Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Yay! David R. Bunch’s ‘Moderan’ Now Back in Print

May 7, 2019

Bit of good news for fans of classic SF. Looking through the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s last week, I found that David R. Bunch’s Moderan was now in print. This was published in 1971, and is really a series of vignettes originally published in small magazines, as well as the big SF mags Amazing and Fantastic. These are set in a future in which organic humanity has decided that its reached the end of its natural evolution, and to evolve further it must transform itself into machines. This process is described as it affects the hero, Stronghold 10. The style is superficially sympathetic to heighten what the reality of what this new, cyborg humanity has become: immortal, but paranoid with each stronghold at war with their neighbours.

Brian Aldiss gives as sample paragraph of Bunch’s prose style, which explains the background to the novel, in his and David Wingrove’s history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree:

Now, to turn tedious for a time, this is what happened. Flesh-man had developed to that place on his random Earth-ball home where it was to be the quick slide down to oblivion. All the signs were up, the flags were out for change for man and GO was DOWN. To ENDING. Flesh-man was at the top, far as he could climb as flesh-man, and from there he was certain to tumble. But he had the luck to have these brave good white-maned men in the white smocks, the lab giants, the shoulders, and great-bulged thighs of our progress (what matter if they were weazened, probe-eyed, choleric scheming, little men sometimes – more often than not, REALLY?) authors of so much of man’s development and climb to that place where he was just due to die, expire, destroy himself and his home at this grand stage of development to make new-metal man and set him in the Strongholds upon the plasto-coated Earth that had been man’s random and inefficient home. New-metal replaced flesh (down to the few flesh-strips and those, we hope, may soon be gone) the bones were taken out and new metal rods, hinges and sheets put in (it was easy!) and the organs all became engines and marvellous tanks for scientifically controlled functional efficiency forever. YAY! Don’t you see?! Our Scientists made of life-man (the VERY-STRANGE-accident man) essentially a dead-elements man, one who could now cope with eternity, but he certainly was not a dead man. AH! Heavens no! He was alive! with all the wonderful scienc3e of the Earth ages, and just as functional as anyone could wish. YAY! science, take your plaudits now! You’ve shown what was meant from the beginning for the VERY-STRANGE-accident man. (p.324).

Aldiss states that it’s a technophobic piece in the SF tradition of questioning technological progress that began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Moderan was out of print for a long time, so I’m looking forward to reading it some time. Bunch also wrote poetry in an avant-garde style very much like his prose, though in verse. A collection of his pieces, of which only one or two were SF, The Heartacher and the Warehouseman, was published in the 1990s. The title poem is set in the Moderan world, and is about one of these cyborgs coming to a warehouse carrying his pump in his heart. He complains that he – and all the other cyborgs – have no heart. The cyborg warehouseman, suspicious, retreats behind his armoury of weapons, informing him of all the cyborg bits and pieces they have, like hearts and mechanical fingers. But he fails to understand the man’s real complaint – that their civilisation has no heart in the metaphorical sense. The warehouseman drives the Heartacher away, but wonders what will happen to him as he retreats back into his cubby-hole.

It’s one of those pieces that was acutely relevant in the 1990s, when there was much talk among the chattering classes of transhumanism and cyborgisation. It was the decade when Radio 3 broadcast the series Grave New Worlds examining these possibilities through interviews with writers, artists and scientists, including Paul J. McAuley, J.G. Ballard and the Australian performance artist, Stelarc, who really has tried to turn himself into a cyborg in performances in which he wired himself up to the net, so that images found online would work his body automatically through galvanic stimulators some Borg organic puppet, and by giving himself a third, cybernetic arm. It’s still relevant as prosthetic limbs continue to improve. While these are an immense benefit to those, who have lost their real limbs through accident or disease, it does raise the question of how far this process can go and humans become the cyborgs of SF. This was the central question David Whittaker was pondering when he created Dr. Who’s cybermen. Bunch’s novel also seems to have influenced one of the writers of Dr. Who Magazine way back in the ’70s. One of the comic strips, Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman, was about a cyberman, who had some how retained his emotions and compassion. The story was set on the planet ‘Moderan’. And in the 1980s the British space scientist, Duncan Lunan, expressed concerns that people, who were heavily reliant on medical machines suffered a loss of creativity when he explored the possibility of similar mergers between humans and machines in his class Man and the Planets.

I’m glad that this lost classic is back in print. But still more than a little annoyed that it, and other SF works like it, are overlooked by the literary crowd in favour of those by ‘literary’ authors like Ian McEwan. Sorry to ride this old hobby-horse again, but a few weeks ago there was an interview with McEwan in the I. The newspaper mentioned to him that Science Fiction fans were upset about him denying that his book was part of the genre. McEwan repeated his sentiment, saying it wasn’t SF, but was based on him considering real world issues. Well, so is much Science Fiction, all the way back to Frankenstein. Aldiss has praised it as the first real work of Science Fiction as it was based on science as it was known at the time. This was Galvani’s experiments making the severed legs of frogs twitch and move through electricity. McEwan’s attitude shows the basic contempt of many literary authors and critics for the genre. They’re keen to borrow its tropes, but sneer at it as essentially trivial fantasy, unlike the serious stuff they’re writing. Much SF is, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. But there is a very large amount which isn’t, and which deserves to be taken as seriously as so-called ‘serious’ literary works like McEwan’s.

