Archive for the ‘Denmark’ Category

Video on How Muslim Albania Saved Jews During the Second World War

October 24, 2018

This is very short video of about a minute long, which I found on Tony Greenstein’s blog. It was in a piece he posted yesterday about the racist abuse of a disabled Black woman by another, White passenger, about a Ryanair flight. Greenstein was outraged that the abuser was not upbraided for his foul behaviour and escorted off the plane, but instead helped back into his seat and checked to see if he, rather than the disabled lady, was alright by the flight attendants. He has called for Ryanair to be boycotted in protest.

The video was one of two short anti-racist films. The other was from Momentum warning of the rise in Fascism. This video describes how Albania, a Muslim country, was the only nation in occupied Europe to save the Jews.

The video states that the one country that rescued Jews facing death – was Muslim. In Albania, Jews and Muslims lived in peace there for centuries. In 1943 Germany occupied Albania. Germany wanted a list of Jews to aid their slaughter. But Albania refused to hand over the list of Jews. Jews throughout Europe heard of this Muslim refuge. Hunted by Nazis, Jewish families headed to Albania for protection. Albanians follow a strict code of honour called ‘Besa’. This code compels Albanians to help people in need. By the end of the War Albania’s Jewish population had grown to 20 times its original size. Not a single Jew in Albania ended up in a Nazi camp. Ask an Albanian why they helped the Jews. They say, ‘This is what we had to do.’ It concludes ‘On international Holocaust Day the world thanks Albania.

Greenstein writes of it

The other is a film of one of the more unknown facts about the Holocaust. Despite the Islamaphobic rubbish one gets from Zionists and their apologists today, most people are unaware that Albania, which was first occupied by the Italians until September 1943 and then the Nazis, was the only Nazi occupied country in Europe where not only was no Jewish person deported but the Jewish population increased from 200 to approximately 2,000. Up till 1942 the Albanian embassy in Berlin issued visas to refugees and until the summer of 1943 refugees obtained protection in Albania.

Albania is about 70% Muslim. Of course given the way the Zionists rewrite history to make Muslims the Jews main enemy, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Holocaust happened in the Middle East.

That was why 3 years ago Netanyahu tried to rewrite history by pretending that the blame for the Holocaust was not that of Hitler, but the Palestinian Mufti. See Rewriting the Holocaust.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2018/10/ryanair-tells-victim-of-racist-abuse-to.html

It’s clear that Greenstein put this up to rebut the accusations of the Israel lobby that all Muslims are anti-Semites, or that anti-Semites are most like to be Muslims, as propagated by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. I don’t think Albania was the only country that rescued Jews from murder and enslavement in the concentration camps. There were extremely courageous people throughout occupied Europe, who risked their lives saving Jews, and are rightly commemorated as ‘Righteous Gentiles’ at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel. 80% of Italian Jews survived, despite Mussolini being a close ally of Hitler and passing racist legislation in imitation of the Nuremberg laws. And I was told by a Danish friend that the Jewish community in his country escaped the Holocaust by being given passage to neutral Sweden. There was no, or minimal, anti-Semitism in Denmark and Hitler was keen not to antagonize the Danes for ideological reasons: they were the descendants of the Vikings, the Germanic warriors, who formed part of Hitler’s volkisch racism. The Danish public were opposed to the Holocaust, with the Danish king even wearing a Star of David in protest at it. And so the Nazis were forced to restrain themselves and let them go.

Albania also isn’t a totally Muslim country, as Greenstein pointed out. I also understand that Muslims and Christian Albanians together share the same code of honour, which dates from the 15th century before the Ottoman invasion.

But nevertheless, before the establishment of the state of Israel, there was much less anti-Semitism in the Islamic world than in Christian Europe. And evidently that spirit still survived in Albania to oppose the Holocaust. And their actions now resound to refute the lies told by the Israel lobby to justify their continuing demonization of Muslims.

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The Sky At Night Looks at Britain in Space

October 19, 2018

I just managed to catch the weekday repeat a day or so ago of this month’s Sky at Night, in which presenters Maggie Aderin-Pocock and British astronaut Tim Peake looked at the history of Britain in space, and forward to the country’s future in the deep black. The programme’s changed a bit over the past few years in the case of its presenters. It was famously presented by Sir Patrick Moore from its beginning in the 1950s until he passed away a few years ago. This made the programme the longest-running show presented by the same person. Aderin-Pocock joined it before Moore’s departure. She’s a black woman scientist, with a background in programming missile trajectories. She’s obviously very intelligent, enthusiastic and very definitely deserves her place on the show. But I wish she’d done a job that didn’t involve the military use of rocket technology, however much this is needed as part of national defence.

Aderin-Pocock was speaking to one of the management officials from Orbex, a new, British company, which has developed a rocket launcher and intends to open a spaceport in one of the more deserted areas of Scotland. The rocket will stand about 17 meters tall, using propane and High Test Peroxide as fuel. High Test Peroxide is a highly concentrated version of the hydrogen peroxide used by hairdressers to bleach peoples’ hair. The use of propane is particularly important, as it’s lighter than conventional rocket fuels, meaning that the rocket doesn’t have to carry as much fuel to lift off into space. Advances in satellite design have also allowed the rocket to be smaller than other spacecraft used elsewhere. British universities have succeeded in developing microsatellites – satellites that are much, much smaller than some of the satellites put into orbit, but which can perform the same functions. As these satellites are smaller and lighter, they only need a relatively smaller, lighter rocket to launch them.

The Scottish launch complex also wasn’t going to be as big as other, larger, major launch complexes, such as those of NASA, for example. I think it would still contain a launch tower and control buildings. As well as the official from Orbex, the show also talked to a woman representing the rural community in the part of Scotland, where they were planning to build it. She admitted that there would be problems with building it in this part of the Scots countryside. However, the community was only going to lease the land, not sell it to Orbex, and care would be taken to protect the farms of the local crofters and the environment and wildlife. Like much of rural Britain, this was an area of few jobs, and the population was aging as the young people moved away in search of work. She looked forward to Orbex and its spaceport bringing work to the area, and creating apprenticeships for the local young people.

The programme went on to explain that this would be the first time for decades that a British company was going to build a British rocket to launch a British satellite. From what looked the British space museum in Manchester, Time Peake stood under the display of Britain’s Black Knight rocket and the Prospero satellite. He explained how the rocket launched the satellite into space from Australia in 1975. However, the project was then cancelled, which meant that Britain is the only country so far which has developed, and then discarded rocket technology.

But Black Knight wasn’t the only space rocket Britain developed. Peake then moved on to talk about Skylark, a massively successful sounding rocket. Developed for high altitude research, the rocket reached a maximum of altitude of 400 km in the few minutes it was in flight. At its apogee – its maximum distance from Earth – the vehicle briefly experienced a few minutes of zero gravity, during which experiments could be performed exploring this environment. The Skylark rocket was used for decades before it was finally cancelled.

