Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Time Travel Tale of Scientists Warning of Ecological Collapse: Gregory Benford’s ‘Timescape’

May 10, 2019

Gregory Benford, Timescape (London: Victor Gollancz 1980).

Julian, one of the great commenters on this blog, has asked me to do a review of Gregory Benford’s time machine book, Timescape. I read it a few years ago, having bought the 1996 edition, over a decade and a half after it was first published. It is just a bit dated now in its prediction of life in 1998, but still well-worth reading if you’re into physics and hard SF.

Benford, the ‘Galactic Centre’ Novels and Timescape

Gregory Benford is an American astronomer and hard SF writer. He’s probably best known for his ‘Galactic Centre’ series of novels. Set thousands of years in the future, this is about the last remnants of humanity battling for survival against a ruthless and almost overwhelmingly superior machine civilisation, the Mechs, at the centre of the Galaxy. Hard SF is the type of science fiction that tries as far as possible to keep to established scientific rules. Such as, for example, the inviolability of the rule of Relativity, so that there are no Faster Than Light drives taking humans to the stars in a matter of hours, days or months rather than years. But that doesn’t mean ruling out other scientific advances, like time travel. Several of the ‘Galactic Centre’ novels are set in an artificial environment within the Black Hole at the centre of our Galaxy, where careful engineering by alien creatures formed of pure magnetism have merged two Black Holes to form an artificial environment of warped space time, within which humans and organic aliens are able to seek sanctuary from the Mechs. The curvature of spacetime and stress cracks within it in this environment allow the inhabitants to travel backwards and forwards in time. One of the novels features the adventures of a modern human family, who are forced to flee forward in time as the Mechs invade, almost to the end of time itself.

Brief Synopsis

Timescape doesn’t go that far, and is very firmly set in the recent past, and near future according to the time it was written. It’s the tale of two scientists and their friends, Gordon Bernstein and his fellows at CalTech in 1963, and Gregory Markham, an American scientist and his friend Markham, at Cambridge Uni in 1998. Bernstein is a young graduate student, who detects strange signals from an experiment he and his fellows are running, signals that he gradually begins to realize cannot be explained as just random noise or the product of background radiation. In 1998 Markham and Renfrew are working on ways to generate tachyons, faster than light subatomic particles that will travel back in time through bombarding iridium with high energy particles. They hope that by creating such particles, they may be able to use them to send a warning to the past.

The Earth in this very near future is dying. The ecology is collapsing through a deadly bacteriological bloom that destroys vegetable and animal life. The result is global famine, poverty and social unrest, with food rationing and bands of hostile, violent beggars moving across England. Markham and Renfrew hope they can send a message to the past detailing how the disease can be fought and eradicated in order to save civilisation by preventing the catastrophe occurring in the first place.

Time Travelling Subatomic Particles from Space

The idea of using subatomic particles and quantum physics to contact the past is highly speculative, of course, but not unreasonable. Some interpretations of quantum physics suggest that information is able to move backwards through time, so that events in the future are able to determine the results of certain experiments, for example. There was also speculation in the 1990s that some subatomic particles reaching Earth from despite might be tachyons in origin. I can’t quite remember whether these were a type of neutrino or meson, but the theory was that they were produced by high energy events in space, such as supernovas. This produced tachyons, which traveled backwards in time until they decayed to become neutrinos or mesons or whatever, which were then able to be detected by scientists.