 

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Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

April 21, 2019

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.

Museum Exhibition on Anti-Semitism Pushes Anti-Labour, Pro-Israel Smears

March 14, 2019

Tuesday’s I, for 12th March 2019, featured a review by Etan Smallman of a new exhibition on anti-Semitism at the Jewish Museum in London. This included comments from the Museum’s director, Abigail Morris, and Deborah Lipstadt, the professor of Jewish history at Emory University in America and the author of Anti-Semitism: Here and Now. Lipstadt is best known as the American academic, who exposed David Irving as a holocaust denier and falsifier of history in court in the 1990s. This was portrayed in the 2016 film, Denial, in which she was played by Rachel Weisz.

Most of the exhibition seems uncontroversial, as it looks at the anti-Semitic depictions of Jews as money-grubbing, and the history of medieval anti-Semitism. The exhibition shows board games depicting Jews as grasping, including one which the song-writer Steven Sondheim said taught people to be anti-Semitic. It covers notorious events in English history, such as the York pogrom of 1190, stating that England was the first country to expel Jews. It also covers how the Roman Catholic church only renounced the idea that the Jews killed Christ in 1965, and notes how, in depictions of Judas Iscariot, he is given stereotypically Jewish features while Christ and the other disciples, who were also Jews, were not. It also discusses Fagin in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and shows Yugoslav Nazi poster depicting Jews as the forces behind both capitalism and communism.

However, the Museum also seems to be promoting the lie that the Labour party under Corbyn is acutely anti-Semitic. It also tries to rule out inquiring about Israeli funding for particular political groups by claiming that this is also anti-Semitic. And it hails liar and internet bully Rachel Riley as some kind of heroine in the fight against anti-Semitism.

The article states

More recently, Labour has been mired in cases of anti-Semitism, culminating in Luciana Berger resigning from the party last month. Six people, including two from the left, have been convicted of race hate against the Jewish MP for Liverpool Wavertree.

Lipstadt describes the situation as “unprecedented”. “We’ve never seen anything as institutionalised in a Western democracy as we’re now seeing in the Labour party.”

A party spokesman said it “takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms”.

Before we go any further, let’s critique this little piece. First of all, of those convicted of race hate against Berger, only two were from the left. And what does ‘from the Left’ actually mean? Were they members of the Labour party? The article doesn’t say, so I would think they actually weren’t. And the incidence of anti-Semitism in the Labour party is belied by the stats. Looking at the statistics, only 0.O8 per cent of Labour party members have been suspended or expelled for anti-Semitism. And even there, the stats are unreliable because many of those charges, such as against Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein and Mike Sivier, were utterly false. In fact anti-Semitism has actually gone down under Corbyn, and is less than in the rest of British society.

But the article continues

In the vanguard of the online battle against the anti-Semites is the unlikely figure of Countdown’s numbers expert Rachel Riley, who has responded to a wave of abuse by coining the hashtag #BeLouder. 

Yes, this is the same Rachel Riley, who accused a sixteen year old school girl with anxiety problems and her father of being anti-Semites, got her followers to dogpile on to them, and threatens anyone who points out how false and libelous her accusations are with litigation.

The article then continues to quote a spox for the pro-Israel paramilitary vigilante group, the Community Security Trust.

The “dilemma”, however, according to Mark Gardner, of the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Semitism, is that increased media coverage of anti-Semitism results in a spike in reports of hate crimes against Jews.

Except that the stats collected by the CST and its companion race hate organisation, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, can’t be trusted. They exist to spread fear that anti-Semitism is spreading, and so inflate the statistics. To the extent that one of the two organisations declared that anti-Semitism had risen by 1,697 per cent in Wiltshire! Tony Greenstein has published many pieces destroying these organisations’ highly manipulated statistics. As for the CST itself, it’s a vigilante force supposedly formed to protect Jews from assault. It’s trained by former members of Mossad, and is not averse to thuggery itself. Greenstein in one piece described some of the assaults its members had carried out stewarding Zionist rallies. And it’s a long, ugly list, which includes women, the elderly and even non-Zionist rabbis. And, of course, at one such rally they separated Muslims from Jews by force. All this was done while the police stood and watched, but did not intervene. See Greenstein’s article at

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/03/manipulating-antisemitism-statistics.html

The article goes on

Lipstadt is resolute that it needs to be condemned wherever it is found, “not just because of Jews”, but because “anti-Semitism is a classic conspiracy theory. If you have increasing numbers who believe, ‘Aha! The Jews are being paid to do this’, ‘The Jews are doing this all because of Israel’, they’re going to believe conspiracies about everything else.”

This isn’t entirely wrong, as along with the classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the Jews there is a tendency to try to fit other daft conspiracies into the pattern, like reptoid aliens. But it is absolutely not anti-Semitic to point out that Israel is the force behind some actions. Shai Masot, an official at the Israeli embassy, was filmed conspiring to have Alan Duncan removed from the Tory cabinet. And the Israeli government does have a special department, the Ministry for Strategic Affairs, headed by Gilad Elon, to spread smears that Israel’s critics and opponents are anti-Semitic.