Aderin-Pocock asked the official from Orbex how long it would be before the spaceport would be up and running. The manager replied that this was always an awkward question to answer, as there was always something that meant operations and flights would start later than expected. He said, however, that they were aiming at around the end of 2020 and perhaps the beginning of 2021.

Orbex are not, however, the only space company planning to open a spaceport in Britain. Virgin Galactic have their own plans to launch rockets in to space from Cornwall. Their vehicle will not, however, be launched from the ground like a conventional rocket, but will first be carried to a sufficiently high altitude by an airplane, which would then launch it. I’m not a betting man, but my guess is that of the two, Orbex is the far more likely to get off the ground, as it were, and begin launching its rocket on schedule. As I’ve blogged about previously, Branson has been telling everyone since the late 1990s at least, that Virgin Galactic are going to be flying tourists into space in just a few months from now. This fortnight’s Private Eye published a brief list of the number of times Branson had said that, with dates. It might be that Branson will at last send the first of his aspiring astronauts up in the next few months, as he claimed last week. But from his previous form, it seems far more likely that Orbex will start launches before him, as will Branson’s competitors over the pond, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

When asked about the company’s capability of perfecting their technology, Orbex’s manager not stressed the skill and competence of the scientists, technicians and engineers working on the project. This included not just conventional space scientists, but also people, who had personally tried and failed to build their own spacecraft. He said that it was extremely important to fail to build rockets. He’s obviously referring to the many non-professional, hobby rocketeers out there trying to build their own spacecraft. He didn’t mention them, but one example would be the people at Starchaser, who started out as a small group of enthusiasts in Yorkshire but have gone on to create their own space company, now based across the pond in America. I think it’s brilliant that amateurs and semi-professionals have developed skills that the professionals in the industry find valuable. And the failures are important, as they show what can go wrong, and give the experience and necessary information on how to avoid it. I don’t think the rocket will be wholly built in this country. The manager said that some of it was being constructed in Copenhagen. This sounds like Copenhagen Suborbitals, a Danish team of rocket scientists, who are trying to put a person into space. They’re ex-NASA, I believe, but it’s a small, private venture. They have a webpage and have posted videos on YouTube, some of which I’ve reblogged. They’ve also said they’re keen for people to join them, or start their own rocket projects.

I’d been looking forward to that edition of the Sky at Night for the past week, but when the time came, it slipped my mind that it was on. I’m very glad I was able to catch it. If Orbex are successful, it will be the first time that a British satellite will launch a British satellite from here in Britain. And it sounds really optimistic. Not only will Britain be returning to space rocket development, but the Scots spaceport sounds like it will, hopefully, bring work to a depressed area. I’m also confident that the local environment there will also be preserved. The launch complex around NASA is necessarily so remote from other buildings, that it’s actually become a wildlife haven. So much so that it’s now a location for birdwatching.

When it was announced that they were planning to build a new spaceport in Scotland, I assumed it would be for Skylon, the British spaceplane. There had been articles in the paper about the spacecraft, which stated that it would be launched either from Scotland or Cornwall. It seems I was wrong, and that it’s Orbex’s rocket which will be launched there instead. But nevertheless, I wish Orbex every success in their venture, and hope that sometime soon Skylon will also join them in flight out on the High Frontier.

Hugh Thomas on Jewish Involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade

October 6, 2018

In my last post I put up the descriptions on Amazon of a couple of books of orthodox, respected historical scholarship on Jewish participation in the slave trade to America and the Caribbean. These, by Saul Friedman and Eli Faber, were written to refute the anti-Semitic claims of the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan, that Jews were chiefly responsible for the infamous trade. These books show that Jews formed a vanishingly small percentage of those involved in the slave trade.

Jewish involvement in the slave trade became part of the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in the Labour party when it was used to smear Jackie Walker, Momentum’s vice-chair. Walker herself is Jewish and a woman of colour, whose parents met on a Civil Rights demonstration in America. She is far from being an anti-Semite or, indeed, any kind of racist. But she was smeared as such after someone from the badly misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism hacked into a Facebook conversation she had with two others about Jewish involvement in the slave trade. What she said was based very firmly on entirely orthodox, respectable historical research. But because she left out a single word, which she expected the other two in the conversation to understand, her comments were left open to deliberate misrepresentation. They were then leaked to the Jewish Chronicle, which then smeared her. Walker herself has made it clear that while there were some Jews active in the trade, as brokers, financiers and sugar merchants, they did so as junior partners. The real responsibility for the trade lay with the monarchs of Christian Europe. As for Walker herself, her father was a Russian Jew, her partner is Jewish and her daughter attends a Jewish school. There should be no question of her commitment to her faith, her community and to combating racism and prejudice, including anti-Semitism.

Hugh Thomas also discusses the Jewish involvement in the slave trade in his massive, and exhaustively researched The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870 (London: Picador 1997). He writes

For a time, in both Spain and Portugal, the slave trade was dominated by Jewish conversos: for example, Diego Caballero, of Sanlucar de Barrameda, benefactor of the Cathedral of Seville; the Jorge family, also in Seville, Fernao Noronha, a Lisbon monopolist in the early days in the delta of the Niger, and his descendants; and the numerous merchants of Lisbon, who held the asiento for sending slaves to the Spanish empire between 1580 and 1640. The most remarkable of these men was Antonio Fernandes Elvas, asentista from 1614 to 1622, connected by blood with nearly all the major slave dealers of the Spanish-Portuguese empire during the heady days when it was one polity.

Yet these men had formally become Christians. The Inquisition may have argued, and even believed, that many of them secretly practiced Judaism, tried some of them in consequence, and left a few of them to be punished by ‘the secular arm’. Some no doubt were indeed secret Jews, but it would be imprudent to accept the evidence of the Holy Office as to their ‘guilt’. That body, after all, was said to have ‘fabricated Jews as the Mint coined money’, as one inquisitor himself remarked.

Later, Jews of Portuguese origin played a minor part in the slave trade in Amsterdam (Diogo Dias Querido), in Curacao, in Newport (Lopez Rodrigues Laureno). In the late seventeenth century Jewish merchants, such as Moses Joshua Henriques, were prominent in the minor Danish slave trade of Gluckstadt. But more important there is no sign of Jewish merchants in the biggest European slave-trade capitals when the traffic was at its height, during the eighteenth century – that is, in Liverpool, Bristol, Nantes, and Middelburg – and examination of a list of 400 traders known to have sold slaves at one time or another in Charleston, South Carolina, North America’s biggest market, in the 1750s and 1760s suggests just one active Jewish merchant, the unimportant Philip Hart. In Jamaica, the latter’s equivalent ws Alexander Lindo, who later ruined himself providing for the French army in its effort to recapture Saint-Domingue. (p. 297). (My emphasis).

