Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Bristol’s Labour Mayor Marvin Rees on What His Party Has Done for the City

August 3, 2021

As a member of the local Labour party, I got this general email from Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, explaining what his administration has done to improve conditions in Bristol. I’ve mixed feelings about Rees. He can be stubborn and obstinate, insisting on what he wants against the wishes of local people. He did this in the case of the housing development now being built in Hengrove park. His plans for the development were opposed by local people, who wanted fewer houses and more amenities, like shops, to be built on the site. But despite the fact that Rees’ own plans for the area were also criticised by the planning authorities for exactly the same reasons, Rees overruled the suggestions of the locals and went ahead with his own plans. There has also been a similar controversy over his scheme for a new arena for the city. Common sense would say that it should be built nearer to the city’s centre, where communications are excellent and visitors from outside the city could easily get to it via the motorway. However, for some reason best known to himself, Mayor Marv has decided instead that he wants it built in Filton, a suburb some distance away from the centre in the north of the city. Which is far more difficult to get to.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by his handling of the pulling down of Colston’s statue by Black Lives Matter. There have been demands from Bristol’s Black community for the statue to be taken down for decades, and so the assault on it probably shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, it followed similar attacks on Confederate statues across the Pond in America. Despite loud criticism from people of the right, like Alex Belfield, I think Bristol’s police did exactly the right thing in not trying to defend it when it was attacked. It was the only monument affected. The other statues nearby, such as one to Bristol’s sailors, and of the 18th century politician, Edmund Burke, and Queen Victoria (Gawd bless ‘er) weren’t touched. Neither were the surrounding shops and offices. But I think there would have been a full scale riot if the cops had tried to defend it. And I think it’s extremely likely that some in the mob that attacked the statue were hoping for a chance to fight the police as symbols of racist authority. The police didn’t give them the opportunity, and saved the people and property in the area from harm. As for Marvin himself, while he has made it very plain that, as a man of colour, he personally loathes the statue, he has been extremely diplomatic and careful in his handling of the controversy.

Here’s what he says in his email:

“Dear member,

I am writing to you to thank you for your support in the recent elections and to let you know how your Labour administration is repaying your trust in us. 

I want to start by reiterating how grateful I am; for everyone that voted for me and for the activists who knocked on doors, called voters, and spread our message of hope on social media. It’s been an enormously difficult year – which makes me even more appreciative for the support – but we still managed to adapt to the circumstances and get Labour’s message out to the voters. Our activists are the cornerstone of our movement – we wouldn’t have won the mayoral elections if it weren’t for the strength of our members. 

However, despite winning the Mayoralty and gaining a Labour Metromayor in the West of England Combined Authority, we lost a number of excellent councillors and had hard-working, dedicated candidates miss out on their seats. I know how talented our candidates were and how much they cared about their communities, so these results were hard to take. 

Despite the disappointment, we’ve regrouped and have been working to put Labour values into action and to continue delivering on your priorities. I want the next three years to be defined by inclusivity, sustainability, and delivery – everything we do will be defined by those three principles. 

At the first Full Council since the election, we put forward a motion that forbids the Council or its partners from following Home Office guidance that uses rough sleeping as a reason to cancel someone’s leave to remain, resulting in their eventual deportation from the UK. It should go without saying that we found this guidance deplorable – it shows how out-of-step Priti Patel and the Home Office is with Bristol’s collective conscience. Read more on Cllr Tom Renhard’s Blog. 

This announcement follows a recent further £4m investment to help tackle rough sleeping and the setting up of Bristol Street Outreach, a new service to support rough sleepers. Since 2019, we’ve reduced the levels of people rough-sleeping by 80% – this new service will focus on on-street engagements, particularly with those who have been sleeping rough for a long time, to help enable them to move off the streets and live independently.

As well as this we’ve:

Won Gold Food Sustainable City Status – only the second city in the UK to do so – for excellence in tackling food waste, urban food growing, and action to address food inequality. Awarded by the independent, Sustainable Food Places Board, the accolade recognises the work of Bristol’s good food movement and the city’s work to tackle the impacts of food on public health, nature, and climate change. More information here. 

• Offered residency to a number of Afghan interpreters who worked with the British Army, as they were at risk of persecution by the Taliban. 

• Moved forward building a 17,000 seater arena and its surrounding district – which now includes a 15 acre public park, £3.1m for transport infrastructure, 2,600 news homes, employment space, up to three new schools, a health centre and retail and leisure facilities – with it now set to open by the end of 2023.

• Allocated £34m in funding to help businesses in the city centre upgrade to cleaner vehicles, so they can avoid fines when the Clean Air Zone is implemented.  Despite pushing back the implementation date for the Clean Air Zone, by giving people and businesses time to adapt we will still have cleaner air by 2023 – the same time as we would if it had been implemented this October. 

• Painted a trans-inclusive rainbow crossing on Wine Street to as part of our celebrations for Pride Month. As well as this, we passed a motion that will strengthen mental health provision for LGBT+ people within the Council, and to work with our partners to improve services across the city.

Built the largest water-source heat pump in the UK, bringing zero-carbon energy to 5,000 homes in central Bristol. This comes after we built the largest land wind turbine in the country in Avonmouth. We’re also pushing ahead with finding a partner for the City Leap Programme, which will see us invest £1bn in decarbonising Bristol’s energy systems. 

• Started work to transform the Bear Pit into a haven for bees and butterflies. We declared an ecological emergency last year and are working to turn make our built environment more ecology-friendly – We’re investing in green structures and bright native flowers in the bearpit to attract pollinators and make it a thoroughfare the city can be proud of. 