The Connecticutt College Professor’s Time Machine

Also in the 1990s came a plan by a Black professor at Connecticutt Community college to build a real, working time machine. This wouldn’t be able to transport people, just other subatomic particles back into the past. The idea was to create an Einstein-Rosen Condensate of iridium ions. An Einstein-Rosen Condensate is a strange state of matter where a plasma – an ionised gas is supercooled so that its component particles behave as a single particle. This plasma was to be whirled around in a chamber mimicking the spin of stars. Stars are so massive that as they spin, they pull the fabric of space time itself around after them. The effect has been observed around the Sun, providing confirmation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It has been suggested that this effect could be used in the case of extremely massive objects, like Black Holes, to travel back in time. You simply enter the region of space being dragged around by the Black Hole, and then travel in the opposite direction to the local movement of spacetime. This should make you go back in time, it is suggested, and so you should be able to leave that area of space some time in the past, before you entered it. The professors plan worked along similar lines. Electrons would be shot into the chamber in the opposite direction to the circulation of the condensate. This should allow them to travel back into the past. If the scientists running the experiment found a larger number of electrons in the condensate than normal or otherwise explained, before they had started shooting them into it, then it would mean that the electrons had traveled there from the future. Time travel, or at least that possibility of communication between past and future, would be possible.

This obviously got very many people very excited. H.G. Wells’ grandson, who directed the ’90s version of his grand-dad’s classic, The Time Machine, appeared in a documentary telling us that the age of time travel was almost upon us. The experiment was due to be run aboard one of the space shuttles, but I think it must have been cancelled when one exploded, thus grounding the fleet and finally endings its use.

Time and the Weird World of Quantum Physics

Benford warns in his acknowledgements that

Many scientific elements in this novel are true. Others are speculative, and thus may well prove false. My aim has been to illuminate some outstanding philosophical difficulties in physics. If the reader emerges with the conviction that time represents are fundamental riddle in modern physics, this book will have served its purpose.

Which must be one of the rare occasions when a scientist writes a book to show how mysterious and incomprehensible a scientific phenomenon is, rather than how it can be grasped and understood. This famously applies to quantum physics. As one prominent scientist said of this subject, you don’t understand it, you just get used it.

Science and Society in the ’60s and ’90s

As you’d expect, there’s a lot of physics in the book, though none of its so hard that only physics graduates, let alone the late Stephen Hawking, would be the only people that understand it. And the book does an excellent job of showing what it must have been like doing physics at an advanced level in the early 1960s and the beginning of the 1980s. Gordon Bernstein, the hero of the early years, is a New York Jew, whose girlfriend, Marjorie, is a Conservative gentile. As his investigations proceed, he first believes that the signals are messages from space before coming to understand they’re from the future instead. He faces scepticism and opposition from his colleagues and academic supervisors, and risks being failed and his academic career and research terminated. as he goes on and his theories become public, he suffers from the attentions of the press and a procession of cranks, who traipse through his office door offering their own weird theories. I think this is a common experience to many astronomers and cosmologists. I can remember reading a comment by one such scientist that hardly a week went by without him receiving in the mail letters from people explaining their ‘theory of the universe’. At the same time, Bernstein’s relationship with his girlfriend also comes under pressure. His family don’t approve, and would like him to marry a nice Jewish girl instead. There are also political disagreements. Penny and her friends fully support the Vietnam War, views that aren’t shared by the liberal Bernstein. But in a twist, it’s Penny who understands that the waiters at their favourite restaurant are gay, is comfortable with that fact.

Back in Blighty in 1998, Markham’s and Renfrew’s backgrounds are solidly middle class. This is still a world where women were expected to stay home and cook, and the aristocracy still wields power and influence. A society in which entitled public school boys shout their food and alcohol choices in the local pub in Latin. It’s a world in which Markham is an outsider, and resents the privilege and condescension of the upper class Brits among which he moves.

Timescape and ’70s Fears of the End of Civilisation

Like much near-future SF, the book’s now dated. 1998 is now twenty years ago, and fortunately civilisation has not collapsed. Not yet. The book was partly a product of the sense of crisis in the 1970s, when many people really did fear the end of civilisation through industrial and social unrest and ecological collapse. It was predicted that overpopulation would result in mass famine, while the resources would run out and the Earth itself become uninhabitable through massive pollution. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened. Not yet. But there is still a real danger of global civilisation collapsing through irreversible ecological damage from climate change and pollution, and algal blooms are poisoning the water in some parts of the world. Despite it’s age, the book thus remains acutely relevant.

