Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

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

June 21, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Black Historian Edson Burnett: White Working Class Did Not Benefit from Bristol Slave Trade

June 10, 2020

Tonight on the local news programme for the Bristol region, Points West, the historian Dr. Edson Burnett said something very interesting about who did and did not benefit from the city’s slave trade. He was being interviewed as part of an item about the response of Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, to the toppling of Colston’s statue on Sunday. Rees is Black, and has said during interviews on the past few days that while he understood that a number of Bristolians didn’t want to see the statue removed, and respected their feelings, he himself hated the statue and what it stood for. Now he has decided to set up a commission of historians and others to look into monuments and places in Bristol with connections to the slave trade, and decide what to do about them.

It isn’t just about the statue, but also about the names of streets and buildings like Colston Street, Colston Girls’ School, the Colston Hall and so on. Some of these are already distancing themselves from Colston and changing their names. Rees stated it was all about setting up a conversation with the public over the issue. The measures taken might include changing the names of places with offensive connections, but he left that open as just one option.

One of those appointed to the commission is Dr. Madge Dresser of the University of the West of England. She’s an historian, teaching the 18th century and specialising in the slave trade. She has written a couple of books about Bristol and the slave trade, one of which is Slavery Obscured. This is about how the city carried on financing and reaping the profits of the slave trade after its official abolition. She used to take her students on a field expedition to the slave fort in Gambia. She was also one of those involved in the expedition A Respectable Trade about Bristol and the slave trade at the City Museum in 1995. She’s an excellent choice.

Another expert, who has been selected for it is Dr. Edson Burnett. Burnett’s Black, and has researched and written extensively about Bristol and the slave trade. And he said something very interesting indeed. I thought he would keep himself to commenting on the effect of slavery on Black people. But he didn’t. He also wanted to include the White working class as those affected by it. He said that the White working class did not benefit from the trade, and said that many sailors were so afraid of slavery voyages that they had to be duped.

This is brilliant! I wish someone had made this point 25 years ago when the City Museum opened its superb exhibition.

I have absolutely no doubt that Dr. Burnett is right. A paper published by Black American students of the slave trade found that mortality among the crew of slave ships in the Middle Passage was slightly higher than those of the slaves themselves. One crewman wrote a pamphlet angrily attacking his captain, as he had contracted a disease during the voyage that robbed him of his sight. He was angry as he had no sympathy from his captain, who had refused him treatment. Historians have rightly commented on the sailor’s own callousness, as he had no sympathy for the poor slaves the ship carried. as for the attitude of contemporary Bristolians towards the trade, a famous visitor to the city commented that everyone hated it, but they could see no way of doing without it. And so the city carried on its bloody business.

Edson’s inclusion of the White working class among those excluded from the trade’s benefits is very interesting. The Tories are able to muster popular support for their policies, including their view of history, by presenting it as a matter of angry, racist Blacks against all Whites. The whole ‘Southern Strategy’ of the Republican party in America is based on them posing as the defender of poor Whites, who feel unfairly discriminated against by pro-Black affirmative action campaigns. This is also how they manage to persuade dirt poor Whites to vote against the introduction of welfare benefits. Because they manipulate the situation to seem that such benefits would only go to profligate, undeserving Blacks. It’s a classic case of ‘divide and rule’.

I’m assuming that the Tories are gearing up to do something similar about this attack on traditional British history and the monuments left by the slave trade and imperialism. They and the Tory press will present it as evil Commies and Blacks working to erase proper history and White identity. They will claim that those liberal elites are going to benefit Blacks at the expense of the White working class. The same White working class they themselves cordially despise and patronise.

But Burnett seems to have dodged that by excluding them as those who benefited from the trade.

This is going to be a very interesting discussion indeed.

Expect more Tory anger soon!

 

LBC’s Maajid Nawaz Blames Protests and Riots on Postmodernism at Universities

June 4, 2020

It seems that it isn’t just Donald Trump and members of the far right, like Andy Ngo, in America who are blaming the current unrest on bogus, mythical far left conspiracies. On this side of the Pond one of the presenters on LBC radio, Maajid Nawaz did the same yesterday. And he then got terribly shirty when an American philosophy professor, Jason Stanley, called him out on it.

Nawaz had tweeted

The hard-left has fucked up our youth. These are fruits of their Long March & a consequence of us all giving the hard-left an easy pass on their morally relativist, post-modernism”.

