Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

50 + Tory Policies Are Uncosted, But Biased Media Will Not Ask Them About It

May 20, 2017

Mike over at Vox Political yesterday put up a piece showing exactly what voting for the Tories will mean – more poverty, more cuts, more privatisation, including that of the NHS. He also has a graphic that shows that, far from being the party of financial prudence and sound fiscal policy that they are always boasting they are, 50 plus of the policies in May’s manifesto have not been costed.

And the graphic lists them.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/19/this-is-what-voting-conservative-really-means/

But, as far as I’m aware, the Tories haven’t been asked about these. Nor about how they will finance schools, hospitals and other parts of the state infrastructure generally when they are making such savage – and unnecessary – cuts.

Buddy Hell over at Guy Debord’s Cat, has written a couple of pieces attacking the media’s bland, uncritical, and unintelligent assumption that the economic orthodoxy expounded by the Tories makes any sense, and does not deserve the same interrogation and critique that Labour’s policies do. He points out that most of the journos in the media seem to believe that national finances and the economy are the same as household finances, and points to an article by the Angry Yorkshireman, who has also attacked this myth.

The Cat writes

Television and radio hacks, and their commentator allies have accepted the Thatcherite logic of the market and the domestic finance analogy as fait accompli. For supposedly well-educated people, broadcast journalists have shown that they are neither capable nor willing to ask fundamentally straightforward questions about the Tories’ economic claims, and instead have focussed their attention on Labour’s mythologized economic incompetence. But the questions they ask are not intelligent questions and behind them is a discourse of mocking and sneering of anything that diverges even slightly from the orthodoxy.

We see this whenever a Tory politician talks about tax cuts, they are never asked “how much will these tax cuts cost”? Instead, their proposals are taken at face value and their tenuous claims to economic competence are accepted as axiomatic. Yet, tax cuts do cost money and the burden will always fall on the shoulders of those who are least equipped to deal with it. Tories will always claim that they have taken those who earn the least out of taxation altogether. No questions are asked if the richest will pay more or how libraries, schools and the National Health Service are to be funded when ever-decreasing amounts of tax are being collected by the state. Of course, Tory politicians know they will never be subjected to the kind of scrutiny reserved for Labour or even Green politicians (Andrew Neil is a possible exception). The deference with which most media journalists treat these puffed up charlatans is more sickening than eating ten Cadbury’s Cream Eggs in a single sitting and it’s getting worse.

He makes the point that the media’s double standards are shown by the different ways Diane Abbott and Theresa May were treated by the press and media when they appeared confused during interviews on particular questions. Abbott, you will recall, was pilloried by the press after she appeared unable to answer Nick Ferrari’s question about where the money would come from to fund more police officers when she appeared on his show on LBC.

But May was given a very different treatment when Andrew Marr asked her if it was right that nurses should have to go to food banks. Stumped for any kind of proper reply, she could only stammer out that there were ‘complex reasons’.

This is rubbish, and she knew it. But she could rely on the Tory lapdogs in the media not to press her on it, but instead to portray her as ‘strong and stable’. Which sounds to me exactly what various modish modern architects say about their ludicrous monstrosities, often way over cost and behind schedule, shortly before they unexpectedly fall down or have to be closed while major structural repairs have to be undertaken.

https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/how-much-will-it-cost/

The Cat’s article also describes how May went ‘full Erdogan’ with the press during her visit to Cornwall, and has a link to a feature about this on the Cornwall Live website. May turned up to support the six Tory MPs, who hold all the seats in the county.

Erdogan is the current president of Turkey, who is rapidly trying to undo the decades of secularisation began with the Turkish nationalist, Kemal Ataturk. Instead of being the head of a modern state, which values free speech, a free press and the other marks of democratic society, Erdogan acts like he would like to be a new Ottoman emperor. Anything that even smacks of disrespect to his fragile, Trump-like ego, is banned and the person who produced it arrested and prosecuted by the rozzers. A few months ago a doctor found himself arrested and prosecuted for insulting the president, simply because he had retweeted a joke about him on his mobile phone.

The ladies and gentlemen of the media in Kernow also found themselves in a similarly tightly controlled environment. According to Cornwall Live, they were locked in a room and forbidden to film. They did ask some questions, and there were some photographs, including one of the locked door. Briefly glancing through the article, I got the distinct impression that May’s answers to questions consisted mostly of the same guff about being ‘strong and stable’.

http://www.cornwalllive.com/prime-minister-theresa-may-visits-cornwall-ahead-of-general-election/story-30306323-detail/story.html#kMAvlh8iYr7EHHod.99

May’s management of the press in Cornwall isn’t unique. Whenever she goes anywhere, the event is very carefully stage managed. Rather than meeting the public, these events are private, and the public are kept very far away from meeting her and asking any awkward questions.

As for locking the press and broadcast media in a room, this seems a very strong metaphor for the repressive state of Tory Britain anyway. Blair, the Tories and the Lib Dems all brought in legislation providing for secret courts, where you could be arrested and tried without knowing the evidence against you, who your accuser was, and with the public and press excluded, if this was all deemed necessary for national security.

Exactly like the perverted judicial systems of Nazi Germany and the Communist states of the former eastern bloc.

One of the underground poems written against the Communist dictatorship in Hungary describes the author looking down at his shoelaces. He still has them, so he can’t be in prison. It’s a succinct, poetic description of the lack of freedom the Hungarians endured in what was basically a Stalinist dictatorship following the quelling of their uprising in the 1950s.

Now have a look at your own feet. Well, we must be free, ’cause we’ve still got our shoelaces. But when May starts locking the press into a room, while her goons prevent her from being properly filmed, you wonder how long.

Andre Vltchek’s Pictures and Plea for Understanding for Syria

April 13, 2017

On Wednesday, Counterpunch contributor Andre Vltchek published some of the pictures and comments about Syria from Yayoi Segi, a foreigner, who has been living and working there for three years, and is passionate about the country and its people. Segi states

“Syria is not what the mainstream media wants us to believe it is. One has to see it, to understand. Seeing is believing! It is an extraordinarily exceptional country. All that we have been told about Syria and its people is a lie.”

