Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

Right-Wing Internet Host Belfield Now Pushing for NHS Privatisation

May 7, 2021

It’s now the morning after the council and elected mayoral elections that were being held up and down the country yesterday. And to no-one’s surprise, Labour lost the Hartlepool bye-election to the Tories. The media commenters have identified Brexit as the cause of the defeat. For those of us on the left of the party, Brexit was a major factor, but it was also partly due to the shoddy, ineffectual leadership and arrogance of the current leader, Keir Starmer. Starmer parachuted into Hartlepool his preferred candidate, a Remainer, over the heads of local Labour party members, activists and supporters. Mike on Vox Political predicted that this would lead to defeat, and so it did. Because of this, the right-wingers on the Net were putting up videos stating that Labour was insulting Hartlepool’s working people. This was further compounded by the fact that Starmer has been such an ineffective opposition leader, that some people didn’t know who he was. Mahyar Tousi, one of the Brexiteers with arch-Thatcherite views, included a clip from Sky News on his video about Labour in Hartlepool yesterday. This showed Starmer earnestly talking to people. The presenter then stopped a passing woman and asked her if she knew who that man was over there. She didn’t. The presenter told her it was Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party. The woman still didn’t know. So much for Starmer’s glittering leadership.

And it was also yesterday that right-wing internet radio host, Alex Belfield, put up a video openly calling for the NHS to be handed over to private management. This isn’t the first time he’s done this, and I doubt that it will be the last. He’s already put up videos with titles like ‘Private NHS Now’. Belfield is vehemently against the lockdown, which he feels is unnecessary and actually harmful, as it has prevented the elderly in nursing homes being visited and comforted by their relatives. It has also created another crisis in the NHS, as the concentration on the Coronavirus has meant routine operations, examinations and treatment have been postponed to the point that waiting times have increased. Highly vulnerable people, like those suffering from cancer, are going untreated.

This is a terrible problem, and much of it, like the grotesque mishandling of the Coronavirus crisis that has seen well over 100,000 die from the disease, can be put down to Boris Johnson’s ineptitude and his cavalier disregard for human life over the economy. Plus the way the NHS has been run down, starved of funds and partially privatised over the past ten years.

But not to Belfield. The ginger-headed man with the tiny man-sausage, as he has described himself, knows better. He put up a rant yesterday claiming that it was all due to increased bureaucracy and ‘box-ticking Celia Imrie types’. Belfield has a feud going with the BBC, and he never fails to include jabs at that organisation. I don’t know whether he has anything against Celia Imrie, or whether it’s just he’s using the kind of parts she’s played as an example of a certain kind of fussy, totally unnecessary management type. You know, the sort of people the Golgafrinchams put into an ark to send into space and crash on Earth on the grounds that they were ‘a bunch of useless bloody loonies’ according to the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The solution, according to Belfield, is for the NHS to be handed over to private management.

This is no solution, as it is private management that has created this situation.

Jacky Davis and Ray Tallis have comprehensively shown in their book, NHS – SOS, that private enterprise is very definitely not as efficient as state healthcare. It’s actually more bureaucratic, as the US private healthcare companies can spend as much as 40-50 per cent of their income on management and legal issues. A book I bought a few years ago discussing the privatisation of healthcare in places like Canada as well as Britain found that the privatisation of parts of the health service over here had actually increased costs by 6 per cent. Parts of the NHS are being handed over to private management, and the effects are not good. Private enterprise is all about profit, not service, and so we’ve seen the private healthcare chains close down doctors surgeries even though they were needed by local people who were then left without a local GP. At the same time, Tory MPs have been demanding the levying of payments for users of certain NHS services, which are supposed to be free at the point of service.

This is all part of the long-time project of privatising the NHS, and turning it into a for-profit healthcare system like the American.

And Belfield is fully behind it.

Belfield likes to present himself as an ordinary working class lad without a degree, who’s despised by the middle class White liberals. His audience seem to be the middle aged, White working class, who feel left behind, excluded from political representation in favour of ethnic minorities. The kind of people, who voted for UKIP.

But these are exactly the people, who will suffer if Belfield’s political aims are realised. If Belfield and the other Tories have their way and privatise the NHS, it will be the working class – and that includes the White working class – who will struggle to pay for healthcare treatment. It’s already happening now, through hospital and GP closures due to private management. And thanks to the privatisation of the dentists, many people have been struggling for a long time to find dentists, who will take NHS patients.

Belfield may well be a working class lad, but his politics are those of the upper classes, who wish to impoverish and exploit working people.

And that means privatising the NHS, even, or especially, if it harms working people’s health.

They won’t care, so long as it turns a profit.

I’m not going to post his video, but if you want to see it, it’s on YouTube at Booze 🇬🇧 Disaster 🍻 Told Ya 🤦‍♂️ Chickens 🐓 Coming 🍺 Home To Roost 🍷 Price Of Last 14 Months – YouTube

Just remember, it is right-wing, pro-privatisation propaganda.

Graham Linehan’s Trans Day of Visibility: It’s Against a Harmful Ideology, Not People

April 10, 2021

I’m almost two weeks late writing about this, but I think it needs to be covered. On the last day of March, Graham Linehan and his conversationalists on The Mess We’re In channel held their own Trans Day of Visibility. As well as being the writer behind the awesome Father Ted, Linehan is very much a male feminist. He’s become notorious over the past few years for his opposition to the transgender ideology, along with Kellie-Jay Kean, Abigail Shrier, Benjamin Boyce, and the host of another YouTube channel, You’re Kidding, Right?. This last lady presents the arguments against the ideology from the perspective of a Black American woman, which is very enlightening. Especially when she forcefully tells the trans rights activists not to true to compare their ideology to the Civil Rights movement. One of her critics tried to tell her that she was the equivalent of the Klan. Her antecedents came from Georgia when the Klan were powerful and extremely frightening. She made it very, very clear that she was nothing like the Klan. But I digress.

Linehan is joined on his videos with Welsh feminist Helen Staniland and gay Canadian Arty Morty. Morty is, by his own admission, very much a part of the Canadian gay scene and worked as a bar man in a trans bar. Staniland is concerned about the threat to women and girls from biological men being allowed into female spaces on the grounds that they identify as women. Morty is particularly concerned that gender reassignment is being used as a form of conversion therapy to ‘cure’ gender non-conforming children and teens by parents who are afraid that their children will grow up gay. He’s particularly concerned as he was one of these kids. As a boy, he preferred to play with dolls, and he’s afraid that if he was a child today, he would have been put down as transgender and been put on the path to transition.

It was the ‘trans day of visibility’ a few weeks ago, and so Linehan and his friends have as guests in this video their transgender friends and supporters – Debbie Hayton, Miranda Yardlemort, Scott Newgent, and a transman who appears simply as Aaron. These gents and ladies give their perspective on the dangers of trans movement and ideology as transmen and women, and how they came to oppose it.

They did so for a variety of reasons. In the case of Yardlemort, it was through looking at what the gender critical feminists actually wrote for herself, and being horrified at the grotesquely exaggerated response by the trans activists to entirely reasonable points as well as the way opposing feminists were stalked, abused and maltreated. She was also concerned by the way the pro-trans stance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Women actually invalidates those rights and endangers women. She was thrown off Twitter for such crimes as saying that there are only two genders, transwomen shouldn’t be allowed into women’s spaces, and that rape and death threat to women aren’t acceptable. Yardlemort has also suffered her share of bullying from trans activists, as when one tried to take her to court for alleged ‘transphobia’.

