Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Short Video on the History of TV’s Panthermobile

February 16, 2021

Okay, I know I haven’t been posting much recently. I’m afraid I’ve been somewhat busy with other projects, and the recent news really hasn’t inspired me. However, I did find this fascinating and fun little video on YouTube which amused me, and which I thought would interest other peeps of a certain age. It’s from the Little Car channel, and it’s about the Panthermobile, a 7 meter long bizarre pink contraption built for the titles of the Pink Panther cartoon show. This was a spin-off from the famous Pink Pather films starring the late, great Peter Sellers, and starring a panther who, in the words of the theme song, was ‘ever so pink’ and a cartoon version of Inspector Clouseau. The cartoon first aired in 1969, and the car cost the equivalent of £330,000 to build. It was designed by Jay Ohrberg and Ed Newton, and built by a number of engineers and mechanics including Ed Roth. The car followed the trend of other vehicles specially built for TV shows, such as the Batmobile and the Monkeemobile, the latter for the manufactured band and TV show, The Monkees. Roth had built a number of other, strange vehicles, such as the Orbitron, a car that had a clear perspex bubble over the driver’s position instead of the usual roof and windscreen.

The driver’s seat of the Panthermobile was in front of the two front wheels and the engine that drove them. This made the thing difficult to drive, as you can see from it swerving about the road slightly in the opening titles. The passenger section featured plush carpets, a carphone and minibar. Because there was no rear view mirror a black and white TV screen was used instead.

In the end the car ended up being used for only one year. In 1970 the cartoon’s titles were changed so that they didn’t feature it. As there was little use for a giant car that wasn’t street legal, it was left to languish until it was bought up by Galpin Autosports. Galpin had also rescued the Orbitron from its place in a Mexican side alley being used as a skip. The company now has the largest collection of Ed Roth cars in existence, some of which are shown in the video. These are quite bizarre and look like that era’s idea of what spacecraft would look like in the future. The video concludes by stating that the company’s engineers were huge fans of Roth, and made a complete restoration of the car, and that it was the product a group of southern Californian dreamers who dared to turn their ideas into reality.

The Panthermobile Story – YouTube

The Pink Panther cartoons haven’t been shown for a long time, but they were classics of their type. The Panther himself never spoke, and even when placed in the hilarious situations of cartoon comedy, like watching as the motorbike he’s riding falls apart, with one half overtaking him, always managed to look amazingly cool. The cartoon was so popular that there was even a Pink Panther chocolate bar, which was also very, very pink. And despite its absence from the TV screen, people still remember it fondly. There was a cartoon about the character a few years ago in Private Eye. This showed two panthers telling the pink one to get out with the caption, ‘Unfortunately the Pink Panther’s parents were homophobes’. It’s funny when applied to a cartoon character, but unfortunately is an experience which all too many gay children have suffered.

I also found this video of the show’s titles, featuring the Panthermobile, on The 1981 Club’s channel on YouTube, so everyone who watched it in the ’70s can relive it and everyone born after the decade can see what epic TV we had then.

The Pink Panther Show Original Opening HQ – YouTube

Videos of CGI Recreations of Vehicles and Castle for Jodorowski’s ‘Dune’

January 31, 2021

Alejandro Jodorowski’s Dune is one of the great, unmade films. Jodorowski himself is a Chilean-French film director and comics writer. A Surrealist, he made a series of very bizarre films, such as the western El Topo. In the early ’70s he set about making a film version of Frank Herbert’s classic SF novel, Dune, despite never having read it. This would have starred Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and the great, bonkers Surrealist artist Salvador Dali as the Emperor of the Known Universe. Equally impressive were the artists he hired to produce the concept art and designs for the spaceships and other vehicles and settings for the film. These included H.R. Giger, the creator of the infamous Alien, French comics artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, and Chris Fosse, the force behind a thousand SF paperback covers. The film was never made, as the producers cut its funding at the last moment. However, the work on the movie was never wasted, as Jodorowski and Moebius used it as the basis for their comic The Incal and The Metabarons. It has also been immensely influential on later SF movies, including Ridley Scott’s ’80s classic, Bladerunner.

These two videos have been made and put up on YouTube by Monochrome Paris, a group that wishes to recreate in CGI Jodorowski’s aborted film. They have so far managed to recreate Duke Leto Atreides’ car, which was designed by Fosse, and Baron Harkonnen’s castle, which was the suitably horrific work of Giger.

Here’s the link to the car video:

Reviving Jodorowsky’s Dune in Virtual Reality [Chris Foss Vehicle test – Real-time 3D] – YouTube

And this is for Harkonnen’s Castle:

Reviving Jodorowsky’s Dune in Virtual Reality pt II [HR Giger – Real-time 3D] – YouTube

I think the two videos are great, and it would be really superb if they were able to recreate the entire movie in CGI. Unfortunately the videos are from 2019 and so I don’t think their proposed movie will ever be made. It would still be good if they were able to produce more videos of some of the other designs for the movie, such as the space tugs towing the containers of spice through space, a space pirate ship and the Harkonnen’s own spaceship, which were all designed by Chris Fosse. They’re included along with his other art, included concept designs for Bladerunner, Alien and Superman 2 in the book 21st Century Fosse.