To which Yale prof Stanley replied. asking if his Tweet was a joke and saying that it was impossible to take him seriously when he mentioned post-modernism in that context.

Nawaz replied in turn that he was a Muslim, who had lived through torture and racist violence, and accused Stanley of White privilege and having the dismissive racism of the American left. This did not impress Stanley, who stuck to his guns. He continued asking if Nawaz’s thread was a parody, and pointed out that postmodernism had nothing to do with the protests in his country, and that Marxists aren’t postmodernists. This upset Nawaz even more, who accused him of ‘Whitesplaining’. It didn’t stop Stanley from asking further if Nawaz’s thread was a parody. Mehdi Hasan then joined in to criticise Nawaz’s own, contradictory position:

Maajid Nawaz has this whole anti-identity politics schtick but as soon as someone calls him on his BS – as my friend Yale professor & fascism expert [Jason Stanley] did earlier – he instantly reverts to a ‘you-cant-criticize-me-because-youre-a-white-man’ line. He is beyond parody”.

Quite.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/maajid-nawaz-post-modernism-fail.html

I’ve come across the same view before from the transatlantic right. The hard left, it is maintained by Conservatives on both sides of the Pond, is trying to destroy western culture through postmodernism and its radical destruction of traditional western society and questioning of objective truth.

Postmodernism, Architecture, Linguistic Theory and History

Postmodernism actually started out as an architectural movement. It meant a style of modern architecture which ‘quoted’ features of past building styles. For example, it might include turrets like a medieval castle, or the volutes above the doorways of the Baroque. It was then taken over into French philosophy, where it mixed Marxism with with poststructural linguist theory. Radical philosophers like Liotard, Derrida, Lacan and Irigay argued that, just as there was no innate link between the signifier – a word – and the signified – the object or concept that word represented, so there was no objective truth and all historical accounts were equally valid. Althusser in the late 60s demanded a ‘semioclasm’ – the liberation of words from their bourgeois meanings, In history, postmodernism also sought to attack traditional Eurocentric history which privileged White men. It’s fair to say that postmodernism continued to be strongly associated with the radical left into the 1990s. I can remember attending a seminar at my old college in the 1990s in which postmodernism was invoked to argue that White Europeans could never really understand extra-European cultures, and people talked about being ‘othered’ and alienated by conventional Western discourse.

Sokal and Bricmont’s Attack

But that, dear friends, was a long time ago. Things have changed somewhat since then. In the mid-1990s Sokal and Bricmont, one an American Maths professor, the other a Belgian philosopher, gave postmodernism a thorough intellectual drubbing with their Intellectual Impostures. This was an attack on the way postmodern philosophers, like the above, tried to use scientific and mathematical concepts in their writings without actually understanding them. They simply used them in order to show off. The results were articles that were nonsense scientifically, and really just plain gibberish whose impenetrability was meant to make them look profound. One the offenders the two critiqued was a piece which seemed to claim that philosophy’s job was to quiet down and smooth out the quantum foam, the phenomenon at the subatomic level where particles suddenly pop in and out of existence randomly. The targets of Sokal’s and Bricmont’s fierce demolition hit back by claiming that the two were right-wing reactionaries. They weren’t. Sokal was a member of the American Left, who had taught in Nicaragua under the Sandanistas. They were partly motivated to attack the postmodernists because they followed Orwell’s maxim that if you want to write politics, you should do so clearly.

Postmodernism Passe

By the late ’90s and certainly by the first years of the 21st century, the vogue for postmodernism had passed. When I did an MA history course around 2003, it included postmodernism in the historiography section, but only as one school of history. The others included Historicism, and the French Annales school amongst others. One of these is Marxism, which shows how Marxism and Postmodernism are two separate ideologies. The reading on it we were given accepted the premise that you couldn’t produce a completely objective account of an historical event or movement, but nevertheless considered that postmodernism was important in that it should spur the historian to try as hard as possible to approach this unattainable goal. This was very different from accepting the radical postmodernists’ claim that as objective truth doesn’t exist, all accounts and narratives are equally valid.

