Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

YouTube Video for My Book on Slavery in the British Empire, ‘The Global Campaign’

February 18, 2019

This is the video I’ve just uploaded on YouTube about my two volume book on slavery, its abolition and the campaign against it in the British Empire, The Global Campaign, which I’ve published with Lulu.

The video explains that it grew out of my work as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, helping to catalogue the archive of government documents that they had been granted by the Commonwealth Institute. I was busy summarizing these documents for a database on materials on slavery the Museum wanted to compile. Going through them, it became clear that the long process of its abolition in the Caribbean was just part of a wider attempt by the British to suppress it right across our empire, from Canada and the Caribbean across the Cape Colony, now part of South Africa, the Gold Coast, now Ghana, Sierra Leone, founded as a colony for freed slaves, central Africa, and what are now Tanzania, Malawi and Uganda, Egypt, the Sudan and the North African parts of the Turkish Empire, to India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Java and Malaysia, and into the Pacific, in Fiji, Australia and the Pacific Island nations. Legislation in one section of the Empire, for example, the Caribbean, was also passed elsewhere, such as Cape Colony, Mauritius and the Seychelles. The British were aided in their campaign to stamp out slavery in Egypt, the Sudan and Uganda by the Egyptian ruler, the Khedive Ismail. They also signed treaties banning the slave trade from East Africa with the Imam of Muscat, now Oman, the ruler of Zanzibar and Pemba and the suzerain of some of the east African coastal states. There was also an invasion of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, in retaliation for their raiding of the neighbouring British territories for slaves.

As well as trying to suppress the enslavement of Africans, the British were also forced to attack other forms of slavery, such as the forced kidnapping and sale of indentured migrant labourers from India and China in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’, and the similar enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific for labour on the sugar plantations in Fiji and Queensland.

I also explain how one of the first English-speaking countries to ban slavery was Canada, where enlightened governors and judges twisted the interpretation of Canadian law to show that slavery did not officially exist there.

The video’s about ten minutes long. Unfortunately, I don’t say anything about the role Black resistance to slavery, from simple acts like running away, to full scale rebellions had in ending it, or of colonial governors and legislatures. But the book does mention them.

Here’s the video:

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Video Debunking Rees-Mogg’s Poisonous Revisionist Lies about British Concentration Camps in Boer War

February 18, 2019

Yet more evidence to add to the growing mound of it that Jacob Rees-Mogg is a monster, who should not be let anywhere near high office, and that Question Time is horrendously biased. After John McDonnell made his remarks in an interview with Politico during the week, in which he said that Churchill was a villain because he sent in the British army to shoot down striking miners during the Tonypandy riots, Churchill’s legacy was apparently taken up and debated on Question Time. One of the guests on the panel was the Young Master, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who declared that the concentration camps in which Afrikaner women and children were imprisoned during the Boer War, also called by historians the Anglo-South African War, were beneficial to their residents, ‘humanitarian’ and that the death rate in them was no higher than in the Glasgow at the time.

This is, quite simply, a pack of utterly odious, reprehensible lies. The death toll in them was horrifically high, and generations of historians have condemned them as an atrocity. Rees-Mogg’s comparison of their death rate with that of Scotland’s great industrial toon provoked articles in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. I also found this video below on YouTube on the A Different Bias channel very effectively demolishing it and denouncing Mogg for what he is.

The presenter, Phil, begins by saying that there are two types of people on the subject of the British Empire. There is one set, who believe it is over and done with, while for another the Empire has not gone away. It has merely declined, and that is a good thing. He makes the point that there are misapprehensions of history on both sides, and that these need correcting. Because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

He describes the background to the debate, and says that John McDonnell was naïve. Politico had set a trap for him, and instead of walking into it, declaring Churchill was a villain, he should have said, ‘Second World War – Hero’ and left it at that. He then moves on to talk about the concentration camps. He states that he believes the term ‘concentration camp’ first appeared during the Boer War. This erupted when the British tried to take over the gold fields in the free Afrikaner republics. The Afrikaner government granted concession after concession to the British, but this was not enough for Lord Milner, who wanted everything. And so War broke out.

However, despite the British forces outnumbering those of the Afrikaners, we were losing. We didn’t know the terrain; the Afrikaners did, and resorted to guerrilla warfare to defeat us. Lord Kitchener, the chief of the British forces, responded with a scorched earth policy. Boer farms were raised, their crops destroyed and livestock slaughtered. As a result, Afrikaner civilians displaced by the war fled to the camps, which were initially refugee camps. This became official military policy, with the British forcibly moving Afrikaner civilians into them. It was a deliberate attempt to defeat the Afrikaners through the detention of their women and children.

Inside the camps, conditions were atrocious. Hunger and disease were rampant. 50,000 died, 80 per cent of whom were children. This is illustrated very clearly by the photo Phil uses as the background for his talk, which shows a skeletally emaciated Afrikaner child. And the death rate at the time was nowhere near that of contemporary Glasgow. The death rate in the camps was 50 per cent. In Glasgow it was about 2 per cent. He gives the exact figures in the video. Furthermore, the suffering in the concentration camps was deliberately inflicted, while no-one was trying to kill the Glaswegians, except possibly other Glaswegians on a Friday night. The camps’ horrors were widely reported in the British press, creating a storm of public outrage. The government commissioned a committee of inquiry hoping to whitewash it all. Instead of finding that the reports were mistaken and the suffering exaggerated, the committee found that in fact conditions were actually far worse. As a result, the British government was forced to hand over management of the camps to the committee, who managed to reduce the death rate to 2 per cent.