• Invested £4.7m to rejuvenate our high streets, including Bristol city centre, East Street, Church Road, Shirehampton, Filwood Broadway, Stapleton Road, Brislington Hill, Filton Avenue, Two Mile Hill and Stockwood. The funding will help develop a support programme for existing and new high street businesses, while funding improvements to the streets in a bid to boost footfall through them. Financial support will also be offered to new or expanding businesses, such as pop-up stores or galleries, to reduce the number of vacant premises on the streets.

This is just a small selection of the work we’ve been doing for you. As this next term is only three years rather than four, we wanted to hit the ground running, but we have much, much more in the pipeline that will be ready for announcement in the near future.

If you would like to find out more about the work we’ve been doing, have questions over specific policy, or just want a general chat, then please feel free to ask your constituency executive to invite myself or a Cabinet member to one of your party meetings. 

I hope everyone has an enjoyable summer – I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Best wishes, 

Marvin Rees”

The various green projects Labour has introduced shows the administration is taking ecological issues seriously and shows that the Labour party in the city would be behind the Green New Deal proposed by the left, which would not only help the planet, but also create jobs and new industries. I’m also particularly impressed by the investment in local high streets and their businesses, and the offer of residency to the Afghan interpreters who worked for the British army. With the Taliban now advancing in Afghanistan, these people’s lives would very much be at risk if they remained there, and they undoubtedly deserve to be given sanctuary here in the UK, no matter what Priti Patel may think.

Despite my strong criticisms of some of Rees’ policies, I think overall he has been good for the city, and hope his administration will continue to do its best for Bristol and its great people.

Cartoonist Kayfabe Review’s Jack Kirby’s ‘Eternals’ #1

July 7, 2021

This might interest those of my readers, who are into UFOs and the theories about ancient astronauts. Cartoonist Kayfabe is a channel on YouTube hosted by two independent comics creators, Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, which reviews and talks about comics. In the video below, which they put up yesterday, the pair review the first issue of comics legend Jack Kirby’s book, The Eternals.

Published in the 1970s, this was based on the theories of Erich von Daniken, that humanity had been visited in antiquity by aliens, who had been worshipped as gods. In Kirby’s strip, the aliens were the Celestials or Space Gods, immense giant humanoids wearing weird armour or spacesuits, rather like the world-devouring Galactus of Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic. In the strip the Space Gods had come to Earth in the distant past, genetically engineering humanity’s pre-human ape ancestors. The result was three species of humanoids, the Eternals, humanity and the Deviants. The Eternals possessed immortality and superpowers, and were taken by humans as gods. One of the Eternals is called Ikaris, which is clearly a version of Icarus, the character from Greek myth. While the Eternals were generally benign and largely aloof from human affairs, the Deviants were actively hostile. Their genome was unstable, with a result that they were monstrous in form and envied and hated Eternals and humans for possessing a stable body plan and good looks. One of the Deviant characters was a man, who looked human, and so was hated by the rest of the Deviants and forced to compete in lethal gladiatorial contests for their amusement.

I first came across the Eternals as a back-up strip in the British version of Marvel’s Star Wars comic. From what I remember, the first tale had Ikaris, in disguise as Ike Harris, leading a party of human explorers into an ancient South American temple. The temple is, in reality, a monument to the Space Gods, who then return to Earth. The temple becomes their landing site, with one Space God standing sentinel over it. This then becomes a forbidden zone to the three other species. The Celestials have come to judge their experiments, taking fifty years to make their observations and gather information. If humanity or the other races fail the test, the Space Gods will exterminate them.

Kirby was a master of cosmic art, and this strip shows how skilled he was at drawing beings from outer space of immense power. The various ancient astronauts depicted in the temple’s carvings and statuary are clearly influenced by the art of the ancient South American Indian civilisations such as the Aztecs and Maya. This very much follows the views of von Daniken and similar authors, who interpreted a carving of an ancient Mayan king from the temple of Palenque as portraying an ancient astronaut piloting a space capsule.

There have been a multitude of comics about flying saucers since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of a group of mysterious objects over the Rockies in 1947, which launched the modern UFO phenomenon. The Eternals is an example of how a similar, related theory – ancient astronauts – also entered popular culture in comic form. I don’t think the strip actually lasted very long. Either I stopped reading it, or the strip disappeared from Star Wars comic after a few issues. Despite this, the characters have remained part of the MCU and a film based on the strip, which I’ve blogged about previously, is currently being filmed, trailers for which have been released. Kirby’s art is awesome, and the strip marked Jolly Jack’s return to Marvel after a period with DC. I think Kirby had left because of his dispute with Marvel and Stan Lee over who had created many of the most iconic Marvel characters. Although he had returned, there still seems to have been considerable resentment against Kirby at Marvel. Piskor and Rugg comment on the overwhelmingly hostile tone of the letters Kirby’s editors at Marvel chose to publish in the comic.

I really enjoyed the first Eternals story and its premise, though I think I got bored with it as the tale went on. I shall be very interested indeed when the film finally comes out, as I’m currently in two minds whether I want to see it. It could be very good, and it’ll be great to see Kirby’s designs for the Space Gods appear on the silver screen. It’ll also be interesting to see what effect, if any, it has on the paranormal milieu. Will it lead to a revival of von Daniken and the ancient astronaut theory?