She talks about how the Syrian people are decent, warm people trying to get on with their lives despite the horrors and inconveniences of the war. She is also impressed by their manners and respect for education and culture.

“Syrians are the most hospitable, gentle people. When we meet, we never talk about the war, the conflict. It is a tremendous civilization… They always talk about their life, the future. They discuss their poets and their thinkers. People in Syria are very well educated. They know what is going on, on our Planet. Despite what some parts of the world have done to them, they are extremely respectful and polite to everybody. I never heard them speaking ill of others. They appreciate that you come and work with them, and they are confident.”

She also remarks that all of the international conferences and debates about the situation in Syria have carried on without reference to the wishes or ideas of the Syrians themselves.

“There have been so many seminars, conferences and meetings on Syria, yet the Syrian people are very rarely invited. All these events are ‘about them’ but without even inviting them, and without listening to them.”

Segi works for the national education system, and describes the system’s resilience and high quality compared to other nations.

“On the education front, the system was one of the best in the region, before the crisis began. Now, despite more than 6 years of horrendous war, the system is still standing and strong. Syrians know exactly what they want, and they have the capacity to implement their aspirations. Like in Aleppo; after the victory, the government immediately moved in and began opening schools.”

Her photographs show the devastation caused by war. But they also show people enjoying themselves in cafes and restaurants, as well as one of the great medieval fortresses and a sculpture, which looks like it may well come from the ancient past. Several of the photos are of schoolchildren. These show a mixed class of little boys and girls, smiling and dressed in western style clothing. There’s also what looks like a crowd of sports fans – football? – heading towards a match, and a sign with spells out in coloured letters ‘I heart Damascus’.

There is much that Vltchek writes with which I disagree. He’s of Czech-Russian ancestry, and is a film maker specialising in the Developing World. His fierce attacks on western exploitation of the undeveloped world is well meant, but sometimes he goes too far in attacking the Developed World and the needs and desires of its ordinary citizens. It’s also struck me several times that he has a far too optimistic view of the Soviet past. Russia and the eastern bloc did make some truly vast, impressive achievements under Communism, but this was at the cost of a vicious political repression which under Stalin resulted in deportations, massacres and a system of forced labour, which claimed tens of millions of lives. The Soviet Union also dominated and exploited the satellite countries conquered by Stalin from the Nazis during World War II.

But Vltchek’s article is in this case exactly right, necessary and welcome. Syria is a repressive state. Even in the 1980s it had something like eight different secret police agencies. But under the Ba’ath party it is a modern, secular state, where Christians and Muslims live in peace. As for its education system, a few years ago the BBC screened a documentary about the Syrian school system, following the pupils in one particular school through a school day. At the end of the documentary the Beeb informed viewers how they could join a scheme that would link schools in this country with those in Syria.

As for the high regard for its poets and intellectuals, several of the books I’ve read on Islam and the Arabs have said that poetry has a very high status in the Arab world, to the point where newspapers may be written in a distinct, half-poetic style. As for its antiquities, you can still walk down the Street called Straight, mentioned in St. Paul’s Epistles in the Bible. The country has monuments from a succession of ancient civilisations, such as Palmyra, going all the way back to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The tombs of some of the kings mentioned in the Bible have even been found.

It’s people are not monsters, and while Assad is a dictator, his government is surely better than the Islamist regime, which the rebels – al-Qaeda and ISIS – hope to impose. This would mean the destruction of ancient monuments, as has happened in Iraq and those parts of Syria, which fell under ISIS’ rule. Women’s rights would be attacked and withdrawn, the secular education system and rule of law swiftly dismantled. The country isn’t quite as tolerant in the religious sphere as it could be. From what I’ve heard on programmes about the country and its history on the Beeb, the Sunni Muslim majority is oppressed. But the Ba’ath party in Syria was founded as a secular, Arab nationalist party, which included both Christians and Muslims. If it is overthrown, the country’s tolerance of peoples of different sects and religions will also go, to be replaced by the type of vicious, genocidal persecution ISIS carried out in Iraq. Dan Snow’s programme on the country, broadcast by the Beeb, featured chilling footage of a foaming rant by an Islamist mullah calling for the genocide of the Alawis, the ruling Muslim sect. And as we’ve seen in Iraq, the Islamists not only persecute non-Muslims, they also viciously terrorise and butcher other Muslims for their religious beliefs. Historic mosques as well as Christian churches were destroyed and desecrated by ISIS in Iraq, and ordinary Muslims, whose only desire was to live in peace with their fellow Iraqis, were also murdered for not being what the Islamists considered proper Muslims.

I and many other bloggers have said repeatedly that the American regime and its western allies and lackeys aren’t interested in punishing Assad for his war crimes. This is all about geopolitics. It’s about making sure a Qatari oil pipeline goes through Syria, not one built by the Russians, and about removing a key ally of Russia and Iran. The American military-industrial complex has done its level best to overthrow secular Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East from the 1950s, as they were seen as being too close to Communism. Quite apart from the challenge they posed to western imperialism and its attempts to dominate and exploit the Middle East and its oil.

I therefore urge anyone, who has doubts about the justice of Trump’s attack on Syria, and the sabre-rattling of the western political class demanding regime change, to go and read Vltchek’s article and look at the pictures of Syria and its people. And look at the faces of the people, who will suffer if the oil lobby and the military-industrial complex have their way, and send American troops in. These are ordinary, decent people, who will be massacred by the hundreds of thousands, just like the people of Iraq.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/12/reflecting-on-syria/

A Treasury of Ancient Mathematical Texts

February 4, 2017

Henrietta Midonick, The Treasure of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1968)

ancient-mathematics-cover

I realise that the history of mathematics is an arcane subject, that few people will have much interest in, having struggled enough with the subject at school. But with Black History Month, there is immense interest amongst scholars of Black and Asian history about restoring Black and Asian scientists and mathematicians to their rightful place in history.