At the beginning of his video, Phil asks rhetorically if there’s anyone who believes that concentration camps are beneficial to those interned in them, or that they do anything but bring shame upon their masters. He concludes, ‘No’, and so goes on to discuss them. He states that when Rees-Mogg came out with this vile nonsense, he was clapped by the audience and the presenter did not interrupt him.

Phil also recognizes that there are many shameful incidents in the past, which are only seen as atrocities in hindsight today, through the lens of our modern values. But the concentration camps aren’t one of them. They were seen as abnormal and barbaric at the time. He ends by describing Mogg as a monster, and he is ashamed and concerned that he has such a grip over the British people.

Absolutely. One of the people I worked with at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a White anti-racism activist, who had lived for a time in the former Rhodesia and had friends in South Africa. I gathered from him that while the Afrikaners liked us, referring to us as ‘nefe Brit’ – ‘nephew Brit’, the concentration camps and the atrocities of the Boer War were still bitterly resented. There was a museum to them, and one of the items on display was supposedly the bits of glass and nails that were put into the prisoners’ food.

There is absolutely no doubt that the concentration camps were an atrocity and are very definitely a deep stain on the history of the British Empire. Rees-Mogg’s attempts to justify them on Question Time really can’t be seen as anything less than an act of historical revisionism, as noxious as any other attempt to erase atrocities from historical memory. Mogg is polite, and studied history at Oxford, though no-one seems to know precisely what period or subjects he studied. He’s either thus deeply ignorant or a liar. I think he’s probably the latter. He should have been stopped, and someone with better knowledge of this period allowed to speak. Now the video does show Mogg making these terrible statements, and a female panelist looking incredulous at him and trying to rebut him. But he goes on with them nonetheless.

It’s the responsibility of historians to look at past events critically and try to strive for accuracy and objectivity, not matter how uncomfortable, distressing or shameful the subject. Mogg has not done so. He has shown himself indifferent to human suffering, both of past generations and of the present, where people are being reduced to starvation through the Tories’ wretched austerity programme and Brexit. As for those, who clapped him, well, what can you say? They have shown themselves to be the ‘gammon’ of fervent Brexiteers that get outraged whenever anyone dares to challenge their conception of Britishness or right-wing British values. And they can’t bear to acknowledge that we were also responsible for committing atrocities in our imperial heyday.

Mogg indeed is a monster. He is unsuited to be an MP, and, like Boris Johnson, his patriotic, Tory views of the past and the Empire are a threat to British people at home, and our standing and friendship with other nations in the wider world. And the ignorance and bigoted nationalism of his followers are also a threat and a disgrace. Just as it is also disgraceful that they are the audience the Beeb’s Question Time now seems determined to play up to.

Candace Owens Destroys Turning Point UK with Stupid Comment about Hitler

February 16, 2019

Turning Point are an American Conservative youth group founded to promote the wretched ideology to college students. In December last year, 2018, it launched a British subsidiary, Turning Point UK. This declared that it was showing that students and young people weren’t the property of the Left, and were showing that free markets and small government equals bigger freedom. This is clearly rubbish. As the experience of the last forty years of Thatcherism/Reaganomics have shown very clearly, where you have small government and free markets, the result is considerably less freedom for ordinary working people, who are exploited and denied opportunities by the rich at the top. As the New Liberals of the late 19th century realized – philosophers like T.H. Green – you need state action and interference to expand the range of freedoms for the people at the bottom. But Turning Point is a Conservative movement, so it represents the rich, privileged and powerful once again trying to deceive the hoi polloi into voting against their interests.

Unsurprising, the group’s launch over here was endorsed by a range of right-wing Tories, including Priti Patel, Bernard Jenkin, Douglas Murray, Steve Baker and the walking anachronism that is Jacob Rees-Mogg. At their launch were Republican mouthpieces Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk. Kirk caused a bit of amusement a little while ago when he exploded at a question Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks had asked him at some kind of press meeting or debate. Uygur simply asked him how much he made. At which point Kirk got up screaming that he ‘LIVED AS A CAPITALIST EVERY DAY!’ and apparently challenging Uygur to fight him before he was calmed down. Owens is a young Black woman, who subsequently showed herself completely ignorant of what the Nazis stood for. Somebody asked her about nationalism. Owens and the others in their wretched organization apparently define themselves as nationalists, but are a bit confused about its relationship with Hitler and the Nazis. She declared that Hitler wasn’t a nationalist but a globalist. He would have been fine if he’d simply wanted to make things better for Germany. She said:

I actually don’t have any problems at all with the word ‘nationalism’. I think that actually, yeah, the definition gets poisoned by leaders that actually want globalism. Globalism is what I don’t want, so when you think about whenever we say ‘nationalism’ the first thing people think about, at least in America, is Hitler. He was a National Socialist. But if Hitler wanted to make Germany great and run things well, then fine. Problems is that he has dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize, he wanted everyone to be German, he wanted everyone to be speaking German, everyone to be a different way. To me, that’s not nationalism. So, I’m thinking about how we could go back down the line, I don’t really have an issue with nationalism, I really don’t. It’s okay, it’s important to retain your nationality’s identity and make sure that what’s happening here, which is incredibly worrisome, just the decrease in the birthrate that we’re seeing in the UK is what we want to avoid. So I have no problems with nationalism. it’s globalism I try to avoid.