Colin Bennett, Postmodernism and the Far Right

By that time, postmodernism had also changed its political affiliation. It was no longer a movement of the left. This was stated very clearly by one of the lecturers. This is demonstrated very clearly by the writings of the Fortean author Colin Bennett. Bennett appeared in the 1990s, when he published a book on the UFO Contactee, George Adamski, Looking for Orthon. He’s now considered a fraud by most UFO researchers, not least because one of the photos he was trying to pass off as a picture of Venusian spaceship was of a chicken coop. He’s also supposed to have remarked in private that he founded his mystical organisation as a way of obtaining alcohol during Prohibition by claiming he was using it for spiritual purposes. Bennett appeared on a panel at the Fortean Times Unconvention one year to talk about his book, and got very irate and refused to give a straight answer when he was asked by another panelist if he thought Adamski was genuine. Bennett definitely considered himself a postmodernist, but he was very far from being a Marxist. He’s an ex-soldier, whose views on multiculturalism and non-White immigration in my view come very close to the White European Fascist fringe. He is Jewish, and so is also very critical of them for their anti-Semitism. As for sexual politics, from what I saw of his writings a few years ago, he was very definitely traditional in his view of gender roles and very bitterly opposed to homosexuality. Several of his pieces contained rants against the British cultural elite for refusing to accept postmodernism, and trying to drag British literature back to the Bloomsbury group and promote what the Beeb used to delicately call ‘effeminacy in men’.

From starting as a left-wing movement, postmodernism had, at least in Bennett’s case, been taken over by the far right.

Anti-White Racism at University

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t radical left-wing postmodernists teaching at universities. There was a scandal a couple of years ago when a White student at Wash University in Utah recorded the rantings of the Black professor teaching the communications course. The professor rejected space because science was a White invention. The student also recorded his Black students screaming racist diatribes against Whites, some of which were tantamount to genocide. On the recording, one of them can be heard shouting that Whites should all be rounded up and shot into space. The recording caused immense controversy, and was the subject of a number of YouTube posts from American Conservative channels and individuals.

Conclusion

I doubt, however, that there are very many university professors like that one. I don’t doubt that there are others, but they’re going to be in a minority. The vast majority of scientists, for example, are utterly convinced that there is indeed an objective truth, and that their disciplines are finding it. It’s why Richard Dawkins has also strongly attacked postmodernism. Many scientists are themselves critical of some of Dawkin’s views on evolution and the existence of God, but I think they nearly all agree with him about this. Postmodernism is largely confined to the arts and humanities, and even there I very much doubt that very many academics and students really believe in it. I am also extremely sceptical of right-wing claims that universities are dominate by the left. In my experience, teaching staff are of all political opinions. Many of them also take seriously the difference between education and indoctrination, so that some of the most left-wing keep their private views very separate from what they say in the class room and lecture hall.

And it should be very obvious that on its own, no academic discipline, no matter how sophisticated, can get people on to the streets demonstrating. The people marching and protesting in America and Britain do so because of real social, political and economic grievances.

It has zero to do with any bogus conspiracies of far left, postmodernist College professors.

 

£20 Notes Now Claimed to Be Part of the Coronavirus Conspiracy

April 6, 2020

Okay, the conspiracy theory about Coronavirus being spread by 5G mobile phone masts has reached a new level of Batshit craziness. Zelo Street today has put up a piece debunking the latest wrinkle, which is that the conspiracy is shown on the £20 note. This shows a mobile phone mast, and a schematic of something that looks like the virus, according to the people, who believe this bilge.

But it doesn’t. According to a piece in the Express on Friday, what looks like a phone mast is actually no such thing. It’s a picture of Margate lighthouse, which was a favourite location for the great Victorian painter, Turner. And the putative virus schematic is actually a diagram of Tate Britain’s staircase. Because the £20 note is in honour of Turner, and Tate Britain has got his portrait in it. The Depress is a terrible newspaper, but this time they’ve done something right, especially as, according to the Groan, 20 phone masts have now been set alight. Some of them aren’t even 5G, but 3G or 4G.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/04/5g-hoax-is-now-beyond-barking.html