Debbie Hayton joined the anti-trans movement because she was afraid that their extreme claims would actually damage the trans movement, and make trans people less accepted. She argues that being gender critical does not mean being anti-trans. She and Helen Staniland looked back to a time when transwomen and women were largely in harmony with each other, although there was occasional conflicts over the inclusion of transwomen in female-only events, such as the Michfest women-only music festival.

They also talk about the vexed issues of pronouns. The attitude of Arty Morty is that, while he doesn’t believe that there should be laws demanding transgender people be referred to be their chosen pronouns, he has no problem doing so for decent people. It’s only the misogynists he refuses to call ‘she’.

Aaron made it very clear that he believes transitioning is beneficial for some people. It worked for him, but he didn’t have a mental illness. This is important, as some of those being diagnosed a transgender may simply be mentally ill or have a neurological condition like autism. He turned against the trans ideology three years ago from concerns about the homophobia. He’s afraid that the excesses of the trans activists, such as the attacks on J.K. Rowling, will eventually lead to a ban on transitions, which will harm those who really need them. He is also afraid, like Linehan, Staniland, Morty and the others, that children and vulnerable adults are being misdiagnosed as trans and consequently mutilated. Debbie Orlander also shares this fear, especially when it comes to children as young as four or five.

Scott Newgent makes the point that part of the problem is medical corporations, who stand to make a profit from these drugs and treatments, telling vulnerable people they have the solution. This is compounded by social media, as Twitter and other sites will not allow the opposing side to be heard. He also makes the point that the trans ideology is supported by genuinely good people, who want to do the right thing, and have been falsely persuaded that the trans issue is the same as gay rights and comparable to the struggle over gay marriage. He believes that there is a positive side to trans activism, but this is a problem as its acceptance leads also to the acceptance of the negative aspects as well. He and the others also take down some of the ridiculously inflated and entirely false claims of the trans activists. Over here in the Blighty, the trans activists wanted a ‘trans day of remembrance’ for all the transgender people, who’ve been murdered. Except the numbers of transgender people who’ve been killed over here is vanishingly small. No transpeople have been killed in Scotland, for example. Newgent makes the same point about similar claims in his part of the US. He attended a talk about trans rights, in which the speaker claimed that trans children in his state of South Dakota were in danger of committing suicide. Except they weren’t. No trans children have committed suicide there.

The peeps do, however, express concerns that these threats and prophecies of suicide may be self-fulling. There is the danger that people, who have been misled into transitioning, may kill themselves when they find that it is not the cure they have been promised. Lesbian girls may be particularly affected by this. One of them talks about how they’re horrified by the the people, who’ve been physically harmed by the treatment – people with osteopathy and shrunken hearts due to puberty blockers and the hormones they’ve been prescribed. There’s also the case of the medical doctor, who contacted Linehan in distress at being officially barred from telling upset trans people that J.K. Rowling does not in fact want to kill them.

The team talk about the toxicity and violence of the trans activists. One of them physically attacked a gender critical feminist, Cathy Brennan, at Speaker’s Corner, a situation made all the worse by the actions of Stonewall, the gay advocacy organisation. They also criticise the left for its handling of the debate. They state that the left is undemocratic, intolerant of free speech and has a problem with racism and misogyny. Stonewall by its actions over a number of issues has provoked a backlash, of which the gender critical movement is only one part.

Hayton is optimistic, believing that more people are turning against the trans movement and being aware how it affects women’s rights and children’s safeguarding, as well as the way it harms transpeople themselves. Fionne, another transwoman, is also optimistic, noting the success of the Keira Bell case. Like Aaron, she believes that medical transition should be an option, but only for adults, not children, who need psychotherapy and a more diverse approach. She believes that transpeople have made a mistake in demanding access to women’s spaces, and should instead have demanded their own, third spaces. Yardlemort actually emailed a number of LGBTQ organisations about the need for gay spaces away from transpeople, but none of them replied.

The team also debate whether Donald Trump was the only person, who would have been able to stop the progress of trans ideology. They feel we need more people like J.K. Rowlings, who stand up to the trans lobby simply out of principle without any benefit to themselves. Newgent states that he has sacrificed his own career for his principles. He states that when it comes to the treatment of children,

I am very much aware that this is a very emotive issue and that many of my readers don’t share my views on this topic. However, I strongly believe that Linehan and his guests here are correct, and that vulnerable people, particularly women and children, are being unnecessarily put on life-changing, harmful medical treatment. And there is a problem with biological men being allowed into female-only spaces, such as prisons. There have been a series of rapes of women prisoners by biological men, who have been placed in women’s prisons because they have identified, or claimed to identify, as women.

I don’t hate transgender people, and definitely don’t wish anyone to come to any harm, much less be killed. But there are genuine dangers here, but unfortunately the climate of liberal opinion and many ‘official’ gay organisations, like Stonewall, mean that the gender critical side is silenced and their arguments not heard.

As you can see from this video, Linehan and his friends very definitely don’t hate transpeople, although they do discuss some extremely dangerous and predatory individuals. And they clearly have friends and supporters in the trans community, who share their concerns.

At the very least, they need to be heard and listened to. The topic should not be the monopoly of intolerant trans activists.

Tories Killing Free Speech and Democracy in the Name of Stopping ‘Nuisance’

March 16, 2021

Following the Met police’s rough manhandling of the women at the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common and the consequent outcry, our smirking excuse for a home secretary, Priti Patel wishes to introduce legislation with the explicit intention of limiting public protest. This, as Mike and the good peeps on Twitter have pointed out, is Fascism. It’s suppression of the fundamental right to public protest. The intention is to stop criticism of the government. But the Tories are past masters in lying, and so they’ve dressed this latest assault on democracy up as somehow empowering the public. They’re not doing it to stop free speech, you see. They’re trying to empower local communities, who may find themselves seriously disrupted by noisy protesters. It’s about stopping them making a nuisance of themselves. And so the proposed legislation will, if passed, allow the authorities to cancel a demo if even a single person complains about it.

There’s a quote, which unfortunately I’ve largely forgotten, which states that Fascism never comes as a repressive force. It always presents itself in friendly terms until it is too late, the concentration camps have been put up and thugs in jackboots are stamping on human faces, to use George Orwell’s metaphor. There’s another quote that says that the totalitarianism of the future won’t present itself as an oppressive tyrant, but as society’s benevolent, obedient servant. Patel’s wretched bill surely bears out the truth of this statement. It’s Fascism all right, but dressed up as defending local communities’ right not to have their peace and quiet spoilt by anything as vulgar as an enraged or concerned public.

While Priti Patel is trying to push the bill through parliament now, it isn’t just her that’s behind it. It’s a Tory idea that’s been around since ‘Dodgy’ Dave Cameron was in No. 10. He also tried to pass it, but with no success. Now, almost a decade later, the Tories are trying again.

The Labour party plans to oppose the bill. So should everyone who values democracy and free speech, regardless of party. And including and particularly Tories. One of the Transatlantic Conservative sites I used to read several years ago was opposed to government legislation outlawing Holocaust denial. There was a debate at the time over whether the Canadian government should join other countries in banning it. This was just during the Conservative Harper administration. The Jewish owner of the site was against this, arguing that Conservatives should not support legislation limiting free speech. If the precedent was set, then it would give a weapon to the Tories’ enemies, who could use it to their own advantage. Exactly. And I have come across Tories who are genuine, passionate defenders of free speech. Years ago Lobster reviewed a book written by one of them, which recognised that every democratic freedom we now enjoy isn’t a natural outgrowth of the development of some transcendent principle of freedom and democracy inherent in British or western society. No, these freedoms are the hard-won results of bitter struggles. And Patel’s vile legislation makes it very clear that struggle is far from over.