This seems to bear out Friedman’s and Faber’s research, that Jews played only a very small role in the slave trade, as well as Walker’s statement that the overall responsibility lay with the Christian monarchs who initiated and supported the infamous trade.

I really don’t have anywhere near the knowledge of Walker, Friedlander and Faber about this aspect of the slave trade. But I hope this helps people make sense of this issue, and refute the claims of genuine anti-Semites that the Jews were solely responsible, or the dominant force, behind the enslavement of Africans to the Caribbean and Americas. And it is utterly repugnant and disgusting that Walker herself has so vilely been libeled for her informed discussion of an entirely legitimate topic of historical research.

What Horrors Have Our Imperial Governors Committed in Iraq?

December 1, 2017

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks now, ever since I read an op-ed piece in the I by Yasmin Alibhai-Browne. Alibhai-Browne’s an Muslim lady, whose family were Ugandan Asians, married to a White Brit. She writes about racism, multiculturalism and related issues. She’s a modern, tolerant Muslim, who attacks anti-White, as well as anti-Black racism. I’m not saying I always agree with what she says, but she offers a different perspective.

And a few weeks ago she published a piece attacking the former British diplomat, who said we should try to kill the various Brits, who’ve gone to Iraq to fight for the Islamists before they come home. Alibhai-Browne was shocked by this, as were a number of others, including Mike over at Vox Political. It is, after all, the attitude of the death squads. It’s extra-judicial execution, or political murder. But it’s in line with Obama’s and Trump’s policies. This is, after all, what drone strikes are. They’re sent into foreign countries, like Yemen, to kill terrorists, including American citizens. And their families, including their kids. The last are simply called ‘fun-sized terrorists’.

Those opposing the drone strikes have asked people to imagine what would happen if the situation was reversed. If an Islamic, or Black African, or Asian country sent drones into America to kill White, American terrorist groups like the Klan. Or perhaps a more appropriate target would be Henry Kissinger. Kissinger was responsible for various Fascist coups in Latin America, and supporting tyrants and mass-murders across Asia, from Pakistan to Indonesia, as well as the carpet-bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. If anyone should be killed by agents of a foreign power, it should be Kissinger, simply because of the millions of people he’s had killed. I’m not recommending that anyone should do it. Just saying that if America has the right to send drones to kill terrorists, then the people of Latin America and Asia have the absolute right to blow him away.

One of the deeply disturbing facts Abby Martin revealed in the Empire Files, as well as other left-wing news networks, is how far out of control the American military and its private contractors – the mercenaries it hired – were in Iraq. They were running prostitutes and brutalised and murdered ordinary Iraqis. There are reports of these b*stards driving around, shooting ordinary men and women waiting to cross the street. Simply for sport. The butcher, whose career in Iraq was turned into a glowing cinematic celebration by Clint Eastwood in American Sniper was a Nazi, who boasted of killing women and children. Yeah, that’s who Eastwood decided to promote. His film so incensed the reviewer over at 366 Weird Movies that he broke with describing and cataloguing strange cinema, like the works of Ed Wood and co, to attack Eastwood and his oeuvre in an article. The reviewer described himself as an old-fashioned Conservative, and hated Eastwood because he wasn’t.

So you don’t have to be a lefty-liberal to be sickened by this. Just an ordinary person with a conscience.

And the American Empire was complicit in these murders. Martin also revealed how one of the military governors put in by Bush or Obama actually assisted the Shi’a assassination squads, which roamed Baghdad and the rest of the country kidnapping and murdering Sunni Muslims. Because the Sunnis were the dominant, privileged sect under Saddam Hussein, and now form the backbone of the insurgency.

Alibhai-Browne in her article on the British diplomat, who was all in favour of killing British Islamists before they could return to Blighty, noted that he came from a privileged class, which knew all about Islam but had no sympathy with Muslims or the ordinary people they governed. He was another public schoolboy, and Oxbridge graduate. He had a background in Arabic, and had a full diplomatic career in the Middle East. And he’d also served as governor in that part of Iraq run by Britain.

Which makes me wonder what atrocities he’s committed, or turned a blind eye to. A year or so ago I read a book by an Arab author and political scientist, A Brutal Friendship, which argued that the rulers installed by Britain, America and the West, were brutal dictators, who oppressed their people and ruled by terror. One example was the Prime Minister of Iraq in the 1950s. He was installed by us, and was hailed and promoted by the establishment as a great leader, wisely ruling his country. In fact, the man was so hated by ordinary Iraqis that they rose up against him. Not content with simply hacking him to pieces, they then ran over the pieces with cars.

Now I might be slandering the man. He might, for all I know, be perfectly blameless, and to have ruled well. Or as well as anybody could, given the circumstances, which were corrupt from the very beginning.

But I don’t know. I don’t think any of us will know, until we have a genuinely free press and free television in this country.

America has a genuine tradition of free speech, which was strengthened by Clinton’s passing of the Freedom of Information Act. The corporatist elite have been trying to weaken and undermine it ever since. Just as the political and corporate elites have been trying to do the same to its British counterpart. And that was already deliberately weaker than Clinton’s when Tony Blair introduced it. America has a tradition of genuine, radical, investigative journalism. The arch-neocon, Daniel Pipes, in his book on Conspiracy Theories, points out that much of the anti-American tropes going round the world, like ‘the almighty dollar’ have their roots in Americans’ own criticism of their country and its economic and political system. As an arch-Conservative, Pipes is definitely no fan of this. And the American elite are trying their best to stamp it out. Witness the attacks on RT, Al-Jazeera, the Real News, Democracy Now! and other, alternative news networks like the David Pakman Show, Sam Seders’ Majority Report, the Jimmy Dore show, The Young Turks and so on.

But we don’t have that tradition in England. Not since the decline of the genuinely left-wing press in the 1950s. We don’t have a written constitution, and there is no guarantee of freedom of speech in this country. Not necessarily a bad thing – it means we can ban hate speech, like calls from the Nazi fringe to murder Jews, Blacks, Muslims, ‘Reds’, the disabled and anyone who ever looked at them funny at the bus stop.

And our press is very deferential. A while ago Channel 4 broadcast a documentary showing just how much power the Queen has to censor information about the royal family. Far more power than the other ‘bicycling monarchies’ on the continent, like Denmark.

And the state has covered up horrendous atrocities committed by the British Empire. It was only the other year that Kenyans imprisoned and tortured during the Mao Mao insurgency actually won the court case, and the British state declassified the documents showing how Britain was running interment camps. This has formed the subject of a book, Africa’s Secret Gulags. But we also have the thirty year rule, to prevent the release of sensitive information, and the state can withhold it for even longer, if it thinks it’s necessary.

