should be read as well.

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Books on Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean Archaeology

December 30, 2017

A few months ago I got through the post the 2017 archaeology catalogue for Eurospan University Presses. Amongst some of the fascinating books listed were several on the archaeology of Black communities in America and the Caribbean. As you’ll see, they’re at prices well beyond what ordinary readers can afford. They’re really available only to the rich and academic libraries. If you’ve got access to one near you, then I recommend you try to borrow it from there. Some universities do lend to members of the public in the summer holidays when most of the students have gone home. It might also be possible to get it on interlibrary loan, although this can also mean a long wait and isn’t cheap either. The last time I enquired about it at Bristol, I was told the price was £5 per book. Which means that if you want to borrow more than one, it can become very expensive very quickly. Dam’ Tories and their cuts! I don’t know, but it may also be that some of these books may be available in PDF form over the Net at a cheaper rate. This isn’t mentioned in the catalogue, but it might be so. Alternatively, you could see if there are secondhand copies on Amazon. On the other hand, it might be worth waiting to see if a paperback edition comes out, which may be cheaper.

Here are the books I found interesting, and the blurbs for them in the catalogue.

Archaeologies of African American Life in the Upper Mid-Atlantic, edited by Michael J. Gall & Richard F. Veit
9780817319656 Hardback £74.50

Provides insights into the archaeology and cultural history of African-American life from a collection of sites in the northeastern US. This volume explores the archaeology of African-American life and cultures in the Upper Mid-Atlantic region, suing sites dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.

University of Alabama Press.

Before the Pioneers: Indians, Settlers, Slaves and the Founding of Miami, Andre F. Krank, 9780813054513, hardback £18.50

Formed seemingly out of steel, glass, and concrete with millions of residents from around the globe, Miami has ancient roots that can be hard to imagine today. This work takes readers back through forgotten eras to the stories of the people who shaped the land along the Miami River long before most modern histories of the city begin.

University of Florida Press.

Honoring Ancestors in Sacred Space: The Archaeology of an Eighteenth Century African Bahamian Cemetery, Grace Turner, 9781683400202, hardback £79.50.

Throughout life, black Africans in the Bahamas possessed material items of various degrees of importance to them and within their culture. St. Matthews was a cemetery in Nassau at the water’s edge – or sometimes slightly below. This project emerged from archaeological excavations at this site to identify and recover materials associated with the interned before the area was completely redeveloped.

University Press of Florida.

The Rosewood Massacre: An archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence, Edward Gonzalez Tennant. 9780813056784, £84.95.

Investigates the 1923 massacre that devastated the predominantly African American community of Rosewood, Florida. The author draws on cutting edge GIS technology, census data, artefacts from excavations, and archaeological theory to explore the local circumstances and broader socio-political power structures that led to the massacre.

University Press of Florida.

Simplicity, Equality and Slavery: An Archaeology of Quakerism in the British Virgin Islands, 1740-1780, John M. Chenoweth, 9781683400110 hardback, £79.50.

Inspired by the Quaker ideals of simplicity, equality, and peace, a group of White planters formed a community in the British Virgin Islands during the eighteenth century. Here, the author examines how the community navigated the contradictions of Quakerism and plantation ownership.

University Press of Florida.

These books sound very interesting. There have been a lot of research into the homes and communities of Black Americans over the past couple of decades. They’ve been excavated in New York, and also the slave communities owned by the Founding Fathers, like Benjamin Franklin. In the case of excavating cemeteries, it’s obviously a particularly sensitive area, and the archaeologists involved have obviously had to be particularly careful in their negotiations of the host Black community and the surviving relatives of the deceased. As you should when excavating any human remains.

From what I gather from reading elsewhere, cemeteries and burial grounds are of particular importance in Afro-Caribbean culture, where it’s associated not only with personal heritage and family history and identity but also occupation of the land.

I remember correctly, the 1923 Rosewood massacre was White supremacist pogrom against the Black community in Rosewood, their politicians and their White supporters and allies. This was before McCarthyism, when the American Left was still very strong, and the Republican party the more left-wing of the two main political parties. The town’s mayor was Black, and the town council included Socialists. Even the Republicans issued a statement condemning the treatment of the poor, the corrupt corporate politics keeping them there, and declaring healthcare and education a right. Obviously the Conservatives and the Klan really couldn’t tolerate that, and stirred up resentment until it boiled over into organised violence.

As for the Quaker plantation in the British Virgin Islands, the Quakers very early denounced and condemned slavery as fundamentally opposed to their principles. John Fox, the sect’s founder, denounced and by their laws no member could own slaves. Nevertheless, the acceptance of slavery was so deeply ingrained in European society, that its rejection was not easy for many to accept. And although they were condemned from owning or dealing in slaves, some Quakers did make their cash through supplying the slave ships. If you want to know more about the Quakers, their ideals in this period, then I recommend you read David Dabydeen’s history of the Quakers in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sugar and Slaves.