Social Change and the Rise of Domestic Computers

In other respects, the book as a prediction of the future hasn’t worn quite as well. The advance of feminism in the 1980s and ’90s meant that traditional gender roles were breaking down as women sought careers outside the home. By 1998 there was the expectation that both partners in a relationship would be working, and the old domestic arrangement in which women looked after children and the home and were supported by their husbands was seen as anachronistic. At the same time, he also doesn’t predict the advances in information technology that has produced the home and personal computers or mobile phones. There is, however, a machine called the Sek, which is a type of answerphone and database, if I recall correctly.

Conclusion

These differences between the book’s expectation of what the ’90s would be like and the reality actually don’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the story. Science Fiction tends not to be very good at predicting the future. If it was, then humanoid robots with a comparable level of intelligence and genuine consciousness, like Star Wars’ C3PO, would be in every home and we would already have colonies on the Moon, Mars and Earth orbit. We don’t have any of that. But we do have personal computers, the internet and mobile phones, as well as a variety of industrial machines, which weren’t predicted. Many SF novels still remain worth reading even though their predictions of the future, or the contemporary present in which they were set, are dated. These include such classics as those of H.G. Wells’, Jules Verne, John Wyndham and so on. What matters in the story and the writer’s ability to create a convincing, fascinating world, which Timescape does.

While some of its details are inaccurate, this is still a readable, gripping story with a solid base in plausible science, and whose warning about environmental decline is, horrendously, just as relevant now as it was when it was first published in 1980.

 

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Zelo Street Publishes Piece Supporting Mike Against Anti-Semitism Smear Merchants

May 5, 2019

Thanks to everyone, who’ve sent donations to Mike to help him fight the libel threats brought against him by rich, bullying z-list celebs Rachel Riley and Tracey-Ann Oberman. They’re threatening anyone and everyone, who says anything about them they don’t like, with writs, and alleging that because they’re Jewish, their detractors must be anti-Semites. Mike’s one of those they’ve tried to bully into silence, because he, like so many others, blogged about how the gruesome twosome had ganged up and bullied a vulnerable sixteen year old schoolgirl. A young woman with anxiety, whom they smeared as an anti-Semite.

As Mike points out, his article was a perfectly valid opinion piece. Mike is a trained journo, and they have to know the law. Mike has also sought counsel from m’learned him friends, who have told him that Riley and Oberman don’t have a case. But he needs money just in case they try to bring it anyway. It’s a nasty piece of legal strategy called lawfare, where an individual or group tries to silence their critics using the law, even when they know they don’t have a case. They bring the actions knowing that fighting them and employing lawyers will cost tens of thousands of pounds, and hope that the legal costs alone will frighten their critics into silence. It’s the action of bullying scoundrels. Riley and Oberman also have the advantage over ordinary schmucks like Mike, in that, as celebrities, they can also count of the support of their legions of fans and their fellow ‘slebs. Riley was on the Jonathan Ross show a couple of months ago, for example, where she thanked all the people supporting her in her spurious campaign against anti-Semitism.

But Mike also has his supporters, who know perfectly well that he’s very, very far from any kind of anti-Semite, and appreciate all the work he’s done on behalf of the disabled and vulnerable. The great folks who sent in £5,000 worth of donations in a single day last week were some of these people, as were the peeps, who defend him online, unasked, against the anti-Semitism trolls.

And one of Mike’s defenders is the good fellow in Crewe, who puts up the Zelo Street blog. Yesterday he put up a piece defending Mike against the anti-Semitism smears of Riley and Oberman, ‘The Shameful Silencing of Mike Sivier’. After explaining who Mike is, and his work attacking the DWP and discussing issues like climate change, health, the Labour party, Brexit and the colossal ineptitude of the Tory party, he tells how Mike has been accused of anti-Semitism by Riley and Oberman. He states that Mike isn’t, and those papers that tried to smear him as one have been forced to retract their allegations by IPSO. He also describes how Mike’s target of £5,000 to help him fight the terrible twosome’s threats was raised in one day, though leaves it an open question whether this is a measure of Mike’s popularity or a sign of displeasure at the behaviour of Princess Countdown and her mate, Tracey-Anne Cyberman. He makes the point that their threat to Mike came after they had similarly threatened other people on social media for supporting an article against them written by Shaun Lawson. Who, for some reason, they haven’t threatened. Zelo Street then asks

Why should this be? Perhaps Ms Riley and Ms Oberman would care, in the fullness of time, to impart that information to the world. Perhaps they would also like to tell Mike Sivier, or his legal team, what specifically he has said in regard to either or both of them which they consider libellous. Because Sivier does not appear fazed by the claim, and nor do his lawyers, which suggests they are confident of having the action struck out.