But Belfield, Churchill was a White Supremacist!

January 23, 2021

A few days ago right-wing internet radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield put up a video expressing his outrage yet again at those evil lefties and their attacks on great British heroes. The lefties in question were the awesome Ash Sarkar, Michael Walker and co. of Novara Media, and the great British hero was Winston Churchill. Sarkar and Walker had dared to call Winnie a White supremacist and chuckle about it! How terrible! And so Belfield put up his video attacking them for daring to scoff at the great man.

The problem was, he did nothing to refute their accusation. He played a clip of Sarkar and Walker calling Churchill a White supremacist and laughing, but didn’t actually provide any facts to prove Churchill wasn’t a racist. All he did was attack Sarkar and her comrades for saying he was. And I don’t think he could have argued that Churchill wasn’t a White supremacist. In the clip he used, Sarkar states that Churchill was a White supremacist by his own admission. And I find that entirely credible. Churchill is now a great, molten god thanks his inspiring leadership during the Second World War. So much so, that he is supposed to stand for everything good and right and be absolutely above criticism. Or at least, he is to members of the Tory faithful. But such attitudes obscure just how controversial Churchill was in his own day, and the real racism in British society. Churchill is still hated by proud, working class Welshmen and women today for sending the troops in to shoot striking miners in one of the pit villages. He was responsible for the debacle of Gallipolli during the Second World War, a bloodbath that in my opinion has tainted the relationship between us and the Ozzies. It shows Johnson’s complete lack of any real historical sympathy for the victims of his blundering that in his biography of the great man, he gives it a ten for being both a colossal mistake and for showing ‘the Churchill factor’, whatever that is. Churchill was so bloodthirsty and keen to use the army to suppress the general strike, that Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin was determined to keep him away from it as far as possible. Irish nationalists also hate him for sending the Black and Tans in to crush the Irish revolution. Churchill spent many years in the political wilderness. What saved him was his tour of Africa in the 1920s. At the same time, his opposition to Nazi Germany wasn’t based on any hatred of their racism and suppression of democracy. The historian Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two World Wars states as an authoritarian himself, Churchill liked the Spanish dictator General Franco. He considered Mussolini to be a ‘perfect swine’, possibly because the Duce declared that his Blackshirts were the equivalent of the British Black and Tans. But nevertheless, Churchill still went on a visit of Fascist Italy. Churchill’s real reason for opposing Nazism was because he was afraid that Germany would be a threat to British interests in the North Sea.

I got the impression that Churchill was without question an imperialist, which means that he believed unquestionably that White Brits were superior and had every right to their empire and dominion over the darker races. Imperialism was so much a part of official British culture, that I think it’s forgotten just how powerful a force it was and how deeply embedded it was. Empire Day was a national holiday, the British empire was lauded in books like Our Empire Story, and one of the strips in the Dandy or the Beano was ‘The Colony Nigs’. Some British scientists also shared the biological racism that served to legitimate discrimination against non-Whites. As late as 1961 wannabe dictator Oswald Mosley cited articles and papers by British scientists claiming that Blacks were less intelligent than Whites in his book Mosley – Right or Wrong.

If Churchill had only believed that non-Whites were inferior, but otherwise treated them with the benign paternalism that Britain was supposed to show towards its subject races, then his White supremacist views wouldn’t have been too bad. It would have been patronising, but no harm would have been done. But his racism was partly responsible for creating the Bengal famine, which carried off 3-6 million Indians. Churchill had ordered their grain to be sequestered as a reserve food supply for the troops in Europe. This left the Bengalis unable to feed themselves. Many of Churchill’s senior military staff pleaded him to release the food, but he refused, stating that the Indians were a filthy race and that it was all their fault for ‘pullulating’ – in other words, breeding and having too many children. It’s an atrocity that could be compared to the horrific murder of the Jews by the Nazis, and some of Churchill’s generals certainly did so. It’s a monstrous stain on Churchill’s character, but very few Brits are probably aware of it.

Does that mean that it’s acceptable to deface Churchill’s statue, as one irate young man did during the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted earlier this year? The lad scrawled ‘was a racist’ on it, an act which raised right-wing hackles. It was ostensibly to protect his and statues like it that prompted mobs of White Brits to stage their own counterdemonstrations. No, I don’t believe it is, even though it’s true. It is thanks to Churchill’s leadership that western Europe at least remained free from Nazi domination or that of Stalinist Communism. Spike Milligan in one volume of his war memoirs states that if Britain hadn’t entered the War, the Iron Curtain would have stopped at his home town of Bexhill. Churchill, monster though he was in so very many ways, deserves respect and credit for that.