Cartoon Kayfabe Reviews Book on the Art of Jack Kirby

July 5, 2021

This is one for all the comics fans. Jack Kirby is one of the truly great figures in American comics. With Stan Lee he created some of Marvel’s best known and most beloved comics characters, like Captain America. Kirby grew up when the immigrant Jewish community in New York was still poor and rough, and like many other similar communities, riddled with gangs. Kirby said he came from the type of background where the best job a man could aspire to was being a mechanic, and I think he was seen as being a bit odd for wanting to be an artist. Nevertheless, he managed to realise his ambition and get away from the gangs, although he also said that part of him enjoyed running with them. 5′ 2” and pugnacious, he wasn’t averse to stepping up to the challenge if someone threatened him. The famous cover of Captain America beating up Hitler was published before America entered the War and upset the American Nazi party. One of the Hitlerites came into the hotel where Kirby was staying at the time, demanding a word with him. To the consternation of his workmates, Kirby got up and went down ready to sort the man. But by the time he got down to the lobby, the Nazi had departed. Probably luckily for the Nazi. Nevertheless, the fear of Nazi reprisal was so strong that Stan Lee and Kirby were both given FBI protection for a time.

One of the book’s editors/producers is Eastman, of Mutant Ninja Turtles fame, and the book is an overview of Kirby’s long artistic career, from when he was just starting out as an aspiring artist to his retirement. I was never a great fan of Kirby, as although he could do cosmic like no one else could, drawing huge, awesome machines and men and women like gods, I didn’t think he could draw the ordinary human form very well. But the book shows that he was actually a very good naturalistic artists with fine sketches of the major figures and celebrities of his time. One of whom was Adolf Hitler.

Kirby seems to have worked at anything and everything to pay the rent. At one time he was an artist on the Disney cartoons, drawing the figures for the moments between the main action. But he was learning all the time and ambitious, looking for new and better jobs and taking with him the skills he learnt. During his comics career he not only worked on superheroes, but also cowboy, commando and romance comics, turning to these parts of the industry when the superhero genre was decimated by the moral panic of the 1950s. He also did his patriotic duty and served in the army during the Second World War, and this fed into the war strips he drew afterwards. The self-portraits Kirby drew of himself before and during his army years show the immense change armed combat had wrought on him. Before he enters the army he’s clean cut, but afterwards he becomes more lined and grizzled. He shows the same effect on soldiers on the cover of one of his war comics. This features a man writing a letter home to his mother, saying that the invasion of Europe was just like a day at the beach. The man’s face betrays otherwise, and Kayfabe and his companion note the 1,000 yard stare. Apparently when the servicemen wrote home, they really did describe the War in those terms as they obviously really didn’t want to cause their families to worry about them.

Kirby’s final years were overshadowed by a quarrel with Stan Lee over who created the Marvel characters, with Kirby claiming that he was the real creator of some. He left Marvel and carried on working long after he should have retired on strips like Devil Dinosaur. Towards the end of his career it looks like this amazing artist was being helped by others in the studio. But in his prime Kirby was extremely prolific. At his height in the 40s-50s he was producing a hundred pages a month. I think that’s why his human forms are so sketchy – he was churning them out and an incredible rate, too fast for very naturalistic art, simply to put food on the table for himself and his family. He also incorporated many of the latest developments in popular art into his comics, like pop art and black light, in order to connect with readers and appeal to their changing tastes.

One of the most remarkable episodes in his career was the use of his concept art for an abandoned film project as cover for a CIA operation to rescue the hostages in Iran. Kirby had been hired to work on a film version of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. Although the film wasn’t made, the CIA used the art as part of the cover for their operation, which was that they were film makers seeking to make an SF film in the country.

Kirby was indeed one of the giants of the comics industry, and Kayfabe’s review of the book, which I think came out in the ’80s or 90s, is an excellent review of his long and amazing productive career. The characters he and Lee created still continue to enthral readers across the world, and, I hope, to inspire future generations of comics artists and creators.

Mr H Reviews the Concept Art for Neil Blomkamp’s Aborted Alien 5

June 18, 2021

Mr H Reviews is a YouTube channel devoted to SF, Fantasy and Horror TV, film and comics, and particularly Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, which is one of Mr H’s favourites. Over the past months and weeks he’s posted a number of pieces about the concept art for Alien 5 which is just being released. Alien 5 would have been directed by Neil Blomkamp, the director of the awesome District 9. This was an SF film in which alien refugees arrive in South Africa, and are isolated in shanty towns, where they’re oppressed by a government determined to stop them breeding, and preyed on by criminal gangs who want to use their body parts for muti sorcery. The hero was a government official in one of the government anti-breeding teams, who starts to mutate into one of the aliens after an accident destroying one of their makeshift hatcheries. He is then sought and has to fight in his turn government agents, who wish to use him to unlock the secrets of the military technology the aliens have brought with them.

Alien 5 would have followed on directly from James Cameron’s Aliens, making Alien 3 and Alien 4 elseworlds stories set in an alternative timeline. In the universe of Alien 5, corporal Hicks and Newt would both be alive, as would Ellen Ripley, and ready to fight H.R. Giger’s most infamous brainchild yet again. The film was apparently all set and ready to go into production with Cameron scouting out locations for filming. It was stopped because Ridley Scott, Alien’s director, didn’t want it interfering with his Alien films. Scott claimed that Alien 5 didn’t have a script, which has been contradicted by the concept artist, Geoffroy Thoorens, who said his paintings were based on a preliminary treatment. Apparently the real reason Alien 5 was cancelled was Scott’s ego. He was jealous because Cameron’s Aliens was more popular than his, the film which launched the franchise.