So we have no way of knowing what our troops – and our imperial staff – were really doing in Iraq. All we have are assurances from our leaders and our own self-image that, as Brits, we are all that is good, noble and right in the world. And that we would never butcher civilians.

But we have. And we may still be doing so. We won’t know, until we get rid of the crushing censorship and our investigative reporters are free and willing to expose what’s really going on.

Which, I hope, will be that we aren’t. But until that day comes, we will never know for sure. And there is absolutely no cause for complacency.

Daniel McAdams: NeoCons Hate RT Because Criticism of American Imperialism so Compelling

December 1, 2017

This is another little piece from RT America discussing Congress’ withdrawal of their press accreditation. In this snippet, their anchorman talks to Daniel McAdam, of the Ron Paul Institute. Ron Paul is the leading Libertarian in Congress, so presumably this is a thinktank founded by him to support his ideology. In which case, it’s very definitely not socialist, and in fact very anti-. But Libertarians can also be fierce critics of American imperialism and radically opposed to the NeoCons.

Here McAdams states that the removal of RT America’s accreditation following reassurances that the demand for the network to register under FARA as a foreign agent would not impede the network in anyway is just part of the way Congress operates. He compares it to the ‘sense of Congress’ motions. These are always presented as non-binding. It’s just Congress’ opinion. But they provide the basis for further action.

McAdams goes on to say that the NeoCons hate RT because it gives good, patriotic Americans, like himself, a platform to criticise American foreign policy. And he states that they can’t tolerate this, because the arguments against American imperialism are so compelling.

The anchor then asks him what message this sends the world about free speech in America. McAdams states that he’s been to Washington several times, and met the staff at RT. He states their young, hardworking, perhaps a trifle idealistic. But this measure sends the message to young journalists that the government will persecute you and try to control what news people watch. He compares it to the worst periods of totalitarianism in the last century, when governments had the audacity to consider that their perfect systems were too fragile to allow free speech.

The anchorman ends by thanking McAdams for his time and his comments about RT’s staff, but gently chides him for missing out one quality: guts. It takes guts to tell the truth.

Yes, it does. Chris Hedges, one of the radical journalists, who has his own show on RT, got sacked from the New York Times because he dared tell the truth about the carnage the Iraq invasion would cause. Phil Donohue was forced off his show because he did the same, and the network, CNN, then came out with a totally bullsh*t story about how he was sacked because of low ratings. He wasn’t. In fact, his show was the highest rated the network had. And you can find a long list of others.

As for RT’s staff, Abby Martin, who used to work for RT, states that the staff at RT America are leftists and socialists, who are there because it is the only network that provides a space for their beliefs. They’re not working there because they’re admirers of Putin.

And Jimmy Dore has pointed out very sarcastically that it’s vast, growing poverty, the lack of free healthcare, the destruction of America’s welfare net, the privatisations and the massive profiteering by the corporate elite, that’s causing discontent in America. It ain’t propaganda from Putin that’s causing people to demonstrate, or join protest groups like Black Lives Matter.

But RT’s a convenient scapegoat. It, and the other radical or alternative news networks are being singled out because the elite can’t argue against what these news programmes are showing. So all they can do is lie and try to close these networks down.

And once they’ve done it to those broadcasters on the margins – like Al-Jazeera, RT, Press TV, The Young Turks, Jimmy Dore Show, the Real News, Democracy Now! and so many others, they’ll move into the mainstream.

This is how the colossal propaganda machines of Goebbels in the Nazi Germany and Mussolini in Italy started. And they all used the same excuse: they were protecting the citizens of their country from ‘fake news’ spread by the regimes’ enemies.

Welcome to the beginning of Corporate Newspeak. It’s Goebbels’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment, brought to you by the Republicans and Clintonite Democrats, with the assistance of Google and funded by the Koch Brothers.

Cartoon of Iain Duncan Smith as ‘Leatherface’ Serial Killer

June 22, 2017

This week I’ve been putting up cartoons I drew a few years ago, expressing my absolute hatred of the Tory party, the right-wing press and their vile policies. This one is of Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the Tory party before David Cameron, and subsequently the head of the DWP under the Coalition between the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers, headed by Nick Clegg.

It was Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP that massively expanded the sanctions system already brought in by Tony Blair, for the benefit of New Labour’s corporate donors, such as the American private health insurance company and insurance fraudster, Unum. The result has been tens of thousands of people thrown off benefit for the most trivial of reasons, many of whom have died in misery and despair as a result.

Stilloaks, Johnny Void, Vox Political, DPAC and many other bloggers have carried articles and lists of the victims, putting the names and brief biographies of these tragic souls. They have also formed the basis for pieces by socially engaged – and outraged – artists. A few years ago Johnny Void showed one of these on his blog, an image made out the faces of some of those, who have been killed in this way.

So far the list of disabled people, as compiled by the above bloggers and organisations, is somewhere upwards of 500-600 +.

And the true figure is worse. Much worse. Mike and several other disability rights bloggers, and the Independent newspaper, tried to get the numbers of people, who have died after being thrown off their benefits, from IDS’ Department of Work and Pensions. The department did everything it could not to answer Mike’s and the others’ request. They were turned down on the specious grounds that the request was ‘vexatious’. When the Information Commissioner finally upheld their request, the DWP withheld the information until the very last day it could, and then launched an appeal. Eventually Mike and his colleagues won. But the DWP deliberately misinterpreted the request, so that they released a slightly different set of figures than Mike was asking for.

But those figures were still shocking. With in the period for the figures Mike requested, 13,000-14,000 people had died, if I remember correctly.

And researchers at Oxford University have reported that in 2015, austerity killed 30,000 people.

Mike and other bloggers are calling this what it is: murder. It is, as Jeffrey Davies and others describe it, the genocide of the disabled, although it also includes just the ordinary unemployed poor.

So I drew the following cartoon.

It’s of Iain Duncan Smith as a serial killer, wearing a mask made of the skin of one of his victims, like the villain ‘Leatherface’ in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Behind him is a skull, representing death. Behind him on the left is my attempt to copy the mummified remains of one of the bog bodies found in Denmark as another symbol of death.

I am not saying that Iain Duncan Smith is personally a murderer. I’m sure that he hasn’t personally killed anyone. But his department and the party he headed and serves, has. So as far as I’m concerned, he deserves to be portrayed as such.

IDS left office a few years ago, moaning about how people were blaming him for policies which Labour started. Well, New Labour did, but that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility, as he didn’t have to continue them. And neither does Theresa May now. But the sanctions, and the deaths, are continuing. Only yesterday Mike put up a piece about a single mother of nine, Jodie Whiting, who committed suicide after being sanctioned for missing an appointment.