The article then goes to say that there is a problem tackling anti-Semitism because Jews are perceived as rich, and because they’re White. It then quotes Gardner as saying that being careful to use the word “Zionist” rather than “Jew” is no defence if you are still indulging in age-old anti-Jewish imagery, nor does being Jewish yourself inoculate you from perpetuating anti-Semitism.

But as we’ve seen, the concept of what counts as an anti-Semitic trope is so wide, that it’s used to silence people, who aren’t actually talking about the Jews as a whole, and who are factually correct. As Mike was when he talked about Masot’s conspiracy at the Israeli embassy. As for Jews also being guilty of anti-Semitism, we’ve seen how that accusation has been used against decent, self-respecting secular and Torah observant Jews like Walker, Greenstein, Martin Odoni and countless others.

And while some genuine anti-Semites hide their Jew-hatred behind rhetoric about Zionism, those criticising Zionism mean exactly that when they talk about it. They aren’t talking about the Jews.

The article concludes with Morris saying that she hopes the exhibition will get non-Jews to understand why Jews are so worried, and will contradict the perception that they’re overreacting. She says

I hope we can explain why it’s so serious – because we know where this kind of thing can lead.

So what is Morris claiming? That Corbyn and his supporters are going to hold torch-light processions and start pogroms, ending in the establishment of new concentration and death camps? They aren’t. Corbyn and his supporters are actually the least racist, and are determined opponents of anti-Semitism. But the Israel lobby fears and despises him and them because he also stands up for the Palestinians. Hence the panic. And as Norman Finkelstein, another Jewish American professor has observed, Israel and its lobby have always responded to their critics by smearing them as anti-Semites.

And this seems to be the real purpose of the exhibition, and to make the smear seem all the more compelling by putting it in the context of genuine anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred. I am very disappointed that the Jewish Museum has done this, and that Professor Lipstadt has been involved in it. I’ve never been in the Museum, but I can remember watching with great interest one of the antiques programmes on TV, which had a brief piece about it. They showed some of the priceless artifacts of Jewish history, including a Bible published in 17th century Italy, and the tokens Orthodox Jews used to pay their donations to the synagogue, as their religion forbids them from handling money on the Sabbath. This exhibition and the involvement of a respected academic like Lipstadt will reinforce the lie that criticism of Israel, and questioning Israel’s involvement in British politics, is anti-Semitic. A large section of the Jewish community strongly disagrees.

But the Museum and Lipstadt clearly represent the Zionist establishment, who are doing everything they can to stoke fear amongst the Jewish community by smearing any and all criticism of Israel, however, reasonable, as anti-Semitism, and then associating those smeared with real Nazis. Morris and Lipstadt should be ashamed they are complicit in this.

‘I’ Newspaper Smears Corbyn’s Labour as Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theorists: Part 1

March 10, 2019

One of the papers pushing the smear that Labour is infested with anti-Semites is the I. Their columnist, Simon Kelner, was accusing the Corbyn and the Labour party of being anti-Semitic way back last summer, because the party hadn’t adopted the I.H.R.C. definition of anti-Semitism. Or it had, but hadn’t adopted all the examples. There was a very good reason for that, which has not been repeated by the lying mainstream media: most of the examples are not about the real meaning of anti-Semitism, which is simply hatred of Jews simply as Jews, but attempts to define criticism of Israel, or at least some criticisms of Israel, as anti-Semitic. Kenneth Stern, a Zionist and one of the formulators of the definition, has spoken out against it in Congress for the way it is being used to prevent criticism of Israel.

In Friday’s issue, for 8th March 2019, the paper took the occasion of the EHRC’s statement that it might investigate Labour for anti-Semite to publish a piece by Richard Verber in its ‘My View’ column, entitled ‘How Anti-Semitism Poisons Labour’, subtitled ‘The party needs to tackle these conspiracy theories’. This claimed that ‘at the heart of the accusations against figures in the party are a series of conspiracy theories about Jews which are so ingrained that even good people (people who consider themselves to be anti-racism campaigners) can believe them.’ Verber goes on to say that in his article he explains the three most dominant.

Alarm bells about the bias and distortions in the article should go off with the statement at the end of the article that Verber was the communications director at the United Synagogue. As Israel-critical Jews have pointed out, this is the constituency of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, one of the organisations making the accusations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and the Labour party. The Board explicitly defines itself as a Zionist organisation, which presumably reflects the bias of the United Synagogue. It does not represent Orthodox Jews, nor the third of the Jewish community that’s secular. And by definition, the Board doesn’t represent non- or anti-Zionist Jews. This is important, as several of the ‘examples’ of anti-Semitism Verber discusses are actually attempts to prohibit criticism of Israel, and discussion of possible Israeli interference in British politics as anti-Semitic.

Verber starts with the usual anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, which he defines as ‘there is a ‘new world order’, run by Jews, to control global finance and governments’. This conspiracy theory he traces from the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He stated that the ‘New World Order’ was originally a call for peace following the collapse of Communism. However, the conspiracy version was all about Jews infiltrating the American government from the late 1940s onwards. He states that at its heart was the belief that Jews and the Illuminati were plotting to have Communism take over the world. He then argues that this later morphed into the ‘globalists’ of modern far-right propaganda, international bankers is code for Jews, as is the name ‘Rothschilds’.