Whatever the personal politics and clash of egos behind the decision, it’s a pit that Alien 5 wasn’t made because it would have been awesome. The art shows Hicks as a combat vet, scarred from the acidic blood with which he was sprayed during his battle with the evil critters in Aliens, but ready to put on that combat armour. From the art, Mr H. surmises that the plot is about Ripley and her team coming aboard a facility somewhere – there are paintings of a space station and a oil-rig like structure on a storm-tossed ocean. This facility may not be run by Wayland-Yutani, the evil company in the Alien movies. There are no Wayland-Yutani logos or markings. However, it seems the facility has got a Leviathan spacecraft, which is covered in the resin secreted by the Aliens. This also seems to be taken apart in an attempt to back engineer it. The company are also harvesting the eggs, and it seems that the company has actually won. They’re farming the Aliens to use them as bioweapons. A queen alien escapes, and all hell breaks loose.

The film adds a new stage to the Alien lifecycle. This is the trematode, a wormlike creature with pincers and proboscis, which eats its way into its victim’s guts and lays tiny facehuggers. The art shows one marine pulling one of these little bastards of his stomach, while another character is attacked while pinned under a door. There’s also a nod to the cityscape of Blade Runner, in that one of the paintings shows a futuristic city very much like Scott’s depiction of the LA of 2019. But this has a gigantic tower, which may be a space elevator or space bridge, and which contains a hollow running its length, possibly to throw something up into orbit. The company appears to have produced biomechanical armoured suits, resembling the Alien exoskeletons. Ripley dons one of these to fight the queen, who is killed by fire from a railgun or something similar. Another painting shows the space bridge or whatever it is on fire. This suggests that it’s the corporate head office, and that not only has Ripley or her successor defeated the Aliens, but she’s also taken down the company that thinks it can cultivate and control them. Here are the videos.

I’m afraid I’ve posted these videos out of chronological sequence, as I haven’t watched them in order. I hope you can still follow the progress through them, however.

Mr. H speculates that the art may be released because there is renewed interest in the movie. However, he eventually settles on the explanation that the Non-Disclosure Agreements that have prevented release of the art have finally lapsed, as Disney is on the point of buying Fox. I find this a particularly grim prospect. I don’t think it’s at all healthy for a sizable portion of Hollywood and western film entertainment to be part of a giant, global monopoly. I also don’t think Disney are the corporation that’s best suited to real, innovative Horror or dark SF. They’re based on family-friendly entertainment, and while they have considerably diversified, especially with the acquisition of Lucasfilm and Star Wars, I really don’t think they’re suited to managing darker films and concepts.

It’s a pity that Alien 5 wasn’t made. It would have been far better than Alien: Covenant, which I found disappointing and uninspired. It got rid of the interesting ideas and sole remaining character in Prometheus. The Engineers are all wiped out by the evil robot David, who has also murdered Shaw, and is now just keen on breeding more of the proto-Alien creatures, until one finally appears at the end. This threatens the new heroes, is defeated, but not before the heroine finds out right at the end as she’s going into hypersleep that the robot she has trusted up to now isn’t the ship’s good android, but David, who has smuggled the Alien eggs and embryos on board.

I think part of the problem is that Scott simply has lost interest in the Xenomorphs. He’s said that they’re not scary anymore, and that robots are more frightening. Hence the appearance of the evil robot, David. But I think he’s misunderstood the situation. People still want to see the Xenomorph. A year or so ago there were a series of short films released on YouTube by various directors set in the Alien universe and where different characters have to fight or deal with the Aliens. These generally speaking weren’t long – about 15 minutes or so, more or less. But they were well done with some interesting ideas. They showed that directors could still make an entertaining and original story with the creatures, and that there were more than enough fans willing to watch them.

It also seems that Scott’s role in the original movie has been overhyped. Some of the creative decisions that built the franchise were not his, but came from the two producers, Hill and Giler. These included the appearance of an android and the hiring of H.R. Giger as concept artist for the creature. Scott was brought on as director at the very last minute. It’s an excellent movie, and Scott is a brilliant director – I rate Alien and Blade Runner as masterpieces of 20th century cinema – but he isn’t the be-all and end-all of the Alien franchise. I agree with Mr H that the studio shouldn’t have bowed to him and cancelled Blomkamp’s flick.

One of the commenters on one of these videos suggests that, if the film isn’t going to be made, then a comic or graphic novel should appear to tell the story. Apparently this has been done with the alternative Alien 3s that were submitted and scripted. I think it would be an excellent idea. I’d also like another Alien movie to appear, though I’m not sure I’d like it to be the final episode of the trilogy Scott set up with Prometheus. Not after Covenant, unless there’s far more interest in the Aliens. Scott’s a great director, and part of me thinks that it would be good to see how his trilogy ends, but I also think that it’s time the franchise was perhaps handed over to someone younger and with a greater appreciation of the Xenomorph’s popularity.

But the release of this concept artist shows not only the imagination and skill of Thoorens, the artist behind it, but also that there is still considerable interest in Alien movies and that they haven’t been exhausted of ideas. Not just yet. They just need the right director.