But that doesn’t mean that he should be above criticism either. There’s another video put up by Belfield in which he complaints about a planned re-vamp of Have I Got News For You. Apparently the Beeb is going to replace long time contestants Ian Hislop and Paul Merton as part of their diversity campaign. This involves sacking middle-aged White men in favour of more women and BAME presenters and performers. In his video, Belfield complains about how this change will deprive British television of the pair’s comedic talents. Which is true, but I wonder how he feels about Hislop’s magazine’s attitude to his great hero. Private Eye when it started up was deeply critical of Churchill, running cartoons and articles lampooning him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’ and criticising him for betraying just about every cause he ever embraced. The Eye and its founders were never radical lefties. They were all public schoolboys, but nevertheless the magazine was regarded with intense suspicion and distaste by many. When it first began many newsagents refused to stock it. One of my co-workers at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in the ’90s and first years of this century shared that dislike. Seeing me reading it over lunch one day, he asked me if I really read it. I dare say that it was the magazine’s willingness to poke fun and attack respected figures like Churchill that provoked some of that intense dislike. But nevertheless, Britain remains a free country – just! – because we are able to criticise our leaders and point out that they aren’t flawless idols we have to revere and obey, like some monstrous dictator. And that includes the right to criticise and spoof Winston Churchill.

Belfield constantly sneers at the younger generation as ‘leftie snowflakes’, but he’s the one with the delicate sensibilities here. I’m not denying Churchill deserves respect for his stern resistance to Nazism, but he was a racist whose supremacist views caused death and suffering to millions of Indians. Getting annoyed with Sarkar and the rest for calling him a racist and White supremacist won’t change that.

Belfield had therefore do what he’s always telling left-wing millennials to do, and show a bit of backbone and get over it.

MechaRandom on Israeli Space General’s Claim that the Aliens Really Are Here

December 9, 2020

Here’s a piece about Israel, which doesn’t involve them maltreating the Palestinians. But are they really in touch, along with the US, with beings from another planet?

MechaRandom42 is a vlogger, who talks about SF/Fantasy film, TV and comics, especially Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr. Who. She’s very critical about recent treatment of these classic series and film franchises, which she and many other fans believe have been ruined for explicitly ideological reasons. For example, popular, long-standing male characters in her view have been deliberately humiliated and undermined in order to give centre stage to poorly written and unlikeable female characters in order to preach an explicit and simplistic feminist message. At the same time gay and trans characters are also included in popular film franchises and TV series, like Batwoman, but the treatment given them is also simplistic. It’s tokenism, and this forced diversity comes at the expense of creating genuinely well-crafted, popular characters or intelligent, coherent and involving plots and stories. She’s also critical of recent Star Trek series, like Star Trek Picard, for abandoning the utopian optimism of previous series, like Classic Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and so forth, for a darker, dystopian future that’s robbed the series of its soul and reduced it to a generic SF show which just uses the settings and characters of Trek. She also laments the series’ decline in their ability to treat issues like racism, sexism and gayness. Previous series of Trek did so intelligently and from the perspective that humanity had already transcended these problems. The series often had an explicit message, but it took the trouble to explain them to the audience and didn’t patronise or insult them if they disagreed. Now their treatment is much cruder, reasoned argument is replaced by shrill preaching and there’s an underlying attitude that everyone who disagrees with the message must be an ‘-ist’ or a ‘-phobe’. This has resulted in these once popular film franchises, TV series and comics losing viewers and readers. And it’s one of the reasons the last series of Dr. Who catastrophically lost viewers.

It’s a controversial view, but one shared by a number of other Youtubers and fans of these genres. Some of this criticism comes from people on the political right, but it has also been expressed by peeps on the other side of the political spectrum. They argue that there have always been a concern with these issues in popular entertainment, and that there hasn’t been a shortage of strong female characters in SF. The Alien franchise’s Ellen Ripley is a classic example. The problem is that these issues aren’t being intelligently handled, but instead have been taken over by creators who are ideologically intolerant and seem intent on alienating their audience rather than winning them other.

In this video, however, she moves away from this to discuss the claims of Haim Eshad, a retired Israeli general, professor and former head of their Space Security Force, that the US and Israel really have made contact with aliens. According to the Jerusalem Post, citing another Israeli paper Yediot Aharonot, the two countries have made contact with the Galactic Federation, and they’re operating an underground base on Mars jointly with the aliens. Donald Trump was on the verge of announcing the extraterrestrial presence on Earth, but was stopped from doing so. The aliens don’t which to cause mass panic, and believe we are not ready for them just yet. He’s also got a book coming out, which he says contains more details and evidence.

MechaRandom compares this with the Star Trek universe and its theme of whether humanity is sufficiently evolved to meet aliens. She believes that we aren’t, and that this is due to the way society has dumbed down so we don’t use our ability to do Maths. This is the area we need to be concentrating on, in her opinion, if we are to meet aliens. She also wonders whether the retired military gentleman really is telling the truth, or if he’s ‘a crazy old guy’. He’s 87.

Aliens & The Galactic Federation Are Real For Reals This Time? – YouTube

To people with more than a superficial knowledge of Ufolore, this is very familiar stuff. Ever since Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of them over the Rockies in the 1947, there have been tales of secret government pacts with aliens, underground bases and so on. And there have been a string of Contactees, like George Adamski, who claimed that they had personally made contact with aliens, who had given them a message for humanity. These aliens also claimed to come from some kind of galactic or interplanetary federation, and their messages reflected the pressing global concerns of the day. In the 1950s this was the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s and 1990s this was the threat to the environment, mirroring the rise of the Green movement. Whole religions have been built on such claimed contact, like the Raelians, UNARIUS and the Aetherius Society. This was set up in the 1950s by taxi driver George King, who heard a voice in his kitchen one day telling him that he should ‘prepare to be the voice of interplanetary parliament’. The Society claimed that King was in touch with an alien, Aetherius, on Venus, where Jesus was also alive and well, as well as Mars Sector 6.