RT Shows Clip of Triple Suns Seen in China

December 28, 2017

This is a bit of fun and Fortean weirdness to cheer people up after the gloom and chaos of the seasonal weather and the continuing Tory destruction of the NHS, the economy, and everything decent in our society. A couple of days ago, RT put up this very short video of the triple suns seen in the sky over Hailun City. The blurb for the video states that it mesmerised the residents, and appeared at about half eight in the morning.

It’s an illusion, of course, which the RT blurb duly mentions. I think these type of illusions are called Sundogs, or parhelion. The large, middle sun is the real sun, whose light is refracted by ice or water crystals in the Earth’s atmosphere, thus creating the illusion that there are two smaller suns either side of it. It’s been seen several times in history. I think one appearance is recorded in one of the medieval chronicles for the 12/13th centuries, where three suns were seen by the people of one particular county in England.

I have read attempts to explain the strange creatures seen by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel as sundogs. When these appeared in the sky before him, they were travelling in strange vehicles like wheels, which also had other wheels revolving within them. This doesn’t actually sound like a sundog to me, and I think the incident is far better explained as a visionary experience. Of course, the UFO crowd have also tried to claim that what Ezekiel saw were really visiting extraterrestrials in their spaceships, following the theories of Von Daniken and the like. I really don’t believe that explanation either. Von Daniken’s ideas have been massively influential in promoting the ‘ancient astronaut’ hypothesis – that Earth has been visited throughout its history by aliens. But it’s also been extensively critiqued itself. Von Daniken got much of his facts wrong, and misinterpreted the archaeological and anthropological evidence he used to support his ideas.

But whatever your view of visiting aliens and UFOs, I think we can all enjoy this strange and weirdly beautiful spectacle.

Jodi Magness on the Archaeology of Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine

December 17, 2017

One of the other books in the winter edition of the Oxbow Bargain Book Catalogue for Winter 2017 is Jodi Magness’ Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine. The blurb for this says

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.

Eisenbrauns, 2003, 9781575060705, Hardback, was £49.99, now £14.95.

Magness is an Israeli archaeologist, who has written some brilliant, very accessible, popular books on the archaeology of the Holy Land. I recognise that my own religious views mean that I have a bias towards Biblical archaeology and the Ancient Near East, as opposed to the later, Muslim periods. However, western concerns with these periods have meant that precious later evidence of Muslim culture and towns have been destroyed as archaeologists have dug through them to get to ancient Egypt, for example. The British archaeologist John Romer was particular critical about this in one edition of his series on the history of archaeology for Channel 4, broadcast in the 1990s, Great Excavations. In one sequence, he sifted through the sand around one excavated ancient Egyptian monument, picking out pieces of Islamic period pottery, and sadly remarked, ‘There was a whole town here once.’ And explained that it had been either destroyed, or at least its remains had, by archaeologists determined to get at what was underneath from antiquity.

Which of course, may partly explain – but does not justify – the Islamist rage against pre-Islamic Egypt and its monuments. Like the pyramids, which they’d love to destroy.

Magness’ conclusions don’t really surprise me. There’s an argument about the demographic and economic conditions of the late Roman Empire at the time of the Muslim conquests. Part of the reasons for the Fall of the Roman Empire was economic stagnation, as I’ve pointed out before to combat the rubbish spouted by right-wing politicos and classicists like Boris Johnson. During the late Byzantine Empire, towns shrank, and many disappeared completely as they were abandoned. Those that survived tended to consist of a castle or fortification and a church around which was a much smaller settlement.

The nascent Islamic Empire put the region in touch with an expanding state that grew to cover the Near East and spread into parts of India. It gave merchants the opportunity to establish trade networks across a vast area. Furthermore, even when the Byzantines and Muslim emperors were still at work, Christians in the early caliphate were not prevented from contact with their spiritual superiors and coreligionists in Byzantium. Also, the official Byzantine ‘Melkite’ church, as it was known in Egypt, had persecuted the various ‘Jacobite’ or ‘Nestorian’ sects, which they considered heretical, often with horrific tortures. The result was that when the Muslims conquered the region, the persecuted masses opened the gates to them and welcomed them as liberators.

At the moment, however, Netanyahu, the Likudniks and the other members of the Israeli religious right in his coalition seem to be determined to erase any history of Palestine, that challenges its exclusive Jewish character. There are any number of books and articles by western historians attacking this and comparing it with militant nationalist movements elsewhere. Such as by Philip Rahtz, a very respected British archaeologist from my part of the West Country in his book, Invitation to Archaeology. This is not anti-Semitic, and Rahtz himself has always been anti- or at least, non-racist. He describes in the above book how shocked he was when an apparently liberal Australian student he was teaching was deeply surprised by his interest in the archaeology of Aboriginal Australians. ‘But they’re just apes!’ she exclaimed.

Netanyahu and his thugs are determined to close mosques and churches, or at least keep them very tightly controlled, just as the illegal settlers they support seize Palestinian land and homes in the Occupied Territories. So I really don’t know how long a genuinely open archaeological investigation of the Islamic period will last.