Now there is a considerable amount of truth in this article. The notion of a global Jewish conspiracy does indeed go all the way back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and that Nazi and contemporary Fascist ideology does see the world as controlled by Jewish bankers. But it’s also a gross oversimplification. The Illuminati at the centre of modern conspiracy theories were a group of radical freethinkers, founded by Adam Weishaupt, who attempted to infiltrate the Freemasons in late 18th century Bavaria, resulting in their suppression by the Roman Catholic authorities. The Freemasons were subsequently blamed for the outbreak of the American and French Revolutions. The term ‘New World Order’ is taken from the motto of the American dollar bill, ‘Novo Ordo Secularum’, which also featured the Masonic symbol of the Eye in the Pyramid. It also gained notoriety in the 1990s after George Bush senior, the former head of the CIA, referred to a ‘new world order’ after the Collapse of Communism, at the same time as the first Gulf War. To many people, it seemed that there really was a secret conspiracy controlling the world. However some of those who believed this nonsense simply thought that the conspirators were the historical Illuminati, Freemasons and Satanists. They did not accuse the Jews. Of course the identification of the Illuminati with the Jews came shortly after the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and was introduced into British Fascism by either Nesta Webster or Rotha Orne Linton. One of these ladies was an alcoholic and a spiritualist, who had been told by the Duc D’Orleans, communicating from the Other Side, that the Illuminati had been responsible for the French Revolution and all the others since. Michael Pipes, a Conservative American political theorist, traces the evolution of the conspiracy theory that the world is being run by a secret cabal from fears about the Freemasons to the Jews in his 1990s book, Conspiracy Theories.

The historical dimension to the development of this conspiracy theory needs to be taken into account, as there may still be versions that place the blame solely on Freemasons, the historical Illuminati and Satanists, rather than the Jews. And while Bush’s use of the term ‘New World Order’ might have been peaceful in intent, it came at a time when many people were rightly fearful of the massive growth of American power and the first war with Iraq. This was supposed to be about the liberation of Kuwait after its annexation by its northern neighbour. However, by its critics at the time it was seen as a ‘resource war’. Greg Palast discusses the invasion in his book, Armed Madhouse, and concludes that the war was fought for geopolitical reasons in which oil was a main factor. Another factor why the phrase ‘New World Order’ is also notorious is that it’s similar to Hitler’s pronouncement about the Nazis creating a New Order. One of the banned Nazi organisations in post-War Italy was L’Ordine Nuovo. Which means, well, guess what?

Verber gives as an example of this conspiracy theory in the Labour party Corbyn objecting to the removal of the mural by Mear One in 2012, This showed, according to Verber, ‘hooked-nosed Jewish bankers playing a board game on the backs of poor people. notes that Corbyn’s objection to the mural’s removal was revealed in 2018 by Luciana Berger, and quotes a spokesman for the Labour leader stating that he was simply responding to a freedom of speech issue, but that the mural was offensive, did include anti-Semitic imagery and should be removed’. And to prove it was anti-Semitic, Verber states that the artist admitted some of the figures were Jewish.

Some. The operative word here is ‘some’. In fact the mural depicts five bankers, three of whom are gentiles. While they look like anti-Semitic caricatures, they are portraits of real people. And if the mural was anti-Semitic, why did it take Berger till last year to accuse Corbyn of anti-Semitism for objecting to its removal? The mural does depict the bonkers conspiracy theory about bankers, but there is little overt in it which specifically targets the Jews as the main conspirators. The whole incident was another manufactured smear against Corbyn.

Tories’ Karen Bradley Insults Innocent Victims of the British Army in Northern Ireland

March 8, 2019

Yesterday Mike also put up a piece about Karen Bradley, the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who seems determined to wreck the Tories’ chances of retaining any support in Ulster. They are supposed to be the Conservative and Unionist Party, but you wouldn’t know it, considering the contempt she appeared to show the innocents killed by the British army during the Troubles. Bradley declared that the people killed by the army were not crimes, constituted only 10 per cent of the deaths during the Troubles, and that the police and military fulfilled their duties in a dignified and appropriate way. This naturally caused outrage, as there is plentiful evidence that they didn’t. She then made matters worse by trying to clarify her comments by saying that where there is evidence of wrongdoing, it should be investigated. This appears to contradict her earlier comments, which suggests that there is no such evidence.

Mike therefore put up a series of tweets by Clare Allan, which list some of the unarmed protesters gunned down by the army during Bloody Sunday. Mike makes the point that he doesn’t know the details behind each incident and so is not saying it should be given legal weight. But it is clear that Allan herself believes they were killed illegally, and this shows the reason for the outrage Bradley’s comments have caused.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/03/08/supporters-of-the-jewish-labour-movement-respond-to-this-sites-critique-with-abuse/

Bloody Sunday is one of the most infamous events in the Troubles. It was when the  British army shot an unarmed Roman Catholic civil rights demonstration. The army has claimed in its defence that it believed that IRA terrorists were hiding amongst the demonstrators and were preparing an attack. This might be true, but it seems that many of those shot were unarmed, non-violent demonstrators. And it has left a long and bitter memory. Nearly two decades ago I went to an art exhibition in one of the pubs in Cheltenham, showing the works by some of the students and graduates of the art school there. It was avant-garde, conceptualist stuff. One of the pieces consisted of the portraits of seven demonstrators killed at Bloody Sunday covered in lead as a comment on their deaths.