People are already organising petitions and planning protests against the bill. I received this email from Democracy Unleashed, laying out the arguments and asking me to sign a petition against it, which I did. It runs

‘Once again, the government is attempting to force controversial legislation through Parliament without proper scrutiny.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill contains provisions that could land peaceful protestors with up to ten years’ imprisonment if their protest is deemed capable of causing “serious annoyance” to any section of the public. 

Did the People’s Vote marches cause “serious annoyance”? What about Black Lives Matter? Or Extinction Rebellion? Or March for Women? Or Stop The War Coalition? Which one of those protests do you think the Home Secretary would ban under this new legislation?

I will not be silenced

Many thousands of people take part in hundreds of protests across the United Kingdom every year. In most cases, a little bit of nuisance is what gets them noticed and their messages heard. Whether or not you agree with their cause, their right to protest is an essential part of a healthy democracy and any legislation that dilutes that right should be subject to very careful scrutiny indeed. 

We don’t think protestors campaigning passionately (or noisily) but peacefully for a cause should face the possibility of a prison sentence just because the Home Secretary has decided that someone might find their protest “seriously annoying.”

This legislation represents a serious attack on the foundations of our democracy and history tells us that such attacks often signal the beginning of something more sinister. We need to wake up to the threat and do something while we still can.  

Sign the petition to tell the Home Secretary that government cannot be allowed to bury our democratic rights just because it suites them to do so. 

I’ll sign the petition

Help us make this the loudest protest possible by sharing the petition on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp with the hashtag #SeriouslyAnnoyed. ‘

We have to oppose this bill, otherwise democracy in Britain will be as hollow and meaningless as Singapore. You have the right to speak in public there about political issues, but you have to register with the police in advance, who have the power to turn you down and arrest you. Needless to say, people aren’t exactly lining up at the Singaporean equivalent of Speaker’s Corner.

And that’s the kind of empty, hollow democracy Priti Patel and her predecessors want for Britain.

Israel’s Racist Persecution of Black Jews

March 1, 2021

I’m not surprised that the Blairites in the Labour party had Tony Greenstein thrown out as an anti-Semite in their vile witch-hunt, and the Zionist Jewish establishment hates him with a passion. He’s that most dangerous creature, you see, a self-respecting, passionately socialist and anti-racist Jew, who loathes Zionism as a Jewish form of Fascism. And with a wealth of documented fact at his fingertips, he is more than able to cut through the hasbara – the official Jewish propaganda – and prove it. His articles, frequently reprinting and commenting on stories of persecution and atrocity reported in the Jewish press, convict Zionism as an ideology and the Israeli military and political establishment again and again of crimes against humanity.

He is, like the mighty Jackie Walker, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Ilan Pappe, the ‘wrong kind of Jew’, who must be silenced and persecuted at all costs. Just like the western mainstream media really doesn’t want you to hear such dissident Jewish voices, whether from liberals and the left, or from the extremely traditional. The latter include the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews, who reject modern Israel out of their belief, rooted in the Talmud and the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, that Israel can only be restored and her people redeemed by divine action through the Mashiach, the Messiah. This was also the view of some members of Britain’s Jewish establishment. He has quoted a former Chief Rabbi, who also rejected the Israeli state for the same reason. This reverend gentleman believed that not only should and would Israel be redeemed in this way by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the removal of the Palestinians from the newly restored nation would be done through peaceful negotiation and agreement. Israel has done neither. He has also quoted other prominent figures from Britain’s Jewish community, who hated Zionism as a Jewish version of the anti-Semitism they had so staunchly fought against in gentiles. Zionism seemed to these men to be a concession to the prejudiced view that there were profound racial difference between Jew and gentile and the two could never mix. Thus, according to the anti-Semites, they should be kept apart. The ultimate development of this idea was that Jews should be given their own state, to which diaspora Jews should be encouraged or forced to emigrate.

In his latest piece, posted on Saturday, Tony posts and comments on an article by Gavin Lewis, a mixed-race Black British writer, who chillingly describes Israel’s racist persecution of Black Jews in an article published in America’s Monthly Review Online on December 4th, 2020. Lewis discusses Israel’s refusal to allowance entry to a Black American Jewish mother, Idit Malka and her son, when they tried to visit the country. They were detained for 10 hours before being deported. Before her departure, an Israeli woman screamed at her that Israel was no country for ‘Cushim’, an Israeli term of abuse for Blacks. In 2013, Haaretz and The Times of Israel reported that over 130,000 Black Jews had been forcibly sterilised by the Israeli authorities, a policy that evokes Nazi eugenics. YTNews in 2009 reported that some Israeli neighbourhoods, such as Ashkelon, who maintained a Whites only police. The Daily Beast also reported in 2017 that Israeli kindergartens also had a policy of segregation, separating White and Black toddlers. The Israeli state has also rejected blood donations from Blacks as ‘unclean’. The San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper also reported in 2016 that racial discrimination against Blacks in Israel was so appalling, that 300 Black Jews had declared their intention not to report for reserve service because of official racism against Ethiopian Jews.

The article also discusses the theft of babies born to Yemeni parents, who were sold to Ashkenazi Jewish parents, because of the racist belief that Yemeni Jewish culture was so inferior that it was an unsuitable environment for raising Jewish children. Just as shocking was that many of these innocents had been given an experimental treatment. The hearts of some of the dead babies were surgically removed for study by American doctors curious about the absence of heart disease in Yemen. He also talks about the massive racial hatred against Palestinians and Arabs, including the incident where two Chechen players were hounded out of Beitar Jerusalem football club.

Lewis states unequivocally that Israel is an apartheid state, as Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter has said, but the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism has ruled that it is anti-Semitic to compare it to Nazism, even though this is clearly warranted by some of its policies. He also describes how Israeli racism is routinely covered up by western politicians. In Britain, Labour’s odious leader, Keir Starmer, sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey from his team after she correctly pointed out that the choke-hold that killed George Floyd had been taught to the police by the Israelis. His action may not be un-adjacent to the fact that Starmer had received a £62,000 donation from a pro-Israeli lobbyist.

The second-class status of Black Britons is also shown in the differences in treatment between them and members of Britain’s gay community regarding visits to potentially hostile countries and regions. In 2016 the British government and media warned gay, bi and trans people not to visit North Carolina. But neither Starmer nor the rest of the political and media class have taken it upon themselves to warn Black Brits of the dangers of visiting the parts of Israel that are off the tourist itineraries.

Over the other side of the pond, America’s politicos and media have thrown their weight behind Israel. CNN even sacked one of their reporters, a Black American, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, because he publicly sided with the Palestinians. Although he was an American, Hill was considered inferior to the interests of Israel, a foreign country, because of his colour.

In his afterword, Lewis compares contemporary Israel to the White settler societies of the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Rhodesia, and their respective systems of apartheid, segregation and/ or official policies of limiting or banning non-White immigration. He concludes

Yet, in twenty-first-century, in the form of Israel, Black and Indigenous peoples of the world are expected to put up with variants of these traditional white-settler offenses. And, alarmingly, even parts of the left are threatened into exempting Zionism from the sort of critique and anticolonial resistance leveled against other white-settler societies.