Change.Org Petition to Have Boris Johnson Step Down as Foreign Secretary

November 7, 2017

There is now a petition on Change.Org for Boris Johnson to step down as Foreign Secretary because of his colossal, glaring ineptitude. The most recent example saw a women of dual British-Iranian nationality visiting friends for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year holiday, being arrested and threatened with imprisonment.

The explanation for the petition runs as follows

Boris Johnson has hit the headlines again for yet another gaffe.

Only this time in his muddle he said that British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran to train journalists last year when she was imprisoned at Evin Prison. Her family and workplace say this is wrong, that she is not a journalist, but was visiting family on holiday.

Because of Boris’ mistake, Nazanin’s time in prison could be doubled by Iranian officials. She is there for allegedly plotting to topple the government in Tehran, although official charges were never made public. Nazanin suffers depression from being separated from her husband and three year old daughter. I’ve heard first-hand of the physical and psychological torture as one of my own family members served a term there. Evin is Iran’s main holding place for political prisoners.

Our government should be working day and night get Nazanin back home to her family.

As a British citizen, I want to make sure we have a Foreign Secretary that supports us. Instead we have someone who is unfit for the job. Because he lobs grenades at sensitive situations. He lacks attention to detail. And in doing so, is a threat to British people and damaging overseas relations. That’s why I’m calling for Boris to step down from his role as Foreign Secretary.

This is not the only mistake Boris has made. Just last month he made jokes about clearing away dead bodies in Libya to turn Sirte into the next Dubai. And in the past, he ran a magazine which accused Liverpool fans of ‘wallowing in it’ after the Hillsborough disaster.

Boris must apologise, Boris must repair the damage he has done to Nazanin and her case but most importantly Boris must go.

I’ve signed it, as I’m heartily sick of his incompetence embarrassing us as a nation. And I’m sick and angry that an innocent woman, who has already suffered five years in Evin prison, has been interrogated and threatened with further imprisonment by the Iranian authorities, thanks to Boris shooting his mouth off.

Iran is a fascinating country with a rich, ancient culture. But it is a repressive theocracy with an intense suspicion of Britain and the West dating from the days of British imperialism, our ownership of its oil industry, and support for the Shah’s brutal autocracy. In the 1990s there was a thaw in diplomatic relations between our two countries, and there have been significant cultural exchanges since. For example, the YBAs a few years ago hosted a show in Iran, and the British Museum leant the Iranians the Cyrus Cylinder, which dates from the period of the Persian Empire and records the conquests of the emperor Cyrus the Great. One of these was the conquest of Babylonia and the Holy Land.

Yet relations are still very delicate. Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe isn’t the only one, whose safety could be placed in jeopardy by this buffoon saying the wrong thing. The Iranians have in the past arrested other British travellers in Iran on suspicion of spying, and our diplomatic people have had to work hard getting them out.

And it’s not just Iran. There are many other similar societies, where British imperialism and its memory are very sensitive subjects. It’s all too easy to imagine something similar happening elsewhere due to Boris talking uninformed nonsense.

Johnson has refused to apologise for this dangerous mistake, preferring to place the blame on the Iranian authorities. I completely agree that they should not have acted as they did. But considering the nature of the Iranian regime, which is pretty well notorious, it is very incumbent on Boris to make sure that he avoids giving unnecessary offence, or a pretext for the Iranian authorities to act in this fashion.

I’m also heartily sick of Johnson trying to present himself as some kind of loveable buffoon, who means well despite everything he says and does. He isn’t. He’s a scheming intriguer, who’s fiercely ambitious. He obviously feels that as an Old Etonian he is entitled to a seat, if not the highest seat, in British government. And I’m fed up with his attitude that he can go one and do whatever he likes, regardless of the consequence for this nation, and the ordinary people, he puts in danger.

If you want to sign it yourself, it’s at

https://www.change.org/p/boris-step-down-as-foreign-secretary?j=178294&sfmc_sub=269081008&l=32_HTML&u=33184044&mid=7259809&jb=3072&utm_medium=email&utm_source=aa_sign&utm_campaign=178294&sfmc_tk=qsSqDg4%2f%2bpD798KvauUzwd3ZfiuUegHU43mVbCYO0kKXOxvG9SYpXypwHbII5UEv&j=178294&sfmc_sub=269081008&l=32_HTML&u=33184044&mid=7259809&jb=3072

Norman Tebbit Claims Air Pollution Making People Transgender

October 29, 2017

Mike’s put up a lot of material on his blog, which deserves to be read and commented on. But I really couldn’t let this one pass.

Norman Tebbit, the noted opponent of LGBTQ rights, has risen once again to show his ignorance and bigotry.

Pink News reported that the elderly Thatcherite appeared in the pages of the Torygraph to claim that transgenderism is a new phenomenon. He said he couldn’t remember there being any other children, who were unhappy with their sex at his school, or amongst his intake for National Service or in his children’s school. He wants research conducted into it to examine its extent in time and geographical space. He also states that it’s unknown whether ours or other species are affected, and stated that some scientists believe it could be caused by air pollution. Pink News concluded that it was unclear what scientists he was referring to.