I picked up this book in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham about a year or so ago. It’s a collection of ancient and medieval mathematical texts from Ancient Egypt, Babylon, China, India, Islam, the Jews and, of course, the ancient Greeks. The blurb for it runs

Mathematics is the only true international language. men can communicate more directly, precisely and logically in pure mathematics than in any other tongue. Moreover we have much to learn from the achievements of past civilizations in this field: even modern computers have not fathomed all the intricacies of Stonehenge. In this fascinating collection of original sources (many of them published in a popular edition for the first time) Henrietta Midonick shows individual mathematicians grappling with varied problems – some practical, such as architecture, money valuation, mechanics, astronomy and calendar calculation; others verging on philosophy, such as the existence of zero and the concept of infinity. Her arrangement also demonstrates the growth of key ideas in geometry, arithmetic, logic and calculus.

Volume 1 documents the growth of mathematical science in the civilizations of Babylon, Ancient Egypt, the Mayas, India and China, and assesses the revolutionary discoveries of Plato, Archimedes and Euclid in classical antiquity.

Among the various extracts are pieces on Babylonian mathematics; four geometrical problems from the Moscow Papyrus, which dates from Ancient Egypt, c. 1850 BC; the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, again from Egypt, c. 1650 BC; the Bakhshali Manuscript, from 4th century AD India; the Mayas – discussing their system of numbers, the calendar, arithmetic and chronology, and the Quipu, the method of keeping statistical records using knots, used by the ancient Incas in South America.

Chinese mathematicians include Wan Wang, from the 12th century BC, Chou Kung, c. 1100 BC; Chang Tsang, died 152; Liu Hui, 3rd century AD; Sun-Tsu, from the same century; Hsia-Hou Yang, 6th century AD; Wang Hs’iao-T’ung, 7th century AD, Li Yeh, c. AD 1178-1265; Ch’in Chiu-Shao, c. AD 1250; Yang Hui, c. AD 1275; Chu Chi-Chieh, c. AD 1300.

The Indian scholars collected include Aryabhata the Elder, c. AD. 476; Brahmagupta, AD 598; and Bhascara Acharya, AD 1114-c. 1185.

It also includes the Algebra of Mohammed ben Musa al-Khowarismi, who founded much of modern algebra, including giving it its modern name.

The two Jewish mathematicians collected include the Mishnat ha-Middot of Rabbi Nehemiah, from c. AD 150; and the Method of Division of Immanuel Ben Jacob Bonfils, c. AD 1350.

The ancient Greeks include Hippocrates of Chios, 5th century BC; an extract from Plato’s Dialogues; the Elements of Euclid of Alexandria, c. 300 BC; Apollonius of Perga’s Conic Sections, from the same period; Archimedes’ On Spirals, Mechanical Problems, and Quadrature of the Parabola, Pappus, c. AD 300, and Proclus, AD 410-485.

babylonian-multipilication-table

Ancient Babylonian Multiplication Table for X 10.

For the non-mathematician like myself these texts aren’t easy reading. There are diagrams to help, but many of them, as the pioneering works of their time, are trying to express difficult mathematical ideas without the modern language of Maths, and so it can be difficult understanding what they are trying to describe. Nevertheless, this is an important collection of some of the classic texts of ancient mathematics on which the structure of modern maths has been built.

Tariq Nasheed Corrects Alt-Right Fascist Lies about Black Civilisations

November 24, 2016

Yesterday I posted several pieces about Richard Spencer’s Nazi speech at the weekend, in which he celebrated Whites as a race of ‘strivers, explorers and conquerors’ whose civilisation and achievements keep improving. Spencer’s one of the founders and leaders of the Fascist Alt-Right, the Nazi nature of which was made chillingly explicit with the cries of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race! Hail victory!’ with which he opened his vile little rant.

Spencer and his Nazi storm troopers, including another racist polemicist, Jared Tailor, claim that Blacks are inferior. Tariq Nasheed is a black blogger, who is clearly active attacking racism and pernicious claims against people of colour. In this video, he refutes Jared Taylor’s claims that Black people have invented nothing, and have a lower IQ than Whites. Taylor makes the claim that Blacks didn’t invent the wheel, and didn’t invent agriculture or domesticate animals. He also claims that Africans didn’t even have a calendar. This means that they are less intelligent than Whites. The White supremacists of the Alt-Right also maintain that Whites do not exploit Blacks and other ethnic minorities, and that they have benefited from contact with superior White civilisation.

Nasheed comprehensively trashes Taylor’s and his fellow Nazis’ claims that Blacks had no proper civilisation or achievements. He refuses to talk about the ancient Egyptian civilisation, which he feels strongly was Black, as this would be too easy. Instead, he talks about the lesser-known civilisations of West Africa. He mentions the work of Clyde Winters in documenting indigenous writing systems in the peoples of that part of Africa. Black people also very definitely had the wheel. Nasheed points to the rock pictures in the Sahara desert, which show Blacks driving chariots. The Black cultures in Africa also had agriculture and domesticated animals. They kept oxen, and their kings even had pet lions. As for buildings, they had houses and other structures that were two to three storeys tall. The Songhay empire had castles, and he rightly mentions, and ridicules, how the great fortress of Zimbabwe was so impressive, that its colonial discoverers tried to explain it as the work of space aliens. He also talks about the great university at Timbuktu, which was a centre of learning before Europe had universities. As for Black Africans lacking a calendar, he talks about how there is one monumental such device in Namibia.

He states that he’s offered to debate Taylor many times, but has never received an answer. His worry, however, is that now the Nazi Alt-Right have Donald Trump’s ear, Taylor, or an ignorant bigot like him, will get in charge of the educational system, and try to stop Black people learning about the achievements of their people in Africa.

Nasheed is also very much aware that many Whites also despise the Alt Right Fascists. He’s seen a group of White guys beat one of ’em up, and gives a shout out to Whites combating the Alt-Right.

I don’t condone unprovoked violence against the Nazis. They should have the same right not to be attacked as anybody else. But I’m well aware that they themselves are extremely violent, and have beaten and murdered people. I’m very aware that some people may have had to defend themselves, just as I’m also aware that their grotesque, vile opinions and racial insults may provoke others into violence against them, especially Blacks, Jews and others, who have been on the receiving end of their race hate and physical assault.