As for the police, the army was originally sent in because the RUC, dominated by Protestant loyalists, was too brutal. There is also evidence that the British government embedded SAS troopers in with regular soldiers, who then acted as death squads against Republicans. I have also heard stories from non-sectarian relatives, who grew up in Ulster, that some of the squaddies’ attitude to ordinary Roman Catholics was less than ‘dignified’ and ‘appropriate’. But people there felt they could not speak out, because if they did, they’d be put in the Maze as a ‘Fenian’.

I am very much aware that the police and armed services risked their lives to maintain peace in the province, and that if they had been removed without a peace agreement, the violence and bloodshed between Nationalist and Loyalist would have been even more horrific. But this does not alter the fact that there are serious questions still to be answered about the conduct of the police and British army during the Troubles. And as we’ve also seen, the recent car bomb in Londonderry shows and the uncertainty about the Irish backstop and Brexit shows that the peace is still very delicate. Mo Mowlam and Jeremy Corbyn performed a considerable achievement in bringing about peace in the Six Counties. A piece Bradley and the Tories seem willing to destroy with their tactless and ill-considered remarks. 

John Heartsfield’sAnti-Hitler Poster and Tory, Blairite and ‘Independent’ Corporatism

February 24, 2019

I remember coming across the image below when I was at college, stuck up on the walls of the Religious Studies department. As you can see, it’s of Hitler making his usual, lazy salute with his hand flung casually back, into which a giant figure representing capitalist big business is giving him wads of notes.

The original was by John Heartsfield, born Helmut Herzfeld, a radical German-born artist. He was a member of the Dada avant-garde artistic movement and a Communist. The original work had the legend Millionen Stehen Hinter Mir – Millions Stand Behind Me’, as well as Kleiner Mann bittet um grosse Gaben – ‘Small Man Asks for Big Donations.’

The image is obviously about how big business funded the Nazis. It’s not entirely accurate, as the Nazis were first ignored by the large corporations, and they were funded instead by small businesses and the lower middle class. But Hitler later appealed to them and once in power Nazi policy always favoured monopoly capitalism.

But you could easily replace the photograph of Hitler with that Tweezer, Tony Blair or one of the Independents. Especially the Independents. As I’ve discussed many times, they’re all corporatists, who let their donors in big business decide their policies and send their staff to ‘assist’ them, and give their donors posts in government, in return for their funding. They are also, all of them, hostile to working people. They are anti-union, for privatisation and austerity, and against the welfare state.

And that is why they, and the media, so viciously hate Jeremy Corbyn. Not only does he intend to turn back Thatcherism and actually empower people, he and Bernie Sanders in America are doing so by appealing to ordinary party members and their money rather than big business.

So get corporate money out of politics, the Blairites, Independents and Tories out of government, and Jeremy Corbyn in. And may Bernie do the same to the corporate Democrats and Republicans in America!

Scientists Told to Halt Development of War Robots

February 15, 2019

This week’s been an interesting one for robot news. Yesterday, or a few days ago, there was a piece about the creation of a robot that could draw and paint thanks to facial recognition software. The robot’s art has been sold commercially. This follows an artistic group in France that has also developed an art robot. I’ll see if I can fish that story out, as it sounds like one of the conceits of 2000AD is becoming science fact. The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic told its readers that all its strips were the work of robots, so that the credits for the strips read ‘Script Robot X’, and ‘Art Robot Y’. Of course it was all created by humans, just as it really wasn’t edited by a green alien from Betelgeuse called Tharg. But it was part of the fun.

Killer robots aren’t, however. Despite the fact that they’ve been in Science Fiction for a very long time, autonomous military machines really are a very ominous threat to humanity. In today’s I for 15th February 2019 there was a report by Tom Bawden on page 11 about human rights campaigners telling the scientists at an American symposium on the technology that these machines should be preemptively banned. The article, ‘Scientists warned over ‘killer robots’ in future wars’, runs

Killer robots pose a threat to humanity and should be pre-emptively banned under an international treaty, the world’s biggest gathering of scientists was told yesterday.

Lethal, autonomous weapons – military robots that can engage and kill targets without human control – do not yet exist.

But rapid advances in autonomy and artificial intelligence mean they are well on their way to becoming a reality, delegates attending the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s symposium on the technology were told in Washington DC.

A poll conducted in 26 countries found that 54 per cent of Briton’s – and 61 per cent of respondents overall – opposed the development of killer robots that would select and attack targets without human intervention.

“Killer robots should be banned in a similar way to anti-personnel landmines,” said Mary Wareham, of the arms division at the campaign group Human Rights Watch, who also co-ordinates the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

“The security of the world and future of humanity hinges on achieving a ban on killer robots,” she added. “Public sentiment is hardening against the prospect of fully autonomous weapons. Bold, political leadership is needed for a new treaty to pre-emptively ban these weapons systems”.

The article was accompanied by a picture of one of the robots from the film Terminator Genisys, with a caption stating that it was perhaps unsurprising that most Britons oppose the development of such robots, but they wouldn’t look quite like those in the film.