This type of rumour – that signs of the conspiracy are in hidden in plain sight, on dollar bills or company logos – has been running around since at least the ’60s. One of the most famous examples is Proctor & Gamble’s logo. This used to show a bearded old man’s head, and thirteen stars. This was alleged to be proof that the company was run by Satanists.  Curls in the old man’s hair were supposed to form 666, the number of the Great Beast of the end times, while the thirteen stars represented the 13 members of a witches’ coven. It was all rubbish. Proctor & Gamble’s an American company, and the 13 stars were supposed to represent the 13 founding states of the USA. The old man did not represent Satan, and it really was just happenstance the way those curls fell. The logo’s since been redesigned, so that the curls have been straightened out so nobody can mistake them for a Biblical prophecy that partly refers to the emperor Nero. The company has been accused of Satanic connections so many times, however, that they have made it very clear that they take an extremely proactive stance to anyone making the claim. This means that the moment someone puts together a flyer, pamphlet or otherwise disseminates the myth, the company goes after them with a suit.

Another example is Marlboro cigarettes. There was a rumour that the company head, Philip Marlboro, was a member of the KKK, and that the company’s connection to the Klan was covertly shown on the cigarettes’ packaging. Looked at the right way, the faces of the packet showed a ‘K’ in red, black and gold. This was supposed to show that the company was part of the Klan against Reds – Socialists and Communists – Blacks, and Golds – the Jews. It’s another myth, though Marlboro won’t say one way or another if it’s true, which is probably a mark of corporate disdain. As a tobacco company, Marlboro’s evil enough without having to include the Klan.

The rumours going around about the £20 note just seem to me to be another example of people finding spurious patterns and meaning where there isn’t any. Now there really are covert conspiracies out there, and sometimes the rumours of secret symbolism are actually true. The city of Bath was planned and laid out in the early 18th century by a freemason, and so the Royal Crescent there really is a lunar symbol, according to masonic symbolism. But that’s far from saying that Bath is run by any kind of Masonic conspiracy now, although I don’t doubt that it has its lodges. That type of secret society and its symbolism exists.

But the myth about the Coronavirus and 5G phone masts is just a myth. Treat it as such.

Radio 4 Programme on Welsh 20th Century Decline

March 11, 2020

This might be of interest to Welsh readers of this blog, particularly as Mike’s a long-time resident of mid-Wales. Next Monday, 16th March 2020, Radio 4 are also broadcasting a programme on how Wales declined during the last century. The programme, Wales: A 20th-Century Tragedy?, is described thus in the blurb on page 131 of the Radio Times:

Simon Jenkins looks at the fortunes of Wales over the past century, asking how it might be possible to restore some glory to its valleys and mountains.

Rather more information is given in the short piece about the programme on the opposite page, 130, by Chris Gardner. This says

Simon Jenkins is passionate about Wales, the land of his father. His 2008 book Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles showcased the beauty and majesty of Welsh architecture, but the author and journalist is now worried for the nation’s future, citing among other factors the rise in the poverty index, while counties just over the border, such as Cheshire, have become richer. Examining Wale’s illustrious cultural, political, industrial and intellectual heritage over the last century, Jenkins uncovers historical reasons for this comparatively recent decline.

I think the major reason for this decline has been decline of the major Welsh industries during the last century – coal mining and iron working. There have been various history programmes on the Beeb that have shown that Swansea and Cardiff were major centres of the copper and iron industries from the 19th century onwards. I think Swansea was the world centre of copper production at one point, so that it was nicknamed ‘Copperopolis’. But this all gradually vanished due to competition from cheaper, foreign products. And this has continued into this century under the Tories, as we saw a few years ago with the proposed closure of one of the last surviving steelworks in the principality.

The country also hasn’t been helped by the fact that we haven’t had a Welsh prime minister, or one whose constituency was in Wales, for a long time. I seem to recall that Cardiff became the great city it is, housing Wales’ national museum, partly because Lloyd George wanted to turn it into a great national centre for Wales, like England and Scotland had London and Edinburgh respectively. The Labour PM, Jim Callaghan, attempted to do something for Wales, from what I recall, by diverting money that was earmarked to go to Bristol’s Portbury Docks to Cardiff. But his tenure of 10 Downing Street ended with Thatcher’s victory in 1979. And the Tories made it very plain that they weren’t going to help ailing industries, so that coal pits, and iron and steelworks up and down Britain were closed. This was partly because she wanted to destroy the coal industry so that a Tory government could no longer be overthrown by the miners, as Ted Heath’s had in the early ’70s.