The good peeps on social media were already laying into and sending up Turning Point UK before she made those idiotic comments. After she made them, they really tore her and wretched organization apart. Here’s Sam Seder and his crew at Sam Seder’s Minority Report having a few very good, well observed laughs at her expense. They rightly ridicule her for apparently suggesting that Hitler’s murder of the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals would have been already if it was just confined to Germany. They also point out that she could have made her point about nationalism without mentioning Hitler, but looking instead at the African and Indian independence movements. They also joke about the organization’s support for free market economics, saying in spoof German voices that the Nazis had to murder the Jews outside Germany because of supply-chain economics caused by the world flattening.

Please note: Seder’s Jewish, and his co-host, Michael Brooks, is also of part German Jewish heritage. They are definitely not Nazis in any way, shape or form and are only making those joke to send up Owens for her massively crass ignorance.

See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59Q_o2ufR1s

Owens was forced to make a clarification, in which she said, according to Zelo Street, quoting USA Today, that her comments were meant to show that Hitler was not a nationalist, he did not put the Germans first, and was putting German Jews in concentration camps and murdering them. He was a mass murderer.

Which is true. Others, like Kevin Logan, who has devoted part of a very long hang-out to Owens, Kirk and their nonsense, pointed out that Hitler killed the Jews because he was a nationalist, who didn’t see Jews as being part of the German nation. Hitler also didn’t want everyone to be German either. He wanted to create a new German empire – the Third Reich – in which Germany would rule over all the other countries and territories it had conquered. In his Table Talk he says at one point that he wants to stop the Slav peoples from speaking their languages, but he still wanted to preserve them as separate, slave peoples, who were there to provide agricultural products to their German overlords. I’ve also no doubt that Hitler would have seen himself as an anti-globalist. He identified the Jews as the secret controllers of the world through Communism and capitalism, and aimed to destroy them in order to free Germany from their supposed grip. It was absolute, poisonous nonsense which resulted in the murder of six million Jews and 5 1/2 million assorted non-Jews in the camps.

Mehdi Hassan and LBC’s James O’Brien both remarked on how these people were promoted by the Tories, like Douglas Murray and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Zelo Street concluded that the Nazis were indeed nationalists, and reinventing history using terms like globalism was not Owens’ finest hour, and predicted more Tories repenting at leisure for their endorsement of this bunch of right-wing nutters on the way.

See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/tory-mps-endorse-hitler-gaffe.html

Novara Media’s redoubtable chief, Ash Sarkar, had a few very interesting things to say about Turning Point UK in her video on ‘Why Are Young Conservatives So Weird?’ She pointed out that it didn’t take long before the organization turned into a mass of parody accounts, mutual recriminations and Hitler apologia. She reminded everyone how, 18 months ago, another Tory youth group, Activate, collapsed after two weeks when they were caught talking about gassing and experimenting on chavs on social media. This started her wondering about why young Conservatives were so weird. She described how, in the 1990s the very right-wing Union of Conservative Students considered themselves the bulwark against socialism in universities. The union, whose past heads included David Davies and John Bercow, was a vocal supporter of right-wing guerillas in Nicaragua and Latin America, and printed the notorious posters demanding that Nelson Mandela should be hanged. Norman Tebbit banned them in 1987 as their antics saw them branded as the right-wing equivalent of Labour’s Militant Tendency.

Sarkar states that it is tempting to see Turning Point UK as just another incident in a long line of right-wing youth movements taking things a bit too far, but there’s a difference. The Federation of Conservative Students had little overlap with their counterparts in America. But Turning Point UK are very tightly connected to the American Alt Right. Their meetings are swanky transatlantic affairs, like the one in which Owens made her fantastically stupid comments. They’re also supported by Trump donor, John Mappin, who has remained resolutely silent about Turning Point UK’s sources of funding.

She also notes that while the organization claims to be energizing Conservative students across the UK, their advertising is very much skewed towards the States. A single Facebook for their launch wasn’t seen by anyone in the UK, but instead was targeted at people in Texas, Ohio and ‘the London borough of California’. And Turning Point USA don’t seem to be interested in recruiting students either. None of their adverts on Facebook are directed at anyone under 24 years of age, but aimed at people 45+. All that stuff about ‘cultural Marxism’ isn’t for a millennial audience. They’re not trying to be the new Momentum. They’re trying to rile up economically secure but ‘culturally anxious’ baby-boomers, to normalize reactionary attitudes. They’re establishment astroturfers dressed up as a youth movement. And most of them graduated ages ago anyway. She makes the point that they aren’t a counterculture, but classic counterrevolutionary strategy. Only now, with memes.

This is a very effective demolition job, and tells you exactly why they aren’t to be taken seriously. As for Owens, Logan in his hangout pointed out that the Alt Right is quite content to use people from minorities and disadvantaged groups – people of colour, women, gays – but they will turn their back on them and discard them the moment they have served their purpose. They’re there to provide the Alt Right with a bit of camouflage for their reactionary views and intolerance. And they’ll treat Owens exactly the same way once they’re done with her.

John McDonnell Outrages Tories with Comments about Churchill’s Villainy

February 16, 2019

John McDonnell kicked up a storm of controversy this week when, in an interview with the Politico website on Wednesday, he described Winston Churchill as a villain. McDonnell was answering a series of quick-fire questions, and the one about Churchill was ‘Winston Churchill. Hero or villain?’ McDonnell replied ‘Tonypandy – villain’. This referred to the Tonypandy riots of 1910, when striking miners were shot down by the army after clashing with the police. According to the I’s article on the controversy on page 23 of Wednesday’s edition, Churchill initially refused requests to send in the troops, instead sending a squad of metropolitan police. Troops were also sent in to stand in reserve in Cardiff and Swindon. Following further rioting, Churchill sent in the 18th Hussars. He later denied it, but it was widely believed that he had given orders to use live rounds. There’s still very strong bitterness amongst Welsh working people about the massacre. The I quoted Louise Miskell, a historian at Swansea University, who said that ‘He is seen as an enemy of the miners’.