Tony’s introduction to the piece is also worth reading, as he argues that it is a mistake to see Israeli racism purely in terms of White supremacy. It’s a Jewish supremacist state, in which only Jews can be citizens and enjoy full civil rights. He also describes how the Mizrahi Jews, who were Arabic in culture and language, were so maltreated that the once formed a Black Panthers organisation of their own in solidarity with the Black American group. Since then, the Mizrahim have become even more fanatically anti-Arab than the Ashkenazim who founded Israel, who then supported Menachim Begin. At the same time Ethiopian Jews in Israeli have no sympathy for the Palestinians, but wish instead to have racial equality with White Jews of European, or White American descent. Nevertheless, colour prejudice is a major factor. Yemeni Jews were tested to see if they had ‘Negro’ blood, and a group of Ugandan Jews were refused Jewish citizenship because of their colour.

See: Tony Greenstein’s Blog: A racist endeavor: Zionist Israel’s Black Jewish victims of color (azvsas.blogspot.com)

This is horrific stuff, and it’s an indictment of mainstream western politicos and the media that this is not reported and condemned over here. Or if it is, it’s done very half-heartedly. The theft and infanticide of the Yemeni babies is comparable to the Nazi theft of blonde children from Slav parents, such as the Poles, to be brought up by approved, ‘Aryan’, German parents. The Nazis considered these children to be the product of German bloodline amongst conquered, ‘subhuman’ Slavs.

It also bears a horrible similarity to one of the crimes of the Magdalen Laundries in Ireland. These were homes run by the Roman Catholic church for unmarried mothers. These unfortunate women had their babies removed to be sold for adoption to rich Americans while their mothers were forced to work as laundrywomen. But only strong, bonny babies had this good fortune. The weak were left to perish in ‘dying rooms’. Incidentally, when a leading member of the Irish feminist organisation, The Countess Didn’t Fight For This, revealed this during a discussion with Graham Linehan and his conversationalists, Helen Staniland and Arty Morty it reduced the latter to tears. Linehan and his allies have been terribly reviled for their opposition to the transgender craze and accused of transphobia. I believe this to be profoundly wrong – they are moved instead by the great harm transgender ideology is doing to the vulnerable, especially girls and young women. But like Posie Parker, they certainly do not wish to see transpeople themselves assaulted or murdered. Morty is a gay Canadian, deeply immersed in his community. His unostentatious tears over the deaths of children left to die in Eire to me amply demonstrate that he, Linehan and Staniland very definitely do not wish harm on anyone. If the Nazi-like experimentation and mass deaths of the Yemeni children had been performed by a gentile organisation, like the Roman Catholic Church, it would eventually have been exposed across the world. There has been a film about one woman’s experiences of it, Philomena, which I believe stars Steve Coogan as the British reporter who uncovers the heroine and her story. It’s a testament to the institutional power of the Roman Catholic church in Eira that this horrific policy continued until the ’90s. But it was eventually exposed, along with the systematic abuse of children in the Roman Catholic and other churches, including my own, the Anglican Church, across the world. Would the media and politicians have allowed the story to get out if it were instead an Israeli organisation preying on Jews? I somehow doubt it.

Tony’s and Lewis’ articles amply demonstrate that Israel is a profoundly racist state. But anyone who tells the truth about this in the lamestream media or politics over here will be viciously attacked and hounded on the grounds that they are ‘anti-Semitic’. Even if they are decent, self-respecting men and women, who had suffered anti-Semitic abuse and assault themselves, or, if gentiles, because they dared support Jews, Blacks and Asians to live in peace, equality and dignity.

Trump and the Spectre of Mussolini

January 7, 2021

The big news today has been last night’s attack on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters. They had been fired up to make the assault by Trump’s continued insistence that he is the real winner of the election, but it has been stolen from him by vote-rigging from the Democrats. As Mike himself has pointed out, Trump himself has not been averse to trying to do this himself. Earlier this week it was revealed that Trump had tried to persuade Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, to find one more vote for him in the state more than those cast for Joe Biden. And a week or so ago it was also reported that he had also been considering calling in the army in order to defend his presidency. If he had done so, it would have been a coup attempt.

Microsoft News in a piece they published today about the attack state that among the mob were members of various far right groups, such as the Proud Boys, the Nationalist Social Club and supporters of the Qanon conspiracy theory. This is the bizarre belief that Trump has been secretly fighting a war against an evil covert group determined to take over and subvert America. Last night there had been various messages posted on right-wing websites urging ‘Revolution’ and ‘Civil War’. World leaders have expressed their disgust and condemnation of the attack, though as Mike also points out, there has been no condemnation of Trump himself from Boris or Priti Patel. The attack is ominous, as it shows just how fragile American democracy is.

Indeed. Way back in the 1990s there were fears of a similar attack with the emergence of militia movement. These are right-wing paramilitary organisations founded by people, who really believe that America is in danger of being taken over by the extreme left, or the forces of globalism and the one world Satanic conspiracy or whatever. Many of them were explicitly racist with the connections to the neo-Nazi right. At one point a woman claiming to be a senior officer in the movement appeared online urging the various militias to unite and march on Washington. Her call was ignored, largely, I think, because the other militia leaders didn’t trust her and were extremely suspicious of her motives. I got the distinct impression that they suspected her of being an agent provocateur and that the march was some kind of trap by the federal government. There was no armed paramilitary march, and so America dodged a coup attempt, or whatever it was, that time.

But the attack is also reminiscent of an assault on government even further back, almost one hundred years ago. This was the infamous ‘March on Rome’ of Mussolini’s Fascists. This succeeded in getting him appointed as the new Prime Minister by the Italian king, Emmanuel II, and began the process which saw him overturning Italian democracy to forge the Fascist one-party state and his personal dictatorship. Of course, for such coups to be successful, the armed forces, capital and the civil service must be willing to collaborate with the insurgents. Mussolini had the support of Italian industry and the big landowners, as he offered to protect capitalism from the forces of revolutionary socialism. The Fascists also included a number of ex-servicemen, the squadristi, and they had considerable support within the regular Italian armed forces. However, the head of the Italian police had absolute contempt for the Fascists and offered to defend the Italian government from the Fascists. But the king turned him down, and caved in to the future Duce.

There are similarities to last night’s events. Many right-wing Americans do seem to fear that Communism and anarchy are somehow about to overrun America with the violence of some of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in America and the supposed ‘cultural Marxists’ that have allegedly taken over the American educational system. And the fears that there really is a secret conspiracy to overthrow American democracy and enslave its citizens has been around for decades. Bizarre conspiracy theories appeared in the 1970s about the Bilderberg group and the Trilateral Commission, claiming that these groups really ran the world. Then in the 1990s George Bush senior’s statement that he was going to create a ‘new world order’ prompted comparisons with the Nazis, as Hitler had also said the same about his regime. It was also linked to older conspiracy theories about the Freemasons because the Latin version of the phrase, ‘Novo Ordo Seculorum’, supposedly appears on American dollar bills along with various Masonic symbols. These theories claimed that America was being secretly run by a group of Masonic Satanists, who were planning turn America into a totalitarian, Communist state and send Christians to concentration camps. Even the collapse of Communism did not allay these fears. Many of those, who bought into these bizarre theories, thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union was all some kind of ruse. One variety of these myths claimed that the Russians had established secret military bases in Canada and Mexico, and at a given signal Soviet tanks would roll over the border into America. The 1990s were arguably the peak of such beliefs, as shown in the popularity of similar stories of covert government pacts with aliens from Zeta Reticuli and TV’s The X-Files. But such fears have certainly not gone away. There was a resurgence during Obama’s presidency, when America’s first Black president was accused by the bonkers elements on the American right of being a secret Muslim. or atheist. Or Communist. Or Nazi. Whatever, Obama was filled with rage against White Christians. One pair of pastors told the listeners of their church radio station that Obama was going to establish a dictatorship and would massacre even more people than Chairman Mao. Alex Jones was repeating and amplifying similar myths over on his internet radio and TV station. He claimed that Obama was going to invoke emergency legislation under the pretext of impending environmental disaster to force ordinary Americans into refugee camps. Militant feminists and gays were part of this conspiracy, in which humanity was to be transformed into a race of genderless cyborgs. Jones lost a considerable part of his audience when he was banned from various social media platforms thanks to his claims that a Boston pizza parlour was really a front for supplying children to be abused by members of the Democratic party and that several high school shootings had really been faked to provoke popular support for gun control laws. This caused real distress to the bereaved parents, who were accused of being ‘crisis actors’. Jones has nearly vanished from the public stage, though he still appears here and there. Even when he had an audience, many people still regarded him as a joke. But it looks like the conspiracy theories Jones promoted, and the underlying distrust of the government, still have a powerful hold on many Americans.