I don’t know why Cheshire should have become more prosperous, unless it’s connected to the success of Liverpool FC. A friend of mine from that way told me that there’s a district in the county, which has become the country home of rich Liverpudlians, including footballers. Perhaps that’s part of the explanation.

If you want to listen to it, the programme’s on at 8.00 pm in the evening.

 

‘I’ Review of Art Exhibition on Ecological Crisis and Some Solutions

January 8, 2020

Also of interest in yesterday’s I was a review by Sarah Kent of the exhibition, Eco-Visionaries, at the Royal Society in London. This was about the current ecological crisis, and showcased some possible solutions to the problem, some of them developed by architects. This included a moving desert city, the Green Machine, which also planted a watered crops as it moved. The article ran

Melancholy humming welcomes you to the exhibition, with a globe suspended in the cloudy waters of a polluted fish tank. This simple installation by the artist duo HeHe neatly pinpoints our predicament: our planet is suffocating.

“The absence of a future has already begun,” declare Ana Vaz and Tristan Bera in a film, Reclaimed (2015). We know this already – according to the UN, we need to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050 if we are to prevent the collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem. So what are we waiting for?

Vaz and Bera highlight the problem. The situation requires a wholesale change in attitude: minor tinkering can’t solve it. We need “reciprocity with nature rather than domination… We are nature.” We are mesmerised by events such as the Arctic on fire, Greenland’s ice-cap melting and Venice drowning. But the scale of the problem is so enormous that we can only watch, “fascinated by the acceleration” of the crisis.

The collective Rimini Protokoli encourages us to confront our imminent extinction. On film we see a tank full of languidly floating jellyfish. They flourish in the warming seas and, with diminishing fish stocks, there’s less competition for the plankton they feed on, so their numbers are increasing dramatically. Humans are similarly multiplying – by 2050, according to the UN, there will be 9.7 billion of us – but unlike jellyfish, we require too much energy to adapt to climate change so, like the dinosaurs, our days are numbered. At the end of the presentation they invite us to go with the words: “Your time is up; you will have to leave.”

The Royal Academy is to be congratulated for hosting an exhibition that tackles this urgent issue, but the show exemplifies the problem. The warnings are persuasive, but the solutions envisaged are pitifully inadequate, mainly by architects who don’t address the catastrophe but instead offer us post-apocalyptic follies. The Green Machine (2014) is Studio Malka’s answer to desertification. Resembling a giant oil rig, this monstrosity trundles across the Sahara on caterpillar treads that plough the ground then sow and water the seeds to produce 20 million tons of food per year. Solar towers, wind turbines and water-capturing balloons create a “self-sufficient urban oasis” for those inside. What percentage of the 9.7 billion will they accommodate, I wonder?

Studio Malka’s Green Machine mobile desert city.

It’s a grim subject, and clearly the ecological crisis requires drastic action across the entire globe and very soon. But I am fascinated by the Green Machine. It reminds me of the giant moving cities that cross the devastated future Earth in the SF film Mortal  Engines. As for how many people such a machine could house, the answer is: very few. Douglas Murray’s book Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture predicts that if we carry on as we are, we will end up with a future in which the rich will inhabit closed, protected environments like the various biodomes that were created in the 1990s, while the rest of humanity will be left to fend for itself in the decaying world outside.

It’s a bleak, dystopian prediction, but one I fear will come true if we carry on electing leaders like Trump and Johnson.

Video on My Model of the Neolithic Mortuary House at Loftus in Britain

December 21, 2019

A bit more archaeology now, for those interested. Four years ago in 2015 I made this video about the model I’d made of the Neolithic mortuary house and palisade around its forecourt discovered beneath a long barrow, also from the Neolithic, at Loftus in Cleveland, Britain by Blaise Vyner during excavations from 1979 to 1981. The Neolithic was the period c. 4,000 BC when hunter-gatherers were settling down into settled communities and farming. The built long barrows to house the remains of their dead. The remains come from many different skeletons, and are often sorted according to body part. Long bones, for example, may be stored in one chamber while other parts of the skeleton were kept in another. Many of the barrows also have forecourts, some of which have traces of burning dating from the time they were built and used. From this archaeologists have suggested that the barrows were also the centres of religious ceremonies in which parts of the skeletons were handled in order to commune with the ancestors.

Mortuary houses are structures in which the bodies of the dead are kept during decomposition, after which they are buried for a second time with appropriate rituals. It’s a funerary practice found in many different society throughout the world, including North American First Nations and the people of Madagascar.

