Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

£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. 

 

Joe on Boris’ Johnson’s Massive Failure as Mayor of London

July 23, 2019

Boris Johnson and fans prepare for government.

This is another video from JOE, a YouTuber who’s made a number of videos parodying and criticising Boris and the rest of the Tories. In this one he uses Boris’ colossal failure as mayor of London, and particularly his wretched vanity projects, to show what we can expect from the Eton educated blond moron if he got into power. Which he now has, thanks to all his single-helix inbred mutoid followers. Joe walks around the capital as he talks, showing Johnson’s various projects.

Joe begins by asking if, despite his cartoon clownish exterior, Boris can take power seriously. His legacy in London has been to turn it into a playground for the rich. When Johnson announced his candidacy for Prime Minister, he mentioned his record as mayor on poverty, crime, affordable housing and road deaths. But the statistics he used were difficult to source and, at times, exaggerated. Which is why Joe talks about his physical legacy in London’s built environment. These include the conversion of the Olympic Stadium to West Ham’s football ground, at the cost of hundreds of millions of public money and the Arcemittal Orbit, which features the world’s longest tunnel slide. That was Boris’ idea, and was meant to raise £1.2 million a year to help pay for the upkeep of the Olympic park. It instead cost the taxpayer £10,000 a week because entrance to the Park was less than half of what was expected.

There’s also the fleet of new buses Boris ordered, modelled on the classic ‘Routemaster’ design of the 1960s. However, Transport for London was forced to recall them and retrofit them, because the windows on the top deck didn’t open. Because of this the Routemasters were nicknamed ‘roastmasters’ and in one bus, the temperature a 41° C was recorded. This is higher than the permitted temperature for transporting cattle. The changes cost £2 million, and it wasn’t the first redesign. The buses were originally to have a hop-on, hop-off open back and a conductor, but they were phased out because of expense.

And then there’s the Emirate’s Airline, which was supposed to ferry commuters between Greenwich and the Royal Docks. In 2012 the number of people using the cable car was 16. In 2015, nobody used them. The airline initially believed 70,000 people a week would use it. That’s now dipped to 20,000 and its estimated to cost the taxpayer £50,000 every week. It is the most expensive urban cable car in the world.

Boris also intended to build a garden bridge, somewhere between Waterloo and Blackfriars. But this never got beyond the conceptual stage, and cost Britain £43 million.

Joe then appears on the Tube, saying to the camera, ‘He had nothing to do with the Tube. The Tube’s pretty good’.

He then goes on to talk about Boris’ most significant contribution to London – cycling, including his ‘Boris bikes’. The scheme now covers most of the centre of London. It was supposed to cost the taxpayer nothing, but the public ended up spending over £200 million for it over the course of Johnson’s period as mayor. This makes it the most expensive of its kind in the whole world. Johnson’s dedicated cycle lanes increased congestion while he halved the area of the congestion zone.

Then there’s the Peckham Peace Wall. After the 2011 riots, people wrote messages of love on post-it notes and put them on the plywood boards covering Poundland’s smashed windows. After the damage was repaired, the residents didn’t want to lose this record, and so it became a mural. But at the time London was engulfed in rioting, Boris was on holiday in Canada. It took him three days to decide whether or not to come home.

And that, concludes Joe, is London’s legacy and Britain’s future.

The video then ends with a few more shots of London, accompanied by a piece of Jazz-Blues, and couple of out-takes.

Yep, this is the man the Tories have just decided should be our prime minister. And his record as a government minister has been just as abysmal, as various other bloggers and YouTubers are showing.

As the Ferengi used to say on Star Trek, ‘Ugleee! Very ugleeee!’

 

 

 

‘I’ Newspaper: Aristocracy Have Doubled Their Wealth in Past Decade

July 22, 2019

The cover story on Saturday’s I for 20th July 2019 was a report that Britain’s landed gentry had doubled their wealth in a decade. Beneath the headline declaring that very fact were the lines

  • Dramatic surge in fortunes of British nobility since the 2008 financial crash, I learns
  • 600 aristcratic families now as wealthy as they were at the height of the British Empire.

The story on page 12 of the paper by Cahal Milmo was based on the research of two academics, Dr Matthew Bond and Dr Julien Morton, lecturers, sociology lecturers at the London South Bank University, who had examined probates, or settled wills, of 1,706 members of the aristocracy going back to 1858. However, the article made the point that these wills only represented part of the aristocracy’s immense wealth, and their real fortunes is likely to be much higher because their lands, property, art collections and business investments are very frequently held in separate trusts which cannot be examined.

The article stated that

A hereditary title is now worth an average of more than £16m – nearly twice the value it stood at proior to the 2008 financial crisis, I can reveal. their fortunes contrast starkly with the decade experienced by the vast majority of Britons, whose inflation-adjusted wages remain stuck at 2005 levels.l Since the Thatcher era, the value of a hereditary title has also increased four-fold.