Boris Johnson, who has written a biography of Churchill, was naturally outraged, declaring ‘Winston Churchill saved this country and the whole of Europe from a barbaric fascist and racist tyranny, and our debt to him is incalculable’. He also said that McDonnell should be ashamed of his remarks and withdraw them forthwith.

McDonnell, speaking on ITV news, said that although he didn’t want to upset people, he’d give the same answer again to that question if he was honest, and said that he welcomed it if it has prompted a more rounded debate about Churchill’s role. He said that Churchill was undoubtedly a hero during the Second World War, but that this was not necessarily the case in other areas of his life. He said ‘Tonypandy was a disgrace.: sending the troops in, killing a miner, tryinig to break a strike and other incidents in his history as well.’

The I then gave a brief list of various heroic and villainous incidents. These were

* Saving Britain from the Nazis during and helping to lead the Allies to victory during the Second World War.

* Introducing the Trade Boards Bill of 1909, which established the first minimum wages system for various trades across the UK.

* Making the famous speech about an Iron Curtain coming down across Europe in 1946.

* According to his biographer, John Charmley, Churchill believed in a racial hierarchy and eugenics, and that at the top of this were White Protestant Christians.

* Saying that it was ‘alarming and nauseating’ seeing Gandhi ‘striding half-naked up the steps of the vice-regal palace.’ He also said ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’.

* Three million people died in the Bengal famine of 1943, in which Churchill refused to deploy food supplies.

It’s in the context of the Bengal famine that Churchill made his vile remarks about Indians. The Bengalis starved because their grain had been sequestered as back up supplies to fee British troops. In the end they weren’t needed, according to one video I’ve seen on YouTube. Churchill also said that the famine was their fault for having too many children.

He also supported the brief British invasion of Russia to overthrow the Communist Revolution, and the use of gas on Russian troops. Just as he also wanted to use gas to knock out, but not kill, Iraqi troops in Mesopotamia when they revolted in the 1920s against British rule.

He also said that ‘Keep Britain White’ was a good slogan for the Tories to go into the 1951 general election.

It’s clearly true that Churchill’s determined opposition to the Nazis did help lead to a free Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany. But according to the historian of British Fascism, Martin Pugh, he did not do so out of opposition to Fascism per se. He was afraid that Nazi Germany posed a threat to British interests in the North Sea. The Conservative journo, Peter Hitchens, is very critical of Churchill and Britain’s entry into the Second World War. He rightly points out that Churchill wasn’t interested in saving the Jews, but that we went in because of the treaties we had signed with Poland and France. As for defeating Nazism, historians have for a long time credited the Soviet Red Army with breaking the back of the Wehrmacht. In one of Spike Milligan’s war memoirs, he jokes that if Churchill hadn’t sent the troops in, then the Iron Curtain would begin about Bexhill in Kent. Churchill also went on a diplomatic visit to Mussolini’s Italy after the Duce seized power, though privately he remarked that the man was ‘a perfect swine’ after the Italian dictator declared that his Blackshirts were ‘the equivalent of your Black and Tans’. For many people, that’s an accurate comparison, given how brutal and barbaric the Black and Tans were. And as an authoritarian, Churchill also got on very well and liked General Franco. And George Orwell also didn’t take Churchill seriously as the defender of democracy. In the run-up to the outbreak of war, he remarked that strange things were occurring, one of which was ‘Winston Churchill running around pretending to be a democrat’.

Now I don’t share Hitchen’s view that we shouldn’t have gone into the Second World War. The Nazis were determined to exterminate not just Jews, Gypsies and the disabled, but also a large part of the Slavic peoples of eastern Europe. One Roman Catholic site I found had an article on Roman Catholic and Christian martyrs under the Nazis. This began with the Nazis’ attempts to destroy the Polish people, and particularly its intellectuals, including the Polish Roman Catholic Church. It quoted Hitler as saying that war with Poland would a be a war of extermination. Hitler in his Table Talk as also talks about exterminating the Czechs, saying that ‘It’s them or us.’ Churchill may have gone into the War entirely for reasons of British imperial security, but his action nevertheless saved millions of lives right across Europe. It overthrew a regime that, in Churchill’s words, threatened to send the continent back into a new Dark Age, lit only by the fire of perverted science’.

Having said that does not mean he was not a monster in other areas. The General Strike was a terrible defeat for the British working class, but if Churchill had been involved it would almost certainly have been met with further butchery on his part. Again, according to Pugh, Churchill was all set to send the army in, saying that they were ready to do their duty if called on by the civil authority. The Tory prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, was all too aware of what would happen, and when another minister of civil servant suggested finding him a position in the Post Office or the department looking after the radio, he enthusiastically agreed, because it would keep Churchill out of trouble.

As for the Bengal famine, I think that still haunts Indian nationalists today. I was looking at the comments on Al-Jazeera’s video on YouTube about the UN finding severe poverty in Britain a few months ago. There was a comment left by someone with an Indian name, who was entirely unsympathetic and said he looked forward to our country being decimated by starvation. My guess is that this vicious racist was partly inspired in his hatred of Britain by the famine, as well as other aspects of our rule of his country.