Nasheed is absolutely right about what he says, though I have some qualifications and additions to make. Black people certainly had the wheel. The rock paintings he mentioned are, I think, at Tassili N’Ajjer in the Sahara. They were painted when that part of the desert was green, many thousands of years ago. They show Whites from North Africa and Blacks from the south crossing and crisscrossing the desert, including people driving chariots. That said, convention historians believe that the wheel was probably invented somewhere in central Asia. So, not invented by Blacks, but arguably not invented by Whites either, or at least, not by Europeans. And yes, many Black nations and cultures certainly possessed agriculture, though again, the conventional explanation is that it spread to sub-Saharan Africa from ancient Egypt. As for the ancient Egyptians being a Black civilisation, they portrayed themselves as being lighter skinned than the peoples to their south, such as the Nubians, who are portrayed in ancient Egyptian papyri as being definitely Black. However, they were darker than their Greek and Roman conquerors. A few years ago New Scientist carried an article, which suggested that the seeds of ancient Egyptian civilisation was in a Black people from the south, whose religion centred around the worship of the cow. This was the ancestral version of Hathor, the Egyptian cow-goddess. These Black race migrated north, to what is now Egypt, as the Saharan desert dried out at the end of the last Ice Age, where they encountered and intermarried with White peoples.

The Songhay and Malinka peoples, who founded the great Muslim empire of Mali, were rich and powerful, and the university of Timbuktu was one of the major centres of Islamic learning and civilisation in West Africa. There have been documentaries exploring the priceless intellectual heritage preserved in the books from its library. Unfortunately, this has been threatened by Islamism. You may recall that a few years ago, Islamist barbarians allied to Daesh tried to set the university on fire in order to destroy its vast repository of the area’s indigenous Muslim culture. The Songhay did indeed have castles. They also had cavalry troops, who have been described in European textbooks as ‘knights of the Sahara’. And yes, in this part of Africa there are multi-storey buildings and extensive palaces. These are of mud brick, but then, so were ziggurats of ancient Babylon. The great Swahili civilisation of East Africa, however, built cities made from coral, which were coated with a lime wash made from burning the same substance. Their cities are as impressive and as richly carved as any others in Islam. The great fortress of Zimbabwe, which is also in east Africa, is also spectacular. It seemed such a contrast to the architecture of the indigenous peoples, who now live in wooden huts, that the Europeans who discovered it tried to explain it as the work of the Chinese, Arabs, or indeed, anyone other than indigenous Africans, including space aliens. In actual fact, its method of construction is very much the same type of building techniques as the mud huts of the local peoples. It seems it was built by the Razwe people, but then during some disruption in the 19th century, it was abandoned.

As for his statement that Black Africans didn’t have the calendar, he is most definitely, monumentally wrong. They definitely had the calendar, and from a very early period. There’s a piece of notched bone, found in a cave in South Africa by archaeologists, which appears to have been a counting device of some kind. The bone dates from 70,000 years ago, and it has been suggested that it may have been a portable calendar. This is about 40,000 years before modern men, Homo Sapiens Sapiens, moved out of Africa to colonise Europe. If it is true that this is a calendar, then clearly Taylor in this regard couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

Regarding Nasheed’s fears of the intellectual damage Alt-Right Fascism could do to the American educational system, I think Taylor and his squadristi will have severe problems if they true to impose a White supremacist curriculum at the universities. I think the liberal traditions of many American universities are simply too strong. No reputable historian, anthropologist or archaeologist specialising in researching African culture and heritage is going to stand for the denigration of African civilisation or the attack on their academic disciplines. I also anticipate considerable resistance from Black Studies professors and their students. And this is quite apart from professors, intellectuals and students, who wish to defend American academia as seats of genuine learning and liberal culture.

However, I recognise that there is a real danger that the Nazis will try to undermine this aspect of the American education system, either by depriving it of funding, or demanding that other courses be introduced to ‘balance’ it.

In my opinion, the real danger is much lower down the educational system, at school level. A little while ago one of the left-wing news shows I watch on YouTube reported that the state educational authority in Arizona decided that the existing school curriculum and its textbooks were too left-wing. I think they objected to them, because they didn’t just present American civilisation as absolutely wonderful, with no defects or shameful episodes. It taught students about slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, institutional racism and civil rights, as well as the other, better aspects of American history. So the right-wingers in power got rid of it.

What did they insist school students learn instead of the complexities, shame and achievements of American history? Ronald Reagan’s speeches.

I kid you not. Ronald Reagan’s speeches. Which weren’t even written by him. I think this should count as a crime against education. Mind you, I think the Tories over here would like to inflict something equally stupid and sinister on our youngsters. Remember when Michael Gove was ranting about children being taught the ‘Blackadder’ view of the Great War in history? He and his fellow Tories would like to do the same, presenting a sanitised version of British history consonant with turning our children into earnest Thatcherites. In fact, I’m surprised they aren’t demanding that school pupils aren’t learning her speeches, like the poor souls in Arizona’s classrooms.

The Alt-Right are a threat to Blacks and other people of colour, and a threat to genuine history and learning. They shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near power, or the young minds they want to poison and keep in ignorance.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 1

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

By Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

This is another book I managed to pick up from a cheap bookshop, in this case the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street. Although published nine years ago in 2007, it’s still very acutely relevant, with the plan of the current education minister, Thicky Nicky Morgan, to try to turn most schools into privately run academies. According to the back flap, Beckett was the education correspondent of the New Statesman from 1997 to 2005, and also wrote on education for the Guardian. The book’s strongly informed by the findings of the NUT and other teaching unions, whose booklets against academies are cited in the text. And its a grim read. It’s an important subject, so important in fact, that I’ve written a long review of this book, divided into four section.

Academies: Another Secondhand Tory Policy

Much of New Labour’s threadbare ideology was just revamped, discarded Tory ideas. This was clearly shown before Blair took power in the early 1990s, when John Major’s government dumped a report compiled by the consultants Arthur Anderson. This was immediately picked up, dusted off, and became official New Labour policy. Similarly, PFI was invented by the Tories man with a little list, Peter Lilley, who was upset ’cause private industry couldn’t get its claws into the NHS. This again was taken over by New Labour, and became the cornerstone of Blair’s and Brown’s ideas of funding the public sector. Academies, initially called ‘city academies’, were the same.