History Debunked on Nigerian Statue Celebrating Black African Slave Trader

June 14, 2021

Quite honestly, I’m sick and tired of posting pieces about racial politics, especially from a perspective that could be seen as anti-Black. I’m very aware that, as a whole, the Black community in Britain is poor, marginalised and suffers from poor educational performance, a lack of job opportunities. And I’m very much aware of institutional racism. Black and Asian friends and relatives have changed their names from their exotic originals to something more White British to get job opportunities. I’m also very much aware how the Tories are exploiting the issues around Black identity politics to drive a wedge between the Black community and the White working class in order to dominate both and drive them further into poverty, starvation and despair. But these issues are important. There is a real strain of anti-White racism in what is now being presented as anti-racism post-Black Lives Matter. It’s in the shape of Critical Race Theory, which parents are challenging in American schools. It’s also in the bad, tendentious history pushed by David Olusoga. One of History Debunked’s videos is a debunking of the claim by Olusoga and Reni Eddo-Lodge about a supposed lynching in Liverpool. This was of a sailor, who was chased into the docks. But instead of the innocent victim of a violent and prejudiced mob, the Black sailor instead was a vicious thug, who was part of a gang that had started a fight with Scandinavian and Russian seamen, and who had responded to the intervention of the rozzers by shooting two policemen.

A few days ago Simon Webb, the main man of History Debunked, put up the video below commenting on a statue in Nigeria to Efunroye Tinubu. She was a merchant in the Abeokuta region in the 19th century who traded in tobacco and slaves among other commodities. Through this she became extremely wealthy, enough to acquire a private army and act as kingmaker in Nigerian tribal politics. She also has a square in Lagos named after. There is, Webb says, absolutely no shame about her and her wretched trade. Rather, I think the Nigerians are proud of her. And she had absolutely no qualms about selling Black peeps. When she was hauled before a court on a charge of slave dealing after selling a boy, she cheerfully admitted it, saying she had a large household that needed to be fed well. When we went to war against the Nigerian city states involved in the slave trade, she announced that she was prepared to do anything for Britain, except give up slaving.

Webb uses her to attack the ignorance and hypocrisy of the present anti-racist iconoclasts, the people who tore down Edward Colston’s statue and wanted Rhodes’ removed, but say nothing about African participation in slavery and its memorialisation in statues like this. He is particularly scathing about David Olusoga, who produced the documentary last week on the Beeb about the controversy surrounding the felling of Colston’s statue. I didn’t watch it, but my parents did. According to them, Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, came out of it very well. I’ve been extremely impressed with his handling of what is a very delicate affair, and I hope he seeks election as an MP. Olusoga comes in for criticism as he was born and raised in Nigeria, but while he’s glad that Colston’s statue was torn down, he has nothing to say about Tinubu’s.

There does indeed seem to be a concerted effort to blame the blame for the Black slave trade firmly on White Europeans and Americans. In Bristol this was shown by the motion proposed by Cleo Lake, the Green councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy mayor, who is also head of equalities. This called for reparations for slavery to be paid to all ‘Afrikans’, including both Afro-Caribbean folk and Black Africans. I sent an email to both of them stating the objections to this, the foremost of which is that it was Black Africans that did the actual messy job of raiding and enslaving. So far I have received no reply. I doubt I ever will.

I think this attitude partly comes from W.E.B. Dubois, one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement. Dubois wanted equality at home for Black Americans, and freedom from European imperial domination for Africa. It was Dubois who first described the slave trade as a ‘holocaust’. In Britain, I was told when working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum that West Indians and Ghanaians didn’t get on, because the Ghanaians looked down on Afro-Caribbean people as the slaves they sold. This was certainly what Caryl Philips, the Black British writer, found when he visited Ghana a few decades ago, even though the country was trying to encourage western Blacks to migrate there.

I think the acceptance of the Black African participation in the slave trade is changing. A little while ago I posted a piece about a Ghanaian journalist and broadcaster on their television networks, who had made documentaries about this issue. I believe the traditional chiefs in both countries are coming under increasing criticism to acknowledge and apologise for their participation in the transatlantic slave trade. There’s also been friction in Ghana between Black Americans and Ghanaians about the memorialisation of the slave trade at one of the old slave forts. The Americans would like the whole building used as a monument to the slave trade, But the fort is the locus for a number of different social functions, including the local market and so the local peeps definitely don’t want this to happen.

Black African involvement in the slave trade was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary back in the 1990s, back when the channel was still worth watching. I think Tinubu was mentioned there. I recall there being some discussion about a female Nigerian slaver, who made the trip to antebellum America to negotiate slaves of slaves over there. This aspect of the slave trade had been withheld from the Black Americans, who came to visit the slave sites in West Africa. The result was literally shock and horror. Some of them reacted with screams, wails and tears, and you can understand why. All their dreams of Black brotherhood and common victimhood at the hands of White racists were suddenly dashed. I mentioned this one day at the Museum to a Black historian with whom I was working. He told me that in the Caribbean, their mammies told them very clearly who sold them to whom.

But it seems to be completely absent from the consciousness of Black Brits. When the BLM mob was tearing down Colston’s statue, a reporter asked members of the crowd how they felt about it. One of them, a young man, said simply ‘I’m Nigerian’. Of course, the answer to that is ‘But you sold them to us!’ But the reporter didn’t say that, and the Nigerian young man clearly didn’t connect his nationality to the sale of Black slaves to people like Colston.

I’ve posted pieces by History Debunked before, and the usual caveats apply. He’s a Torygraph-reading man of the right who believes in racial differences in intelligence. Some of his facts may well be wrong, such as his claim that the government didn’t encourage Black migration to Britain. But here he cites both an article on Tinubu on the website, The Black Past, and a book on her published in Nigeria by Oladipo Yemitan, Madame Tinubu: Merchant and King-maker, (University Press, 1987). I’m reasonably confident, therefore, that he has got his facts right.