There have been rumours of underground bases since at least the 1980s, as well as various newspaper and magazine articles and books written by government or military officials like Donald Keyhoe, Nick Pope, and the pseudonymous ‘Commander X’. The British hoax TV programme, Alternative 3, broadcast in the 1970s as an April Fool’s joke, also claimed that the Americans and Russians were secretly operating bases on the Moon and Mars, to which people were being kidnapped for use as slave labour in the event of global environmental collapse and the extinction of terrestrial humanity.

There are also stories that President Truman made contact with aliens when they landed at Holloman AFB in the ’40s or ’50s. JFK is also supposed to have been about to reveal the truth about the aliens, which is why he was assassinated. Ronald Reagan is also supposed to have been privy to this information, as shown by his remark to Steven Spielberg during a screening of ET at the White House: ‘Only five people in this room know how true all this is’.

You get the picture. Nothing Eshad has said, at least according to the Jerusalem Post article, is original. If anything, it’s curiously dated. The Contactee Howard Menger claimed to have seen Americans and Russians cooperating together on a secret base on the Moon when the space brothers took him there on one of his extraterrestrial jaunts. Menger was not a military man, but a barber. Hence the title of one of his books was Hairdresser to the Space People, or something like it.

Is Eshad telling the truth, or is he deluded or actually lying? My guess it’s one of the last two. Age and the pressures of holding such a senior command in the tense, war-torn Middle East could have taken their toll on the old boy’s mental health. It might also be that he may have personally had some kind of UFO sighting or experience, like some of the US astronauts. Or had UFO reports from the service personnel under him passed up for his comments. Researching the subject, he’s come across all the tall tales and rumours, and managed to convince himself they’re true.

On the other hand, he could very well be spinning yarns himself. He could be telling these stories as some kind of personal joke and to make a buck on the side from the sales of his forthcoming book. Or there may be something far more sinister going on here. There’s a large amount of evidence that the US intelligence agencies have been deliberately spreading disinformation about alien contact, crashed spacecraft and secret underground bases for their own purposes. Some of this might be destabilise the UFO community, which they have often viewed as a security threat because of the interest taken in secret aircraft and the air force and other bases, which are supposed to hide alien spacecraft and bodies. Some UFO sightings have been of American spy planes. These were often flown from US airbases in Britain and elsewhere, but were so secret that the Americans didn’t tell their allies in the host nations. It might be that Eshad is telling these tales of alien contact in order to have everyone looking in the wrong direction and so ignoring something that his country is really doing in space. At present the militarisation of space is banned under international law. Trump wants to break this and set up an American Space Force. Perhaps Israel is considering doing the same, but wants everyone to disregard it on the grounds that people think that what they’ve seen are alien spacecraft, and only nutters believe in UFOs and aliens.

And you could go on speculating. We really don’t know he’s telling these stories about secret contact with aliens, and can only guess at his motives. But I’m certain that aliens aren’t here, that Trump wasn’t going to spill the beans about them and that there definitely isn’t a secret US-alien base on Mars.

Jama’at-i Islami – The Pakistani Islamic Party Pushing for Theocracy

November 25, 2020

Pakistan was founded as an explicitly Muslim country. It’s a democracy, but there is a section of its parliament, if I remember correctly, that’s made up of Muslim clergy, who scrutinise legislation passed by the lower house to make sure it accords with Islamic law. Since the 1970s and the regime of the dictator, Zia al-Haqq, Islam has become increasingly powerful in Pakistani politics. I believe the current president, Imran Khan, is the leader of an Islamic party. Pakistan was one of the nations that experienced protests against France over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and there have been official denunciations of the cartoons and President Macron’s attempts to combat Muslim radicalism.

The force behind the growth of political Islam in Pakistan appears to be the Jama’at-i Islami, whose name translates as ‘The Islamic Society.’ The article about them in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions runs as follows

A highly disciplined and well-organised Muslim political party, founded in 1941 by Abul al-A’la Mawdudi. it aims at establishing an observant Islamic state in Pakistan. The Jam’at’s political platform offers an alternative to teh secularists and modernists, and in this lies its appeal (especially since 1977). The Ja’amat advocates that Pakistan should be a theocratic state, ruled by a single man whose tenure of office and power are limited only by his faithfulness to Islam. The ruler should be assisted by a shura (advisory council), with no political parties and no provision for an opposition. General Zia al-Haqq, the military leader after the overthrow of Z. Bhutto (1977)., used the Jama’at as a political prop for his ‘back to Islam’ campaign. The Jama’at has influence among the military, the middle classes, and the college and university students. It publishes a monthly magazine, Tarjuman al-Quran, in Lahore that has a high circulation. On the international level, the Jama’at was on good terms with Imam Khumayni and the oil rich Arab states; the Saudis have supported the movement since the early 1970s. (p. 489).