Basically, they’re just a revival of the City Technology Colleges set up in the mid 1980s by Thatcher’s education secretary, Kenneth Baker. Baker decided that the best way to solve the problem of failing schools was to take them out of the control of the local education authority, and hand them over to a private sponsor. These would contribute £2 million of their own money to financing the new school, and the state would do the rest. Despite lauding the scheme as innovative and successful, Baker found it impossible to recruit the high profile sponsors in big business he wanted. BP, which is very active supporting community projects, flatly told him they weren’t interested, as the project was ‘too divisive’. Another organisation, which campaigns to raise private money for public projects, also turned it down, stating that the money would best be spent coming from the government. It was an area for state funding, not private. The result was that Baker was only able to get interest for second-order ‘entrepreneurs’, who were very unwilling to put their money into it. From being a minimum, that £2 million funding recommendation became a maximum. And so the scheme was wound up three years later in 1990.

After initially denouncing such schemes, New Labour showed its complete hypocrisy by trying out a second version of them, the Education Action Zones. Which also collapsed due to lack of interest. Then, in 2000, David Blunkett announced his intention to launch the academy system, then dubbed ‘city academies’, in 2000 in a speech to the Social Market Foundation. Again, private entrepreneurs were expected to contribute £2 million of their money, for which they would gain absolute control of how the new school was to be run. The taxpayer would provide the rest. Again, there were problems finding appropriate sponsors. Big business again wouldn’t touch it, so the government turned instead to the lesser businessmen, like Peter Vardy, a car salesman and evangelical Christian. Other interested parties included the Christian churches, like the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelical educational bodies like the United Learning Trust. There were also a number of universities involved, such as the University of the West of England here in Bristol, and some sports organisations, like Bristol City Football club. Some private, fee-paying schools have also turned themselves into academies as away of competing with other private schools in their area.

Taxpayers Foot the Bill

While the sponsors are supposed to stump up £2 million, or in certain circumstances, more like £1.5 million, in practice this isn’t always the case. The legislation states that they can also pay ‘in kind’. Several have provided some money, and then provided the rest of their contribution with services such as consultation, estimated according to a very generous scale. For Beckett, this consists of the sponsors sending an aging executive to give his advice on the running of the new school. This particular individual may actually be past it, but the company can’t sack him. So they fob the new school off with him instead. Sometimes, no money changes hands. The Royal Haberdashers’ Society, one of the London livery companies, decided it was going to sponsor an academy. But it already owned a school on the existing site, and so did nothing more than give the site, generously estimate at several millions, to the new academy. Other companies get their money back in different ways, through tax rebates, deductions and the like.

But if the private sponsors are very wary about spending their money, they have absolutely no reservations about spending the taxpayer’s hard-earned moolah. An ordinary school costs something like £20 million to build. Academies cost more, often much more: £25 million, sometimes soaring to £37 million or beyond. Several of the businessmen sponsoring these academies have built massive monuments to their own vanity, using the services of Sir Norman Foster. Foster was, like Richard Rogers, one of the celebrity architects in favour with New Labour, whose ‘monstrous carbuncles’ (@ Charles Windsor) were considered the acme of cool. One of these was called ‘The Learning Curve’, and consisted of a long, curving corridor stretching across a quarter of mile, off which were the individual class rooms. Foster also built the Bexley Business Academy, a school, whose sponsor wanted to turn the pupils into little entrepreneurs. So every Friday was devoted exclusively to business studies, and the centrepiece of the entire joint was a mock stock exchange floor. The school also had an ‘innovative’ attitude to class room design: they only had three walls, in order to improve supervise and prevent bullying. In fact, the reverse happened, and the school had to spend more money putting them up.

Unsuitable Buildings

And some of the buildings designed by the academies’ pet architects are most unsuitable for the children they are supposed to serve. One academy decided it was going to get the local school for special needs children on its site. These were kids with various types of handicap. Their school was not certainly not failing, and parents and teachers most definitely did not want their school closed. But closed it was, and shifted to the academy. The old school for handicapped youngsters was all on the same level, which meant that access was easy, or easier, for those kids with mobility problems. The new school was on two floors. There was a lift, but it could only be used by pupils with a teacher. The parents told the sponsor and the new academy that they had destroyed their children’s independence. They were greeted with complete incomprehension.

HM School ‘Belmarshe’

In other academies, conditions for the sprogs are more like those in a prison. One of the schools, which preceded an academy on its site, had a problem with bullying. The new academy decided to combat that problem, by not having a playground. They also staggered lunch into two ‘brunch breaks’, which were taken at different times by different classes. These are taken in a windowless cafeteria. The result is a joyless learning environment, and the school has acquired the nickname ‘Belmarshe’, after the famous nick.

Abu Hajaar: Incompetent ISIS Jihadi

May 4, 2016

I found this short film over on A Site Best Not Mentioned. It shows a group of ISIS fighters trying to attack the Kurdish Peshmerga. Unfortunately for them, one of their number is a complete pratt called Abu Hajaar, who screws up one thing after another until the vehicle is finally hit and destroyed by the Kurds.

This is a nasty video, showing real conflict. Normally, I’d be against showing material like this, but as it’s ISIS I’m making an exception. ISIS after all have made vile beheading videos and put them on the Net as a recruiting tool for the young, the impressionable and the stupid here in the West. And as ISIS have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, comprising people of just about all faiths, including Muslims, have destroyed priceless historic artefacts and monuments, and desecrated churches, mosques and other places of worship, they deserve exactly what they get.

Monbiot’s List of the Corporate Politicos in Blair’s Government: Part One

April 23, 2016

Chapter six of George Monbiot’s book, Captive State, is entitled ‘The Fat Cats Directory’. The book is about the way big business has wormed its way into government, so that official decisions and policy reflects their interests, not those of Mr and Mrs British Public. In the ‘Fat Cats Directory’ he lists the businessmen and senior managers, who were rewarded with government posts by Tony Blair in May 1997. The list gives the name of the businessman, their ‘previous gluttony’ – a summary of their corporate careers, and ‘Subsequent Creamery’ – their posts in the British government. Those lists are:

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge.
Chairman of British Airways
– President of the Confederation of British Industry

– Put in charge of Gordon Brown’s energy tax review, and helped promote the government’s campaign against the Millennium Bug, even though his 1999 holiday brochures told customers that they wouldn’t be responsible for any problems caused by computers malfunctioning due to it.