I’ve put up several pieces before about military robots and the threat they pose to humanity, including a piece from the popular science magazine, Focus, published sometime in the 1990s, if I recall. Around about that time one state or company announced that it intended to develop such machines, and was immediately met with condemnation by scientists and campaigners. Their concern is that such machines don’t have the human quality of compassion. Once released, they could go on to kill indiscriminately, killing both civilians and soldiers. The scientists were also concerned that if truly intelligent killing machines are developed, then they could have the potential to turn on us and begin wiping us out or enslaving us. This was one of the threats to humanity’s future in the book Our Final Minute by the British Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. When I saw him speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science about his book a few years ago, one of the audience said that perhaps it would be a good thing if humanity was overthrown by the robots, because they could be better for the environment. Well, they could, I suppose, but it’s still not something I’d like to see happen.

Kevin Warwick, the robotics professor at the University of Reading, is also very worried about the development of such machines. In his 1990’s book, March of the Machines, he describes how, as far back as the 1950s, the Americans developed an autonomous military vehicle, consisting of a jeep adapted with a machine gun. He also discussed how one of the robots currently at the university could also be turned into a lethal killing machine. This is firefighting robot. It has a fire extinguisher, and instruments to detect fire. When it sees one, it rushes towards it and puts it out using the extinguisher. Warwick states, however, that if you replaced the extinguisher with a gun, gave it a neural net and then trained the machine to shoot people with blue eyes, say, then the machine would do just that until it ran out of power.

This comes at the end of the book. But it’s introduction is also chilling. It foresees a future, around 2050, when the machines really will have taken over. Those humans that have not been exterminated by the robots are kept as slaves, to work in those parts of the world that are still inaccessible or inhospitable to the robots, and to hunt down and kill the very few surviving humans that remain free. Pretty much like the far future envisioned by the SF writer Gregory Benford in his ‘Galactic Centre’ series novels.

Warwick was, however, very serious about the threat posed by these robots. I can remember seeing him also speak in Cheltenham, and one of the audience asked whether he still believed that this was a real threat that could occur about that time. He said he did, but that the he’d lowered the time at which it could become a real possibility.

Warwick has also said that one reason why he began to explore cyborgisation – the cybernetic enhancement of humans with robotic technology – was because he was so depressed with the threat robots cast over our future. Augmenting ourselves with high technology was a way we could compete with them, something Benford also explores in his novels through an alien race that has pursued just such a course. This, however, poses its own risks of loss of humanity, as depicted in Star Trek’s Borg and Dr. Who’s Cybermen.

This article sounds like something from Science Fiction, and I don’t think that at the moment robots are anywhere near as sophisticated to pose an existential threat to humanity right now. But killer robots are being developed, and very serious robotic scientists and engineers are very worried about them. Mary Wareham, Human Rights Watch and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots are right. This technology needs to be halted now. Before it becomes a reality.

Xelasoma on his Favourite Artists of the Fantastic

February 3, 2019

And now, as Monty Python once said, for something completely different. At least from politics. I found these two videos from the artist Xelasoma on YouTube, in which he discusses six masters of fantasy art and how they have influenced him. They are Roger Dean, Patrick Woodroffe, and Rodney Matthews in video 1, and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Philippe Druillet and Ian Miller in video 2.

Roger Dean will be remembered by fans of ’70’s prog rock for his amazing album covers for the bands Yes and Asia. Woodroffe and Matthews are also artists, who’ve produced record covers as well as book illustrations. Moebius and Druillet are two of the geniuses in modern French SF comics. Moebius was one of the ‘Humanoides Associes’ behind the French SF comic, Metal Hurlant. Among his numerous other works was Arzach, a comic, whose hero flew across a strange fantastic landscape atop a strange, pterodactyl creature. As Xelasoma himself points out here, it’s a completely visual strip. There’s no language at all. It was also Moebius who designed the spacesuits for Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Xelasoma describes how, after he left art school, Moebius spent some time in Mexico with a relative. This was his mother, who’d married a Mexican, and the empty, desert landscape south of the border is a clear influence on the alien environments he drew in his strips. Xelasoma also considers him a master of perspective for the way he frequent draws scenes as viewed looking down from above. And one of the pictures illustrating this is of a figure in an alien planet looking down a cliff at a sculpture of rock legend Jimi Hendricks carved into the opposite cliff face. Druillet, Xelasoma feels, is somewhat like Moebius, but with a harder edge, drawing vast, aggressive machines and armies of fierce alien warriors. He’s also known for his soaring cityscapes of vast tower blocks reaching far up into the sky, which also influenced Ridley Scott’s portrayal of the Los Angeles of 2019 in Blade Runner. The last artist featured, Ian Miller, first encountered in the pages of the British Role-Playing Game magazine, Warhammer. His style is much more angular, deeply hatched and very detailed. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize several of the pictures Xelasoma chooses to represent his work as depictions of some of the weird, sinister gods from the Cthulhu mythos. They include not only Cthulhu himself, but also of the half-human, amphibious, batrachian inhabitants of the decaying port in the short story, The shadow Out of Innsmouth.