This looks like an attempt to create a kind of caliphate, and the Dictionary notes that there is considerable support for its return in Pakistan. I also wonder about the movement’s influence in British Islam, as there has been a problem with fire-breathing radicals immigrating to Britain to supply the shortage of imams for British mosques. Which is why moderate Muslims in this country have demanded government assistance in training Muslim Brits, who have grown up in our ostensibly democratic culture, as imams and community leaders.

I’m not a secularist, and believe that people of faith have a right to have their voices heard in politics and parliament, but this is just a movement for religious tyranny. In Pakistan as it is there’s persecution, including violence and pogroms against religious minorities. We’ve seen Christians murdered and imprisoned following accusations of blasphemy. There have also been riots and murders of the Ahmadiyya. Apparently even pious Muslims have been murdered because of comments they have made, which have been interpreted by others as blasphemous. There are 200 people on Pakistan’s Death Row accused of blasphemy. Many of these accusations are spurious, cynically levelled because of other disputes between the parties concerned. If a theocracy was established in Pakistan, it would only cause more oppression and violence.

I also believe that it wouldn’t be good for Islam either. Atheist sites on the web have reported that there has been a massive increase in atheism in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Six years or so ago Saudi news reported that a large number of Qurans had been found thrown into a sewer. A few days ago Iranian media reported that this had also happened in their country. A poll conducted of 50,000 Iranians found that 38 per cent of the population is either atheist or has no religion. If this is true, then it’s probably the result of people becoming fed up of the repression they are experiencing from their theocratic governments. The religious violence of the Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda and Daesh, are undoubtedly another factor. A few years ago I read a book by a French anthropologist, who came to the conclusion that the Islamist movements were the response of Muslim societies as the experienced the transition to modernity. This was comparable to the way radical, militant Christian movements had appeared in Europe in the 17th century, such as those in the British Civil War. Now Islam was experiencing the same.

My guess is that if the Jama’at ever succeeded in creating a theocracy in Pakistan, it would be massively unstable as the various sects excluded from the regime’s view of what was properly Islamic were oppressed and rebelled. I don’t believe that the Jama’at and other extreme, theocratic movements have anything to offer Muslims or anyone else anything except more oppression and violence.

Supernatural and Psychic Powers in Buddhism

November 24, 2020

Here’s something a bit different before I get on to the heavy political stuff. It seems that Buddhism has a particular term for the supernatural powers of its mystics and holy men and women. This is iddhi, rddhi, from the Pali and Sanskrit words ardh, ‘grow’, ‘increase’, ‘prosper’, ‘succeed’. The entry for it in Bowker’s Dictionary of World Religions, which describes it as

Paranormal, psychic or magic power in Buddhism, where it is one of the six kinds of higher iknowledge (abhinna). Canonical writings contain a standard list of eight forms of iddhi: the power to (i) replicate and project bodily-images of oneself, (ii) make oneself invisible, (iii) pass through solid objects, (iv) sink into solid ground, (v) walk on water, (vi) fly; (vii) touch the sun and moon with one hand, (viii) ascend to the world of the god Brahma in the highest heavens. They are described in e.g. Vissudhimagga 12. These powers were said to become available to the meditator upon achieving the the fourth jnana. They were possessed by the Buddha and many of his monks and nuns. However, the Buddha regarded them equivocally because some non-Buddhist ascetics possessed them too; they were a sign of meditational attainment only, and not a spiritual qualification; and they could be put to bad as well as good use. He, therefore, attempted to lessen their importance by making it an offence for monks or nuns to display them before layfolk, and by providing an alternative interpretation of iddhi to mean the application of equanimity (upekkha) and mindfulness (sati) in the face of all situations. Nevertheless in Vajrayana they are prominent as a demonstration of perfect control over the body. (p. 464).

Knowledge gained through paranormal perception is also included as a form of knowledge, alongside more conventional forms, in the Buddhist idea of knowledge, jnana, from the Sanskrit for ‘knowing’. The paragraph on this in the article on Jnana in The Dictionary of World Religions says

Knowledge based on extra-sensory perception is one form of paranormal knowledge . This is called ‘going beyond the human’ (atikkanta manusaka, Digha Nikaya 1. 82). Five kinds of higher knowledge (pancabhinna) fall into this category (Anguttara Nikaya 2. 17-19). These are (i) psychic power (iddhi-vidha), (ii) divine ear (dibbasota); (iii) telepathic knowledge (cetopariyata nana), (iv) knowledge of previous existence (pubbenivasanussati), and (v) clairvoyance (dibbacakkhu) One can attain this state if one’s mind is purified of five impediments (pancanivarana, see Nivaranas – covetousness, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt, Majjhima Nikaya 1. 181,270, 276) and on attaining the fourth Jhana. (p.504).

