Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Al-Jazeera on the First Test Flight of India’s Space Shuttle

September 19, 2018

In this short clip, just over two minutes long, from Al-Jazeera, posted two years ago in 2016, Tariq Bezley reports on the first test flight by the Indian Space Agency of their space shuttle. The shuttle was launched into space on top of a rocket fired from India’s launch facility north of Chenai. The craft separated from the rocket at an altitude of 70 km and re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, which heated it up to 2,000 degrees.

A female scientist speaking for the Observer Research Foundation, Rajeswari P Rajagopalan talks on the video about how it was necessary to test the shuttle’s heat shield.

Besley states that so far only the US, USSR, Japan and Europe have launched reusable shuttles. He states that NASA’s Space Shuttle flew 135 missions in 30 years before it was finally decommissioned. It has been replaced by the US air forces X-37B test vehicle. This unmanned vehicle was on its third mission, and had been up there for a year. However, the secrecy surrounding its missions have provoked speculation that it is a spy satellite, or is being tested to deliver weapons from space.

He then goes on to discuss the Dreamchaser, the spaceplane being developed by the private Sierra Nevada firm to service the International Space Station. Its first flight is planned for 2019. India’s space shuttle is in a much earlier stage of development, and it’s estimated that it’ll be 10 or 15 years before it is ready to fly.

Besley also discusses how India successfully put a spacecraft in orbit around Mars in 2014, becoming the first Asian nation to do so.

Rajagopan states that China has flourishing military space programme, which is a direct challenge to India, and India has to respond if it is not to be left lagging behind.

Further tests will be carried out on the Indian spacecraft, including on the supersonic scramjet engine which the Indians hope will one day power the spaceplane. The Indians say that their Mars mission cost a tenth of that of other missions to the Red Planet. Besley concludes that if their space shuttle can achieve the same savings, space travel will become much more affordable for all.

A number of countries have developed plans for different spaceplanes. The Russians had their own version of the Space Shuttle, Buran, which looked exactly like the American. It has been mothballed since the Fall of the USSR and has never flown. The French designed a small spaceplane, Hermes, which was to go on top of their Ariane rocket in the 1990s. This was very much like the American Dynosoar spaceplane proposed in the 1950s, but never actually built. The Germans also designed a spaceplane, Sanger, named after one of their leading rocket scientists. This would consist of two craft, a larger plane acting as a first stage, which would piggy-back a second plane into orbit.
And then there was the British HOTOL project of the 1980s which also used airbreathing ramjet engines to take the plane into space. This was never completed because of problems with those same engines. The technology has since been perfected, and a new British spaceplane, Skylon, has been developed. It has been forecast that it will come into service sometime in the next few years, possibly flying from spaceport launch sites in Cornwall or Scotland.

The video shows how sophisticated India’s space programme is, and I’ve no doubt that their entry into space will lower launch costs significantly. While the American shuttle was an amazing piece of engineering, it was massively expensive. It only became competitive as a launch vehicle against Ariane and the other rockets because it was heavily subsidized by the American government.

I look forward to the development of India’s spaceplane and that country joining the US and Russia in launching manned space missions. Perhaps if more countries develop reusable spacecraft, humanity will at last enter a real age of crewed space exploration and colonization.

Advertisements

Clive James on Nixon’s Interview with Henry Kissinger

July 7, 2018

One of the books I was reading in hospital was Clive James’ The Crystal Bucket (London: Picador 1981). As I said in a previous blog post, James was the TV critic for the Observer. He started out on the radical left, and ended up a Conservative, writing for the Torygraph. During the 1980s and 1990s, he had his own show, first on Channel 4 with Sunday Night Clive, and then on the Beeb with Monday night. In these, he zoomed up and down the information superhighway to bring you satirical comment on the news and interview stars like Peter Cook, William Shatner, and Sylvester Stallone’s weird and highly embarrassing, at least for him, mother.

James could be witty and intelligent, and in The Crystal Bucket he reviewed some of the programmes then being shown on the serious issue of the time. Like old Nazis and Fascists like Albert Speer and Oswald Mosley talking about Nazi Germany or their career as Fascists, without once admitting that they were genuinely persecutory anti-Semites, responsible or in Mosley’s case, criminally supporting a regime that murdered people in their millions for no other crime than their ethnicity or political orientation.

James also reviewed David Frost’s interview with Richard Nixon, in which America’s most notorious president until Trump tried to sound repentant for the horrors of his foreign policy, while actually not denying or repudiating them at all. This was the interview that was recently filmed as Frost/Nixon.

Frost also interviewed the man responsible for Nixon’s genocidal foreign policy, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger brought chaos, torture and death across the globe from the overthrow of Allende in Chile to the support of another Fascist thug in Pakistan. Of whom Nixon himself said that this thug was ‘a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’. Kissinger’s massive bombing campaign was responsible for the rise in power of the Khmer Rouge, who became the leading opposition group against the Americans. And after they seized power came the genocides and massacres of Pol Pot’s Year Zero, in which 1-2 millions died.

The review’s particularly interesting for this passage. James was not a total opponent of the Vietnam War, and seems to have believe that the Americans were right to fight against the Viet Cong because of the horrors they would inflict on the rest of the country when they gained power. He criticised Frost, because he thought Frost had bought the whole anti-Vietnam War argument, and states that the Americans were justified in bombing North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia. They were just too brutal, as was Kissinger’s foreign policy generally, and his overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was criminal.