I strongly believe that we should resist the oversimplification of the history of the slave trade into virtuous, wronged Blacks, and evil, racist Whites. All racism and enslavement has to be condemned, even if it makes the self-proclaimed anti-racists uncomfortable. If we are to have racial justice, it must be founded on good history.

Excellent! Motion Coming Before Bristol South Labour Party Condemning Academies

June 10, 2021

Next week Bristol South Labour constituency Labour party is holding its monthly meeting. One of the issues to be discussed is a motion that’s already been passed by the Knowle branch condemning the academy schools and Ofsted. The introduction to this motion runs

Knowle Ward believes that the purpose of education is to enable our  children to develop an informed and independent voice, to prove to  students that their lives are valuable, and that the achievements of  each and every school, college and university leaver in the country, at  whatever level, shall have a genuine and lasting meaning. To this end  we call upon the leadership of the party to seize the initiative, and  include in its election manifesto the replacement of the privatised  Academy system with a return to a local control of education policy,  the replacement of OFSTED with a politically independent system of  inspection, a new determination that sport, music, drama and art be  seen as fundamental to a successful education, and, crucially, to insist  that each of our communities shall have its own, independent and  single place of learning, representing the needs of that community,  and celebrating its particular identity.

I fundamentally and wholeheartedly support this motion, and intend to vote for it at the meeting. The academies are a massive fraud and waste of public money. Indeed there’s a book published about them, when Tory Tony Blair was introducing the wretched things, that called them exactly that: The Great Academy Fraud. They are no more successful than ordinary state schools are, if those state schools had the millions spent on them that the academies have had. There have been issues with the educational content taught in those schools, such as Creationism and very hard-line, narrow and intolerantly religious norms in some Muslim schools. Other problems include very repressive discipline that has humiiated school children. For example, children have soiled themselves when they have been refused permission to use the toilet and girls have not been allowed to change their sanitary towels. Quite often their academic achievements have been at the expense of less intelligent children, or kids with behavioural problems. They find reasons to exclude them while keeping the more intelligent and disciplined children. It really is selective education.

As for the recognition that sport, music, drama and art also form a fundamental part of education, this should be automatically accepted as true. Since the educational reforms of the 19th century it was recognised that proper education meant a broad, humanistic education that should cultivate all areas of the minds and characters of the developing sprogs. Sport was included in the curriculum along with PE because children’s physical health is important, and organised sport is supposed to be character-building. But the humanities have been sidelined as successive governments have pushed the STEM subjects at their expense. Now there are warnings that this short-sighted policy is actually a serious danger to Britain’s cultural industries.

It’s about time the academy chains were closed down. They were a failure when Thatcher and Kenneth Baker tried introducing them in the 1980s. The Tories were actually closing them down, but Blair fished them out of the dustbin of crappy neoliberal ideas, revamped them, and set them off again. And children’s education has suffered as a result. Schools need to be brought back under local authority control.

But I have no doubt that this will be opposed by Starmer and the Blairite bureaucracy, as it’s a Tory policy so it must be right. And besides, there’s all that money to be made from corporate donations.

So expect anyone supporting this to be accused once again of being a Trotskyite or Commie.

BBC Documentary Next Thursday on the Tearing Down of Colston’s Statue

June 2, 2021

According to the Radio Times, next Thursday, 10th June 2021, BBC 2 is showing a documentary about the tearing down last summer of the statue of the slaver and philanthropist, Edward Colston, by Black Lives Matter protesters and the ensuing controversy. The blurb for the programme, Statue Wars: One Summer in Bristol, on page 104, runs

On 7 June 2020, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters marching through Bristol to support the Black Lives Matter movement tore down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and threw it into the harbour. This action put the city at the forefront of the culture wars of last summer. How would Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, himself a descendent of enslaved people, hold the city together in the face of tensions that threatened to explode.

An additional piece on page 102 says

As an elected politician, letting a film crew follow you at work is always high-risk. And more so in the case of Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, who let the cameras in just days after protesters toppled the statue of 17th-century merchant Edward Colston, known to have been involved in the slave trade, and threw it in the city’s harbour last summer.

Rees was in the eye of the storm that followed as Bristol became the focus of culture-war salvoes over history and heritage and the council had to deal with counter-protests from biker gangs and the arrival of a new statue – of a Black woman protester – planted on the empty plinth by a London sculptor.

It all makes for a sharp and thought-provoking film and Rees emerges welll, calm and shrewd in the heat of the crossfire and amid some impossibly hard decisions. Meanwhile, we also hear from other Bristolians with conflicting, heartfelt views on its history, and realise Rees has his work cut out looking for common ground.

The documentary’s on at 9.00 pm.

My Email to the ‘I’ Recommending Putting Up Statues of African Slavers in Bristol

June 1, 2021

I’ve just sent this email to the I newspaper, noting that Colston’s statue is now rightly on display in the M Shed in Bristol. But I also go further, and suggest that in order to get a proper perspective on the city’s connection with the slave trade, it needs to put up statues to the African slavers involved. These were the chiefs who actually supplied the slaves, and the Barbary pirates who raided Europe, including Bristol and the south-west for White slaves. Here’s the email:

Dear Sir, 

I note on the local news for Bristol that Edward Colston’s statue has been lifted out of the docks and put on display at the city’s excellent M Shed museum. I think this is the proper place for it, because Colston is part of Bristol’s history, and his philanthropy – he founded charities that supported numerous schools in the city – is one reason he was defended for so long. It is, unfortunately, an uncomfortable fact that otherwise admirable people can do the most terrible things, and we distort the past and miss this vitally important point about human nature if it is omitted.