Ewen Cameron

President of the County Landowners’ Association
Owner of 3,000 Acres in Somerset
Opponent of rambling.

Chairman of the Countryside Agency, concerned with tackling the right to roam, social exclusion in rural areas, and someone, who has very definitely contravened the Countryside Agency’s rules on the maintenance of footpaths.

Lord Rogers of Riverside

Architect of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on greenbelt land
Architect of Montevetro Tower, London’s most expensive building.

Chairman of the government’s Urban Task Force.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Chairman of J. Sainsbury Plc
Chairman of the Food Chain Group
Principal backer of biotech company Diatech
Funded construction of the Sainsbury Laboratory for research into genetic engineering
Replaced skilled jobs with unskilled shelf-stacking.

Minister in Government’s department of trade and industry
Minister with responsibility for science and technology
As science minister, led Bioindustry Trade Delegation to US
Ultimate control over Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Chairman of the government’s University for Industry.

Lord Simon of Highbury

Chairman of BP
Vice-Chairman of European Round Table of Industrialists
Under his direction, BP assisted the Colombian government in forcing peasants off their lands, and imprisoning, killing and torturing trade unionists. Gave money to the 16th Brigade, notorious for murder, kidnapping torture and rape.

Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe
One of the ministers responsible for implementing the ethical foreign policy.

Jack Cunningham MP

Adviser to agrochemical company Albright and Wilson (UK)
Member of Chemical Industries Association lobbying for deregulation of pesticides.

Secretary of State for Agriculture
Chair of Cabinet Committee on Biotechnology.

Sir Peter Davis

Chairman of Reed International, which made 900 workers unemployed.
Chief Executive of Prudential Corporation Plc, company most responsible for miss-selling pensions.

Appointed by Treasury head of New Deal Task Force.

John Bowman

Director of Commercial Union, which possibly miss-sold 7,900 pensions.

On the board of the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority.

Lord De Ramsey

President of Country Landowners’ Association, sold part of his enormous Cambridgeshire estate for house building, and in doing so destroyed a pond of Great Crested Newts. Lobbies against regulatory burdens on agriculture. Grew genetically modified sugar beet on his land for Monsanto.

Chairman of Environmental Protection Agency.

Paul Leinster

Director of SmithKline Beecham (SB) Plc, which polluted streams in Sussex and Gloucestershire. Previously employed by BP and Schering Agrochemicals, part-owner of bio-tech company AgrEvo, which was publicly shamed for breach of environmental regulations for growth of GM crops.

Head of the Environment Agency’s Environmental Protection Directorate.

Justin McCracken

Managing director of ICI Katalco, responsible for a long list of plants polluting the environment with carcinogens. In 1999 it was listed as the worst polluting company in Europe, responsible for pouring 20 tonnes of hormone disrupting chemicals into the Tees. Also allowed 150 tonnes of chloroform to escape into groundwater at Runcorn. From 1996 to 1997 Friends of the Earth recorded 244 unauthorised pollution incidents from its Runcorn plant.

Regional General Manager, Environment Agency, North-West Region.

Dinah Nicols

Non-executive director, Anglia Water. In 1999 it was prosecuted six times for pollution.

Director-General of Environmental Protection at the Department of the Environment.

Ian McAllister

Chairman and managing director of Ford UK. The company was a member until December 1999, of the Global Climate Coalition, lobbying against attempts to reduce carbon monoxide emissions.

President, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which has lobbied against the Department of the Environment’s standards on ozone, lead and sulphur dioxide pollution from cars. Also lobbied against European directives against exhaust gases, removal of lead from petrol, and forcing motor manufacturers to install catalytic converters.

Chairman of the Government’s Cleaner Vehicles Task Force.

Chris Fay

Chairman and Chief Executive of Shell UK, the British company with the most controversial environmental record due to pollution incidents in Britain and in the Niger Delta.

Executive director of BAA Plc, attempting to double size of Heathrow Airport.
President of the UK Offshore Operators Association, oil industry group responsible for lobbying against environmental regulations.

Chairman of the government’s Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment.

Brian Riddleston

Chief executive of Celtic Energy, an open-cast mining corporation which destroyed the Selar Grasslands Site of Special Scientific Interest in Wales, wildflower habitat and home of extremely rare march fritillary butterfly.

Member of the Government’s Countryside Council for Wales.

Graham Hawker

Chief executive of Welsh utilities company Hyder, which sp0ent £42.2m on making people redundant, and only £700,000 on research and development. Opposed windfall tax on privatised utilities.

Chair of the New Deal Taskforce in Wales

Martin Taylor

Chief executive of Barclays Plc. Multimillionaire manager of company which made 21,000 redundant in ten years to 1997.

Lord Haskins

Chairman, Northern Foods Plc. Member of Hampel Committee on Corporate Governance. This was criticised by Margaret Beckett for failing to recommend ways for companies to regulate themselves.

Chair of the government’s Better Regulation Task Force.

Peter Sainsbury

Managing director for Corporate and External Affairs, Marks and Spencer.

Head of Better Regulation Taskforce’s Consumer Affairs Group, whose duties include consumer protection. This decided that voluntary measures and ‘consumer education’ were better than regulation.

Geoffrey Robinson

Director of Central and Sheerwood plc, property owned and chaired by fraudster and pension raider Robert Maxwell. C&S merged with Robinson’s TransTec, to form Transfer Technology Plc. Company later collapsed.

Paymaster General.

Ulster to Launch Beer Celebrating Local Heroes Who Fought Against Franco

April 19, 2016

Here’s a bit of good news from the Northern Irish paper, The Sunday World, via the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism site, Hope Not Hate. A new beer is going to be launched in the UK in the next few months to celebrate the heroes of the International Brigades who fought against General Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The booze naturally has the name, Brigadista, and apparently is the brainchild of Matthew Collins, who was in the National Front and BNP before turning informer. The article notes that 320 volunteers from Ireland fought against the Fascists in Spain. 48 of these brave men came from Belfast, and were drawn from both the Shankill Road and the Falls area.