James wrote

Indeed Frost’s questioning, though admirably implacable, was often wide of the mark. Frost had obviously bought the entire ant-war package on Cambodia, up to and including the idea that the North Vietnamese had scarcely even been present within its borders. They were there all right. There was considerable military justification for US intervention in Cambodia, as even some of the most severe critics of Nixon and Kissinger are prepared to admit. ‘Now jusd a minude,’ fumed Kissinger, ‘with all due respecd, I think your whole line of quesdioning is maging a moggery of whad wend on in Indo-China. ‘

Well, not quite. Nixon and Kissinger might have had short-term military reasons for their policy in Cambodia, but the ruinous long-term consequences were easily predictable. Nor, despite Kissinger’s plausible appeal to international law, was there anything legal about the way he and his President tried to keep the bombing secret. In fact, they conspired to undermine the United States Constitution. Kissinger’s personal tragedy is that his undoubted hatred of totalitarianism leads him to behave as if democracy is not strong enough to oppose it.

Unfortunately his personal tragedy, when he was in power, transformed itself into the tragedy of whole countries. The most revealing part of the interview was not about South East Asia, but about Chile. It transpires that a 36 per cent share of the popular vote was not enough to satisfy Kissinger that Allende had been democratically elected. Doubtless remembering Hitler, who had got in on a comparable share of the total vote, Kissinger blandly ascribed Allende’s electoral victory to a ‘peculiaridy of the consdidution’. But Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister of Great Britain by the same kind of peculiarity, and presumably Kissinger, if he were still ruling the roost, would have no plans to topple her. By what right did he topple Allende?

Kissinger couldn’t even conceive of this as a question, ‘Manipulading the domesdig affairs of another goundry’, he explained, ‘is always gombligaded.’It is not just complicated, it is often criminal. The Nixon-Kissinger policy in Chile was an unalloyed disaster, which delivered the population of that country into the hands of torturers and gave Kissingers’ totalitarian enemy their biggest propaganda boost of recent times. You didn’t have to be Jane Fonda to hate the foreign policy of Nixon and Kissinger. all you had to be was afraid of Communism.
(‘Maging a Moggery’, pp.226-228, 4th November 1979).

This shows up two things. Firstly, the sheer murderousness behind Hillary Clinton. Posing as the ‘woman’s candidate’ in the Democratic presidential election contest, and then again in the elections proper against Trump, she showed none of the deep feminine, and feminist concerns for peace and humanity, which have seen women across the world lead marches and protests groups against war and Fascism. Like the women in Chile who formed a group campaigning for the release of information on the victims of Pinochet’s coup who ‘disappeared’. I remember Sinead O’Connor singing ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ back in the 1990s as part of a programme celebrating them and protesters like them. Hillary, instead, has shown herself every bit as much a military hawk and anti-democrat as the generals she surrounded herself with. I’ve no doubt that if she had won the election, we would now be at war with China and Russia. She’s also the woman, who glowingly boasted how she went on holiday with Kissinger, something that did not impress Bernie Sanders in the presidential debates.

It also shows up the Times. A few weeks ago, I posted up a bit I found in a book on the right-wing bias of the British media. This was an extract from the Times, in which one of their lead writers declared that Pinochet’s coup was entirely justified, because Allende only had 36 per cent of the vote and he couldn’t control the country.

Well, Thatcher had the same proportion of the vote, and there was widespread, determined opposition to her in the form of strikes and riots. But instead, rather than calling for her overthrow, the Times celebrated her election victory as a return to proper order, economic orthodoxy and the rest of the right-wing claptrap.

It shows just how thuggish and hypocritical Murdoch’s Times is, and just how much Hillary certainly didn’t deserve the support of America and its women. She’s been whining about how she’s been the victim of left-wing ‘misogyny’ ever since. But if you want to see what she really represents, think of Nixon, Chile’s disappeared, it’s campaigning women and Sinead O’Connor’s performance. O’Connor herself, in my opinion, is no saint. But she’s the better women than Hillary.

Boris Blusters as Thornberry Tells Him to Resign

May 24, 2018

I’ve already put one piece up, commenting on how Boris ran from the chamber when Emily Thornberry rose to ask for the government’s comment about the Gaza massacre. Just as he also ran away from her in February, when she terrified him with a question about Northern Ireland. And in this short video from RT, she lays into Johnson again, over the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Mike reported last week that the Iranians had added yet another trumped up charge to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s list of spurious crimes, and increased her sentence. This time she has been charged with spreading propaganda. It’s sheer nonsense, of course, but it shows the arbitrary, despotic nature of the regime.

However, this woman’s plight has been compounded by the sheer, hamfisted incompetence of the current Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. The Iranian government claimed that she was really spying, and had been teaching journalism during her stay in the country. She hadn’t. She’d actually been taking her daughter, Gabrielle, to meet her Iranian family. Boris, however, decided to leap in with both feet, and claimed in a TV interview that she had indeed been teaching journalism, thus apparently confirming the Iranians’ charges.

There was naturally an outcry against Boris for so ignorantly making the situation worse. So Michael Gove decided to exercise his minuscule intellect, and appeared on television to defend BoJo. And he made matters worse, by stating in an interview that ‘we don’t know what she’s doing’. In fact, the government knew perfectly well what she was doing, and BoJo and Gove only had to look at the briefing papers. Neither of them appear to have bothered. This wouldn’t have surprised Ken Livingstone, who said that Boris often didn’t read them.