The time is long past when all this was stopped.
No more sanctions. No more deaths. And benefits and wages paid at a level people can actually live on.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to end this vicious sanctions system in the DWP. We need new elections, to vote May out, and him in.

Hope Not Hate Launches New Report on Breitbart’s Aims in Britain

March 8, 2017

The anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organisation Hope Not Hate has published a new report on their website into Breitbart and its political aims here in Britain. The report shows how Breitbart isn’t a news organisation so much as a media campaigning group for the Far Right, and wants to promote the brand of White nationalism that has propelled Trump to the White House here in Britain. Thus, the wretched company has been meeting and supporting Nigel Farage and UKIP. The front page of the report states

When former UKIP leader Nigel Farage was snapped having dinner with President Trump and his family by a fellow diner in late February, it caused a flurry of interest from the British media. What was not reported, but of far more significance, was the meeting Farage had earlier that afternoon.

Farage gatecrashed dinner with Donald Trump because he was in the area. In fact, he had just spent three hours at the White House with the President’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

The pair had a lot to catch up on. They had a lot to discuss and plan.

As this report shows, Bannon and Farage have got to know each other well over the last few years.

UKIP had been identified by Bannon’s Breitbart operation several years ago. Bannon launched Breitbart London to help UKIP ahead of the 2015 General Election. Breitbart’s key funder Robert Mercer supplied Farage’s anti-EU campaign, Leave.EU, with the data tools that helped secure the Brexit vote and the UK’s departure from the European Union.

In turn, Farage’s Brexit success provided Bannon, and his political master Donald Trump, with the inspirational story of the underdog defying the political establishment.

This report shows that Breitbart is not a news website or a media outlet in any ordinary sense and its staff are not mainstream journalists. Breitbart is a political project, with a specific political agenda, staffed by willing propagandists.

It distorts and fabricates news to deliberately incite anger in its supporters and fear in others. It pollutes the political space and demonises and vilifies its opponents.

Breitbart is just one part – albeit a vital part – of a wider political project that set Britain on a path to leave the European Union and got Donald Trump elected to the most powerful job in the world.

Unfinished business

But even with Trump in the White House the project is not yet complete. Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer have far bigger plans which they will seek to execute over the next few years. Bannon will use his clearly strong influence over the President to carry out his aggressive nationalism and strong anti-Muslim views at home and abroad. Mercer will use his financial muscle and data analytics to sway elections and shift opinion.

Breitbart intends to expand its operations into more countries in the hope of assisting more far right leaders gain power and laying the ground for what they consider is an inevitable conflict with Islam.

And in Britain, this operation will be at the heart of a new political venture, likely to be launched in a matter of months, to create a new far right party and run by multi-millionaire Arron Banks and Nigel Farage.

Based on the social movement model of Italy’s Five Star Movement but with the nationalist and populist politics of Trump, this new party will sweep aside UKIP and hope to capitalise on the uncertainty and compromise that will undoubtedly accompany Brexit.

While Banks and Farage will lead this new party, it will be Breitbart that provides the engine power.

It was this that Farage was discussing with Bannon at the White House.

The report also details the organisations links with the far right in this country, including some deeply unpleasant people and organisations. It gives a timeline of the company’s history from its foundation in 2005 to today, and a section on its right-wing stance against multiculturalism, feminism, immigration, gay and trans rights and its demonization of Muslims as predatory rapists intent on the domination of the West. It also explains that, according to an article in the Observer, Breitbart is merely one of a number of extreme right-wing organisation owned and founded by Richard Mercer, a hedge-fund manager. One of these is Cambridge Analytica, and small data analysis company that specialises in psyops – that is, producing propaganda designed to play on the recipients’ emotions, rather than convince them through rational argument. Cambridge Analytica also has links to Andy Wigmore, the director of the Leave campaign.

According to the report, Breitbart see themselves as fighting a war on two fronts, based in Texas and London respectively. In Britain, Breitbart has supported the anti-Muslim organisation, Pegida UK, led by Stephen Lennon, AKA Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League. They also plan to move into Europe to support Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, the Alternative fuer Deutschland in Germany, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party in Austria. Wilders is also one of their columnists. They also want to start an edition in Italy. Another section takes apart their journalistic style, showing how it really is little more than ‘fake news’. This consists in running highly emotive and very misleading headlines, which aren’t really backed up or supported by the article beneath. This section in particular looks at articles by Anne-Marie Waters, Virginia Hale, Milo Yiannopolis, Donna Rachel Edmunds and Chris Tomlinson trying to drum up fear and hatred against Muslims through very biased and distorted reporting of rape and other attacks in Germany, Denmark and Sweden, which cite either unreferenced information, or official statistics while omitting other pieces of information from the same sources that disprove or severely qualify their arguments.

The article also argues that Raheem Kassam, one of Breitbart’s editors, had a major influence in making the Fuhrage much more Islamophobic and aggressive in his debating style. Kassam and another advisor were dropped from UKIP after Patrick O’Flynn complained that they had turned Farage into a ‘snarling, thin-skinned, aggressive man.’ It then goes on to examine the role Breitbart played in the civil war that erupted in the Kippers between Farage’s supporters and opponents. It also discusses Farage’s meetings and support for Trump, and warns that Kassam may be winding down his support of UKIP in order to launch a more extreme party. There are also individual sections on particular leading executives and writers at Breitbart, their careers and their very unpleasant connections to other parts of the far right. Raheem Kassam, for example, started out as a member of the Tory youth section, the Young Britons, before moving on to the Conservative Bow Group, setting up the short-lived British Tea Party, which was backed by the Libertarian thinktank, the Freedom Association. Hope Not Hate describes this last group as ‘anti-union’. They are, as well as extremely anti-Socialist and anti-working class in general. In the 1980s they earned notoriety when their links to Fascist Central American dictators and their death squads were revealed. He’s also been involved in the Neo-Con Henry Jackson Society, the Tax-Payer’s Alliance and Student Rights, a right-wing campus monitoring group which has no links to students or the trade unions, and which has been condemned by genuine students unions for its targeting of Muslims students and their events at London unis. He’s also worked for the neo-con The Commentator and is a fellow at Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum. Pipes is a rightwing American professor specialising in the Middle East. He’s also appeared on Ezra Levant’s wretched anti-Islamic TV show on Rebel Media in Canada. In his campaign for leadership of UKIP, he gave a prominent place to Anne-Marie Waters of Sharia Watch and also former members of the EDL and the BNP on what the report describes as ‘case by case basis’.

Other senior staff at UKIP include James Delingpole, Simon Kent, Donna Rachel Edmunds, Oliver J.J. Lane, Chris Tomlinson, Virginia Hale, Nick Hallett, Liam Deacon and Jack Montgomery. Delingpole is a former Telegraph and Spectator columnist, who predictably rants on about ‘cultural Marxism’. He has a bitter hatred of environmentalism, which he thinks aims at establishing a Green dictatorship worse than Hitler’s. But then, he also believes that the White, middle-aged, public school and Oxford educated White male is the section of the population most discriminated against.