I think that fascination with the supposed paranormal powers acquired through Buddhist meditation and similar disciplines in Hinduism was one the features that attracted westerners to these religions from the 19th century onwards. They were certainly influential in the growth of the New Age religions, like Theosophy, although this was strongly influenced by Hinduism rather than Buddhism. The French explorer Alexandra David-Neel popularised these powers in her account of her sojourn in Tibet. Such ideas have also had their effects on comics, Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Marvel superhero, Dr. Strange, ‘Master of the Mystic Arts’, gained them through studying under the Ancient One in Tibet. Some of the accounts of Buddhist sages with these powers seem to me to be just legends, but if there are any adepts who truly have them, and could demonstrate them in a laboratory and before stage magicians, so there could be no possibility of cheating, we might be on the way to proving the existence of the paranormal at last.

But that might also be a shock to the secular, atheist materialists, who use Buddhist ideas about mindfulness for nothing more than attaining inner peace. You can imagine the panic it would cause members of the Skeptics’ movement if suddenly they found themselves able to read minds, make themselves invisible, walk on water and so on.

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

November 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

‘I’ Report of Successful Test of Virgin Hyperloop Maglev Train

November 13, 2020

Here’s an interesting piece of science/technology news. Tuesday’s I, for 10th November 2020, carried a piece by Rhiannon Williams, ‘New tube: Hyperloop carries first passengers in 100 mph test run’, which reported that Virgin Hyperloop had successfully tested their proposed maglev transport system. This is a type of magnetically levitated train running in a sealed tunnel from which the air has been removed so that there is no atmospheric resistance. The article ran

Two passengers have become the first to use Hyperloop, a technology which claims to be the future of ultra-fast ground transport.

The demonstration took place on a 500-metre test track in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas on Sunday.

Josh Giegel, Virgin Hyperloop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, and Sara Luchlan, the company’s head of passenger experience, climbed into a Virgin Hyperloop pod before it entered an airlock inside an enclosed vacuum tube.

Footage showed the pod taking about 15 seconds to complete the journey as the air inside the tube was removed, accelerating the pod to 100 mph before it slowed to a halt.

The futuristic system is intended eventually to allow journeys of up to 670 mph using electric propulsion, and magnetic levitation in a tube, which is in near-vacuum conditions.

The Shanghai Maglev, the fastest commercial bullet train, which also uses magnetic levitation, is capable of top speeds of 3000 mph, meaning it could end up being considered slow by the Hyperloop’s theoretical future standards. The fastest speed achieved by a maglev train was 375 mph on a test run in Japan.

Virgin Hyperloop was founded in 2014 and builds on a proposal by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

The technology could allow passengers to travel between Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which are 45 miles apart, in just four minutes, the company’s previous chief executive, Rob Lloyd, told the BBC in 2018.

Ms Luchlan described the experience as “exhilarating”. It had, she added, been smooth, and “not at all like a rollercoaster”.

The business hopes to seat up to 23 passengers in a pod and make its technology “a reality in years, not decades”. Jay Walder, the current chief executive, said: “I can’t tell you how often I get asked, ‘is hyperloop safe?’ With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety.”

The article was accompanied by this handy explanatory diagram.

The text’s blurry, but should read:

How it works

Hyperloop is a new mode of long-distance transportation that uses electromagnetic levitation and propulsion to glide a vehicle at airline speeds through a low-pressure tube.

Electromagnetic coils along the tube are supplied with an alternating current, causing them to rapidly switch polarity. Permanent magnets beneath the pod are attracted then repelled, creating forward motion and magnetic levitation.

It then shows a diagram of various other high speed vehicles with the proposed Hyperloop system for comparison. These are

Virgin Hyperloop …. 670 mph.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner …. 593 mph.

Maglev (Japan) …. 375 mph.

Javelin (UK) … 140 mph.

Well, colour me sceptical about all this. The ‘Virgin’ part of the company’s name makes me wonder if it’s part of Beardie Branson’s empire of tat. In which case, we’re justified in wondering if it this will ever, ever actually be put into operation. After all, Branson has been telling the good peeps, who’ve bought tickets for his Virgin Galactic journeys into space that everything’s nearly complete, and they’ll be going into space next year, for the past 25 years or so. I don’t believe that his proposed Spaceship 1 or whatever it’s called will ever fly, and that the whole business is being run as a loss so he can avoid paying tax legally. I don’t know how much it would cost to set up a full scale Hyperloop line running between two real towns between several stops within a single city like a subway, but I’d imagine it’d cost tens, if not hundreds of millions. I think it’s too expensive for any government, whether national or local authority, to afford, at least in the present economic situation.

And on a more humorous level, it also reminds me of the rapid transit system in the 2000 AD ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip. This was set in a far future in which humanity cowered underground, ruled over by the Terminators. They were a kind of futuristic medieval crusading order, dedicated to the extermination of all intelligent alien life, led by their ruthless leader, Torquemada. Earth was now called Termight, and humanity lived in vast underground cities linked by rapid transit tunnels. A system similar to the Hyperloop, the Overground, ran across Termight’s devastated surface. Termight’s surface had been devastated, not by aliens, but by strange creatures from Earth’s future, which had appeared during the construction of a system of artificial Black and White Holes linking Earth to the rest of the galaxy. These creatures included the Gooney Bird, a giant predatory bird that looked like it had evolved from the Concorde plane, which swept down from its nest in an abandoned city to attack the Overground trains and feed them to its young.