Mike in his article about the issue raised the obvious question of why Boris Johnson is still Foreign Secretary, considering all he’s done is make matters worse. He concluded that he is only there, because someone wants him there, not because he has any talent.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/05/21/innocent-brit-faces-more-years-in-iranian-jail-tory-who-failed-to-rescue-her-is-still-foreign-secretary/

In the video, Thornberry turns her attention to Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, and asks how many times more times must Boris this happen? How many more times must he insult our international partners and damage our international relations, and imperil British nationals abroad, before Tweezer sacks him? And if she doesn’t, because she doesn’t have the strength or authority perhaps Boris himself should show a bit of personal authority that this job, where words have gravity and actions have consequences, is not for him.

BoJo then bounces up and starts blustering, stating that it is unfair to attack the Foreign Office, that have been working day and night so secure Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. To which Thornberry simply mouthes ‘Just you’, pointing to the fatuous buffoon. He then goes on to claim that her comments are a distraction from the people, who are really responsible for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation.

This then provokes heated remarks from both sides, with the Deputy Speaker crying for order.

Boris is right that the people really responsible for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment are the Iranians. But they’ve been assisted in this by Boris’ massive incompetence. It’s also very clear to me that they’re holding her as a political bargaining chip. When they first imprisoned her, Boris ended flying out to Tehran, and Britain mysteriously unlocked about £250 million of Iranian funds, that had previously been frozen in banks over here. Both sides claimed that this was unrelated to Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment, but it looks far too much that it was very much connected for the excuse that it was all coincidence to be at all convincing. The problem is that the Iranians have learned that all they have to do is retain Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and add a few more years to her sentence, and the government will automatically try anything to secure her release. Try and fail, because she’s too big an asset for them to throw away now.

And I think that the fresh charges they’ve drummed up against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe are not unrelated to the current crisis in American-Iranian relations. America has imposed sanctions on Iran, and has blocked them from using the dollar as their currency of international trade. Even third party companies, who are not American, are prevented from trading with Iran in dollars, if they wish to do business in America. This is intended to make it difficult for the Iranians to trade oil, as the Americans have made the dollar the international trade currency for it. This has the benefit, for the Americans, of boosting their economy. If the world stopped using the petrodollar, and switched to another currency, the American economy would be devastated. Hence one possible motive for the Americans’ overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi was because the Libyan dictator was planning to ditch the dollar, and set up the dinar as an alternative trade currency. Venezuela was also planning to ditch the dollar. And the Russians and Chinese have also made similar plans.
And the Iranians have gone through with theirs, and replaced the dollar with the euro. This has resulted in Trump and his colleagues going berserk, and threatening all kinds of reprisals against Iran and Europe.

Also, while many Iranians are probably quietly in favour of better relations with the West, official Iranian ideology demonises both America and Britain. America is ‘the great Satan’, while Britain is ‘the little Satan’. And there is much popular suspicion and hatred of Britain as the country’s former colonial master. The country was never formally incorporated into the British Empire, but we owned their oil industry and interfered many times in their politics from the 19th century onwards. The Qajar shahs were overthrown and replaced with the Pahlavis because they took out loans with us for modernisation, which they could not repay. And we overthrew their last, democratically elected president, Mossadeq, because he nationalised the Iranian oil industry. The Iranians therefore have a saying, ‘If there’s a pebble in your path, it was put there by a Brit.’

The Iranian dissident, Shirin Ebadi, has said that so great is this popular hatred of Britain, America and the West, that it is actually harmful for them to support Iranian dissident movements. When that is done, the Iranian authorities try to undermine them by claiming that these are subversive movements working against Iran with the country’s colonial enemies.

It therefore seems clear to me that the Iranians are keeping Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a possible bargaining chip in case of further confrontations with America over their switch from the petrodollar to euro. As well as Trump withdrawing from the nuclear treaty Obama signed with the Iranians. And the Iranian authorities are probably also keen to exploit the propaganda value of continuing Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment, while Britain impotently pleads for her release.

Boris is right that the real villains in this are the Iranians. But they’ve been assisted by his and Gove’s massive incompetence. Thornberry is right. It’s long past time Johnson was sacked. Not just because of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but because of all the other stupid mistakes he’s made, which have threatened our international relations, business interests and the welfare of our citizens abroad.

But Mike’s right. May won’t sack him, because he’s too dangerous to her outside the cabinet. So he will continue in his post as foreign secretary for as long as she’s in power.

Which means that, if we want to do something to improve diplomatic relations and free Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, they’ll both have to go.

After the Secret Flights to Deport Windrush Migrants, No-One Is Safe in Tory Britain

April 20, 2018

Mike in his articles attacking May and her truly foul decision to destroy the evidence needed for the Windrush migrants to show their right to live in our wonderful country also mentioned that poem by Martin Niemoller. Niemoller was one of the scandalously few Christians in Nazi Germany to oppose the regime. You know the poem. It’s become something of a cliché – It opens with the various groups the Nazis came for, with the refrain ‘I did not speak out, because I was not’ whichever group was being attacked. It ends with the line that when they finally came for him, there was no-one to stand up for him. This was the reality in Nazi Germany. The Nazis attacked group after group, not just Jews, but also Gypsies, Socialists, Communists, trade unionists, the disabled, and other political and religious dissidents. And it had an effect. The Catholic Centre Party, which could have voted against the Nazi seizure of power, actually voted for it because they were afraid that the Nazis would come and attack them and the Church. It didn’t help. The Nazis had no qualms about dissolving them, along with the other political parties. The only parties that voted against the Nazis were the SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour party, and the Communists.