Simon Kent is an Ozzie journo, who’s also worked for the Sunday Telegraph over here as well as a range of right-wing newspapers in Australia and Canada, including the Sun News Network in Canada.

Donna Rachel Edmunds was a Conservative councillor in Lewes and worked for Roger Helmer, before she left the party for UKIP. She founded the UKIPDaily.com blog, has written for The Commentator and the Freedom Association. She’s also another wretched fan of Von Hayek and Ayn Rand. She’s also given sympathetic coverage to Stephen Lennon, Geert Wilders and the extreme right-wing Sweden Democrats as well as Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson.

Oliver JJ Lane is a former researcher for the military thinktank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a former Conservative candidate for Nuneaton and Bedworth, and is a former chairman of the British Monarchist League. The article also states that he has ‘liked’ a number of racist pages on the Net, including

the premier “alt-right”/new right publisher Arktos, the openly pro-fascist page “Rational Ethno-Nationalism” and the Nazi blood-and-soil page “Artaman: Hyperborean Garden”. Lane has also “liked” a page titled “European Traditional
Family” which posts Nazi propaganda of Aryan families, and the “strictly non muslim” group “The Beauty of European Girls and Women”, dedicated to white women of “pure european descent”.

The article also claims that he’s an associate of Gregory Lauder-Frost of the Traditional Britain group, which also has links to the Nazi right. I’ve also come across material from them which makes it clear that not only do they despise Islam, they also hate and would like to abolish the NHS.

Chris Tomlinson is a former mobile phone technician, who writes for the Canadian Conservative Party. He’s a fan of the French far-right Identitarian Movement, an activist in the Alt-Right, and a member of the Austrian Nationalist Party.

Virginia Hale is an east Asian studies graduate, who defines herself as a ‘palaeoconservative’. She’s also obsessed with White genocide, and has written a series of articles attack non-Whites and immigration, and corresponded with many of the leaders of the Nazi and Far-Right fringes.

Hallett’s another Tory, having been a member of the Young Britons’ Foundation, The Conservative Way Forward and has run the Margaret Thatcher Centre, a museum dedicated to the foul leaderene. His articles have also been promoted by CulturalMarxism.Net, Infowars and American Renaissance, which has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as specialising in academic racism.

Liam Deacon is a former, moderately left-wing journo, whose articles became very anti-immigrant and right-wing in tone after he joined Breitbart. Jack Montgomery is an activist with the Leave.EU campaign.

The reports also lays out how Breitbart also provides a platform for extremists such as Geert Wilders, Katie Hopkins, Anne-Marie Waters and the anti-Islam campaigner, Robert Spencer, the founder of Jihad Watch, his colleague, Pamela Geller, Stephen Lennon, Ingrid Carlqvist, one of the writers at the infamous Gates of Vienna Blog, Frank Gaffney, a former director of nuclear forces and weapons under Ronald Reagan. Needless to say, he’s also anti-Islam and anti-immigration, and Daniel Pipes, another anti-Islam activist.

The article also discusses the way Breitbart in its comments section has given a platform to the members of the European Fascist right. This doesn’t just include the Front National, AfD and Wilders’ PVV, but also Jobbik in Hungary, the Golden Dawn in Greece, and the BNP. It also examines its highly distorted coverage of recent violence by Muslims and immigrants in Sweden.

A final section by the report’s author, Nick Lowles, considers Breitbart an important far-rightwing threat, and details the magazine’s intentions to monitor, rebut and combat it.

The report can be read at: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/features/breitbart/breitbart-report-2017-03.pdf

Today Is International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017

It’s International Women’s Day today. According to Wikipedia, it was first started by the Socialist Party of America, who held the first Women’s Day in New York on February 28th, 1909. Following a suggestion by Luise Zietz at an International Women’s Conference in August 1910, it was then celebrated the next year in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. It then spread to the Russian Empire, and became a formal day of celebration under Lenin and Alexandra Kollontai after the Bolshevik coup. It was then celebrated mostly by the Communist countries until 1975, when the UN inaugurated International Women’s Day.

The Wikipedia article gives its history as follows

The earliest organized Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union.[3] There was no strike on March 8, despite later claims.[5]

In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark.[6] Inspired in part by the American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day (singular) and was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified at that conference.[7][8] Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women.[9] The following year on March 19, 1911 IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.[3] In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations.[7] In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honouring the martyrs of the Paris Commune.[7] Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination.[2] Americans continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.[7]

Although there were some women-led strikes, marches, and other protests in the years leading up to 1914, none of them happened on March 8.[5] In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries.[5] The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918.[5][10]

In London there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on March 8, 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.[11]

In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Petrograd, Russia, on the last Thursday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the February Revolution.[2] Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.[5] Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.”[5]

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, but it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”

From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist movement worldwide. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists in 1936.[7] After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the state council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.[12]

The United Nations began celebrating in International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.[13]

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’. The article then explains

In a message in support of International Women’s Day, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented on how women’s rights were being “reduced, restricted and reversed”. With men still in leadership positions and a widening economic gender gap, he called for change “by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world”.

A few weeks ago The Young Turks released the news that the organisers of the Women’s Marches in America were planning a Women’s General Strike against Trump. I don’t know if this is actually taking place, but there are a number of articles about it in today’s I newspaper. Including a report that the veteran feminist, Gloria Steinem, has called Trump a ‘walking violation of women’s rights’. Which is true, unfortunately.

So I’d like to give my best wishes to all the females readers of this blog on this special day.

Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Capping Director’s Pay – Media Goes Ballistic

January 11, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting on another good suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn, and the predictable response of outrage and sneering from the meejah. The Labour leader had said on an interview on Radio 4 yesterday morning that he believed that there should be a cap on the pay earned by company directors and senior execs. The media naturally responded by pointing out that Corbyn has an annual pay of £138,000 a year, and tried to draw him into giving a price figure for what the maximum amount earned should be.

The story got onto the One Show yesterday evening, where they did a brief survey of people in the street. Opinions were, as they say, mixed. One elderly objected to the cap on the grounds that it might take away the incentive for people rising to the top. Looking at the headlines on the various papers this morning, it was very clear that it had riled someone at the Torygraph, as this was the story they shoved on their front cover. Other newspapers, like Mail, led by claiming that Labour’s policy in immigration was ‘in disarray’. Mike’s also written another article this week showing that’s also rubbish.