I think McDonnell’s remarks, taken as a whole, are quite right. McDonnell credited him with his inspiring leadership during the War, but justifiably called him a villain because of the Tonypandy massacre. And eyewitnesses to the rioting said that the miners really were desperate. They were starving and in rags. And Churchill should not be above criticism and his other crimes and vile statements and attitudes disregarded in order to create a sanitized idol of Tory perfection, as Johnson and the other Tories would like.

‘I’ Newspaper on Labour’s Plans to Liberate University Regulator from Market Forces

February 16, 2019

Today’s I for Saturday, 16th February 2019 has an article by Florence Snead on page 4 reporting Labour’s plans to overhaul the universities regulator, and remove the free market ideology currently underpinning its approach to higher education in the UK. The piece, entitled ‘Universities ‘should not be left to the mercy of market forces’ runs

Labour has unveiled how it would overhaul the higher education system as it claimed the system’s new regulator was “not fit for purpose”.

The shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner will criticize the Office for Students – established by the Government in 2018 – in a speech today at the annual University and Colleges Union conference.

She will say the regulator represents a system “where market logic is imposed on public goods” and where “forces of competition run rampant at the expense of students, staff and communities.”

Labour said it wants the regulator to report on diversity in university staff and student bodies and to take action to make universities “genuinely representative of the communities they serve”.

Staff should also be represented on the regulator’s board to ensure their views are heard, it added.

The party said it would also ban vice chancellors sitting on their own remuneration committees.

Ms Rayner is also expected to address the issue of universities being on the brink of bankruptcy, as previously revealed by I.

“Students would be left with immense uncertainty about their futures and entire communities would lose one of their major academic, economic and social institutions.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore responded: “Universities know they can’t trust Corbyn as his plans would crash the economy, mean less investment in our higher education, compromising its world class quality”.

Actually, if anything’s trashed our world class education system, it’s been the Thatcherite programme of privatization and free market ideology. Scientific research at UK universities has been hampered ever since Thatcher decided that university science departments should go into partnership with business. Which has meant that universities can no longer engage in blue sky research, or not so much as they could previously, and are shackled to producing products for private firms, rather than expanding the boundaries of knowledge for its own sake. Plus some of the other problems that occur when scientific discoveries become the property of private, profit driven industries.

Then there’s the whole problem of the introduction of tuition fees. This should not have been done. I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol when Mandelson and Blair decided to do this, and it’s immediate result was the scaling down of certain departments and shedding of teaching staff. Those hardest hit were the departments that required more funding because of the use of special equipment. This included my own department, Archaeology, where students necessarily go on digs, surveys and field expeditions. This means that the department had to have transport to take its staff and students to wherever they were excavating, provide digging equipment, although many students had their own trowels. They also needed and trained students in the use of specialist equipment like the geophysical magnetometers used to detect structures beneath the soil through the measurement of tiny changes in the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, as well as labs to clean up and analyse the finds, from the type of soil in which they were found, the material out of which the finds were made, chemical composition of various substances, like food residue in pots, so you can tell what people were eating and drinking, and the forensic examination of human and animal remains.

I’ve no doubt that this situation was made worse when Cameron and Clegg decided to raise tuition fees to their present exorbitant level. Which has meant that students are now saddled with massive debt, which may make it difficult for some ever to afford to buy their own homes. Student debt was already an issue just after I left college, when the Tories decided to end student grants. After the introduction of tuition fees it has become an even more critical issue.

Then there’s the whole issue of proper pay and conditions for university lecturers. This is nowhere near as high as it should be. A friend of mine in the ’90s was one of the Student Union officers at our old college/uni. He told me one day just what some of the highly skilled and educated lecturers were earning. And it was low. Many of them were on part-time work, and I think the pay for some of them was at average wage level or below. And that was then. I’ve no idea what it’s like now. I’ve come across reports of a similar crisis at American universities and colleges, where the pay for the managers has skyrocketed while that of teaching staff has fallen catastrophically. And this is all part of the general pattern throughout industry as a whole, where senior management has enjoyed massively bloated pay rises and bonuses, while staff have been laid off and forced on to short term or zero hours contracts and low pay.

All this has been done in the name of ‘market forces’ and the logic of privatization.

I am not remotely surprised that British higher education is in crisis, and that an increasing number of colleges and universities are facing bankruptcy. This was always on the cards, especially as the population surge that inspired many colleges and polytechnics to seek university status on the belief that there would be enough student numbers to support them, is now over. Market logic would now dictate that, as the universities are failing, they should be allowed to collapse. Which would deprive students and their communities of their services.

The structure of British higher education needs to be reformed. The entire Thatcherite ethic of privatization, free markets, and tuition fees needs to be scrapped. Like everything else Thatcher and her ideological children ever created, it is a bloated, expensive and exploitative failure. My only criticism about Corbyn’s and Rayner’s plans for the unis isn’t that they’re too radical, but that they’re too timid.

Scientists Told to Halt Development of War Robots

February 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher Chope Blocks Bill to Outlaw FGM

February 11, 2019

What can decent people do about Christopher Chope, the Tory MP for Christchurch? Apart from either waiting for him to be voted out at the next general election, or having him committed to Broadmoor as a dangerous lunatic whose twisted view of democracy is a threat to the safety of vulnerable women and girls?

Yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting that Chope talked out a bill on Friday intended to safeguard girls and women against Female Genital Mutilation. His decision to do so was in direct opposition to his government’s own stance against this repulsive practice. Mike’s article quotes a tweet from Tweezer herself, who said

Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent practice and we will not accept it. We’ve strengthened the law on FGM, leading to the first UK conviction last week, and we’re helping communities around the world to end this appalling crime.#EndFGM

Chope declared that the reason he did so wasn’t because he was in favour of FGM, but because he hated Private Members’ Bills. But in the instance, as Mike pointed out, his professed principles amounted to pure egotism as he placed them before the wishes of his government, party, nation and parliament. Mike asked in his article whether Chope would have been quite so keen to block the bill if he knew someone, who had suffered from FGM, or if it was a form of mutilation and torture he might also have suffered if he had been born into a culture that practiced such barbarity.

Mike also goes on to say that he first learned about it at school, and it turned his stomach. I was about the same age when I first heard about it, and Mike’s right – it’s horrific and revolting. I think it can very in terms of severity, and has been described by feminists as ‘female castration’. There are absolutely no medical benefits to it, and, apart from the horrific nature of the operation itself, it can also be a positive danger to women’s health. It isn’t just the national government that is worried about it. Local authorities are too. A few years ago there was an article on the local news for the West Country on the Beeb, Points West, about concerns by activists and medical professionals about girls in Bristol being taken out of the country to their families homelands to have it done.

As for Chope himself, last year he also talked out a Private Members Bill to prevent upskirting, which Mike suggests means that he seems to have an unpleasant attitude to stop women protecting their private parts. And public opinion was very definitely against Chope. Mike quotes two Tweets from Dangerous Hero Rachel Swindon, who said

Following on from his upskirting disgrace, Tory MP Christopher Chope MP has just shouted to object to the Female Genital Mutilation Bill.

There is seriously something wrong with this guy. Abhorrent individual.

And also pointed out that he was one who believes in denying government aid to the many, while being very glad to avail himself of it.

Tory Christopher Chope doesn’t just derail upskirting & FGM bills. He voted –
•12 X for the Bedroom Tax
•44 X to cut benefits
​•9 X against bankers bonus tax
•19 X to reduce Corporation tax

He used £10,000 expenses to fix his roof, a £2,600 bathroom & £881 to repair a sofa

Mike stated that, thank to his principles, the provisions of this bill will now have to be included in a formal government bill. Which means more time putting more women and girls at risk. He asks

Will Mr Chope accept responsibility for their pain and humiliation? If not, perhaps any such victims should take out a private prosecution against him.

Mike also concludes

So perhaps we should simply accept that he blocked the Bill against FGM because this principled man believes in the principle behind FGM: That those with power are entitled to do anything they like with those who have none – and do all we can to remove this dinosaur, and his prehensile principles, from Parliament at the earliest opportunity.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/02/10/childish-chope-blocks-anti-fgm-bill-because-he-doesnt-know-any-better/

Chopes’ decision to block the bill seems to be part of the same attitude of a certain group of far-right Tories and Kippers. There was a scandal a few years ago, I seem to recall, when some UKIP MEPs tried to block or voted against a similar bill intended to protect women from either sexual assault or FGM, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten which. And in some cases their actions have been extremely hypocritical.

I don’t know what Chope’s attitude towards Islam is. I’m not aware that he’s a bigot. But there is a very strong element of pernicious, systemic islamophobia in the Tory party. And one of the issues islamophobes have seized upon to try to show that Islam is incompatible with British culture and should be heavily legislated against and discouraged is Female Genital Mutilation. Yes, it goes on in Islam, but it is not commanded in Qu’ran. I think it’s one of the practices that entered Islam from outside, and is most widespread outside the Middle East in sub-Saharan Africa. Certainly the women’s rights activists, who spoke about it on the Points West piece cited cases were girls were being taken there. There is an Islamic feminist movement, and I’m absolutely sure that there are campaigners against it in the Dar al-Islam. But many of the same Kipper MEPs, who voted against the European parliament’s attempts to outlaw it were also bitterly islamophobic, which made them both religiously bigoted and misogynist. Islamophobe or not, by blocking this legislation Chope has also undermined the efforts of Islamic and BAME feminists to protect women. But then, as Dangerous Hero Rachel Swindon and Mike have pointed out, Chope doesn’t believe in supporting the health and welfare of the poor and underprivileged, only in giving even more to extremely rich White men like himself.

As for his precious principles, they’re clearly undemocratic. Private Members’ Bills always have been part of parliamentary democracy. He can hate them all he likes in principle, but it should not be his right to obstruct parliamentary democracy. Especially when it puts women and girls at risk of horrific mutilation.

You hope it won’t be too long before there’s a general election and he, and the rest of his party of thugs and bigots, are thrown out and a proper Labour government installed instead.

Netanyahu Rages as Eire Passes Pro-BDS Legislation

February 10, 2019

Last week the Israel lobby was on the warpath again. We had the Blairites and Likud sycophants in the Labour demanding that Jenny Formby show them what’s being done to root out all the anti-Semites they claim are in the party, the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Paole Zion, and the recidivist liars and Fascist shills the Jewish Chronicle hysterically proclaiming that there was a culture of anti-Semitism within Labour. And Rachel Riley, Frances Barber and their army of trolls tried attacking Mike and Owen Jones as anti-Semites, and got their rear ends royally handed to them. And Wes Streeting decided that he could combat Jew hatred by falsely accusing a 70-year old woman of it and doxing her.

This video below from the Middle East Monitor might explain why some of that rage and fear suddenly erupted. The Dail – the Irish parliament – a fortnight ago passed legislation banning Israeli exports from the Occupied Territories. And predictably Netanyahu was not amused, and accused the Emerald Isle of anti-Semitism.