But I also strongly feel that there are other presences in Bristol’s history that are going unrecognised, if not actively and deliberately edited out. Europeans did not catch the slaves themselves. They purchased them from powerful Black African kings, who organised the raids and did the bloody business of enslaving. Chiefs like Duke Ephraim of Dahomey made £300,000 a year in the 18th and 19th centuries. But, with the exception of the excellent ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition at the City Museum in the 1990s, there is no mention of this, and indeed I get the distinct impression that Councillors Cleo Lake and Deputy Mayor Asher Craig would very much like to place the whole blame for Black slavery on Whites. A few months ago they passed a motion calling for the payment of reparations for slavery, which included all ‘Afrikans’ as victims of the infamous trade.

Another presence is Sultan Mahomet IV of Morocco. From the 16th/17th century through to the early 19th, Barbary pirates from what is now Morocco and Algiers raided Europe for White slaves. About 2 1/2 million White Europeans were so carried off into bondage. In Britain, the south-west of England, including Bristol, was particularly vulnerable to attack and ships and their crews from the city were taken and enslaved. But there are no monuments commemorating this anywhere in the city, again presenting a cosy, distorted view that slavery is just something evil Whites did to Blacks.

Colston’s plinth is now empty, and no doubt there is a debate going on about how it should be used. Might I suggest two statues, one of King Guezo of Dahomey, against whom Britain went to war to stop his predations on other Africans, and Mahomet IV to correct the racial imbalance?

Yours faithfully,

I’ll let you know if they publish it, and if there’s any response.

Edward Colston’s Statue Needs to Be in a Museum to Educate People About Slavery

May 31, 2021

Last week, the BBC local news for the Bristol area, Points West, reported that the statue of Edward Colston had been put on display in the M Shed, one of the city’s many museums. The statue was famously pulled down last summer by Black Lives Matter protesters and thrown in the docks. It’s being put on display, along with an old tyre that was also hauled out of the docks with it and a plaque. The M Shed is asking the Bristolian public what their views about its display are.

I think it needs to go on display along with an explanatory plaque. I don’t think the statue will be particularly missed from its plinth on the city centre. It’s naturally been controversial for decades, and there have been campaign to have it pulled down since the 1990s. But it needs to be retained and displayed because of the uncomfortable facts about the slave trade and those who dealt in it.

If Colston was only a slaver out for his own profit, then there would or should be no objection to the tearing down of his statue. But he was more complex than that. He gave most of his money away to charity, so that there have been schools founded on his bequests. I remember my old secondary school celebrating Colston Day each year, in which a few selected pupils got to attend a special service and receive a free bun. This was very definitely not a racist school. We had regular sermons against racism and the colour bar in school assemblies and the regular church services at Christmas and the beginning of term. Mike told me of one incident where the headmaster gave one boy a roasting for calling one of the Black lads a ‘N***er’. The school building was already crumbling, and the headmaster was so loud telling the lad off that bits actually flaked off.

One of the problems with slavery, and indeed much history, its that the morals of the past are very different from our own. This was first noted by the 18th century Italian historian and philosopher, Vico, and then by Nietzsche and his ‘transvaluation of values’. It’s extremely difficult for us to understand how otherwise good and decent people could perpetrate the most terrible atrocities, like slavery. But they did, and this needs to be recognised and understood. If nothing else, it helps to explain why it took William Wilberforce and the abolitionists so long to have it banned, and why decent people respected and defended Colston and his statue. History needs to be understood on its own terms, even when its controversial. Especially when its controversial.

We falsify it and create new dangers if we try to present it simply so as to fit modern morals.

Marvel Studios’ Teaser Trailer for the Eternals Movie

May 24, 2021

Marvel have released the teaser trailer for the movie of their comic, The Eternals. This shows a race of highly advanced, superpowered people landing on prehistoric Earth to teach early humanity. The voiceover announces that they’ve watched us create some splendid achievements, but have never interfered. Until now. There’s then scenes of them making their presence known, and family gathering in which a juvenile member talks about leading the Avengers and them all joking about it. The movie debuts in November.

After watching this, I’m in two minds about going to see it. I’m not really into superhero movies. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate them. It’s just that I’ve no interest in most of them. I loved the original Superman flicks when they came out in the ’70s -80s with Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steele. I like the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and I actually think the Ang Lee Hulk movie is seriously underappreciated.

I actually got choked up a bit when I saw it at our local cinema. Yeah, it took liberties with the Hulk’s origin, but it actually got the tone of the book right. The Hulk was always a profoundly countercultural figure. Banner was a former nuclear scientist conducting bomb tests for the military. His girlfriend was the daughter of the senior officer in charge of the project. He was exposed to the gamma radiation that turned him into a ‘raging behemoth’, in Smilin Stan’s somewhat overheated prose, by rescuing a disaffected teenager, Rick, who had driven into the testing range playing his harmonica. I think the model for the character was probably James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and similar teen anti-heroes. Banner threw him into the protective trench just in time to save him from the blast, but was himself caught in release of deadly radiation as the bomb detonated. And the army Banner served hated his alter ego. The army was determined to hunt him down, and so the Jolly Green Giant was constantly fighting running battles with the American military. And with the revelations of atrocities by American forces during the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, in some of the strips Banner was critical of the military and the dehumanisation of ordinary soldiers who participated in covert military experimentation. I am not surprised it flopped when it pitched its hero against the American army at a time when the American, British and European public were all being urged to support our troops during the War on Terror.