Incidentally, today is the winter solstice, which some archaeologists believe was the real time the stone circle at Stonehenge was built to mark. This is the shortest day of the year, after which the sun returns and the days start lengthening again. This would be seen by the monument’s ancient builders as the return of warmth, light and the revival of life after the cold of winter, and so an important event for early agricultural communities.

But considering how cold and miserable it’s been, I think it’ll be a very brave set of pagans, druids and hippies, who would go down there to celebrate it today. But I’ve no doubt some hardy souls will do it.

 

Unbelievable! Woman in Food Bank Says She’ll Vote for Boris

November 25, 2019

Okay, this is a bit of hearsay, as I didn’t see the piece on the news myself. But I’ve no doubt it’s true. Points West, the local Beeb news programme for the Bristol region, this past week went down to Avonmouth near Bristol to see what people there thought about the coming election and who they’d vote for. And one of the locations they filmed in was a food bank. One of the customers there, a woman, blandly told the interviewer that she intended to vote for Boris Johnson.

Say whaaaat!

Yes, she’d vote for Johnson. The man, whose party had forced a quarter of million people to use food banks through their punitive attitudes towards welfare and poverty. When the interviewer asked her about this, and told her she’d be voting Conservative, she apparently denied it. She would not be voting Tory, she said. She would be voting for Boris, because he was a strong man, who would get things done his way.

Er, no. Boris isn’t strong. He really isn’t!

Boris has been a massive failure as a Prime Minister so far. The last time I looked, he had managed to pass none, or almost none, of his policies through government. In fact his stance on Brexit had further split and alienated members of his own party, rather than unite them around a core of principles. Much of the effective work of government and politics generally is about negotiation and compromise, altering policies and decisions so that they overcome opposition enough to be passed by a majority. Boris Johnson is atrociously bad at that. He’s even worse than Tweezer, which is really saying something.

He only looks strong because he’s a massive egotist.

Boris is a massive narcissist with grandiose fantasies – about his own importance, and about the great projects he will achieve. He sees himself as a statesman of the same stamp as Winston Churchill, hence his biography of the wartime prime minister. But he comes nowhere near Churchill’s level, who in any case also committed some truly monstrous failures himself. Like Gallipolli, which killed and injured tens of thousands of allied troops, and the horrific Bengal Famine, which claimed the lives of 2 – 6 million Indian peasants. While mayor of London he threw away millions on three watercannons, which could never be used ’cause they’re illegal over here, a garden bridge that was never built, and various other vanity projects that have been massive white elephants. As a leader, he’s a disaster. But he’s very good at self-publicity. Although even here, he has arguably managed to antagonise and irritate as many people as he appealed to.

And the woman has exactly the same attitude that Hitler openly manipulated in his rise to power.

Yeah, I know I’ve just proved Godwin’s Law again: that sooner or later any debate on the internet will end in comparisons with the Nazis. But this is true, rather than just hyperbole. The woman, if she did say all this, has precisely the same mentality Hitler looked for in prospective voters. He aimed his propaganda at people we would now politely call ‘low information voters’. People, who were politically naive and poorly-informed. What he called ‘silly old women’. And he considered ordinary people themselves to be essentially passive and feminine. ‘The masses are like women’, he opined, ‘they want a strong man to lead them.’

Feminists and working class activists will naturally bridle at this, along with just about every self-respecting woman and member of the working or lower middle classes. But that was how Hitler saw women and the masses.

But as Paul Weller and the Style Council once sang, ‘You don’t have to take this crap’.

At the risk of being accused of ‘mansplaining’ or otherwise being condescending, here’s a bit of advice. Have a bit of self-respect. Educate and inform yourself about how the Tories regard you, how they manipulate you into voting against your own interests. Don’t let them use cynical appeals based on personal strength – whether in a man, Boris, or a woman, Tweezer, to trick you into voting for them. Vote instead for people who will genuinely empower you, rather than themselves and their upper class chums.

And that can only mean Corbyn and the Labour party. 