The video’s just under two minutes long, and begins with footage from the Irish parliament of Fianna Fail senator Niall Collins saying, ‘We need to do the right thing here and that is what that legislation simply sets out to do. The video explains that the Irish parliament has passed a bill banning the import of Israeli settlement goods. Senator Collins asks, ‘Why should we turn a blind eye to blatant and flagrant breaches and abuses of international law?’ This video goes to say that the legislation

‘would make Ireland the first EU country to take such a bold action against the Israeli occupation despite attempts by the US and Israel to thwart it. The bill was backed by all of Ireland’s opposition parties and was voted in with an overwhelming majority of 78-45.’

The video then shows Frances Black, an Independent senator, explaining that ‘The Occupied Territories bill is a modest piece of legislation that stands up for basic human rights and international law.’ It then moves to Senator Collins, who says, “It simply isn’t good enough condemning the ongoing expansion of settlements across the West Bank’.

It then goes back to scenes inside the Dail, and explains that ‘after the vote Israel reprimanded the Irish ambassador, and quotes the office of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu. Which ranted

‘Israel is outraged over the legislation against it in the Irish parliament, which is indicative of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.’

It then goes back to a speech by Senator Collins, in which he very effectively rebuts these accusations by Netanyahu’s minions. He says,

‘This outrage and offence which has been built up by Israel that we’re somehow anti-Semitic. We’re not! We recognize the state of Israel and we will trade with them but they are on the off-side line in terms of the Occupied Territories.’

The video goes on to say that ‘the move is seen as a great victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.’ It quotes a tweet from Senator Black, who said ‘Ireland will always stand for international law + human rights, & we’re one step closer to making history, Onwards!’ The backdrop to the tweet shows a group of Irish and Palestinian adults and children, a Palestinian man wearing the distinctive keffiyeh, while the kids have the tricolor on the cheeks in facepaint.

The law very obviously isn’t anti-Semitic. It’s not against Jews nor Israel as a whole. It’s only against Israeli goods produced in occupied Palestine. Now I’m sure there are anti-Semites along with other varieties of racist in Ireland, and the country, like just about every other western nation including America and the nascent Jewish colony in Palestine also had a Fascist movement. This was Owen O’Duffy and his Blue Shirts. They fought in the Spanish Civil War but seem to have vanished after that. I’ve certainly not heard of them surviving into the Second World War. I doubt most people in Ireland and elsewhere have even heard of them. They’re only claim to fame is that the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, was briefly a member c. 1919 before giving up on them. Most people when they think of Irish nationalism are far more likely to think of the various Irish independence movements and associated militant groups, like the Fenians and later the IRA and other Republican terrorist organisations in Ulster. They one thing the majority of folk won’t associate with Irish nationalism or national identity is Nazism and anti-Semitism.

However, the Irish, it seems to me, do take state terrorism and Fascism in other nations very seriously. Way back in the early ’80s, when Reagan was backing the Contras in Nicaragua and other Fascist butchers in Latin America, there were mass protests when he decided to pay a state visit to Ireland. I think it was during his birthday, as the news showed footage of him being given a present by someone in full Irish patriotic dress, who told him that it came from Irish-Americans everywhere. Well, I wonder, as I always under that Irish-Americans in New York were traditionally the backbone of the Democrats. And Reagan was definitely not welcomed by a large part of the Irish population. There were boycotts and demonstrations at the airport and at Trinity College in Dublin, as I recall. The explanation the Beeb gave was that Ireland was closely involved with the Roman Catholic charities working in Latin America. And therefore they weren’t going to be impressed by Reagan and these Fascist regimes’ death squads torturing and murdering the very people they were trying to help. I got the impression from reading some of the pieces written by Irish contributors to the radical American magazine and website, Counterpunch, that left-wing Irish people see themselves and their country as anti-imperialist, and this piece of BDS legislation strikes me very firmly as within that tradition.

Economically, I’m not sure how much damage this will do. Ireland’s a small country with a small population. I think it might be around 4-6 million. But culturally the country is a very big hitter. There’s a large Irish diaspora spread across the globe, particularly in Australia and America, where it’s very politically important. Irish music and literature are enjoyed everywhere. Classic Irish bands include the Dubliners, Planxty, Clannad and the Chieftains, and you can’t get away from the Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’, which is played every year at Christmas along with Slade’s ‘So Here It Is, Merry Christmas’. The Dail’s vote to pass this legislation could be immensely influential simply because of the country’s immense cultural cachet.

And that’s what Netanyahu and his thugs are afraid of. Because once one EU country passes legislation banning goods from Occupied Palestine, others may follow suit. It’s why the Israeli state and its minions over here have been trying their level best to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites, simply because he supports the Palestinians and genuinely condemns further Zionist expansion and human rights abuses.

The Israeli state is running scared. Thanks to the BDS movement, 1/3 of Israeli businesses in the West Bank have been forced to close. Young Jewish Americans are increasingly turning away from Israel. Many are repulsed by its treatment of the Palestinians. Others simply think that it’s ridiculous for them to be expected automatically to support a country they were not born in and have no intention of moving to, when the indigenous inhabitants of that country are being forced out. It’s why the Likudniks are increasingly looking to Evangelical Christian Zionists for support in America instead of the country’s Jews.

Now that Ireland has banned Israeli goods from occupied Palestine, it’ll be interesting to see how many other countries start to debate doing the same. And you can bet the angry smears of Corbyn and his supporters will get even louder and more shrill over here on this side of the Irish Sea, as the Israel lobby fears that under him, Britain will be next.

Farage Ready to Launch New Brexit Party?