Fortunately, yesterday was different from 1920s Italy. America’s military has so far shown no interest in coming to Trump’s aid and overthrowing democracy. Black Lives Matter is extremely unpopular in certain areas, but the police, security forces and private industry aren’t backing armed paramilitary units to defend capitalism. American democracy is being shaken and tested, but so far it hasn’t cracked. The problem is, it’s not clear how long this will last. By calling for people to storm the capitol, Trump has struck a blow against democracy. He’s been unsuccessful, but this might inspire a future president with the same inclinations to try again. And they might be more successful.

And we’re not safe from such assaults over here. Mike in his article has warned that the Tories appear to be taking notes from Trump, while Zelo Street points out that the same people, who backed Trump also back the Tories and Brexit over here. He concludes with a warning of who the Brexiteers will blame when it all finally goes bad:

Many Brexiteers believe it’ll be someone else’s fault – Remainers, ethnic minorities, foreign nationals, multinational corporations, those of insufficiently patriotic intent – when it all goes bad. It won’t be Bozo, Ms Patel, Gove, or Nigel “Thirsty” Farage they will be going after.

There is a real danger of America becoming, if not a dictatorship, then a very authoritarian, Fascistic state. And Britain following.

See also: Four dead after Trump provokes US Capitol riot – and the UK Tories are taking notes | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Zelo Street: Trump Insurrection – Next Stop UK (zelo-street.blogspot.com)

Will Johnson Quit or Be Forced Out, Once He Has Wrecked the Country For Brexit?

December 15, 2020

Also in Lobster 80 for Winter 2020 is a very interesting piece by Simon Matthews, whose observations about Johnson’s real motives for running for PM and supporting Brexit I discussed in my previous blog post. Matthews has a piece, ‘Time for the Pavilion (or: there are 365 Conservative MPs)’ pondering whether Johnson will either retire as PM or be forced out by angry members of his own party, once he has successfully ruined the country with a hard Brexit.

And Matthews makes some very interesting observations. Johnson’s majority looks impressive, but is actually very fragile. 50 Tory MPs, for example, voted against the imposition of the second national lockdown at the beginning of November. And many of the 80 new MPs forming the Tories’ parliamentary majority actually have very small majorities in their own constituencies. He writes

Secondly, and less remarked upon, Johnson’s majority of 80 is actually quite fragile. No fewer than 78 Conservative MPs have a majority of 5,000 or less, and of these 34 have a majority of 2,000 or less. Indeed,
all the fabled ‘red wall’ seats that Johnson gained are in this category. Any MP in this situation would be aware that it really wouldn’t take much of an electoral swing to oust them.

Also, although the background of the typical Tory MP is privately educated, with a background in the financial sector, think tanks and policy groups, and is strongly anti-EU, there are still 102 Tory MPs who support the European Union.

Finally, and a puzzling anomaly, there are still 102 Conservative MP’s who were pro-EU in 2016. Admittedly, some of these may have been so at that time because it was party policy (i.e. now party policy has changed,
their views will have changed, too); and there will be others who were ‘pro-EU’ on the basis of Cameron’s re-negotiation of 2015-2016. But, nevertheless, amongst those 102 there must be some (40? 50?) who would much rather the UK stayed as close to the EU as possible, including membership of the Single Market, Customs Union and the EEA rather than exit everything, in its entirety.

BoJob’s position is very precarious. If things get very desperate, and the Tory party does decide it wants to form a ‘government of national unity’ in a coalition with Labour and the Lib Dems, it would only take 45 Tory MPs to oust him.

The article then goes to discuss the problems Johnson faces from Brexit, and particularly the challenge it poses to the integrity of the UK, and opposition from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the EU and the Americans, and members of both chambers of parliament. He’s also got severe problems with the Covid crisis, and the havoc this and the consequent lockdown has played with the economy. The sacking of Dominic Cummings could be seen as a warning shot to Johnson from Brady and the party’s donors out in the tax havens, who feel they are being ignored by the PM. But he notes that the donors and corporate backers really don’t seem to have an idea of the massive damage that Brexit will inflict on the UK economy. It will destroy 60-65 per cent of UK manufacturing, and although stockpiling of food and other goods has been going on since 2017, these supplies can only last for so long. So that Britain will return to the food queues of the ’60s and ’70s at the borders.

He makes the point here that the majority of British ports are foreign owned. In footnote 7 he writes

The owners of the UK’s main trading ports are Associated British Ports (owned in Canada, Singapore and Kuwait), Forth Ports (Canada), Hutchison Port Holdings (Singapore), Peel Group (the Isle of Man and Saudi Arabia), PD Ports (Canada) and Peninsular and Oriental Group (complex, but seemingly Dubai, China and Hong Kong). The latter group include P&O Dover Holdings Ltd, which operates most of the ferry services out of Dover, and is owned by the Peoples Republic of China. (The other ferry services at Dover, DFDS, are owned in Denmark). The intention post-Brexit of declaring many UK ports ‘free ports’, when so many can be connected back to tax havens anyway, is striking, and one wonders to what extent the owners of these ports have lobbied for that outcome.

Matthews concludes that Boris is on such shaky grounds that he may well decide to jump before he’s pushed.

The truth is that Johnson can now be ambushed by so many different groupings for so many different reasons, that the chances of him remaining PM after he has delivered the hard Brexit his backers require
must be doubtful. And why would he anyway? He looks bored most of the time and wants money. Leaving Downing Street – and the cleaning up – to others, gives him time to spend with his many different families, time to write his memoirs for a hefty advance, the chance of a US TV show and time to kick on, as all ex-UK PMs do, with earning serious money on the US after-dinner speaking circuit. The possibility that some formula will be devised to facilitate his exit, possibly a supposed medical retirement, looks likely.

After all, he’s been sacked from every job he’s ever had. Why would he wait until he is sacked from this one?

See: Time For the Pavilion (Winter 2020) (lobster-magazine.co.uk)

I found this interesting in that it showed that there is grounds for optimism amongst the gloom. The Tories have a huge majority, but it’s fragile. Very fragile. If Starmer actually got his act together and started behaving like a leader of real opposition party, he could start cutting it down significantly. But he doesn’t, perhaps because, as a Blairite, the only policy he has is stealing the Tories’ and winning the support of their voters, and backers in big business and the Tory media. Hence his silence and his determination to persecute the socialists in the Labour party.