Mike makes the point that there have always been people unhappy with their gender, and that he wouldn’t be surprised if there were people at his school or amongst his cohort for National Service, who weren’t happy with the sex into which they were born. They kept silent, and hid it, because of the very strong hostility towards it. Those were more primitive times, and what has changed is that society has become more tolerant.

He concludes

The current situation is far from enlightened, but progress has been made – as a result of decades of campaigning against oppressive prejudice such as that displayed by Lord Tebbit.

And it is oppressive. It is an attempt to tell other people how to live. How would you like it?

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/28/lord-tebbit-thinks-air-pollution-is-making-people-transgender-is-that-as-opposed-to-narrow-minded/

There are a number of aspects to this, which do need to be carefully dissected and commented on.

First of all, I think somewhere along the line Tebbit has come across some entirely respectable research into the growth of reproductive abnormalities and intersex conditions in male animals, and then got it somehow twisted in his weird, bigoted little mind. Scientists have become worried about the increase in malformed sexual organs and female characteristics amongst some animals, such as frogs. I can remember reading an article in New Scientist back in the 1990s that reported that scientists had found an increase in these, as well as other birth defects, in areas in Canada and America that were particularly heavily polluted. I don’t think this was air pollution. It was chemical pollution from factories entering the water table. Amongst the human population, there was a growing gender imbalance with an abnormally low incidence of male births.

In short, there is plenty of evidence which shows that industrial pollution is feminizing animal populations, including humans. And I think it is reasonable to conclude that this process is connected with the fall in sperm vitality in developed, industrial countries, that will leave half of all men classified as clinically infertile by the middle of this century.

But this is not the same as transvestism or transgenderism. This has always been present in human societies. It’s condemned, along with homosexuality, in Leviticus in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Other cultures have been more accepting. For example, in Polynesian culture there were homosexuals, who dressed as women and did female tasks, and were accepted. Herodotus, the Father of History, states that the upper class of the Scythians were not only impotent, but they also dressed as women and did women’s work. The Scythians were a nomadic people on the steppes of central Asia and Siberia. And many of the shamans in Siberian spirituality were transvestites.

In the west, transvestism and transgenderism remained very illegal until very recently. Not only was it frowned upon, but it could also get the transvestite thrown in jail. There was a notorious case in the 19th century of two men, who dressed in drag as part of their music hall act, who were prosecuted because they went out in public wearing their female togs ‘for immoral purposes’, according to the prosecution. Transvestism has also been called Eonism, after the Chevalier d’Eon, a French nobleman and spy, who was also a transvestite. He was also very good at it. He lived as a woman for 20 years, and the woman, who shared his accommodation with him said that in all that time she didn’t know he was a man. One of the small press magazines that emerged in the great flourishing of independent zines in the 1990s was entitled Eon: The Magazine of Transkind, which was dedicated to defending transvestite/ transgender people and their rights.

Western society has become more tolerant towards the transgendered as part of the gay rights campaign that began in the 1950s and ’60s. And at the popular level a strong influence was David Bowie and Glam Rock. Bowie in the ’60s and ’70s adopted a very strongly sexually ambiguous persona. There are photos on the web of him with long hair wearing a man dress. Bowie inspired parts of the pop and rock scene to adopt a similarly androgynous image. Thus the number of Rock and Heavy Metal bands, who also sported long hair and the spandex clothes they’d bought from Chelsea Girl with their sisters. This whole attitude could be summed up in Twisted Sister’s old maxim, ‘Dress like women, sing like men, play like Motherf***ers’. These ’80s monsters of metal arguably achieved their ambition when, in 1987, they were voted America’s ‘worst dressed women’.

It wasn’t just down to Bowie, of course. And despite the massive hair, make-up and spandex, Rock and Heavy Metal are very aggressively masculine musical genres, although certainly not without their female fans and stars. The Goth subculture, or parts of it, also took up the androgynous look as well as a certain tolerance towards bisexuality, which was also becoming increasingly common across popular music generally as part of the changes in sexual attitudes amongst young people.

As for the prevalence of transvestism and transsexuality across different cultures through time, there have been a number of histories of sex written by serious anthropologists, archaeologists and historians, one of whom was also interviewed about his work and book by New Scientist. These issues have also been explored by some of the gay historians. A friend of mine used to have one lying around, which did cover homosexuality and related queer issues as a global phenomenon, from Asia and Europe to Africa and elsewhere.

If Tebbit wants to know more about the Scythians and their sexual habits, he can read Herodotus: The Histories, and the collection of ancient Greek medical writings ascribed to Hippocrates, The Hippocratic Writings. Both are, or were, in Penguin Classics. I’m afraid I can’t remember the titles and authors of the books on the history of sex, although one of them I think was simply titled, The History of Sex, and published by a mainstream publisher. The gay history book was, I think, published by one of the gay publishers.

The Oxbow Book Catalogue for autumn 2017 also contains a recent book, Exploring Sex and Gender in Bioarchaeology, ed. by Sabrina C. Agarwal and Julie K. Wesp (University of New Mexico Press 2017).