What Xelasoma admires about all these artists is that they don’t follow the conventions of modern western art established by the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Renaissance. They alter and distort the human form and that of other objects and creatures. He describes Dean’s landscapes as organic. Patrick Woodroffe and Matthews also create strange, alien creatures and landscapes, and with the creatures Matthews depicts also very different from standard human anatomy. Many of the creatures, machines and spaceships in Matthews’ art are based on insects, and appropriately enough one of the bands whose cover he painted was Tiger Moth. This featured two insects dancing on a leaf. Another picture, The Hop, shows an insect band playing while other bugs trip the light fantastic in the grass, surrounded by items like used cigarettes. His humanoid figures are tall, stick thin, with long, thin, angular faces and immense, slanted eyes. Xelasoma admires the way Matthews can take a train or a deer, and turn them in something uniquely his, as he shows here. He states that he first encountered Dean’s and Woodroffe’s art in the art books his mother had, such as Woodroffe’s Mythopoiekon. He also identifies somewhat with Woodroffe, as neither of them studied at art school. Woodroffe was a French teacher, while for Xelasoma art was far too personal for him to submit to formal training.

Xelasoma points out that these artists were creating their unique visions before the advent of computers using the traditional artist materials of paint and brush, and before courses in SF, Fantasy and concept art were taught at colleges and universities. Nevertheless, he finds their work far more interesting and inspiring than modern SF and Fantasy art, which may be more anatomically accurate, but which, too him, seems very ‘samey’. He complains that it doesn’t make him hallucinate, which the above artists do. Well, I hope he doesn’t mean that literally, as that could be very worrying. But I know what he means in that Dean, Woodroffe, Matthews, Moebius, Druillet and Miller create strange, fantastic worlds that have a striking intensity to them. They seem to be complete worlds, either in the far past or future, or parallel realities altogether, but with their own internal logic drawing you into them.

Discussing their influence on him, he is critical of artists that simply copy the work of others, changing a few details but otherwise keeping to and appropriating the other artists’ own unique visions, some times trying to justify this by saying that their work is a ‘hommage’ to the others. Xelasoma is well aware that his own work is very different to the artists he talks about here, and that many of his viewers won’t be able to see their influence. But he goes on to describe how they have influenced him at the general level of form or composition, while he himself has been careful to develop his own unique style.

Dean, Woodroffe and Matthews have produced books of their work, published by Paper Tiger. Matthews and Miller also have their own websites, for those wishing to see more of their work. Moebius passed away a couple of years ago, but was the subject of a BBC4 documentary. There’s also a documentary about Roger Dean on YouTube, presented by that grumpy old Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman. Xelasoma believes in their fantastic depictions of landscapes and animal and human forms makes them as important and worth inclusion in museums and galleries as Graeco-Roman and Renaissance art. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would maintain that in their way, they are far more significant than many contemporary artists that have been promoted as ‘official’ art. Xelasoma’s documentary really shows only a few pieces from these artists’ works, and the bulk of these videos are about the particular impact they have on him. But nevertheless it’s a good introduction to their work, and explanation why they should be taken seriously as artists beyond their origins in popular culture.

Part I

Part II

Rapper Fab 5 Freddy to Host Beeb Film on Renaissance Art

January 25, 2019

More arts news. Also according to yesterday’s I for Thursday, 24th January 2019, the New York rapper Fab 5 Freddy is due to hos a Beeb documentary about the Renaissance. The article, written by Adam Sherwin, ran

Move over Simon Schama, Fab 5 Freddy wants your spot. The New York hip-hop pioneer and former graffiti artist is the unlikely choice to present a BBC 2 documentary on Italian Renaissance Art.

Fab – real name Fred Brathwaite – was approached to do the film, ‘A Fresh Guide to Florence with Fab 5 Freddy’, after the BBC learnt that he was an art lover who worked closely with Jean-Michel Basquiat in the early 80s, curating the cult artist’s Manhattan shows.

“Amidst superstar artists such as Michelangelo and powerful patrons such as the Medicis, Fab discovers groundbreaking images of a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society that have slipped through the cracks of art history,” the BBC said. (‘A ‘Fresh’ take on the Renaissance’, p. 21).

It might be a surprising choice, but it seems to be a good one in line with current arts policy of getting different voices to open up the arts. A number of BAME artists have appeared in the news complaining that there aren’t enough Black artists shown in museums and art galleries, and that when they were small they weren’t interested in visiting them because there was nothing for them there. It therefore looks like the Beeb is trying to appeal to a younger, Black audience with Fab 5 Freddie in order to stop it being viewed as just something made by old White guys for White guys.

I am also not surprised that they chose a former graffiti artist for other reasons. Archaeologists have been working with graffiti artists for several years now in order to explore rock art and its links with modern graffiti art. I can remember attending an archaeological seminar at Bristol university at least six years ago in which one of the speakers presented a piece about their research about the graffiti in a particular area of one of the Spanish towns. And Radio 4 a few years ago also presented a programme about rock art which included comments from some of Britain’s leading street artists.

As for the Renaissance, Florence was a major centre of trade and industry, but historians have pointed out in books like The Renaissance Bazaar that many of the commercial innovations that made the Renaissance possible had their origins further east in the Islamic world. This was also a period when Europeans were turning from the Slavic east to Africa for a supply of slaves, so that you do find Blacks portrayed in art in this period. Not that they weren’t here before, of course. A 12th century manuscript from London in the National Archives shows a Black person, while one of the books that used to be stocked in shop in Bristol’s M Shed was on Blacks in fifteenth century England.

I’ve no doubt critics of the programme will decry it as ‘dumbing down’ and complain about ‘diversity’, but this could be a programme worth watching because of the original insights Fab 5 Freddie could bring.