The victims of Nazi persecution vanished into ‘Nacht und Nebel’ – ‘Night and Fog’. They were snatched from the homes, and vanished without trace, to be tried before special courts, in secret. The secrecy was quite deliberate. It was done to create fear and deter anyone else from protesting against the Nazi regime. Or in the case of Jews, Gypsies, and the congenitally disabled, simply being. One of Hitler’s most notorious comments is his line ‘The people need fear. A healthy fear is good for them’. Torquemada, the science-fictional galactic Fascist villain of the Nemesis of the Warlock Strip in 2000AD, said the same, except he dropped the ‘healthy’ bit. I’m sure the line was a deliberate quote by the writer, Pat Mills, and shows the research he did on the Third Reich that influenced the war stories in Battle and his other strips against racism and Fascism. ‘Nemesis’ was a fantasy, but based solidly in fact and addressing a real issue.

The knock on the door in the middle of the night and arrests by secret police weren’t unique to the Nazis. It was done in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and by authoritarian regimes across the world, right up to the present day. Like Communist China and Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians, to name just two. And I wonder how long it will be before the Fascist, anti-Semitic Fidesz government in Hungary starts doing the same, after their prime minister declared a list of 200 organisations to be subversive followers of George Soros. Who is, of course, a Jewish financier, exactly like the villains of Nazi conspiracy theory.

But we can’t be complacent. Blair tried to introduce secret courts in this country, and Dave Cameron and Nick Clegg did. These are special courts for those charged with terrorism, and where public disclosure of the evidence is judged to be harmful to that old chestnut, national security. Under the legislation, these trial may be held in secret. The accused and their lawyer may not know the identity of their accuser, or the evidence against them. Or even what the charge is.

It is exactly like the perverted judicial systems of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. And once again, literature got their first. Franz Kafka described all this in his novels, The Castle and The Trial. Kafka, however, had a peculiar sense of humour. He said once that these tales are meant to be funny, in an ironic way. I can remember being told at school that irony plays a big part in the German sense of humour – OK, Kafka was a Jewish Czech, but he wrote in German, and I guess he shared their sense of humour. But it wasn’t a joke under the Nazis and the other totalitarian regimes, and it far from a joke now.

The people unfairly deported were thrown out of this country on secret flights, often shackled in contraptions like leg and hip restraints. This follows the ‘secret renditions’, in which foreign nationals accused of terrorism offences were secretly flown out of this country to others as a way of evading our laws banning torture in interrogations. The Tories clearly felt that after doing it successfully to one group, they could do it to others. So from terrorist suspects, they moved on to entirely respectable people, who came here to work and make a better life for themselves. People who endured massive racism and shouldn’t have to put up with any more of it.

If the Tories can do it to one group, they will do it to others. Food banks are another example. They started out to help asylum seekers waiting for adjudication on their right to stay in the UK, who were banned from claiming benefits. But Ian Duncan Smith and his boss, David Cameron, expanded them to cover ever person thrown off benefits under their murderous sanctions regime.

The Tories start by picking on unpopular outgroups, like terrorists and coloured immigrants. And then they push their policies into the most vulnerable groups of mainstream society.

Remember, in the 1970s large sections of the Tory party really thought that Harold Wilson was a KGB agent and the Labour party was riddled with Communists taking orders direct from Moscow. And leading members of the establishment, including Times journo Peregrine Worsthorne, wanted a coup and the internment of those judged to be dangerous radicals. This included not only politicians, but also trade unionists and journalists. You can read about it in Ken Livingstone’s 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour.

You are not safe, no matter how long you’ve lived here. Even if your a tradition, White Brit. On this evidence, if the Tories continue with their arrests and secret deportations, they will eventually come round to making us vanish into their equivalent of ‘Night and Fog’. Just like the Nazis.

And if we don’t act against this and the other injustices, no-one will stand up for us. Just like no-one stood up for the Jews and the other victims of the Nazis in Niemoller’s poem and real life.

May and the Tories are a clear and present threat to democracy and the security of decent people. Racism and the persecution of immigrants is the start. Get them out, before they turn this country into something very close to Nazi Germany.

Will Killary and the Generals Get Their War with Russia?

March 27, 2018

The news yesterday that a number of EU countries had followed Britain’s lead and expelled Russian diplomats is alarming. This is ratcheting up the tension with Russia to Cold War levels. Despite the lack of definitive evidence that the Russians were behind the poisoning of the Skripals, May and nearly the rest of the countries in the EU have decided that Putin is responsible. And I’m afraid that the tensions they’re fomenting will ultimately lead to war.

Killary began all this nonsense about Russia interfering in western elections as a way of diverting blame from herself for his massive failure to convince Americans to vote her. She’s a horrible candidate – a massively privileged, neoliberal corporatist, who has absolutely no sympathy for the working class, and whose policies on drugs with her husband actively damaged the Black community. She took working class votes for granted and didn’t even bother to campaign in many traditional Democrat states. Instead, she did what Blair did over here and went chasing the upper and upper-middle classes. As a result, she alienated many voters, who would otherwise have voted Democrat. She did get a million or so votes more than Trump, but lost through the machinations of the Electoral College, a very undemocratic institution that was originally set up to allow slave-holding states to count their slaves as less than human so they would have voting equality with free states. She could have blamed the electoral and demanded its abolition. Many others have. But she didn’t. Obviously, she’s quite happy with that very undemocratic part of the American electoral system.

Unable to accept her responsibility for losing the election, and a strong supporter of the status quo, she turned to blaming Russia. In doing so, she joined a number of far right organisations, including eugenicist groups founded by former Nazis, who believed that the poor and Blacks are biologically unfit and so should be denied state welfare. And even before she lost the election, she showed a very strong hostility to Russia.