Mike in his article makes the point that compared to some of the vast, bloated salaries awarded to company executives, Corbyn’s own salary appears very modest indeed. He suggests that it is stupid to try to lay down a particular set figure – it should be based on company turnover and the lowest wage earned by an employee at that company. He also makes the point that the casting of particular star actors can make a great difference to how well a movie does, and that when this happens, everyone else who worked on the movie should also enjoy the films’ financial awards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/10/if-we-examine-who-is-complaining-about-corbyns-maximum-wage-idea-well-know-why/

This is all correct. And there’s something else that needs to be added:

Japan already has maximum wage legislation.

Yep, it’s true. Japan is one of the world’s five wealthy countries with a very capitalist economy. The centre right Liberal Democratic party has ruled the country almost uninterrupted since the Second World War. And it also has a cap on how much company directors may be paid. I think it’s set at about 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, but I am not sure.

And the limitation of wage differentials is not something that has been simply added on in the course of reform, but an integral part of the dominant, guiding vision of the nature of Japanese society. East Asian societies can be extremely collectivist, stressing group loyalty over individual opportunity or achievement. In Japan the goal was to create a harmonious, middle class society, where there would be no extremes in wealth or poverty. This isn’t quite the case, as the Burakami, an outcast group rather like the Dalits in India, and those of Korean descent are still subject to massive poverty and discrimination.

The Japanese have also tried to justify their collectivist outlook through racist pseudo-anthropology. One school textbook claimed that Japanese society was more collectivist and co-operative because the Japanese people were descended from agriculturalists, who had to forge strong links with each other in order to cultivate and harvest rice. We Westerners, however, were all isolated individualists because we’re all descended from hunter-gatherers.

As anthropology, it’s rubbish, of course. Some social historians have argued that agricultural societies are more prone to tyranny and absolute government, which would include the type of Asian absolute monarchies described by Western observers as ‘oriental despotism’. But all human societies were originally hunter-gatherers, including the Japanese. And European society has practised settled agriculture since the beginning of the Neolithic 6,000 years ago.

The origins of Japanese and East Asian collectivism probably lie more in the influence of Confucianism, which stressed the right relationships between the members of society, such as between the prince and the people, and between elders, parents and children, and the still powerful influence of feudalism in structuring social relationships. Instead of a samurai warrior giving his loyalty and service to a daimyo feudal lord, it’s now the sarariman – the corporate warrior – becoming part of the retinue of company employees under the lordship of the director.

And European individualism probably comes not from any vestiges of our hunter-gatherer deep past, but from the effect of Hobbesian Social Contract political theorising and the free trade economics of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Hobbes has been described as the first, of one of the first philosophers of the emerging bourgeois society of the 17th century. This was the period which saw Cromwell sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism in England, and the emergence of modern capitalism. But Hobbes’ philosophy views people as social atoms, all competing against each other, as opposed to other views of society, which may stress the importance of collective or corporate identities and loyalties, such as family, feudal lordship or membership of trade and professional bodies. Similarly, the founders of the economic theories of modern capitalism, such as the Physiocrats in France and Adam Smith and in Scotland, also stressed unrestrained individual competition. They were also specifically arguing against the mercantilist system, in which the state regulated trade. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries the British government enacted a series of legislation governing trade with its emerging colonies, so as to tie them to the economy of the home country, which would benefit from their products. Modern Western individualism come from these theories of capitalist society and the perceived operation of its economy.

The collectivist nature of Japanese society also expresses itself in other ways in the structure and management of Japanese corporations. Singing the company song in the morning is one example. Management are also encouraged or required to share the same canteen as the workers on the shop floor. Both of these practices, and no doubt many others, are designed to foster group solidarity, so that management and workers work together for the good of the company.

This isn’t a perfect system, by any means. Apart from the immense pressure placed on individuals in a society that places such heavy emphasis on the value of hard work, that individuals actually keel over and die because of it when doing their jobs, it has also made Japanese society and corporations extremely resistant to change. Confucianism places great stress on respect for one’s elders and superiors. While respect for the older generation is an admirable virtue, and one which our society in many ways is sadly lacking, in Japan it has resulted in a mindset which resists change or apportioning due blame for historical crimes and atrocities.

At the corporate level, the slow down of the Japanese economy in the 1990s meant there was no longer such a pressing need for company staff to work such long hours. However, so great is the corporate inertia, that staff still feel that they have to keep working past six O’clock in the evening, even if there is little or no work to do, because they don’t want to be seen as breaking with the approved practices of previous generations of employees.

And at the national level, it has been suggested that the exaggerated respect for one’s elders and ancestors is the reason why Japan has had such immense difficulty confronting the atrocities their nation committed during the Second World War. Japanese school texts and official histories have been criticised because they’d don’t discuss the atrocities committed by the imperial Japanese army. One school textbook even talked about the army’s ‘advance’ through Asia, rather than its invasion. The reason for this failure to admit the existence of these crimes, and criticise those who perpetrated them, is that respect for one’s elders and social superiors is so engrained in Japanese society, that except for a few extremely courageous mavericks, casting shame on those responsible for such horrors and, by implication, the whole of society during this period, is unacceptable. Even though many over on this side of the Eurasian landmass would consider that a failure to confront the atrocities committed by one’s nation to be even more shameful.

Japanese and Asian collectivism is not, then, perfect. But a maximum wage cap certainly did not hinder Japan’s advance to become one of the world’s foremost industrial countries. And the goal of creating a harmonious, co-operative society where there is little disparity in wealth is a good one.

The title of Mike’s article on Corbyn’s suggestion for a maximum wage states that the identities of those complaining about it reveal why they’re doing so. Indeed. The proprietors and leading executives of newspaper companies, like the Barclay twins at the Torygraph, have awarded themselves immense salaries. They’re multimillionaires. This wealth is increasingly not being shared with the hacks, who do the actual work of putting the paper out. The Torygraph has been particularly struck with declining sales to the point that Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column regularly reported further job cuts. Many of the big newspaper companies depend on the work of unpaid interns, particularly the Groaniad. And even if they’re not being threatened with the sack, conditions for the paid staff are becoming increasingly Orwellian. For example, the Eye reported a few months ago that one of the managers at the Torygraph had tried to install motion detectors on the staff’s desks to prevent them moving around too much, just like the staff at call centres are also monitored. The hacks were so annoyed, however, that management had to back down and the motion detectors were removed.

As for the film industry, the presence of big name Hollywood stars can sink a movie simply through the sheer expense of paying. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $7 million for his appearance in the second Terminator movie. While that was a box office success, the presence of ‘A’ list celebrities in a movie does not guarantee that a film will be a success. One of the reasons why the film Ishtar became such a notorious flop in the 1990s was that the producers cast three major stars, who all commanded multi-million dollar salaries. This pushed the bill for the movie towards $20 million or so, even before the film had been shot. The film was thus under financial pressure from the start.