The blurb for this runs

Archaeologists have long used skeletal remains to identify gender. Contemporary bioarchaeologists, however, have begun to challenge the theoretical and methodological basis for sex assignment from the skeletons. Simultaneously, they have started to consider the cultural construction of gender roles, recognising the body as uniquely fashioned from the interaction of biological, social, and environmental factors. As the contributors to this volume reveal, combining skeletal data with contextual information can provide a richer understanding of life in the past.

(Page 6 of the catalogue).

This book ain’t cheap, however. The hardback edition is £88.95. But as Tebbit was a Tory cabinet minister, he can probably afford it. As for the other books, he could simply go on Amazon to find them, or simply look round his local branch of Waterstones.

As it is, it looks as if Tebbit has simply been watching too much Alex Jones, the bonkers American conspiracy theorist, and his foam-flecked rant about ‘the globalists’ putting chemicals in the water ‘to turn the frickin’ frogs gay!’

And here’s some light relief at the great conspiracy theorist’s expense:

RT: Trump Puts Israel’s Interests Above America’s in Withdrawal from UNESCO

October 20, 2017

In this short video from RT America, they interview Max Blumenthal on the withdrawal this week from the United Nations’ cultural organisation, UNESCO, by America and Israel. The two countries have claimed that the organisation is profoundly anti-Semitic. He says that the Israelis would far rather have been in the organisation, haranguing it from inside. Blumenthal states that Israel was more or less forced to leave the organisation against its own wishes by Trump’s decision to quit. He makes the point that Washington would never have left it, if they thought it was biased against France or Spain. He also says that America owes UNESCO $500 million, which it now no longer has to pay back. The bigger question, he also suggests, is why Israel was ever allowed into the UN in the first place, considering its Talibanesque destruction of Palestinian archaeology and historic monuments. He also states that the present coalition government in Israel, led by Likud, includes the 3rd Temple Foundation, who would like to tear down the al-Aqsa Mosque in order to rebuild Solomon’s Temple. The mosque is the third holiest in Islam, and its destruction would start a war throughout the region.

The programme then discusses Trump’s decertification of the nuclear deal this week with Iran. One of the foreign policy advisors, Ben Rhodes, has said that Trump’s withdrawal from UNESCO, his decertification of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and his threatened withdrawals against NAFTA, the TPP and other international agreements, means that no other country will trust America. Blumenthal also comments that Trump’s decertification will strengthen the hand of the hardliners inside the Iranian government, against the current liberalisation that the country is going through. He also makes the point that Trump’s decision has been influenced by ‘Israel-first’ billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson, who have contributed millions to his campaign.

The news that the Likudnik coalition includes maniacs, who would like to destroy the al-Aqsa, or Dome of the Rock, Mosque is terrifying. There have been several attempts by Jewish extremists to destroy the Mosque already in the hope that by doing so they will start an apocalyptic war that will lead to the restoration of the Temple and the coming of the Messiah. The same belief is held by some of the extreme right-wing Christian Fundamentalists, who hope that it will bring about Christ’s return to Earth. This apocalypticism is one of the main influences behind Christian Zionism.

I’ve read, however, that the Mosque isn’t built over the remains of Solomon’s Temple. Stephen Runciman, in his History of the Crusades, states that the mosque was built where the caliph Omar prayed after conquering Palestine. Omar did not pray at a site already venerated by the country’s Jewish and Christian inhabitants, as he realised his followers would want to turn it into a mosque. So he deliberately chose a place outside the Temple precincts, where rubbish was dumped.

As for the destruction of Palestinian monuments, I would have liked to know much more about this. The Israelis have destroyed immense numbers of Palestinian homes and villages as part of their campaign of ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Arabs. Blumenthal himself in the clip refers to the way Arab villages are being bulldozed in order to build settler colonies.

I am, however, aware that Muslims in Britain are very much aware, and very concerned about the closure of Palestinian mosques. I did part of my minor degree in religious studies, which included modules on Islam. One of the pieces of literature I read researching British Islam was the Muslim ‘parish’ magazine for the congregation in a British mosque. Apart from the local news, it also covered the closure of a mosque in Israel, and its conversion into a disco/ nightclub by the Israelis. This is to them a shocking sacrilege, and it would be to many other religions if their centres of worship were treated in this way.

The newsletter also reported that a local Christian church in the same area of the mosque had also been closed. This is something you definitely don’t hear about from the very pro-Israel Christian Zionist right. The impression these organisations try to give is that Israel is very positive towards Christianity, and that Christians are religiously obliged to give their absolute support to the country. As opposed to the Arabs, who are bitterly opposed to Christianity. Yet I can remember being told by a former local priest, that in his experience of visiting Israel and Syria, it was Syria that had a far more tolerant attitude towards Christian antiquities and those visiting them.

I don’t mention this in order to stir up any kind of religious hatred against Jews. I am very much aware that Jews have suffered horrendous persecution by Christians down the centuries, and am very definitely opposed to it. I am merely trying to make the point that Christians in America and elsewhere are not being told the whole truth about the state of religious politics in Israel. They are being instead presented with a very biased and distorted account that places the blame almost wholly on Muslims.