From reading articles in Counterpunch, it appears that the current policy in the White House and the Pentagon is for ‘full spectrum dominance’. That means that America should be the world’s only superpower, with an unchallenged military dominance of the rest of the world. What America, and its elite leader, including Hillary Clinton, fear is the rise of the multipolar world. They cannot tolerate the emergence of political and economic rivals, such as Russia, or China, or India, for that matter. Hence the massive increase in military spending. Under Obama’s administration, Hillary’s foreign policy towards Russia and China was militantly hostile and she seemed keen to ramp hostility to both these nations to dangerous levels.

And on this side of the Pond, various NATO generals also forecast war with Russia. One of them, a deputy-head of NATO, actually had a book published a couple of years ago entitled 2017: War with Russia, in which he predicted last year that Russia would invade Latvia, and this would spark a war between Russia and NATO. He predicted it would all happen last May. Fortunately, the month came and went and Russia didn’t. But NATO troops were massing on Russia’s borders, which would serve as a provocation to the Russians. Russia is encircled by NATO bases, and has sent military advisers to the Fascist regime in Ukraine.

As I’ve blogged many times before, much of this renewed American hostility to Russia has nothing to do with concerns about democracy and human rights. It’s purely economic. The American multinationals that poured millions into backing Yeltsin at the end of the Cold War did so in the expectation that the ensuing massive privatisation of Russian state assets would allow them to dominate the Russian economy. But Putin has stopped that. Thus the massive corporate anger against Putin’s Russia. Putin is a thug, who has his critics and opponents beaten and killed, but that’s not the reason the American political elite and their counterparts over here hate him.

I’m very much afraid that this latest round of expulsions will end by creating more tension, in a cycle that will end in a war with Russia, perhaps using a manufactured incident as a pretext for invading them. The pressure the government placed on Porton Down to state that the chemical used to poison the Skripals was definitely Russian is very, very similar to the pressure Blair and his cronies put on MI6 to ‘sex up’ the dodgy dossier and claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he could launch within 45 minutes. He didn’t. The British and American publics were lied to, and despite massive opposition the west invaded Iraq. And the result has been nearly two decades of chaos and carnage.

And I’m afraid the same process is going on here to create another war for the benefit of the American military-industrial complex and big corporations desperate to get their hands on Russian resources and industries.

It needs to be stopped. Now. Before war really does break out, a war that could see millions die, and our beautiful planet turned into an irradiated cinder.

The Death Toll of the American Empire

March 14, 2018

I was reading one of the book reviews in issue 59 of Lobster yesterday, when I was struck by this little piece of information. The article included an estimate of the number of people, who have been killed worldwide, thanks to the Americans propping up a series of extreme right-wing and Fascist dictators as part of their global war on Communism. The number of people these butchers may have murdered is somewhere from eight to thirty million.

One of the very strong arguments against Communism, at least in its Leninist/Stalinist/Maoist variety is the number of people it’s killed around the world. And the strongest argument against Fascism is also the number of people those regimes have murdered, for no reason other than their ethnicity, political convictions or that they were simply disabled and so ‘unworthy of life’. The death toll inflicted by American imperialism, however, puts the US well into the league of murderous global states.

But this imperialism is still being promoted as giving the world freedom and democracy, despite the fact that it manifestly doesn’t. It gives instead its victims nothing but slavery, torture and death, all for multinational corporate interests.

Kevin Logan on Milo Yiannopolis’ Editor’s Notes

December 29, 2017

I’ve been avoiding talking too much about politics this week as I simply haven’t had the strength to tackle the issues in as much detail as they deserve. Quite apart from the fact that the issues that have been raised in the media this week – the continuing running down of the NHS, the growth of food banks, homelessness and grinding poverty, all to make the poor poorer and inflate the already bloated incomes of the Tory elite, all make me absolutely furious. I’ve been feeling so under the weather that, quite simply, I couldn’t face blogging about them and making myself feel worse mentally as well as physically.

But this is slightly different.

Slate has published a piece about the guidance notes Alt-Right Trumpist cheerleader Milo Yiannopolis has got from his publishers at Simon and Schuster. In this short video, scourge of anti-feminists, racists and general Nazis Kevin Logan goes through the notes, and it’s hilarious.

There are pages and pages of them. And the more you read, the funnier it gets.

You remember Milo Yiannopolis? He was one of the rising stars of the Alt-Right. He’s anti-feminist, anti-immigration and in many peoples’ eyes, racist, although he’s denied that he actually has any Nazi connections. All this despite the fact that he was filmed in a bar getting Hitler salutes from a party of Alt-Right fans.

He was the IT correspondent for Breitbart, many of whose founders, managers and leading staff are racists, and have been described as such by the anti-racism, anti-religious extremism organisation and site Hope Not Hate. Yiannopolis has constantly denied that he’s racist or bigoted by playing the race and sexuality card. He’s half-Jewish, gay, and his partner is Black. And so he argues that he can’t possibly be prejudiced against people of different ethnicities and gays. Well, possibly. But he has said some extremely bigoted, racist and homophobic comments, quite apart from his anti-feminism.

He describes himself as ‘a virtuous troll’. Others just call him a troll. That’s all he is. He’s only good at writing deliberately offensive material, but is otherwise completely unremarkable. But he’s British public school elite, and so Americans, who should know much better, assume that somehow he’s more cultured, knowledgeable, better educated and insightful than he actually is. Sam Seder commented on Yiannopolis that if he wasn’t British, nobody would take any notice of him. I think it’s a fair comment. But it does show the snobbery that goes with class and accent. Incidentally, when I was a kid reading comics, my favourite characters were the Thing in the Fantastic Four, and Powerman, in Powerman and Iron Fist. And it was partly because of their accents. Stan Lee has a terrible memory, and to help him remember which character said what, he used to give them different voices, sometimes based on who was in the media at the time. He made the Thing talk like Jimmy Durante. He was a space pilot, but his speech was that of New York working class. I liked him because he was kind of a blue-collar joe, like my family.