It also shows just how much damage the ‘No Deal’ Brexit Johnson seems determined to deliver will do to Britain. It’s going to wipe out nearly 2/3 of our manufacturing industry. This won’t matter for the Tories or Blairite Labour. Blair took the view that British manufacturing was in decline, and that it could be successfully replaced by the financial sector. This hasn’t happened. Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism argues very clearly that the British and other economies still depend very much on the manufacturing sector. The fact that it appears comparatively small to other sectors of the economy merely means that it hasn’t grown as much as they have. It does not mean that it is irrelevant.

And it also shows once again how this chaos and poverty is being driven by a desire to protect the Tories’ backers in the financial sector, and the foreign companies owning our utilities, as well as the British rich squirreling their money away in tax havens. Shaw pointed this all out in once of his books written nearly a century ago, condemning the way the idle rich preferred to spend their money on their vapid pleasures on the continent, while the city preferred to invest in the colonies exploiting Black Africans instead of on domestic industry. He stated that while the Tories always postured as the party of British patriotism, the opposite was the truth: it was the Labour party that was genuinely patriotic, supporting British industry and the people that actually worked in it.

Shaw was right then, and he’s right now, no matter how the Tories seek to appeal to popular nationalistic sentiment through images of the Second World War and jingoistic xenophobia about asylum seekers. The Tories haven’t backed British industry since Thatcher and Major sold it all off. The only way to build Britain back up is to get rid of her legacy.

Which means getting rid of Johnson, the Tories and Starmer.

‘I’ Article on Companies Developing Technology to Cleanse Air of CO2

December 1, 2020

This is interesting. It might be another corporate puffpiece, but if it’s genuine then it does seem that some of the technology in SF novels about combating climate change might be coming true.

In its edition for Saturday, 28th Novewmber 2020, the newspaper ran this story ‘Conjuring a climate solution out of thin air’ by Maeleine Cuff, subtitled ‘Giant machines that can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere? This is no sci-fi’. It said

Scientists agree that global climate targets are slipping out of reach. To keep warming below 1.5 C – the “safe” climate threshold – the world will have to work out a way to remove 100 to 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere this century.

Enter direct air capture (DAC). It is an offshoot of carbon capture and storage, whereby pollution from factories and power plants is trapped and stored underground. DAC takes that one step further, focusing on pulling the gas directly from the air. That is a tougher ask, because CO2 in our air is at much lower concentrations than in the flue gases of a power plant. But DAC technology can scale, it could give humankind the power to control global pollution levels.

This month the Government pledged £1bn to the creation of four industrial carbon capture clusters, which will trap emissions from industry and pipe them out to sea for storage.

There are signs a breakthrough might be close. Swiss firm Climeworks has built a handful of DAC plants across Europe. Orca, under construction in Iceland, will be the world’s biggest facility when it opens next year, capable of removing four million tons of CO2 every year. Canadian rival Carbon Engineering, meanwhile, is building a plant that could suck away a mikllion tons a year.

Both use chemical reactions to bind CO2 molecules, drawing them away from the other gases that make up our air. The CO2 can then be pumped underground for storage or used with hydrogen to make low-carbon fuels.

In the UK, the captured CO2 is most likely to be pumped into spent oil and natural gas fields in the North Sea. There is little need to worry about it escaping once it has been stored, says Professor Stuart Haszeldine, an expert in carbon capture technologies at the University of Edinburgh. “We know how to do this,” he says. “We know what the engineering is. And most importantly we know how to behave and and remediate this if something does go a bit wrong.

Climeworks is partnering with Icelandic start-up Carbfix to store its CO2 safely in basalt rock, “Even if you have an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, it cannot come out again,” says Christoph Beuttler from Climeworks.

It is still early stages for DAC – there are only 15 plants in North America and Europe – and the tech remains very expensive.

Costs should come down, however, as efficiency improves. Climeworks thinks it can reduce the cost of extracting a ton of carbon dioxide from $1,000 to $100 within a decade. But DAC is never going to be a cheap option. “The fact is, it is going to be easier to decarbonise a lot industrial processes than it is to build an entire sector from a standing start,” says Dr Mark Workman, a carbon storage expert at Imperial College London.

There is also a fierce debate over who will pay for it. Most experts think governments will have to force the creation of a new market. That could be in the form of subsidy regime, or with legislation to force fossil-fuel producers to arrange for storage.

A hike in VAT to pay for the polution caused by goods and services has also been mooted, placing the cost on a public who, Dr Workman argues, are not prepared for the scale of such a challenge. “We are going to remove an invisible gas and store it in invisible storage sites. And we are going to be talking vast quantities of money – tens, if not hundreds of billions of pounds,” he says. “There is does need to be a much broader social dialogue about this.”

There was also a boxed article on the same page, ‘DAC in the UK’, which ran

In St Fergus on the east coast of Scotland, Pale Blue Dot Energy wants to build not only a carbon storage hub for Scotland but also the UK’s first direct air capture (DAC) system. It has teamed up with Canadian firm Carbon Engineering to get a DAC site up and running by 2026.

It faces a race to be the UK’s first DAC plant. Climeworks tells I the Government’s funding announcement means it is now looking at expanding into the UK too.

Stephen Baxter predicted this kind of technology in one of his ‘Xelee’ novels. Set centuries in the future, Earth is tackling the problem of global warming by freezing the Carbon Dioxide out of the atmosphere and turning them into giant balls of dry ice. The planet’s waste heat is also dumped into space by beams of giant lasers.

No-one’s talking about giant lasers just yet, the use of technology to scrub the atmosphere of Carbon Dioxide does seem to be close. It’s just that at the moment it’s too massively expensive to be practical on a large scale. Perhaps a new technological breakthrough will be needed before it becomes really affordable.

‘I’ Obituary for Stage Magician and Sceptic James Randi

October 26, 2020

Last Tuesday, 20th October 2020, the stage magician and sceptic James Randi passed away at the age of 92. Randy was a controversial. After starting out as a stage magician, Randi turned to exposing fake psychics. He was a prominent member of the Sceptics’ organisation CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, along with scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan and the mathematician Martin Gardner. CSICOP’s founders were alarmed at the growth of interest in the occult. Sagan, a Humanist, published his attack on the supernatural in the Demon Haunted World. He seemed to be frightened that we were entering a new Dark Age of superstition, where science and rationality would be forgotten, and in which people would begin their day by poring over their horoscopes.

The I published this obituary of Randi in their weekend edition for 24th-25th October 2020, reprinted from the Washington Post. It runs

James Randi, who has died aged 92, was an internationally acclaimed magician and escape artist who spent much of his career debunking all things paranormal – from spoon bending and water dowsing to spirit channelling and faith healing.

Randall James Ham Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto in 1928. A child prodigy, he was shy and often lonely. Bored by rote classroom learning, he sought refuge in the library. At a young age, he developed an interest in magic, and at 17 he dropped out of high school, turned down several college scholarships and joined a travelling carnival as junior magician.

He overcame a stammer and fear of speaking in public, affected a turban and goatee, and honed his illusionist skills under a series of stage names, including Zo-Ran, Prince Iblis, Telepath and the Great Randall.

After a stint at faking clairvoyance, in which many took his prophecies seriously – he correctly predicted the winner of baseball’s World Series in 1949, for example – he said he was unable to persuade believerss that his powers were strictly terrestrial. He said he “couldn’t live that kind of lie” and returned to conventional magic as The Amazing Randi.