RT Asks People Outside Hillary Book Signing ‘What Went Wrong?’

October 17, 2017

I’ve put up a couple of pieces a few days commenting on Hillary Clinton’s appearance at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and how in her book, What Happened?, which she’s been touting at this and other events across the world, she blames everyone except herself for her failure to gain the presidency.

In this short piece, RT asks people coming out of another book signing, this time at the South Bank Centre, ‘what went wrong?’ A few people recognise that she stood on the wrong platforms and campaigned on the wrong issues. One individual remarks that you can’t win elections simply by promising more of what your predecessor did. One man also comments that it was ‘the Rust Belt, populism, you know, Donald Trump’.

Most of the women, and one or two men, reply that Hillary’s gender was against her. They state that America wasn’t ready yet for a female president, and possibly not ready for one after a Black man. A lady in a hijab states that American politics is dominated by White men, and so Hillary suffered what has always happened to women everywhere, and was ‘Trumped’ by a poorly qualified man. And a couple blamed it on the Russians.

One of the women questioned is the head of Democrats Abroad, or at least the British chapter of it. She blames Killary’s defeat partly on the voter suppression and gerrymandering that went on. And a couple of people simply blame Russians. Nevertheless, she still has her supporters, with one Black young lady still saying that ‘we have faith’ in her.

Now it is true that Hillary’s gender was against her. America is a very masculine society, and politics over there, as they are in most White majority countries, is dominated by White men. And Killary was the victim of some very bitter, anti-feminist rhetoric when she and her husband became the first family back in the 1990s. One Republican Pastor angrily declared that she was the ‘type of woman, who turns to lesbianism, practices witchcraft, leaves her husband, and kills her children.’ And to a certain extent, some of those slurs have continued. There have been rumours throughout her political career that Shrillary’s a lesbian, and during Obama’s presidency these rumours became very specific. She was supposed to be having a lesbian affair with one of her advisors, Huma Abeddin. A male official, who had been sacked, also claimed that she and Nancy Pelosi were both man-hating lesbians, who delighted in humiliating men.

As for witchcraft, Alex Jones on his Infowars channel was coming out with all manner of complete and utter nonsense. He claimed that she, and Obama, were both demonically possessed. Or it could be that she was an evil alien, or under alien control. An invitation by a New York performance artist provided Jones with further ammunition to claim that she was involved in black magic. The performance artist specialised in ‘spirit cooking’ as part of her performances, which involved human blood. Jones pointed out that it was also what the black magician Aleister Crowley called his own vile magical cuisine, which used menstrual blood and semen. Hillary was therefore accused of performing various black magic rituals with this woman. In fact, she and Bill had been friends with her since the ’60s or ’70s, and as far as I could see, the ‘spirit cooking’ she talked about really was just weird performance art. It might have been inspired by Crowley, but as far as I could see it had very little to do with genuine occultism.

However, there are people in America more than willing to vote for a female candidate. I was told by one of the American postgraduate students on an archaeology course I did several years ago at Bristol Uni, that she was so sick and tired of every candidate being another White male that she would vote for anybody, who wasn’t. And the political landscape had shifted so much that she wasn’t the only female candidate for the presidency. The Greens put forward Jill Stein. As the candidate of a third party, Stein very much was an outsider, but she’s still blamed by Killary as part of the reasons for her defeat. In fact, as a feminist candidate, Stein was the stronger party. She was a doctor, who supported single-payer healthcare as well as protecting the environment, because her experience taught her that women particularly needed it.

Killary, by contrast, was very much a political insider. She was a professional businesswoman, who sat on the boards of multiple corporations. She was also very, very much in Wall Street’s pockets, having been paid hundreds of thousands for speeches she delivered at their various dinners. One of the companies she headed was Walmart, which does not recognise trade unions, and treats its staff extremely badly. Despite making a speech to trade unionists that she would defend their rights and those of their members, she had actually made no attempt to reverse Walmart’s union-bashing policy. And at a time more and more Americans were coming round to support single-payer healthcare, like the Germans have had for nearly a hundred and forty years, she blocked this and called it ‘utopian’.

People also remembered how racist Killary was. In her youth back in the ’60s she’d been a Goldwater Girl, supporting the pro-segregationist Republican Barry Goldwater. She and Bill were responsible for the 1990s legislation that led to a far greater proportion of young Black men being convicted of and serving longer prison sentences for drug offences that Whites. There was also a racist edge to her previous electoral campaign against Barack Obama. She promoted the whole Republican ‘birther’ nonsense, in which it was claimed that Obama, because of his Kenyan ancestry, was not born in the USA and was therefore not eligible to become president.

She also treated the traditional blue-collar Democrat supporters with a very obvious contempt. She stated that she wanted to appeal more to Republican voters, and was true to her word. She ignored, or only did the most cursory campaigning in traditionally Democrat strongholds, expecting the folks there to vote for her. Just as Blair and ‘Progress’ treated the British working class over here.