 

Radio 3 Programme Monday to Friday Next Week on Blade Runner

November 2, 2019

It’s November 2019, the time when Ridley Scott’s SF classic, Blade Runner, is set. Radio 3’s programme, The Essay is running a series of programmes next week entitled The Essay: The Year of Blade Runner, looking at the film and the issues it raised. The programmes are all on at 10.45 pm. The first installment, ‘Los Angeles, November 2019’, is on Monday, 4th November. The blurb for this in the Radio Times runs

Ridley Scott’s 1982 Sci-fi classic film Blade Runner, based on Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is set in November 2019. Five writers reflect on the futuristic elements of the film and what it is to be human or a machine starting with Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum in London. He considers Ridley’s depiction of Los Angeles and its life beyond the screen as its influence bled into architecture and design.

There’s another little piece in a sidebar on the same page by Tom Goulding, that says

Like Kubrick’s vision of 2001, or 2015 as depicted in Back to the Future Part II, in November 2019 we have finally caught up with the future envisaged in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The classic sci-fi noir, an adaptation of of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is often touted as a benchmark of the genre. This week the Essay’s presenters offer their thoughts on the film’s grandiose themes, starting with how its dystopian versio of LA compares to cities of today. Let’s hope things have improved by the time we reach Blade Runner 2049.

Tuesday’s installment is entitled ‘The Year of Blade Runner 2: Sounds of the Future Past’. The Radio Times says

Frances Morgan, writer and researcher into electronic music, explores the sonic landscape of Blade Runner, with a Bafta-nominated score by Vangelis, and how the film shaped perceptions of how the future will sound.

Wednesday: ‘More Human than Human – Ken Hollings’

Writer Ken Hollings takes the film’s Voight Kampf test as he examines the ethical barriers between humans and machines.

Thursday: ‘Zhora and the Snake – Beth Singler’

Dr Beth Singler, junior research fellow in artificial intelligence at Homerton College, Cambridge, is inspired by Zhora the snake-charming replicant to ask what is real and fake when it comes to AI love.

Friday: ‘Fiery the Angels Fell – David Thomson’

Writer on Film David Thomas takes a look back at Ridley Scott’s rain-soaked mash-up of existential noir and artificial souls, released in 1982 and set in November 2019.

Blade Runner is definitely one of the classic, and most influential Science Fiction films, and it’ll be very interesting what they have to say about it.

And just to remind you how awesome the film was, here’s the opening titles from Guillermo St’s channel on YouTube.

Nigel Farage Reveals Contempt for Royal Family to Ozzie Tories

August 13, 2019

Yesterday, the Groaniad reported that Nigel Farage had made some unpleasant, and quite possibly impolitic, comments about the royal family atthe Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney. The Brexit party’s fuhrer spared the Queen his sneers, but went on to attack Prince Harry and Megan Markle for their ‘irrelevant’ social justice and environmental concerns, called the late Queen Mother a ‘slightly overweight gin drinker’. He then went on to say that he hoped the Queen would continue to live a long time to stop ‘Charlie boy’, as he called Prince Charles, becoming king, and that William would live forever to stop Harry ascending the throne. He also bewailed how Megan Markle changed Harry’s laddish behaviour. According to today’s I, page 9, the Fuhrage said

Terrifying! Here was Harry, here he was this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all kinds of mayhem. And now he’s met Megan Markle and it’s fallen off a cliff.

The I explained that when Fuhrage referred to him as being ‘inappropriately dressed’ at stag parties, he meant the time when Harry turned up at one dressed in Nazi uniform. According to the I, a spokesman for the man ‘Judge Dredd’ satirised as ‘Bilious Barrage’ claimed that the Groaniad had taken his comments out of context. But as Mike says in his article about this, it’s irrelevant whether Farage meant what he said or not. He was telling his right-wing audience what they wanted to hear: that he was their friend.

He was raising money from rich foreigners again.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/12/what-he-thinks-they-want-to-hear-farage-attacks-royals-in-speech-to-far-right-aussies/

Now I’m aware that some of the readers of this blog may well be republicans, who believe that the monarchy is a vestige of feudal privilege and that we would be better off with a proper democratic constitution and an elected presidency. I’m also aware that what Farage said at the conference would be unremarkable if it came from a member of the public or a journalist. A few years ago, before his career imploded due to plagiarism, Johan Hari wrote a very long article in either the Independent or Guardian attacking the royal family. A tranche of government material had been declassified and released to the national archives. These revealed that ministers and senior civil servants had been worried about Prince Charles writing letters to newspapers and various official bodies trying to influence government policy. He was, for example, very keen to stop the closure of the grammar schools. The officials found his interference a headache because the monarchy is supposed to be above politics. They are definitely not supposed to try to influence government policy.