February 5, 2019

Buried in the pages of the I last week – I’m afraid I can’t quite remember when – was the news that Nigel Farage, the quondam Fuehrer of UKIP, is preparing a new party ready to fight for a proper Brexit. Or rather, what he sees as a proper Brexit, which is properly going to be quite different from most normal people’s idea. Farage declared that people were disappointed in the government’s handling of Britain’s departure from the EU, and he had a new party almost ready to enter the next election to fight for something better. The new party had nearly 7 million pounds of funding as well as legions of candidates ready to field.

This piece of earth-shattering non-news was reported in a small article dwarfed by much bigger reports of the government’s and Labour’s actions and policies on the same and facing page. Which is probably why it doesn’t seem to have caused much sensation. I haven’t really been looking for any news about it, but I haven’t seen anyone else on the blogs I usually follow, including Mike, talking about this latest promise to revitalize British politics.

And I’m not surprised. We’ve been here before. Remember all those years ago round about 2004 when Robert Kilroy-Silk announced he was a launching a new party to campaign against foreign immigration and demand Britain leave the EU? Which I think had the backing of Joan Collins, now living in France. Kilroy caused immense anger with his bigoted remarks about foreigners in general, and specifically about Arabs and Muslims. This in turn gave the British public immense amusement when a couple of rightly offended Muslims poured ordure over him as he was filmed opening his mouth to spout xenophobic bilge and leading questions. For all the outrage and controversy Kilroy caused, his party went absolutely nowhere. It fizzled out, and vanished without a trace. The same is likely to happen very soon with UKIP, and is almost certain to happen with the Fuhrage’s new outfit, whatever the former Kipper generalissimo may say to the contrary.

Farage, one of his books was titled Flying Free, departed UKIP claiming that it was now too racist for him. But under Farage the party was hardly a haven of multicultural tolerance and gender equality. It contained more than its fair share of racists and former members of the Fascist right, as well as homophobes, Muslim-haters and anti-feminists, if not out-and-out misogynists. And there were claims that Farage himself was just as bigoted, going right back to the time he was a public schoolboy. Anti-racists, LGBTQ activists and feminists didn’t just protest his party, but also him. Like on one occasion when a group of the above, including Muslims and drag queens turned up at a pub in which he planned to have a lunch time pint and began protesting against him. Which included the Muslims praying to show that they were no threat to anyone and were the victims of his and his party’s prejudice. Farage’s party won’t be treated any differently, if it every launches. Which is a very good question.

UKIP was always a single issue party. It stood for Britain’s departure from the EU. Other policies, like the bigotry and racism were simply additions, although I’ve know doubt that to many Kippers they were fundamental reasons for their joining. But the fundamental issue at UKIP’s core, its very raison d’etre, was simply Brexit. And that was achieved, more or less, when the Leave campaign won. The referendum was called by the Tories, who were then re-elected as the governing party – unfortunately – and who then began the consequent botched negotiations and stupid, self-interested politicking that has produced the current mess. UKIP had been given what they primarily wanted, and were shut out of the whole process. As a result, they started to decline. Rapidly.

And it’s because they’re irrelevant that Kipperfuehrer Batten has now lurched even further, or just most obviously, to the far right. He’s taken on veteran islamophobe, former BNP member and jailbird Tommy Robinson as his advisor on Islam and prison reform, Tommy Robinson, and right-wing YouTube personalities Mark ‘Count Dankula’ Meechan and Carl ‘Sargon of Akkad’ Benjamin because he thinks they’ll bring in more members. The unnamed Kipper official, who tried to dissuade Benjamin from joining in the leaked audio recording told him that they wanted Robinson in, because he was likely to bring with him also several thousand of his followers, who would take the whole process of campaigning and leafleting seriously. Unlike, it has to be said, Sargon, who was personally uninterested in actively campaigning for the party except for the content on his blog, and whose followers showed how seriously they took real political activism by getting smashed in a pub and shouting ‘Free Kekistan!’ out the window at passing cars. Sargon, Dankula and Robinson are notorious bigots, and I’ve put up a video of one, non-racist Kipper railing angrily against their joining, who made it very clear that Batten had destroyed the party for him and he wanted to leave. And somehow I don’t think for a moment that he’s alone.

Batten undoubtedly is going to lose members. But before the Kipper leadership resorted to appealing to extremists, they tried a more moderate approach. A year or so ago they were also claiming that Brexit wasn’t being delivered properly, and issued their demands for their view of how it all ought to be done. And no-one was remotely interested. Hence, presumably, Fuehrer Batten’s decision to try recruiting people even more openly extreme than many of the existing members. It’s a desperate tactic to halt the party’s dwindling membership and prevent its decline into total irrelevance and obscurity.

And I predict the fate of Farage’s proposed new party will be absolutely no different. Always assuming it ever gets launched, of course.

And speaking of electoral irrelevance and obscurity, what happened to this new, shiny centrist party that Blair was backing and which was supposedly ready to launch? You know, the one that was supposed to have rich corporate donors, and which was ready to accept all the right-wing Blairite Labour MPs ready to defy Corbyn and depart en masse from the party? The exciting new party that was later revealed to have no real policies and a miniscule membership, which got even smaller before it was ever launched when one of its disgruntled founders picked up his ball and walked out. It was supposedly all set and ready to go early last year, if not before. But now it’s February 2019, and we’ve not heard a dicky bird from them since. Though the right-wing Labour MPs are muttering once again about departing. But not, apparently, to that new party, which seems to have died the death before it ever got going.

Pretty much as we can expect Farage’s party to do.

Xelasoma on his Favourite Artists of the Fantastic

February 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part I

Part II