The article begins:

A NEW beer to be launched dedicated to the memory of those who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War is hoping to be sold in Ulster pubs.

Brigadista Ale is currently being brewed and is launching across the UK over the next couple of months.

Profits from the beer will go into keeping the memory alive of those who fought and died in what many believe has become a forgotten war.

Working-class people from both communities in Northern Ireland travelled to Spain to join what became known as the International Brigade to fight rightwing dictator General Francisco Franco between 1936-39.

The beer is the brainchild of Hope Not Hate’s Matthew Collins, a former National Front member who now campaigns against the far-right in the UK.
“People from both the Shankill and the Falls went to Spain to take on the forces of fascism,” says Collins.

I’ve mixed feelings about booze. I gave up drinking myself years ago after one night too many, and am acutely aware of the immense damage it can do to people’s health. But it’s great that the memory of the courageous people, who fought and died in the hope that they would keep Spain and Europe free, is being kept alive and that this unites people from across the political/sectarian divide.

Go and read the full article at: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/news/home/article/3882/cheers-to-spanish-civil-war-heroes

Spain itself is going through a painful period of rediscovering the suppressed history and legacy of the Franco’s tyranny and the Spanish Civil War. I went to an archaeological seminar by a Spanish archaeologist a few years ago, who described how there are, or were, a number of archaeological digs excavating the mass graves of those massacred by Franco’s forces. It’s intensely controversial, as there are many in Spain, particularly on the Right, who would like to forget the butchery, torture and repression of the dictator’s forty-year rule. Also controversial is the grandiose mausoleum and war monument the squeaky-voiced little Nazi put up to his fallen comrades. Franco claimed it was to the memory of all who fell in the Civil War, but in practice all the statuary and monuments are about him and his stormtroopers.

Beer and alcohol aren’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s undoubtedly better for the volunteer fighters of the International Brigades to be celebrated, than Franco’s thugs. And for those, who don’t drink, the article also mentions that last November Lord Mayor Carson unveiled a stained glass window to the memories of Ulster’s fallen in Spain in the town’s city hall.

The Language of Ancient Sheba in Yemen

January 14, 2016

Sheba Solomon Islam

Persian painting of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, from the poems of Farid al-Din Attar, 1472.

Yemen is the location of the ancient kingdom of Sheba, whose Queen is mentioned in both the Bible and the Qu’ran as having visited King Solomon. In the Bible, he tested her with hard questions, which some commenters believe were riddles. In Islam, Solomon wished to know whether she and her people worshipped God – Allah – or the sun. The kingdom of Sheba itself was located at Marib. Archaeologists have excavated a pre-Islamic religious sanctuary, the Mahram Bilqis, which is named after her. Bilqis is the name given to her in Muslim legend, though she is not named in the Qu’ran. The sanctuary, mahram, has been associated with her since the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD.

In addition to the remains of its buildings, and great feats of architectural engineering, such as a magnificent dam intended to provide the country with much needed water, archaeologists have also uncovered a number of inscriptions, and have been able to reconstruct this ancient civilisation’s language. It’s
Semitic, and so is related to Hebrew and Arabic, and was part of a family of languages spoken in the five or so different kingdoms that existed in south Arabia before the rise of Islam. As a South Arabian language, it is one of the ancestors of Ge’ez, the ancient literary and religious language of Ethiopia, which was colonised by settlers from that part of Arabia. In Ethiopian legend, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba married, and the Queen later travelled to Ethiopia, where she became the founder of the Abyssinian monarchy, according to their national epic, the Kebra Nagast, or ‘Glory of Kings’.

The linguistic remains have been so complete, that a dictionary of the Sabaic language, by A.F.L. Beeston, W.W. Muller, M.A. Ghul and J.Ryckmans, was published by the University of Sanaa in Yemen in 1982.

Sabaic Dictionary Front

Sabaic Dictionary Arabic

Here’s a short list of some words from that ancient tongue. As a Semitic language, like ancient Hebrew and Arabic, on the consonants were written, so the actual pronunciation is unclear.

Affair, matter, undertaking, ‘kln
Blood, Dm
Body, person, grbt
Camel, ‘bl
Cattle, Bqr
Cultivated field, Dbr
Famine, ‘wfy-n
Father, ancestor, ‘bw
Folk, people, community, ‘hl
Garden, orchard, gnt
To give, to grant, ‘dw
Goats, ‘nz
God, ‘l
Goddess, ‘lht
Grain crops, corn, meal, ‘kl
Grandchild, Hfd
Health, prosperity, Bry
Land, territory,
country, cultivated Ground, ‘rd
Man, male, ‘ns
Mother, ‘mm
Place, occasion, Brt
Sea, coast, plain, Bhr
Servant, serf, ‘bd
Sheep, D’n
Son, daughter, child,
descendant, family member, Bnw
To take, to seize, to capture, ‘hd
Woman, female, wife, ‘nt
World, ‘lm.

My fear is that the war in Syria will lead to the destruction of Yemen’s ancient monuments and its invaluable archaeological remains, either through ordinary military action, or a deliberate act of destruction by ISIS. Daesh have done their best to destroy the ancient pre-Islamic heritage of the other nations they’ve taken over, in part of Iraq and Syria, as well as the religious shrines, monuments and mosques of Muslims they judge to be of the ‘wrong’ faith, like the Shi’a and ordinary, moderate Muslims. Quite apart from the horrors and death inflicted on the Yemeni people themselves in this conflict. Remember, the civilian casualties in the Saudi drone strikes, aided by America, are 50% +. The Yemeni people have a brilliant, fascinating past, and like its people, it needs to be protected.

Forget Fracking – Space Solar Power is the Real Alternative to Middle East Oil

December 18, 2015

Solar Power Satellites

An Array of Space Solar Power Satellites from O’Neill The High Frontier.