The same with Powerman. He was a Black superhero, real name Luke Cage, who had been subjected to unethical medical experiments to create a superman by a corrupt prison governor after being wrongly convicted. I didn’t understand the racial politics around the strip, but liked the character because he was another lower class character with a working class voice. He also had the same direct approach as the Thing in dealing with supervillains. Whereas Mr. Fantastic, the leader of the Fantastic Four, and Cage’s martial artist partner in fighting crime, Iron Fist would debate philosophically how to deal with the latest threat to the world and the cosmos, according to the demands of reason and science in the case of Mr. Fantastic, and ancient Chinese mystical traditions, in Iron Fists’, the Thing and Powerman simply saw another megalomaniac, who needed to be hit hard until they cried for mercy and stopped trying to take over the world or the universe.

But I digress. Back to Milo. Milo was due to have a book published, but this fell through after he appeared on Joe Rogan’s show defending child abuse. Yiannopolis had been sexually abused himself by a paedophile Roman Catholic priest, but believed that he had been the predator in that situation. From what I understand, the victims of sexual abuse often unfairly blame themselves for their assault, so I’m quite prepared to believe that something like that happened to Yiannopolis. What was unusual – and revolting – was that Yiannopolis appeared to feel no guilt and regret at all about the incident.

Very, very many people were rightly disgust. He got sacked from Breitbart, along with a lot of other companies, his speaking tour had to be cancelled, and the book deal he had managed to finagle fell through.

Well, as Sergeant Major Shut Up used to say on It Ain’t ‘Alf Hot, Mum, ‘Oh, dear. How sad. Never mind.’ It couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke, and Yiannopolis got a taste of the kind invective and vitriol he poured on the ‘SJWs’ and the Left.

He appeared later on to ‘clarify’ his statement – not an apology – saying that he now knew he was the victim of child abuse, and stating that he didn’t promote or approve of the sexual abuse of children. But the damage was done.

Now it seems Yiannopolis’ book deal is back on, though Simon and Schuster really aren’t happy with the manuscript.

Comments include recommendations that he remove the jokes about Black men’s willies, doesn’t call people ‘cucks’, and stop sneering at ugly people. One of these is particularly hilarious, as his editor writes that you can’t claim that ugly people are attracted to the Left. ‘Have you seen the crowd at a Trump rally?’ Quite. I saw the front row of the crowd at BBC coverage of the Tory party convention one year, and they were positively horrific. It seemed to be full of old school country squire types, as drawn by Gerald Scarfe at his most splenetic.

The guidance goes on with comments like ‘No, I will not tolerate you describing a whole class of people as mentally retarded’, and then factual corrections. Like ‘This never happened’. ‘This never happened too.’ ‘No, you’re repeating fake news. There was no Satanism, no blood and no semen’. At one point the editor demands that an entire chapter be excised because it’s just off-topic and offensive.

Here’s the video.

There probably isn’t anything unusual in the amount of editing that Simon and Schuster require. Mainstream publishing houses often request changes or alteration to the manuscript. It happens to the best writers and academics. Years ago I read an interview with the editors of some of the authors of the world’s most influential books. One of them was Germaine Greer’s. Greer had sent in a manuscript about cross-dressing in Shakespeare. A fair enough subject, as there’s a lot of female characters disguising themselves as boys in the Bard’s plays. But she had the insight that Greer was far more interested in gender roles, and suggested she write about that instead. And the result was The Female Eunuch.

At a much lower level of literature, Private Eye had a good chortle about one of ‘Master Storyteller’ Jeffrey Archer’s tawdry epics. Apparently the gossip was that it went through seven rewrites. Ian Fleming’s editor for the Bond books, according to one TV documentary, was a gay man with a keen interest in dressing well. Which is why some of the sex in Bond was less explicit than Fleming intended, but also why Bond became suave, stylish dresser fighting supervillains in impeccably cut dinner suits.

No shame in any of this, then. But what makes it funny is that it’s happened to Yiannopolis, who seems to have been too much of an egotist to think that anything like it could ever really happen to him. Looking through the comments, it’s also clear that the editor really doesn’t like his bigotry, and the invective he spews against racial minorities and the disadvantaged. I got the impression that he or she really didn’t want to have anything to do with book, but has presumably been told they had to work with Yiannopolis because the publishers were going to put it out anyway, no matter what anyone else in the company felt.

And the editor’s clear dislike of his bigotry is a problem for Yiannopolis, because he’s a troll, and that’s just about all he does: pour out sneers, scorn and abuse, like a male version of Anne Coulter, another right-winger, who’s far less intelligent than she thinks she is. And I know that grammatically standards are a bit looser now than they were a few years ago, but when you have the comment ‘This is not a sentence’, it’s clear that Yiannopolis is failing at one of the basic demands of any writer from the editors of small press magazines to the biggest publishing houses and newspapers and magazines. They all insist that you should write properly in grammatically correct sentences. But Yiannopolis has shown that he can’t do that either.