Apart from the Japanese, there are other, successful European nations that also deliberately avoid huge inequalities in wealth. One of these is Denmark. The newspapers have been full of articles analysing and celebrating the traditional Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This has been translated as ‘cosiness’, but it actually means much more than that. The way I’ve heard it explained by a Danish friend, it’s about being content with the homely necessities. I got the distinct impression that it was similar to the Swedish notion of ‘lagom’, which translates as ‘just enough’. You make just enough to satisfy your basic needs, but no more. And from what I’ve heard about Danish society, the social attitude there is that no-one should try to appear ostentatiously better off than anyone else. This is not to say that everyone has to do the same low-paid job, or that they should not earn more than anyone else. But it does mean that they should not be conspicuously more affluent.

This is the complete opposite from the values promoted and celebrated by Thatcher and the wretched ‘New Right’ of the 1980s. They demanded making conditions harsher for the poor, and giving ever larger salaries to management on the grounds that this would act as an incentive for others to do well and try to climb up the corporate and social ladder. The result has been the emergence of a tiny minority, who are massively wealthy – the 1%. Like the Barclay twins, Rupert Murdoch and just about every member of Theresa May’s cabinet. For everyone else, wages have stagnated to the point where a considerable number are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

But wage caps and an attitude that discourages inequalities of wealth have not harmed Japan, nor Denmark and Sweden, which also have very strong economies and a very high standard of living.

The massive difference between the millions earned by the heads of the big corporations has been a scandal here in Britain, to the point where David Cameron and May made noises urging company directors to restrain their greed. Corbyn’s suggestion is eminently sensible, if Britain is to be a genuinely inclusive, prosperous society. The outrage shown by various media execs to it shows that the Tories are still committed to a policy of poverty for the many, riches for a very few. And all their concern at reining in executive pay is just platitudes to make it appear that they’re concerned when the issue becomes too embarrassing.

Robothespian, the British Robotic Actor

October 25, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece about a performance of Karel Capek’s classic play about a robot rebellion, RUR, at the Czech national library a few years ago by a theatre group, Café Neu Romance, using lego robots. The theatre company was the creation of Vive Les Robots, a Danish company set up to encourage public interest in robots and robotics. I said in the article that I thought it would be good if the play could be performed by full-sized robots, to give it the stature it deserves. I realise, however, that was unlikely given how massively expensive the animatronic technology is, that brings to life robotic puppets like Ry’gel from the SF series Farscape.

One British company, Engineered Arts, has created such a full size mechanical actor. It’s called Robothespian, and there are a number of videos about it on YouTube. The video below shows it, appropriately enough, talking about R.U.R. as part of Café Neu Romance, a robot arts festival, at the Czech National Technical Library in 2012.

Robothespian has also appeared on British breakfast television. In this clip from the Beeb’s Breakfast TV programme from 2014, the two presenters talk about, and sometimes to Robothespian with Dr Nigel Crook of Oxford Brookes University. The robot was created by Engineered Arts as a research project to explore the ways people interact with robots. Crook explains that it can respond to a number of voice commands, and the two presenters ask it questions such as what advantages robots have over human beings. Crook also explains that despite this ability, real intelligence is a long way off, and the problem of giving the robot the ability to hold a genuinely intelligent, wide-ranging conversation is very challenging. So right now, the machine responds giving the answers programmed into it by a human operator.

Robothespian, or Artie, as it is called, from RT – Robothespian – replies to the question about its usefulness that robots can perform simple, repetitive tasks accurately without tiring, or needing to go for breaks. They ask it if it could do their job. Its answer is that it certainly could, as all they do is read from an autocue. So when does it start?

The machine has a range of expressive hand gestures, a moving mouth, and two screens in its head, which show images of eyes. These blink, helping it show a number of expressions. They also show hearts, like those shown in the eyes of cartoon characters to indicate they have fallen in love. The two presenters are, however, advised to stand a few feet away from the robot. Crook explains it is compliant, which means that, unlike an industrial robot, it won’t blindly continue to perform a gesture if it accidentally strikes someone who happens to stand in the way. Similarly, it’s possible to pull the robot’s limbs away from where they’ve settled without damaging it. Nevertheless, the presenters were advised to stand clear of it just in case it accidentally flipped back and struck them.

As well as delivering monologues, Robothespian can also sing, giving a hilarious rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, and do impressions, like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Crook explains that it was built to act as a guide at museums, festivals and exhibitions. The two presenters ask about its gender, and are told that it’s creators think of it as male, as it’s been given a male voice.

Also on the show is a little feature about a robot toy, Caspar, which is used in schools to teach autistic children. The toy was being tried out as a teaching tool as autistic people can find it immensely challenging understanding other’s emotions. They also like things in a very set order. Caspar is useful in that its responses, although intended to mimic those of humans, are always the same. For example, when it smiles, that smile is always the same smile every time it makes that expression. And this regularity and constancy of expression is intended to be reassuring and non-threatening, so that the child using it finds it easy, or easier to do so, than more conventional forms of interaction with people.

Robothespian isn’t cheap. Crook explains that it costs about £50,000. Despite this, Engineered Arts have built more than one of them. In this video from last year, 2015, two of them sing, ‘I Am Not A Robot’.

I find robots and robotics interesting, but I am very much aware of the problems they pose. There are the general philosophical issues like human identity and uniqueness – how long before they develop real intelligence and consciousness, start performing sophisticated task like creating art or composing music, or resent at their enslavement and control by humans? There are also the very real social and economic problems caused by their manufacture. The more industry is automated, the more real jobs, that could be performed by people, are lost. The Beeb a few months ago broadcast a documentary which forecast that in the next 15-20 years a third of all jobs could be lost in Britain. You can certainly see it in retail, where a number of companies have replaced human staff with self-service tills, where you scan in yourself the items you want to purchase into the machine, which then takes your money and hands you your change and receipt. If we aren’t careful, this will lead to the emergence of a society very much like that of 2000 AD’s Megacity One. Judge Dredd’s home city has, thanks to robots, a massive unemployment rate of 95% or so. As a result, most people’s lives are marked by boredom and despair, a situation brought home in the classic ‘Judge Dredd’ story, ‘Un-American Graffitti’, featuring Chopper, a teenage lad trying to escape this crushing social malaise through ever more daring pieces of graffiti artwork. 2000 AD and the ‘Dredd’ strip in particular always had a very strong element of satire and social commentary, and this was one of the most outstanding examples of the strip telling an entertaining story while also describing the real situation many of its readers faced for real due to Thatcherism.

And unfortunately, despite the boom years of the 1990s, the prospect of long-term unemployment and grinding poverty has got worse, due to globalism and the spread of neoliberalism as the dominant political and economic ideology. This will only get worse unless humanity finds ways to manage robotic technology wisely, to create jobs, rather than to the replace them.