Mike over at Vox Political has posted a number of articles about the threat fracking poses to our homes, our communities and our environment. The Greens and community groups are very concerned about environmental damage done by such shale oil extraction. In America, the dangers posed by fracking has been highlighted by the documentary, Gasland, which shows areas where the water table has been so heavily contaminated by the gases pumped in to free the oil, that there’s footage of people setting the drinking water from their taps alight. I’ve seen other claims from the right that dispute the authenticity of that footage, at least as it applies to fracked chemicals. But there is much other evidence that fracking is unsafe and poisonous. Much like the Tories and the Republicans, who are its biggest supporters.

In the West Country near where I live, the residents of Keynsham have been concerned about fracking on their doorstep. And this week Mike reblogged a report that the Tories had passed legislation permitting fracking under the National Parks, the most beautiful areas of our Sceptred Isle. One of the arguments the Repugs have trotted out in America to justify and promote fracking is that this will somehow make America independent of Middle Eastern oil. Good, patriotic Americans need never have to worry about their dollars getting into the hands of oppressive Middle Eastern regimes or Islamist terrorist groups.

In fact, there is already a scientific alternative to oil, that deserves serious consideration because of it potential to alleviate pollution and the industrial pressure on Earth’s fragile ecosystem: Space Solar Power. Gerard K. O’Neill, one of the major pioneers and advocates of space colonisation, was strongly in favour of developing power stations out in space that would turn the Sun’s rays into energy that could be safely beamed back to Earth. Such energy could then be used to power vehicles, homes and industry without the harmful environmental impact of fossil fuels. Margo R. Deckard, a member of the Space Frontier Foundation, also described its immense ecological potential in her paper ‘A Technology for A Better Future: Space Solar Power An Unlimited Energy Source’ in the third edition of O’Neill’s book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (Ontario: Space Studies Institute/Apogee Book 200). She wrote

A fundamental challenge in the next century is how to meet the world’s growing energy needs from an environmental perspective. We must meet this challenge to provide the opportunity for prosperity to all humans. Fortunately, the Sun supplies the Earth with an abundance of clean and natural energy. Space Solar Power or SSP, is a means of collecting that energy and beaming it down to the Earth wherever it is needed. SSP may be the key to meeting this challenge. SSP could be an environmentally friendly, economical energy producing technology that simultaneously promotes the human realization that the Earth is an open system while protecting the Earth’s fragile biosphere.

She is also very much aware of the power of the Green lobby and an increasing ecologically aware public, and the potential of these groups to support the development of such power systems as well as world governments.

The following chapter, ‘Space Solar Power stations for the 21st Century’ by Peter E. Glaser further outlines the advantages of this technology. He argues

The concept of SSPS has been validated by studies undertaken by the international technical community, and supported by academic institutions, industry and governments. The results of these studies are reported in the substantial literature on the associated technical, economic, ecological and societal issues.

There is a growing consensus that SSPS could deliver sufficient energy in the form of electricity for most conceivable future human needs thereby:

* Increasing the standard of living of all inhabitants on Earth,
* Stabilising population growth,
* Safeguarding the ecology of the Earth,
* Averting potential global instabilities caused by efforts to control increasingly scarcer terrestrial energy resources, and
* Enabling the development of a spacefaring civilisation.

Space Solar Power Stations have been studied for 45 years or more, since the first international meeting was convened in the Netherlands in 1970. Among the nations that have researched such power stations are the US, Ukraine, Russia, the European Union, Japan and China. Glaser also notes that all nations are legally entitled to benefit from such energy resources under the UN Treaty Principles governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies.

And the current crisis in the Middle East should show how solar power, and particularly Space Solar Power, is a reliable and viable alternative to oil. Science Fiction frequently provides a literary Gedankenexperiment for writers to explore the possibilities in science, technology and human society that could emerge in the future. Donald Kingsbury’s short story, The Moon Goddess and the Son, is about a romance between a teenage girl, who has run away from her violent father in the hope of settling on the Moon, and the son of one of Moon colony’s leading engineers, who heartily loathes the place. The story was first published in 1979. Despite their difficulties, all ends well for the star-crossed couple. The son learns to love the Moon, and settles down as one of the engineers there. He marries the girl, who makes her living running the local bar and restaurant. The story takes place against a backdrop of political instability in the Middle East. Funding for the lunar colony looks uncertain, until there is a Communist revolution in Saudi Arabia. At which point, funding suddenly increases as Congress decides they desperately need to find an alternative energy source to oil. Space Solar Power is one of these. Eventually the Communists are defeated and the Saudi royal family restored. The lesson has been learnt, and the colony continues to develop.

Okay, so there are significant differences to today. Fortunately, the Saudis haven’t been toppled, and the threat is Islamism rather than Communism. However, there is still a threat to global oil supplies, and the Islamists are hoping to use their oil wealth to finance their wretched regimes. It would seem the opportunity is right for the development of such space-based power industries.

As for the cost of setting up such stations, it would admittedly be extremely expensive. However, way back at the start of this century I went to a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society in London about the development of space tourism. One of the speakers, a specialist in construction, stated that the costs of developing a space hotel would be equivalent to building a high-rise building on Earth. As for space power, I think he argued that it would be comparable to setting up the national grid today. In other words, they’re very expensive, but no more so than conventional, terrestrial buildings and industries, whose construction is definitely not seen as excessive.

Of course, you don’t have to go into space to get power from the Sun. Hundreds of thousands across the country are probably doing it by having solar panels on the roof of their homes and businesses. And that’s clearly annoyed the Tories, as they’re cutting funding for solar power and other renewables, just as their Republican counterparts across the Pond are doing in the Land of the Free.

The real reasons for it have less to do with the supposed disadvantages of solar power, and far more to do with the massive subsidies the oil companies receive from the US taxpayer due to giving donations to finance the campaigns of their pet politicians. And I strongly suspect that the same applies over here, especially in the Tory party, which has always promoted itself as ‘the party of business’.

Don’t be fooled by Dave Cameron gazing rapt at the TV screen as Tim Peake heads off into space. He wants the elan of backing Britain in space, but he doesn’t want us to develop the High Frontier’s vast potential for clean power, or have to put government money into anything that isn’t strictly terrestrial and won’t benefit his corporate backers. And that means he is definitely not going to put his or anybody else’s money into solar power, whether in space or down here. Why develop clean, renewable energy when his paymasters will make billions trashing the environment?