From: Nemesis the Warlock: Volume One, by Pat Mills, Kevin O’Neill and Jesus Redondo (Hachette Partworks Ltd: 2017)

The Hyperloop’s too close to the fictional Overground system for comfort. Will the company’s insurance cover attacks by giant rampaging carnivorous mechanical birds? The comparison’s particularly close as Termight’s surface is a desert waste, and the system was tested out in the Nevada desert.

I realise that ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ is Science Fiction, and that even with its successful test run on Tuesday, it’ll be years before the hyperloop system ever becomes a reality, but I think it might be wise to avoid it if it ever does. After all, you wouldn’t want to be on it when the metal claws and beak start tearing through the tunnel.

Robot Takeover Comes Nearer as Britain Intends to Employ 30,000 Robot Soldiers

November 11, 2020

If this is true, then the robot revolution that’s been haunting the imagination of Science Fiction writers ever since Frankenstein and Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots just got that bit nearer. Monday’s edition of the I for 9th November 2020 carried this chilling snippet:

Robot soldiers will fight for Britain

Thirty thousand “robot soldiers” could form a key part of the British army within two decades. General Sir Nick Carter, head of the armed forces, told Sky News that “an armed forces that’s designed for the 2030s” could include large numbers of autonomous or remotely controlled machines.

This has been worrying many roboticists and computer scientists for decades. Kevin Warwick, the professor of cybernetics at Reading University, begins his book with a terrifying prediction of the what the world could be like three decades from now in 2015 in his 1990s book, March of the Machines. The robots have taken over, decimating humanity. The few humans that remain are desexed slaves, used by the machines to fight against the free humans that have found refuge in parts of the world difficult or impossible for robots to operate in. Warwick is absolutely serious about the threat from intelligent robots. So serious in fact, that he became a supporter of cyborgisation because he felt that it would only be by augmenting themselves with artificial intelligence and robotics that humans could survive. I went to see Warwick speak at the Cheltenham Festival of Science years ago. When it came to the time when he answered questions from the audience, he was naturally asked whether he still believed that robots could take over, and whether this could happen as soon as 2050. He replied that he did, and that the developments in robotics had brought it forwards by several decades.

There have been a series of controversies going back decades when a country has announced that they intend to use robot soldiers. When this happened a few years ago, it was received with denunciations by horrified scientists. Apart from the threat of an eventual robot revolution and the enslavement of humanity, a la the Matrix, there are severe moral questions about the operation of such machines. Robots don’t have consciences, unlike humans. A machine that’s created to kill without proper constraints will carry on killing indiscriminately, regardless of whether its targets are a soldiers or innocent civilians. Warwick showed this possibility in his book with a description of one of the machines his department has on its top floor. It’s a firefighting robot, equipped with sensors and a fire extinguisher. If there’s a fire, it’s programmed to run towards it and put it out. All well and good. But Warwick points out that it could easily be adapted for killing. If you replaced the fire extinguisher with a gun and gave it a neural net, you could programme it to kill people of a certain type. Like those with blonde hair and blue eyes. Set free, it would continue killing such people until it ran out of bullets.

Less important, but possibly also a critical factor in the deployment of such war machines, is popular reaction to their use against human soldiers. It’s been suggested that their use in war would cause people to turn against the side using them, viewing them as cowards hiding behind such machines instead of facing their enemies personally, human to human, in real combat. While not as important as the moral arguments against their deployment, public opinion is an important factor. It’s why, since the Vietnam War, the western media has been extensively manipulated by the military-industrial-political complex so that it presents almost wholly positive views of our wars. Like the Iraq invasion was to liberate Iraq from an evil dictator, instead of a cynical attempt to grab their oil reserves and state industries by the American-Saudi oil industry and western multinationals. Mass outrage at home and around the world was one of the reasons America had to pull out of Vietnam, and it’s a major factor in the current western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Popular outrage and disgust at the use of robots in combat could similarly lead to Britain and anyone else using such machines to lose the battle to win hearts and minds, and thus popular support.

But I also wonder if this isn’t also the cybernetics companies researching these robots trying to find a market for their wares. DARPA, the company developing them, has created some truly impressive machines. They produced the ‘Big Dog’ robot, which looks somewhat like a headless robotic dog, hence its name, as a kind of robotic pack animal for the American army. It all looked very impressive, until the army complained that they couldn’t use it. Soldiers need to move silently on their enemy, but the noise produced by the robots’ electric motors would be too loud. Hence the contract was cancelled. It could be that there are similar problems with some of their other robots, and so they are waging some kind of PR battle to get other countries interested in them as well as an America.

I’m a big fan of the 2000 AD strip, ‘ABC Warriors’, about a band of former war robots, led by Hammerstein, who are now employed fighting interplanetary threats and cosmic bad guys. When not remembering the horrors they experienced of the Volgan War. These are truly intelligent machines with their own personalities. In the case of Hammerstein and his crude, vulgar mate, Rojaws, a moral conscience. Which is absent in another member of the team, Blackblood, a former Volgan war robot, and ruthless war criminal. I really believe that they should be turned into a movie, along with other great 2000 AD characters, like Judge Dredd. But I don’t believe that they will ever be real, because the difficulties in recreating human type intelligence are too great, at least for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a centuries’ time there might be genuinely intelligent machines like C-3PO and R2D2, but I doubt it.