He also became an escape artist and held Guinness world records for surviving the longest time inside a block of ice (55 minutes) and for being sealed the longest in an underwater coffin (one hour and 44 minutes), breaking a record set by Harry Houdini.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Randi’s many appearances on television made him a fixture of prime time entertainment. In 1973 he toured with heavy metal rock star Alice Cooper as an executioner simulating the beheading of the singer at each performance.

Randi cheerfully described himself as a “liar” and “cheat” in mock recognition of his magician’s skills at duping people into thinking they had seen something inexplicable when it was, in fact, the result of simple physical deception. He was equally dismissive of psychics, seers and soothsayers. “The difference between them and me,” Randi told The New York Times in 1981, “is that I admit that I’m a charlatan. They don’t. I don’t have time for things that go bump in the night.”

Randi and the research organisation he helped found in 1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, offered payouts ranging up to $1m (£77,000) to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal phenomenon under controlled conditions. While he had many takers, he said, none of them earned a cent.

In 2010, at the age of 81, Randi publicly announced he was gay. He married a Venezuelan artist, Deyvi Pena in 2013. The following year, film-maker Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein released An Honest Liar, a documentary of Randi’s life.

I first became aware of Randi in the early 1980s, when he appeared in the pages of the Absurder attacking Doris Stokes. Stokes was a medium, who was then in news, much like Derek Acorah and other celebrity psychics a few years ago. Randi showed that much of her comments and remarks when she was supposedly getting in touch with the dead were ‘bunkum statements’. They sounded true and unique to the reader or listener, but they were actually vague and described the way most people felt. Her descriptions of the deceased and the questions she asked her audience were also so vague that they would apply to someone there, who would then become convinced that Stokes was genuinely in contact with a dead friend or relative.

Several times Randi’s own outspoken comment about those he judged to be frauds landed him in legal. In one case, he was sued for libel by a man he claimed was called by the police ‘the shopping mall molester’. Er, not quite. The target of Randi’s wrath had been arrested for sexually assaulting a 12 or 13 year old girl in a shopping centre. But he hadn’t been charged with the offence, as it was dropped due to plea bargaining. And because he hadn’t been charged with it, Randi’s comments were technically libel.

He also got into similar trouble with Uri Geller. He called him a fraud, at which Geller sued him in every country in the world. This resulted in Randi settling out of court with the notorious spoon-bender.

Actually, I think Randi is probably right here. Geller’s most famous trick of bending spoons has been around since at least in the 18th century. It’s mentioned in a book of such amusements from that time, Rational Recreations. Geller was also successfully sued in the 1970s or so by an Israeli engineering student for misleading advertising. Geller’s publicity claimed his act presented overwhelming proof of the paranormal. The student went to see it and wasn’t impressed. He sued, claiming that all he’d seen was standard stage magic. The beak concurred, and judged in his favour.

There was also a scandal a few years ago when it turned out that Randi’s partner was actually an illegal immigrant, who was living in the US under an identity he’d stolen.

Randi was a colourful figure, but I was never a fan of his. While I agree that fake psychics and mediums certainly exist, and should be exposed because of the way they exploit the grieving and vulnerable, I don’t share his dismissal of the supernatural. I think it’s genuine, but that its very nature makes scientific verification extremely difficult, if not impossible. CSICOP also came off as arrogant, smug and vindictive in their attacks on the paranormal and its believers and practitioners. So much so that they were seen as a kind of scientific witch hunt by their victims. A few years ago the organisation changed its name to CSI, which stands for the Committee for Scientific Investigation. And not Crime Scene Investigation. The name change was not occasioned because there was a cop drama with that acronym as its title playing at the time.

So RIP James Randi. He was a colourful character, who entertained millions, particularly in his bust-up with Geller. Gray Barker, the former Ufologist who began the Men In Black myth with his book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, took great pleasure in Randi’s antics, calling him ‘the Amusing Randi’. But I leave to the reader to decide for themselves whether the paranormal exists. And not everybody who believes in it deserves sneers and ridicule.

‘I’ Article on ‘Bardcore’ – Postmodern Fusion of Medieval Music and Modern Pop

August 5, 2020

I’m a fan of early music, which is the name that’s been given to music from the ancient period through medieval to baroque. It partly comes from having studied medieval history at ‘A’ level, and then being in a medieval re-enactment group for several years. Bardcore is, as this article explains, a strange fusion of modern pop and rock with medieval music, played on medieval instruments and with a medieval vocal arrangement. I’ve been finding a good deal of it on my YouTube page at the moment, which means that there are a good many people out there listening to it. On Monday the I’s Gillian Fisher published a piece about this strange new genre of pop music, ‘Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1199’, with the subtitle ‘Bardcare reimagines modern pop with a medieval slant. Hark, says Gillian Fisher’. The article ran

“Hadst thou need to stoop so low? To send a wagon for thy minstrel and refuse my letters, I need no longer write them though. Now thou art somebody whom I used to know.”

If you can’t quite place this verse, let me help – it’s the chorus from the 2011 number one Somebody That I Used to Know, by Gotye. It might seem different to how you remember it, which is no surprise – this is the 2020 Bardcore version. Sometimes known as Tavernwave, Bardcore gives modern hits a medieval makeover with crumhorns a plenty and lashings of lute. Sometimes lyrics are also rejigged as per Hildegard von Blingin’s offering above.

Algal (41-year-old Alvaro Galan) has been creating medieval covers since 2016, a notable example being his 2017 version of System of a Down’s Toxicity. Largely overlooked at the time, the video now boasts over 4.4 million views. Full-time musician Alvaro explains that “making the right song at the right moment” is key, and believes that Bardcore offers absolute escapism.

Alvaro says: “What I enjoy most about Bardcore is that I can close my eyes and imagine being in a medieval tavern playing for a drunk public waiting to dance! But from a more realistic perspective , I love to investigate the sounds of the past.”

In these precarious times, switching off Zoom calls and apocalyptic headlines to kick back with a flagon of mead offers a break from the shambles of 2020. Looking back on simpler times during periods of unrest is a common coping mechanism, as Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at New York’ Le Moyne College explained in her paper on nostalgia: “Nostalgic yearning for the past is especially likely to occur during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Dislocation or alienation can also elicit nostalgia.”

The fact that Bardcore is also pretty funny also offers light relief. The juxtaposition of ancient sound with 21st-century sentiment is epitomised in Stantough’s medieval oeuvre, such as his cover of Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. Originally from Singapore, Stantough (Stanley Yong), 35 says: “I really like the fact we don’t really take it very seriously. We’re all aware what we’re making isn’t really medieval but the idea of modern songs being “medievalised” is just too funny.”

One of Bardcore’s greatest hits, is Astronomia by Cornelius Link, which features trilling flutes and archaic vocal by Hildegard. It’s a tune that has been enjoyed by 5.3 million listeners. Silver-tongued Hildegard presides over the Bardcore realm, with her cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance clocking up 5 million views. Canadian illustrator Hildegard, 28, fits Bardcore around work and describes herself as “an absolute beginner” with the Celtic harp and “enthusiastically mediocre” with the recorder. Her lyric adaptations have produced some humdingers such as “All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots which she sings in rich, resonant tones.

HIldegard, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the Bardcore boom can be “chalked up to luck, boredom and a collective desire to connect and laugh.”

In three months, the Bardcore trend has evolved with some minstrels covering Disney anthems, while others croon Nirvana hits in classical Latin. While slightly absurd, this fusion genre has ostensibly provided a sense of unity and catharsis.