The academics’ research also

shows that the minimum value of one of these (aristocratic) titles now stands on average at £16.1m. The same figure, adjusted to reflect current purchasing power, stood at £4.2m between 1978 and 1987.

The four-fold increase suggests the aristocracy has prospered spectacularly under the era of financial deregulation and economic liberalisation ushered in by Margaret Thatcher when she came to power in 1979.

The I also stated

The figures represent a sharp recovery in the fortunes of the nobility, which went into a decline during the Second World War and the post-war consensus, which brought in more progressive taxation and the welfare state. From a pre-war high of £23m, average fortunes fell to £4.9m by the 1980s.

The data suggests that Britain’s wealthiest aristocrats have more than weathered the economic problems caused by the 2008 financial crisis, apparently using existing assets to take advantage of low interest rates to buy up stocks and shares and other investments which have rocketed in value. In the decade to 2007, the average wealth of the nobility stood at £8.9m – suggesting it has nearly doubled in the decade since. (pp. 12-13).

The article also looked at the educational background of the ten richest toffs. And what a surprise! They nearly all went to Eton and Harrow, before going on to Oxbridge.

Of the ten largest probates between 2008 and 2018, seven of the deceased attended Eton or Harrow, with the remaining three also attending major public schools. Six of the 10 went to either Oxford or Cambridge universities. (p. 13).

The newspaper also asked the Labour MP, Chris Bryant for his views about this. Bryant was the author of A Critical History of the British Aristocracy, published two years ago in 2017. He responded

“For more than a century the landed aristocracy have been moaning about their terrible impoverishment. Ostentatiously sitting in dilapidated drawing rooms with buckets and pails catching drips from the beautiful but bowed stucco ceiling, they have extended the begging bowl.

“Yet the last century has seen many do remarkably well. The end result is that eh great old landed, crested and hallmarked families of the UK are still in possession of most of the land and a large part of the wealth of the nation.” (p. 13).

The I was at pains to state that the study itself takes no view on the social role of the aristocracy, whose fans argue that it plays a valuable role supporting rural communities through fishing and farming. It quoted Morton as saying

“It may well be that having a rich and vital aristocracy is good for the country. We are interested in understanding this group as objectively as possible.”

Well, that might be the case, but they’ve also been severely bad for the rest of us. The I doesn’t mention it, but one of the ways the aristocracy has almost certainly increased their wealth is through the massive tax cuts the Tories have given high earners. They’ve been enriched through the Thatcherite doctrine that taxes and government spending have to be cut, the welfare state destroyed and everything, including the NHS privatised, in order to benefit the upper classes. Their wealth will then magically trickle down to the rest of us, as they open new businesses, pay higher wages and so forth. Except they don’t. They simply take the money and put it in their bank accounts, where it stays. And far from opening new businesses, business proprietors simply carry on as before, laying off staff in order to enrich themselves and their shareholders. The Young Turks and a number of other left-wing American internet news shows, like the Jimmy Dore Show, have put up videos about various companies that have made thousands unemployed after they were given tax cuts by Trump.

As for the British aristocracy, way back in 1988 Private Eye published a very critical review, ‘Nob Value’, of Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd’s The Field Book of Country Houses and their Owners: Family Seats of the British Isles, as well as the-then emerging ‘heritage’ sector. Massingberd, who wrote a ‘heritage’ column in the Torygraph, was a massive fan of the aristocracy to which he belonged, and, of course, Maggie Thatcher. In this book he loudly praised her policies, and looked forward to a ‘social restoration’ that would see the blue-bloods return to power. The Eye wrote

The ‘heritage’ mania has softened us up for a return to inherited wealth. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd may be a richly Wodehousian figure, but his book, lauding the privately owned, is symptomatic. It is the correlative to Peregrine Worsthorne’s recent articles about the desirability of large inheritances and the return of a rentier class: the desirability in short of ‘a social restoration’. Come the day, of course, Massivesnob knows where he will be – in his seat again. But the fans of his snufflings seem curiously unaware of where that leaves them: which is sat upon. 

In Francis Wheen, ed., Lord Gnome’s Literary Companion (London: Verso 1994), 320-2 (322).

Quite. It’s as true now as it was then, after Downton Abbey on the Beeb and now with the Tory party dominated by two toffs, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, coming after another Eton educated aristo, David Cameron, all of whom very much represent the interests of their class against the poor.

The only chance for the rest of us to shake them off, and go back to having a society where ordinary people have a decent standard of living, can enjoy good wages, proper welfare support and a truly national, and nationalised health service, is by voting for Corbyn.

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

July 14, 2019

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.