As for foreign policy, she boasted that she was proud to have Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s old adviser, as her friend and that she regularly spent her hols with him. This is the man, whose policy of backing Fascist dictators across the world, and support for carpet-bombing in Vietnam, has caused him to be denounced as the world’s biggest unindicted war criminal. He is really has shed enough blood, as Shakespeare put in MacBeth, to make ‘all the seas incarnadine, turning the green red’.

This was at a time when the American public was becoming increasingly war weary. People were becoming sick of waving their sons and daughters off proudly, only to see them coming back in coffins, or with shattered bodies and minds from a series of wars that seem to only profit multinationals.

In short, Killary was the consummate corporate and political insider. But she still claimed that she was an outsider, because of her gender. Well, her biological gender was immaterial. She was as hawkish as any of the men in Bush’s and Obama’s cabinets, and was responsible for much legislation that actively harmed women. Her claims of feminism rang very hollow to ordinary American women concerned about bread and butter issues. Like, you know, actually finding paying jobs, being able to afford to eat and have somewhere to live, pay the utility bills and being able to afford to see the doctor. Oh yes, and being able to see their daughters and sons go through college without being burdened by staggering amounts of debt.

As for the Russians being to blame, this is quite frankly a massive lie. Yes, Putin wants to influence what’s going on in the West. No, he wasn’t responsible for Killary’s defeat. Killary was damaged by the WikiLeaks revelations, which showed how she and the head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, fiddled the internal election process to steal the nomination from Bernie, as well as the incriminating documents which showed just how far she was in Wall Street’s and corporate America’s pockets. This had nothing to do with Russian hacking. They were handed over by disgruntled insiders within the Democrat Party. But Killary couldn’t admit this, and so has started a bogus campaign to blame Russian.

And there’s more than a little bit of hypocrisy about this too. Killary’s got no problem with fiddling Russian politics. America poured millions into Boris Yeltsyn’s campaign to become president of the USSR during the 1990s, and so complete the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the privatisation of its state concerns. All of which were sold at knock-down prices. The results were massive profits for the oligarchs, who bought them, the complete melt-down of the Russian economy, a massive surge in mafia violence as organised crime tried to take over industry. Millions of Russians were thrown out of work in a nation that had never developed unemployment benefit, ’cause the state’s policy was to have everyone in work. Left without benefits and with medicine increasingly privatised, there was a massive increase in sickness and suicide.

And she’s continued meddling in Russian/east European affairs. The Orange Revolution in Kiev against the pro-Russian Ukrainian president was carefully stage managed by Shrillary and the state department, down to the orange clothing being given out to protesters. It was an astro-turf coup, which carefully resembled a popular uprising but which was scripted by the American state and western capital. As for the composition of the new Ukrainian government installed with Killary’s help, these include Nazi thugs from the Pravy Sektor, real Fascists, who wear SS uniforms and scream Nazi slogans, and who have a bitter hatred of Jews, trade unionists and real democrats.

She was also caught on tape moaning about how she regretted not fiddling the elections for the Palestinian authority to get the right party in power.

Hillary’s a very intelligent woman. I think some of the misogynist abuse directed against her is because she’s probably the brighter than her husband, Bill. But intelligence does not equate with morality. Trump’s a grotesque monster, but he made some of the right noises. At one point he said he was in charge of single-payer healthcare, and that he didn’t want to start more wars. He’s since gone back on these promises. But despite the fact that Trump’s stupid with a disgusting attitude to women, these are issues that did appeal to many ordinary people. 45,000 people a year die in America because they can’t afford medical treatment. Bush’s wars abroad have pushed taxes up for the state to be able to pay for it, and the burden has fallen again on the ordinary man and woman in the street, just as it has over here. And if you’re a parent wondering if your child will come back for his or her tour of duty in one piece and compus mentus, Trump’s promise not to put boots on the ground in Syria is welcome indeed.

For some people, these are life and death issues, and the grotesque personality of the person proposing them won’t matter. And especially not after Clinton’s own dubious affair with Monica Lewinsky, and the rumours of indiscretions, if not something far worse, with other female staffers.

And let’s put some of the blame for Killary’s defeat on a factor, that I haven’t heard she herself has cited: the American Constitution. As one of the speakers in the above video shows, Killary actually got more votes than Trump. But she lost because of the electoral college, an antiquated and byzantine electoral organ that was set up to give the slave-holding states a disproportionate amount of power in the 19th century. Slaves couldn’t vote, but were defined as being partial humans for the purposes of voting, and the electoral college set up so that the southern states could still successfully field presidential candidates against those from the northern states, which had a far greater proportion of free and White men, and so a greater voting population.

This isn’t the only problem with the American Constitution. It was drafted at the end of the 18th century by patrician White men, who were terrified that the Revolution would see power slip from the hands of the monied, landed elite to ordinary working Americans – the ‘leather apron men’, as they referred to the industrial craftsmen, who flocked to town hall meetings and provided the basis for American popular democracy. And so checks have been placed within the Constitution that make the kind of radical change now desperately needed impossible. The result is that millions of ordinary Americans feel disenfranchised, and so stayed away from the election.