Antony Gormley Presents Programme on Stone Age Art

January 25, 2019

According to the Radio Times for 26th January to 1st February 2019, tomorrow, Saturday, 26th January, Antony Gormley will be presenting a programme on the origins of art way back in the Stone Age. As well as trotting round the world looking at various Paleolithic sites, he also meets and talks to the modern practitioners of this ancient art, Aboriginal Australians. The programme’s entitled ‘Antony Gormley: How Art Began’, and the blurb for it on page 52 of the Radio Times runs

One of Britain’s most celebrate sculptors travels back in time and journeys across the globe to piece together how art began. Once we believed that it all started with the cave paintings of Ice Age Europe, but new discoveries are overturning that idea. Deep inside the caves of France, Spain and Indonesia, Gormley finds beautiful, haunting and surprising works of art. The creator of the Angel of the North asks what these images from millennia ago tell us about who we are.

There’s rather more information about the programme by David Butcher on page 50, which says

Yes, it’s a documentary about prehistoric cave art. How often over the years have we seen an arts presenter in torchlight, sighing about the ineffable power of cave painting?

But this is different. This is Antony Gormley, one of our great artists, who by lucky chance is also a better talker about art than most presenters, making a pilgrimage not just through the French caves that he first visited on his honeymoon (we see a holiday snap) but also venturing further afield to Indonesia and Australia, looking for the first stirrings of human creativity.

“This is a cathedral of joy in living things,” he says in a cave called Les Combarelles. “I think we’ve found a Palaeolithic Picasso,” he jokes in Niaux. And in an extraordinary scene at Pech Merle, with its 28,000-year-old paintings of horses, a local expert demonstrates how they were made, by chewing up charcoal and delicately blow-spitting on the rock.

The ancient cave paintings of northern Spain and southern France are superb, extremely naturalistic depictions of the creatures roaming that part of the Mediterranean during the Old Stone Age 28,000 years ago. Some of them seem to have been deliberately painted on distinctly shaped pieces of rock, so that if you come into the part of the caves where they are they appear to move. When Picasso saw them over a century ago, he was so utterly astonished at their superb quality that he declared ‘We have invented nothing!’

At the turn of the Millennium 18 years ago, Hugh Quarshie, one of the actors in Casualty, presented a programme on the art and artefacts of the Stone Age on New Year’s Eve. One of the speakers he interviewed about them was a director of Horror flicks – I’ve forgotten whom. But he made some very interesting points about the parallels between Palaelithic art and his type of movie. They were both initiatory experiences which you viewed in darkness.

There seems to have been a definite religious/ritual purpose to their production. Most of them are found in chambers deep in the cave systems, which are extremely difficult to reach. To get to one of them you literally have to squeeze through on your stomach. There was very probably an aural component to their painting as well. Quite often the rocks near them have musical properties. Their lithophones which produce musical tones when struck. It therefore seems that some of them were being played while the artists worked producing these amazing pieces of work.

No-one quite knows why these wonderful paintings were made. It’s been suggested that they may have been made to secure success in hunting, or for fertility. Others have suggested that they were produced as part of shamanic rituals, in which the painters attempted to pass through the membrane between this world and that of the spirits. Whatever the reason they were created, they’re superb. I’m not a fan of Gormley’s work, but this looks well worth watching.

Anthropologist, TV presenter and former member of Time Team Alice Roberts also talked about the ancient cave paintings of Europe this week in the last edition of her The Incredible Human Journey, the series in which she traced humanity’s emergence and spread out of Africa tens of thousands of years. This week she talked about some of the very earliest human remains found in Europe, including those of modern Homo Sapiens from around 30-40,000 years ago from a cave in Romania. A forensic artist then reconstructed what one of them may have looked like from one of the skulls found. Roberts and the artist remarked on the person’s absence of any distinct racial characteristics. It was a definite human face, but it was neither Black, White or Asian, although they pointed out that we believe the people at this time had dark, Black skin. But it comes from a time before the development of modern racial characteristics.

They also reconstructed the face of a Neanderthal from about this time. They were stocky, powerfully built people with big noses and strong brow ridges. Although they died out, some of them interbreed with the invading modern humans, so that the DNA of modern people outside Africa contains about 3%-9% Neanderthal genes. The reconstruction didn’t have any hair. Contemplating it Roberts said that although Neanderthal women probably found modern human men very handsome, and that human women obviously found something in Neanderthal males, she wouldn’t have fancied mating with them. Well, each to his or her own taste. Looking at the reconstructed Neanderthal head, it reminded me of nothing so much as that of Beeb TV presenter and former felon, Dom Littlewood.

She also covered the ancient cave paintings, talking to a French artist who worked using the same techniques. He was shown blowing charcoal on to the rock behind his hand trying to create a stenciled handprint, just like those left by the ancient artists. Like the article in the Radio Times, Roberts said that it had to be made using a distinct technique. You couldn’t take it all into your mouth and just spit it out. Instead the artist blew it out in a constant stream of spitting, leaving his hand black with charcoal. It’s quite a time consuming process, and Roberts and the artist said that some works could take as long as week.

The art of the palaeolithic is fascinating and enigmatic. We’re learning more about it and the people who produced it, but so much still remains lost in the mysteries of time.