As for the kind of literary snobbery that used to look down very hard on comics and graphic novels, while promoting opinionated bigots like Yiannopolis as ‘serious’ writers, my recommendation is that if you’re given a choice between going to comics convention or seeing Milo, go to the comics convention. You’ll be with nicer people, the comics creators on the panels are very good speakers, and themselves often very literate and cultured. I can remember seeing Charles Vess at the UKCAC Convention in Reading in 1990. Vess is a comics artist, but he’s also produced cover art for SF novels. He gave a fascinating talk about the great artists that have influenced him with slides. And one of the highlights was listening to the publisher of DC, Roy Kanigher, who was very broad New York. Didn’t matter. He was genuinely funny, to the point where the interviewer lost control of the proceedings and Kanigher had the crowd behind him all the way.

Which shows what a lot of people really know already: just because someone’s got a British public school accent, does not make them a genius, or that they’re capable of producing anything worth reading. Comics at their best can be brilliant. They open up children’s and adults’ imaginations, the art can be frankly amazing and quite often the deal with difficult, complex issues in imaginative ways. Think of Neil Gaiman, who started off as one of the writers at 2000 AD before writing the Sandman strip for DC. Or Alan Moore.

Yiannopolis is the opposite. All he does is preach hate, trying to get us to hate our Black, Asian and Latin brothers and sisters, despise the poor, and tell women to know their place. He has no more right to be published, regardless of his notoriety, than anyone else. And the editor’s demand for amendments show it.

Oh, and as regarding publishing fake news, he’d have had far less sympathy from Mike, if by some misfortune Mike had found himself as Yiannopolis’ editor. Proper journalists are expected to check their facts, which Mike was always very keen on. It was he was respected by the people he actually dealt when he was working as a journalist. The problem often comes higher up, at the level of the newspaper editors and publishers. In the case of Rupert Murdoch, I’ve read account of his behaviour at meetings with his legal staff that shows that Murdoch actually doesn’t care about publishing libellous material, if the amount of the fine will be lower than the number of extra copies of the paper the fake news will sale. Fortunately it appears that Simon and Schusters’ editors don’t quite have that attitude. But who knows for how long this will last under Trump. The man is determined to single-handedly destroy everything genuinely great and noble in American culture.

Paintings of British Spaceplane MUSTARD

December 28, 2017

This is awesome. It’s another couple of piccies from the SF art page, 70sscifiart, and it’s one of the entries for the 18th June 2017. They’re illustrations from a book on space about the MUSTARD spaceplane, a reusable space vehicle designed in 1964 by the British Aerospace Corporation. The scientists and engineers, who designed it realised that it was wasteful and expensive to build rockets that would last only for a single mission, before being mostly discarded.

Their solution, MUSTARD, effectively consists of three spaceplanes linked together. There’s the main craft, which flies into space, and two supporting planes, which serve to provide fuel to the main craft, helping it reach orbital velocity. When their fuel was used up, they broke away from the main plane, and flew back to Earth.

I first came across the MUSTARD project in an issue of the space/ science fiction magazine New Voyager back in the early 80s. This described the project, and interviewed some of the scientists and engineers involved. I think the problem with it is that it was probably far too far ahead of its time. I can remember reading that they estimated that the vehicle would start breaking even after 50 journeys. Now, looking at the economics of the space shuttle, that’s probably acceptable today. The only way the Space Shuttle remained competitive compared to the other launch vehicles developed by the Russians, the Europeans, India, China and Japan is because its subsidized by the American government. If you left it to market forces, it’d be uncompetitive. It’s another example of the way market forces are absolutely wonderful, but only so long as they don’t hurt big business and the ‘national interest’.

There were also probably political reasons for its cancellation as well. Britain at the time was also developing its own space rocket, Black Arrow, which successfully launched a satellite into space in 1975, to date the only British satellite that’s been launched by a British rocket. At the time Britain was involved in a European project to build a space rocket, with various stages built by the French, British and Germans. All of the other stages were failures with the exception of the British, and the project eventually fell apart. The civil servants in charge of British space research did not feel that there was a sufficient market to support an independent British rocket launcher, and instead decided that we’d piggy-back on the Americans.

The French, on the other hand, persevered, and developed their massive successful Ariane rocket, which is actually much more economical and performs better than the US space shuttle did. Which shows how farsighted the French can be when it comes to developing new technologies. Unlike our politicos, who seem to want to get everything cheap from someone else.

Tragically, the space shuttle was beset with problems, which resulted in a series of horrific catastrophes. The best known of these is probably the Challenger disaster, which led to the programme being suspended for years while the Shuttle was being examined and redesigned. Then there was that terrible incident a few years ago where the Shuttle exploded just when it was re-entering the atmosphere, breaking up over the US. This has led to the Shuttle being cancelled, and America reliant for manned spaceflight on the Russians.

I don’t doubt that the design for MUSTARD was sound, and it would have been way ahead of the other competing spacecraft if it had been built. Unfortunately, economics, politics and the will to do it weren’t there.

RT Shows Clip of Triple Suns Seen in China

December 28, 2017

This is a bit of fun and Fortean weirdness to cheer people up after the gloom and chaos of the seasonal weather and the continuing Tory destruction of the NHS, the economy, and everything decent in our society. A couple of days ago, RT put up this very short video of the triple suns seen in the sky over Hailun City. The blurb for the video states that it mesmerised the residents, and appeared at about half eight in the morning.

It’s an illusion, of course, which the RT blurb duly mentions. I think these type of illusions are called Sundogs, or parhelion. The large, middle sun is the real sun, whose light is refracted by ice or water crystals in the Earth’s atmosphere, thus creating the illusion that there are two smaller suns either side of it. It’s been seen several times in history. I think one appearance is recorded in one of the medieval chronicles for the 12/13th centuries, where three suns were seen by the people of one particular county in England.