But I got choked up on the flick because it was faithful to that aspect of the strip. And in the scenes when the Hulk faces down and fights his father, who has also used the gamma ray process to become the supervillain, the Absorbing Man, they were shot almost exactly like the comic’s depiction of the Hulk’s battles with superpowered enemies. At least as they were drawn by mighty Bill Mantlo.

And then there was the nod right at the end to the Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. This is the scene where a group of paramilitaries walk into a camp where Banner is giving medical care to the local Latin American peasants. They declare they’re seizing his drugs and supplies. Banner naturally objects with the classic line ‘Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’. All the while the camera is pulling upward until all you see is the tops of the trees. And then it ends with the Hulk’s roar.

Blow what the critics think, I thought it was awesome!

But back to the Eternals. They were drawn by Jack Kirby, and first appeared over this side of the Pond in Star Wars Weekly, if I remember correctly. The strip was based on the theories of Erich von Daniken. He’s the Swiss hotelier and the author of Chariot of the Gods and its various sequels, which claimed that humanity had been visited by spacefaring aliens in antiquity, who’d been worshipped as gods. Alien expertise were behind the construction of various monuments, like the pyramids, the Easter Island heads. The mysterious Nazca lines out in the Chilean desert weren’t made by the genius of the pre-Columbian Indian peoples. No! They were landing strips for the aliens’ spaceships. His ideas have been extensively debunked, most notably in Crash Go The Chariots. But they still exert a certain influence on the ancient astronaut crowd, along with the bonkers theories of Zechariah Sitchin and his wretched Nephilim.

In the strip, the Eternals were a sister race to humanity. Both peoples were the results of experimentation on ancient pre-human apes by the Celestials. These were fifty foot tall ‘space gods’, encased entirely in space armour and possessed of immense powers. The Eternals were blessed with immortality, highly advanced technology, and superpowers. Their names recalled those of the Graeco-Roman divinities. One of the leaders of the Eternals in their dealing with humanity was Ikaris, whose name is obviously a form of Icarus, the son of the inventor Daedalus, who died because he flew too close to the sun. Alongside the benign Eternals were a malign third race, the Deviants. Make up your own jokes here. I wonder if they’re going to be in the film, and if they are, whether they’ll give them a different monicker because of its sexual connotations. While the genomes of humans and Eternals were genetically stable, that of the Deviants very definitely wasn’t. They were thus monstrous in appearance, and were bitterly jealous of the handsome appearance of their cousins. Human-looking Deviants were hated and persecuted, forced to fight against each other in gladiatorial combat and the Deviants were constantly seeking ways to destroy humanity.

Meanwhile, the Space Gods themselves had returned to Earth to judge the results of their experiments. They would take fifty years doing so, during which time they remained immobile and hidden at the sites of their ancient landings and cults. If humanity was judged a failure, the Celestials would destroy us.

I liked it because at the time I was really into the possibility of ancient astronauts, and Kirby’s art was magnificent. He’d taken pains to educate himself about science and cosmology, and nobody drew ‘cosmic’ like Jolly Jack. Even now I’d say that he’s peerless in his depiction of alien gods and godlike beings like the Celestials and Galactus. In the 1970s he was approached to provide the concept art for a film of Roger Zelazny’s novel, Lord of Light. This fell through, but the idea and his art was later used by the CIA as a cover for rescuing American hostages in Iran. If you see some of it, you’ll see just how impressive Kirby was.

Kirby’s Art for the abortive film, Lord of Light, from Desirina Boskovich, Lost Transmissions – The Secret History of Science Fiction, Film and Fantasy (New York: Abrams Image 2019) 234.

But I’m in two minds about this movie.

I was fascinated by the Celestials themselves. They were huge, ridiculously powerful, and totally alien. They were roughly humanoid, with the same number of arms and legs, but encased in armoured suits that suggested more the gods of the ancient, primal societies of some Amerindian peoples and ancient Japan. They also had no interest in communicating with us whatsoever. When they returned, their emissary just took up his position in an ancient Mayan/ Aztec temple and then stood stock still. This was how he’d remain for the next fifty years. And the Celestials made it very clear that they wanted to be left alone. When a villainous scientist ignores the urgings of the Eternal Ikaris, in human disguise as Ike Harris, to leave, the Celestial uses his advanced technological powers to transform him into a cube of inert matter. The scientist will remain in this state for the next fifty years, when he will be restored when the Space Gods pronounce their final judgement on humanity.

They were like true aliens in that they were incomprehensible. And genuinely awesome in their immense power. You couldn’t challenge them, you couldn’t negotiate with them or even talk to them. You could only stay out of their way.

But the trailer doesn’t show them. The Guardians of the Galaxy showed glimpses of them, which is one of the reasons I like them. Apart from the fact that they also had Steve Gerber’s avian hero from a parallel dimension, Howard the Duck. I’d like them to be in the flick, and that they are as powerful and awesome as they were in the original comics and in their very brief appearances in the two Guardians movies.

But I’m afraid they won’t, or they will be underused, and that the film will be simply another superhero movie, as enjoyable as they are for Marvel aficionados. At the moment I’m cautiously optimistic, as Cosmic Book News and other SF/Fantasy/comics websites have covered photos released way back in 2019 showing the Space Gods tombs. These were originally passed off as sets for the latest Star Wars movie, but later revealed to be for The Eternals film. And they do show the influence of Jolly Jack.

See: Eternals Set Images Reveal Jack Kirby Influence | Cosmic Book News

This might make the film worth seeing, just for another reminder of the sheer cosmic awesomeness of Kirby’s creations.