The war robots now being touted are ruthless, mindlessly efficient machines, which scientists are worried could easily get out of control. I’ve blogged about this before, but the threat is real even if at present their promotion is so much PR hype by the manufacturers.

It looks to me that General Carter’s statement about using 30,000 of them is highly speculative, and probably won’t happen. But in any case, the armed forces shouldn’t even be considering using them.

Because the threat to the human race everywhere through their use is too high.

French Muslims Form Anti-Terrorist Group to Protect Cathedral

November 8, 2020

After the recent Islamist terrorist outrages following the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, here’s a much more positive piece of news. Yesterday’s I, for Saturday, 7th November 2020, carried a piece by Angela Charlton, ‘After Nice attack, Muslim group protects cathedral’ reporting that a French Muslim was so angered by the terrorist attacks in Nice that he got together with other local Muslims to protect his town’s cathedral. The article runs

As a French-born Muslim, Elyazid Benferhat’s stomach turned when he heard about a deadly Islamic extremist attack in Nice. Then he decided to act.

Mr Benferhat and a friend gathered a group of young Muslim men to stand guard outside their town’s cathedral, to protect it and show solidarity with Catholic churchgoers. Parishioners in the town of Lodeve were deeply touched. The parish priest said their gesture gave him hope in time of turmoil.

Mr Benfarhat said: “I am also Muslim and we have seen Islamophobia in tis country, and terrorism.” He said he always has a pit in his stomach because every time Islamic extremist violence strikes, French Muslims face new stigmatisation, even though “we had nothing to do with it”.

After the Nice attack, he said “we needed to do something beyond paying homage to the victims. We said we will protect churches ourselves.” They recruited volunteers, and after co-ordinating with police, guarded the church.

This reminds me of the ‘Don’t Touch My Mate’ protests in France a few years ago. This is the English translation of the slogan for a movement a few years ago in which French White youths marched and demonstrated in solidarity with Blacks and Muslims. It was kind of like the White marchers and protesters in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations just a month or so ago. Now Benferhat and his friends are doing something similar for the Catholics in their part of la Patrie.

I’ve also heard of Muslims protecting churches and their worshippers in other countries as well. Such as Israel. A few years ago Channel 4 screened a documentary in which a Black British priest went off examining other religion’s attitude to Christ and Christianity. He talked to an archaeologist excavating a Pagan Roman temple to Mithras, Muslims, and Hindus before going to Israel. Most of those he talked to had positive attitudes to Christ. The archaeologist talked about the supposed similarities between Mithraism and Christianity. The Hindus he met also worshipped Christalongside the traditional Indian deities, showing the syncretistic tendencies within Hinduism. And Jesus is revered by Muslims as the prophet Isa. It was when he went to Israel that he encountered hostility.

The programme showed a mob of Orthodox Jews marching on a church, which I understand was being used by a group of Messianic Jews. Messianic Judaism is a form of Jewish Christianity, in which Christ is worshipped as the Jews’ Messiah but the Mosaic and rabbinical laws are still observed. If I understand it properly, it seems to be rather like the form of Christianity practised by the gospel-writer, St. Matthew. His gospel is traditionally considered the Jewish gospel partly because, according to tradition, he was himself Jewish. But the gospel also shows a particular concern for Christ as the Jews’ saviour and assimilates the Lord’s teachings to that of the ancient rabbis. According to the historian of the early church, Eusebius, Jewish Christians also had their own bishop, Hegesippus.

The Israeli mob were prevented from causing trouble by the church’s Muslim doorman, and apparently that’s not uncommon. As well as attacks on mosques and Muslim Palestinian homes and property, Israeli fanatics and extremists have also attacked Christian churches and monasteries. These have often been protected by their Muslim staff. It’s understandable that, after centuries of Christian persecution, some Israelis have a hatred of Christianity. The inveterate Jewish opponent of all forms of racism, including Zionism, Tony Greenstein, on his blog quoted the comments of one extremist Israeli rabbi. This vile piece of work declared that Christian churches in Israel should be demolished as temples of polytheism and idolatry. The man’s clearly a member of fringe minority, but it is a minority that is closely allied with Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud coalition.

But you won’t hear about such bigotry from western Zionist groups, such as Pastor Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. In terms of membership, this is the largest Zionist organisation in America. Many young Jewish Americans are turning away from Israel because, along with liberal Israelis, they despise the Israeli state and the Likudniks for its brutality and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. It’s why the Israel lobby is apparently concentrating its efforts on winning the support of fundamentalist evangelical Christians rather than Jews.

I applaud Monsieur Benfarhat and his fellows, just as I do everyone whatever their religion or lack thereof, who is attempting to reach across ethnic and religious divides to bring people together against the forces of hate, bigotry and violence. May then win against all the Fascists, butchers and terrorists.