Hillary has no-one to blame but herself. She was a horrible Conservative, serving a stifling Conservative political and social order, who was beaten by another horrible Conservative, but one who actually understood how to appeal to the public.

But it ain’t just in Britain that Killary’s touring, telling little lies. She also appeared on Australia’s ABC television station to tell porkies Down Under. Michelle, one of the great commenters to this blog, sent me this link to an article in Medium by Caitlin Johnstone exposing five of the lies she told in her interview with Sarah Ferguson.

View story at Medium.com

And if she’s done it in America, Britain and Oz, you can bet she’s doing it elsewhere, like an insane world tour of pathological lying.

Iranians March Against Trump’s UN Speech

September 23, 2017

This is a very short clip from Telesur English showing the people of Iran marching in protest at Trump’s belligerent speech attacking their country at the UN. It’s only about 23 seconds long, but it does show the range of people on the march, from older men dressed in traditional Islamic garb to young women in chadors and people in western-style, ‘modern’ dress.

I remember the great demonstrations in Iran after the Islamic Revolution, in which thousands of people turned up chanting ‘Margh bar Amrika! Margh bar Thatcher!’ – ‘Death to America! Death to Thatcher!’ I wasn’t impressed with those demonstrations, but having read a little more about the political situation in Iran and foreign exploitation of the country by Britain and America under the Shah, I now understand why the Revolution broke out, and what motivated the marchers to come onto the streets.

The election of Rafsanjani a few years ago seemed to indicate that relations between the West and Iran had thawed. It’s true that the country still has a bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie, and claims they can’t rescind the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa, a claim I find frankly incredible. However, people can move freely between the two nations, and there have been some cultural exchanges. For example, the Young British Artists – Damian Hurst and the rest of them – went to Iran to open an exhibition of their work, and the British Museum also leant the Cyrus Cylinder, documenting the conquests of the great Persian emperor Cyrus the Great in the 5th century B.C. to go on display.

John Simpson in his book on the country also points out that Khomeini and the other theocrats were careful to distinguish between America, Ronald Reagan and the American people. They denounced Reagan and America, but not ordinary Americans. He also states that, with the exception of the demonstrations at the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution, in one of which he was nearly torn apart by the crowd, he always knew he was perfectly safe. He describes covering one such demonstration where the crowd were chanting slogans against the ‘great and little Satans’ – meaning America and Britain. He then stepped into the crowd and walked up to one of the demonstrators, and introduced himself. The man greeted him, and said, ‘You are very welcome in Iran, Agha.’ That said, I do know Iranians, who have said the opposite, that you are certainly not safe during these marches.

Trump’s speech has had the effect of making relations between the west and Iran much worse. But it’s very much in line with the policy of the neocons, who defined and set the agenda for American foreign policy in the Middle East back in the 1990s. They want Iran and Syria overthrown. They see them as a danger to Israel, and are angered by the fact that Iran will not let foreigners invest in their businesses. It’s an oil producing country, whose oil industry was dominated under the Shah by us and the Americans, and which was nationalized after the mullahs took power. One of the holidays in the country’s calendar commemorates its nationalization. I’ve no doubt that the American multinationals want to get their hands on it, just as they wanted to steal the Iraqi oil industry.

Iran is abiding by the agreement it signed with Obama not to develop nuclear weapons. This is confirmed by the Europeans and the Russians. The real issues, as I’ve blogged about previously, are that they’re supporting Syria, sending troops into Iraq to support their fellow Shi’a there, and are allied with the Russians. It’s all about geopolitical power.

Iran’s an ancient country, whose culture and history goes back thousands of years, almost to the dawn of western civilization in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. It’s a mosaic of different peoples and languages. If we invade, as the Trump seems to want, it’ll set off more ethnic carnage similar to that in Iraq. And I’ve no doubt we’ll see the country’s precious artistic and archaeological heritage looted and destroyed, just as the war and violence in Iraq has destroyed and seen so much of their history and monuments looted.

Iran is an oppressive theocracy, and its people are exploited. You only have to read Shirin Ebadi’s book on the contemporary situation in Iran to know that. But if Trump sends in the troops, it’ll be just to grab whatever he can of the nation’s wealth for his corporate masters in big business. It certainly won’t be to liberate them and give them democracy.

And the ordinary people of America and Britain will pay, as we will be called upon to send our brave young people to fight and die on a false pretext, just to make the bloated profits of American and western big business even more grossly, obscenely inflated. Just as the cost of the war won’t fall on big business, but on ordinary people, who will be told that public spending will have to be cut, and their taxes raised – but not those of the 1 per cent – in order to pay for it.

Enough lies have been told already, and more than enough people have been killed and maimed, countries destroyed and their people left impoverished, destitute, or forced in to exile.

No war with Iran.

As they chanted during the First Gulf War – ‘Gosh, no, we won’t go. We won’t die for Texaco!’ Or Aramco, Halliburton or anyone else.

We need peace, so let’s get rid of Trump.

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.