The Tory press, including and especially the Heil, despise Charles. I can remember the Rothermere’s mighty organ claiming that that the Tories were discussing ways to ensure that the Crown passed directly from the Queen to William, completely bypassing Charles. The reason they cited for this was that Charles was too close to Laurens van der Post, the author of Testament to the Bushmen. Under van der Post’s influence, the Heil claimed, the future heir to the throne had become too New Age in his spiritual beliefs. He had indicated that he wanted to be known as ‘Defender of Faith’ when he ascended the throne, an inclusive title to cover all religions, rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’, meaning exclusively Christianity. As he would be the head of the Church of England, this would create a constitutional crisis. I wonder if the real reason was that Charles appeared a bit too left-wing, especially in his concern for the unemployed. And Charles’ office also spoke out against the decision by John Major’s government to close down Britain’s mining industry.

Hari was also scathing about the Queen Mother. He claimed that she was certainly no democrat, complaining that it was ‘so unnatural’ when she was a young woman. Ministers were also upset at the government apparently having to spend £1 million a year keeping an office open for her so she could get the results at Ascot. Private Eye has also described her as ‘greedy’ and criticised Charles for hypocrisy over his views on architecture. Charles caused outrage a little while ago by describing modern buildings as ‘monstrous carbuncles’. But the Prince himself was also employing the same type of architects to design similar buildings. They also attacked him for the colossal overpricing of his organic honey.

Now we live in a democracy, where you are allowed to criticise the government and the monarchy. One where people do, often. But what makes Farage’s comments unwise is that they come from a ruthlessly ambitious politician. Attacks on the royal family are bound to be controversial because they still have a central role in the country’s constitution. The Queen is the head of state, and the royal family act as this country’s ambassadors. They also have a politically unifying role. Some people may find it easier to respect a head of state like the Queen, who is above party politics. To many people the royal family also embody British history and tradition, and they are still regarded with respect by millions of British and commonwealth citizens. I dare say this is particularly true of Conservatives. I’ve a Conservative friend, who hates the Scum because, in his view, it has done nothing but run down the royal family. And looking at the wretched rag, I can’t say he’s wrong either. Nor is it alone – all of the papers run stories trying to create some controversy about the royal family. The latest of these are about Markle, and how she is apparently throwing her weight around and causing some kind of feud with the rest of the royals.

Farage’s piece of lese majeste Down Under is controversial and offensive because it comes from a politician, who clearly hopes one day to serve in government. If he did, it would surely create tensions between him and the Crown. It’s also impolitic, as even though the culture of deference is supposed to have gone, the constitutional importance of the monarchy means that any criticisms politicians have of the royal family or differences of opinion between them should be settled discreetly. Farage has shown himself to be incapable of maintaining a tactful silence on the matter.

Of course, what Farage really hates about Harry and Megan, along with Conservative rags like the Spectator, is that Harry has dared to be environmentally concerned, like his father. He’s also fallen behind Markle’s feminism, so obviously they despise him for that. And there’s also a nasty tone of racism there was well. They certainly wouldn’t have objected if he’d married a White American. But instead he married a woman of colour. Farage’s apparent view that Harry dressing up as a Nazi officer was just natural masculine hi-jinks shows just how seriously he takes the issue and the offence it caused. I’ve no problem with comedies spoofing the Nazis, like Mel Brooks’ The Producers or the BBC’s ‘Allo, ‘Allo. But the Nazis themselves were far from a joke, and people are quite right to be angry at those who think dressing up as them is a jolly jape. But Farage and his audience obviously don’t. Quite possibly the Conservatives he addressed are still pining for a White Australia policy. But in their environmentalism and their social concerns, Harry and Megan, as Mike says, are just showing themselves to be a modern couple. The monarchy also has to move with the times, whatever reactionaries like Farage like to think.

Farage’s comments aren’t just disrespectful to the royal family, they also show how he places his own political ambitions above them as an institution as well as showing his contempt for the genuinely liberal attitudes Harry and Megan have espoused. I hope they lose him votes with that part of the Conservative-voting public, who still revere the her Maj and the other royals above the sneers of press and media.