The humming harps and rhythmic tabor beats evoke a sense of connection with our feudal ancestors and their own grim experience of battening down the hatches against the latest outbreak. Alongside appealing to the global sense of pandemic ennui, connecting to our forbears through music is predicated upon the fact that they survived their darkest hours. And so shall we.

While Bardcore’s a recent phenomenon, I think it’s been drawing on trends in pop music that have happening for quite long time. For example, I noticed in the 1990s when I went to a performance of the early music vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, when they performed at Brandon Hill in Bristol that the audience also included a number of Goths. And long-haired hippy types also formed part of the audience for Benjamin Bagley when he gave his performance of what the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf probably sounded like on Anglo-Saxon lyre at the Barbican centre in the same decade.

Bardcore also seems connected to other forms of postmodern music. There’s the group the Postmodern Jukebox, whose tunes can also be found on YouTube, who specialise in different 20th century arrangements of modern pop songs. Like doing a rock anthem as a piece of New Orleans Jazz, for example. And then there’s Orkestra Obsolete, who’ve arranged New Order’s Blue Monday using the instruments of the early 20th century, including musical saws and Theremin. There’s definitely a sense of fun with all these musical experiments, and behind the postmodern laughter it is good music. An as this article points out, we need this in these grim times.

Here’s an example of the type of music we’re talking about: It’s Samuel Kim’s medieval arrangement of Star Wars’ Imperial March from his channel on YouTube.

And here’s Orkestra Obsolete’s Blue Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Financial Times’ Review of Book on Real, Modern Slavery

August 1, 2020

This is another old clipping I’ve kept in my scrapbooks from the Financial Times, from May 29/30th 1999. It’s a review by their columnist, Ben Rogers, ‘Forced into human bondage’, of Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global  Economy. This is another book that the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol had in its library. It’s an excellent book, but obviously very, very grim reading in its truly harrowing accounts of the brutality meted out to real, enslaved people across the world. I’m posting the review here because, while Britain and America are re-evaluating the legacy of slavery following the Black Lives Matter protests, real slavery and its horrors still exist around the world and I am afraid that this is being overshadowed by the debates over historic European slavery.

Rogers begins his review with the subtitled ‘Slavery today may be illegal, but it is still rife’. The review then goes on

It is tempting to think of slavery as a thing of the past. Its legacy lives on, disfiguring relations between Black and Whites everywhere, but surely the practice itself has gone?

This sober, well-researched, pioneering study shows that this, alas, is far from the case. Bales, an American social scientist who teaches in London at the Roehampton Institute, is careful to distinguish slavery from other forms of exploitation: the Pakistani child labourer, the Burmese agricultural worker, although paid a subsistence wage, are not necessarily slaves. Nevertheless, he argues that there are still, on a conservative estimate, perhaps 27m slaves in the world today – a population greater than that of Canada.

Most are located in the Indian subcontinent where they work as bonded labourers, but they exist in almost every country in the world. Paris harbours as many as 3,000 household slaves, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states many more. In the Dominican Republic, enslaved Haitians harvest the sugar that we eat. In Brazil, child prostitutes are forced to service the miners of the metals we use.

Of course, modern slavery is different from the old variety practised in ancient Athens or the American South. But in certain respects, Bales persuasively argues, the new variety is worse. In the traditional version, slave holders owned their slaves, who were almost always of a different race or religion from their masters; slaves were relatively expensive “capital” goods and usually kept up for life. Nowadays legal ownership is outlawed in every country of the world (Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all, states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude”), so modern slavery is disguised and “ownership” is replaced by manipulative debt bondage or fictive long-term “contracts”. Modern slaves tend to be taken from the same ethnic group as their holders and, because they are cheap, they are often used for only months or a few years before being discarded. Another difference is the size of the profit slaves produce. Agricultural bonded labourers in India generate not 5 per cent, as did slaves in the American South, but over 50 per cent profit per year for the slave holder; a Thai brothel owner can make 800 per cent on a new teenage girl.

To illustrate the nature of the new slavery, Bales has travelled around the world to investigate five cases in detail (often at some risk to himself): that of an enslaved prostitute in Ubon Ratchitani, Thailand; a water carrier in Mauritania; charcoal burners in the camps in Matto Grosso do Sul, Brazil; brickmakers in the Punjab, Pakistan; and bonded agricultural labourers in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The cases varied in significant ways. Ironically the one that most resembles old-style slavery – that of the water carrier from Mauritania – proves perhaps to be the least vicious. Slavery in Mauritania represents a lightly disguised continuation of a centuries-old practice; there slaves are kept for life and many slave families have been working for the same masters for generations. The cruellest example, by contrast, is provided by “Siri” the Thai prostitute, who was sold into slavery by her parents aged 14. Her debts to her owners are manipulate to ensure that she will continue to work until she is too tired or ill to be profitable.

Despite the differences, however, two continuities run through all the cases Bales so  graphically describes. In every case the worker is tricked or forced into bondage; in every case he or she is provided with the barest means of subsistence and sometimes not even that. In the charcoal camps of Brazil the men are often denied medication and left to die – on the principle that it is cheaper to acquire a new worker than repair an old one.

The western world has been slow to recognise the problem of the new slavery – in part because it is carefully disguised. The slave holders hide it from their government, governments hide it from the international community. The result is that, unlike, say, torture or censorship, slavery has yet to become a major human rights issue. The main international organisation dedicated to the abolition of slavery, Anti-Slavery International, has only 6,000 members. And without grass roots pressure, the World Bank, IMF and national governments are not inclined to show much concern.

“What country,” as Bales asks, “has been sanctioned by the UN for slavery? Where are the UN inspection teams charged with searching out slave labour? Who speaks for the slaves in the International Court of Justice? Governments and business are more likely to suffer international penalties today for counterfeiting a Michael Jackson CD than for using slaves.”

Modern slaves face the same conditions as the poor of the third world – they are the victims of industrialisation, population explosion and government corruption. Where labour is abundant, wages low, bribery rife, workers often face a stark choice between enslavement and starvation. Slavery, however, calls for its own particular solutions. Bales shows how strict enforcement of existing laws combined with programmes aimed at enabling slaves to set up on their own, have had some effect in diminishing debt bondage in northern India – although, as he reminds us, unless steps are taken slavery is set to grow.

Incredibly, Bales’ study is about the first to explore slavery in its modern international guise. The picture it offers remains patchy, given the limited resources at Bales’ disposal. He makes much of the west’s role in aiding and abetting slavery, yet most of the cases he studies belongs to local economies. This remains, however, a convincing and moving book. One can only hope that it will draw some attention to the terrible phenomenon it describes.

Although this was written 21 years ago, I’ve no doubt that it’s still acutely relevant and the situation has got worse. Since then there have been a series of scandals involving the enslavement of migrant workers in Britain and eastern European women trafficked into sex slavery. And, as the book Falling Off the Edge, shows very clearly, poverty around the world and the consequent exploitation of the poor has got much worse due to neoliberalism and globalisation. One of the programmes due to be shown on the Beeb – but I can’t remember whether it’s on TV or radio – is an examination of global terrorism. One of the groups looked at are Maoist terrorists in India. They’re a horrifically violent outfit, but they’re the result, according to Falling Off the Edge, of the horrific poverty and exploitation foisted upon the agricultural workers of central India.

And then there’s the increasing poverty and mounting debts of the British poor, thanks to Thatcherite welfare cuts, wage freezes and the replacement of loans for welfare payments and services. I wonder how long before this morphs into something very much like debt bondage over here.