I have read attempts to explain the strange creatures seen by the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel as sundogs. When these appeared in the sky before him, they were travelling in strange vehicles like wheels, which also had other wheels revolving within them. This doesn’t actually sound like a sundog to me, and I think the incident is far better explained as a visionary experience. Of course, the UFO crowd have also tried to claim that what Ezekiel saw were really visiting extraterrestrials in their spaceships, following the theories of Von Daniken and the like. I really don’t believe that explanation either. Von Daniken’s ideas have been massively influential in promoting the ‘ancient astronaut’ hypothesis – that Earth has been visited throughout its history by aliens. But it’s also been extensively critiqued itself. Von Daniken got much of his facts wrong, and misinterpreted the archaeological and anthropological evidence he used to support his ideas.

But whatever your view of visiting aliens and UFOs, I think we can all enjoy this strange and weirdly beautiful spectacle.

Vox Political on Boris Johnson’s Clownish Incompetence over Russia

December 24, 2017

Mike yesterday, 23rd December 2017, posted a piece criticising Boris Johnson for his completely inept handling of the talks in Moscow to improve relations with Russia. Boris has already proved to be massively and embarrassingly stupid in the way he has handled Myanmar, Libya and Iran.

Later on in the article, Mike discusses how Boris’ absolutely ignorant statement about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Anglo-Iranian lady, who was imprisoned in Iran for allegedly teaching journalism. She was guilty of no such activity, but had simply gone there to visit relatives for a holiday. As so many Brits of Iranian descent do. Nevertheless, Boris opened his trap, confirmed the lies put out by the Iranian government, who then decided to increase her sentence. Well done, Boris! In fact, the Iranians have decided to cut the sentence back to six months, but this is the decision of their independent judiciary, and nothing to do with the government.

In his meeting with Sergei Lavrov, Johnson’s opposite number in the Russian Foreign Ministry, Johnson got it into his thick, old-Etonian head to make matters worse by criticising Russia for the war in Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimea, hacking and electoral interference over here, and Syria. All while ostensibly deploring the depths to which Anglo-Russian relations had fallen, and claiming to be a ‘Russophile’. I put up a piece the other day about an interview Ken Livingstone did on RT’s ‘Going Underground’ with Afshin Rattansi. Livingstone said that he knows Boris very well, having fought against him in four elections, and doesn’t trust a word he says. He makes the point that Boris doesn’t want to be a politician, but a celebrity, and stated that he doesn’t always read the briefing documents his aides have prepared for him. All of which strikes me as very true. As for being a Russophile, Livingstone said that Johnson would probably immediately start mouthing off about them once more the moment he set foot back in London.

Mike warns that instead of decreasing tension, Johnson’s tactless comments will have served to increase it, possibly leading to armed conflict. Well, it’s what some in NATO seem to want. Think of the way Killary was ramping up military tensions with Russia and China, and the former NATO general, who published a book in 2016 arguing that by May this year 2017, we and the Russians would be at war.

Mike concludes

I would say the UK will need to be prepared for an escalation of hostilities – at least on a covert level.

But Mr Johnson’s public outburst makes it seem abundantly clear that, when it comes to our defence, his government has nothing.

We had better hope that I am mistaken.

As for Mr Johnson himself: He has critically compromised the UK’s relationship with a major foreign power.

When he arrives back in the UK, Mrs May should give him the same treatment she offered Priti Patel – another Cabinet minister who thought she could do whatever she pleased without consequence.

But we all know Theresa May is far, far too weak for that. It’s why she needs to offer her resignation as well.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/12/23/theresa-may-sent-a-clown-to-do-her-diplomacy-an-international-incident-was-inevitable/

I’ve heard from many people with expertise in foreign relations that despite the Fall of Communism, Russia still needs very careful handling. This was known as far back as the 1990s. I’m starting to wonder if Johnson really ever intended to smooth things over with our Russian friends. I don’t think he did, and that this has all been for show. Britain is tied to American foreign policy through the Special Relationship, which means we ride on the American’s coat-tails trying to maintain our status as a world power. In return for this, we do whatever they want. Which our leaders, like Tony Blair, do extremely enthusiastically. Hence Blair’s very willing participation in the bloody and illegal invasion of Iraq.

The Americans seem to want some kind of confrontation with Russia. This is partly about Killary trying to distract attention away from how massively unpopular and corrupt she was by falsely claiming that she would have won the election, if it weren’t for those pesky Russky hackers. It also seems to be about the fury of American multinational industry over their failure to control the Russian economy since the accession of Putin, after so much was sold to them at a knock-down price by another walking alcoholic disaster area, Boris Yeltsin. To whom the Americans corruptly funnelled hundreds of millions into his election campaign. And, according to Red Ken, Obama and the Democrats hate Russia, because they wouldn’t join their anti-Chinese alliance to stop China becoming the world’s greatest economy, instead of America.

So I think that Boris’ mission to Russia was deliberately doomed from the start. It was for show only, so that people would think the Tories sincerely cared about peace and security, while they manifestly don’t. Well, the grunts and squaddies, who are going to die in the frontline will be mostly working class anyway, so from their toff viewpoint, who cares?

So if there are any Russian readers of this blog, I have this to say in my very limited, schoolboy Russian.

Boris Johnson durak. On ne dorozhili k Britanskuyu ludei, kotoraya khotet mir i druzhbu mezhdu Britannuyu i Rossii.

Which I hope means ‘Boris Johnson is a fool. He is not valued highly by the British people, who want peace and friendship between Britain and Russia’.

And very best season’s greetings to all our readers, in whatever country they live, and whatever religious or philosophical beliefs they hold. My you all enjoy a peaceful and prosperous holiday season and New Year.