He then provides a couple of quotations from Mike, which might have provoked the ‘orrible pair into threatening him, pointing out that one is no more than a statement of opinion. The second is one, where Mike describes how the two try to justify their bullying behaviour by claiming it is part of their campaign against anti-Semitism. Zelo Street attacks this by asking

How can anyone be combating anti-Semitism by threatening someone who concludes that you’ve been indulging in bullying? Is bullying an anti-Semitic code-word?

He states that Countdown and Cyberwoman have a problem in that it looks very much like their word against Mike’s, and that as Mike’s comments are like those of Lawson’s, who hasn’t been threatened, Lawson’s comments are the key to this case. He concludes

Attacking those who campaign for the weak against the strong in an attempt to silence them inevitably leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I’ll just leave that one there.
See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-shameful-silencing-of-mike-sivier.html
As for Jonathan Ross, I stopped watching his show years ago, mostly because I simply don’t find it interesting. He is a very clever man, and I share some of his taste in trash and popular culture. But Wossy also wants to be a bit edgy himself, and so indulges in puerile jokes, like the phone call to Andrew Sachs with Russell Brand that got him into so much trouble.
And when he was on the radio I think he was trying to be as close as he could to an American-style ‘shock jock’ within the limits of the Beeb and the broadcasting regulations. So he couldn’t be as openly politically biased nor as racist as some of them are. Nor can he be as sexually explicit. Howard Stern had on his Christmas show, for example, a gay choir singing ‘I’m dreaming of a little light torture’, but Wossy on his show for years had a gay singing group ‘Four Poofs and a Piano’. I’ve absolutely no objection to them appearing on his show, but it does seem to be an example of Wossy following the Americans’ taste, which he genuinely shares, for the transgressive and camp.
But I do wonder how he gets away with some of it. A few years ago while looking for something else on lunchtime radio, I accidentally got his lunchtime programme. Wossy was talking to the late, great Dale Winton. On finding out that Winton was Jewish, Wossy announced that he himself was half-Jewish, and then asked him if he was circumcised.
Eh? What has that got to do with anything? That’s a personal question, which is between a bloke and his rabbi. It’s not a question you ask, and certainly not on the radio at a Saturday lunchtime.
A more reasonable question might be how his Jewish background has influenced him as a person or a performer. Many performers come from a religious background, and various Christian actors and musicians took their first step in showbusiness in the church choir. I don’t know if something similar has inspired Jewish showbusiness peeps through membership of their synagogue. In traditional Judaism, for example, the readings from the Hebrew Bible were chanted by the cantor. This chant, cantillation, was often sung very beautifully, and in the 19th century the best cantors in European Jewry enjoyed a celebrity status like that of opera singers in mainstream society. It seems to me that asking whether the Jewish musical tradition, whether religious or secular, would be a far better and fairer question than making such a personal inquiry.
But Wossy had to ask him, no doubting counting that as someone, who was part Jewish, he wouldn’t be accused of anti-Semitism for it, which he certainly would if he was a gentile. It’s stupid, puerile antics that like that which rightly stop people wanting to watch his show or listen to him on the radio.

Aaron Bastani on the ‘Independents’ as the Old, Blairite Austerity Politics

February 25, 2019

In this 20 minute long video from Novara Media, presenter Aaron Bastani utterly demolishes the new ‘Independent’ grouping of MPs. He shows that rather than being any kind of new politics, they are simply the old, Blairite and Tory politics neoliberal politics. They are radically out of tune with what people really want, especially millennials, who have left much worse off than the preceding generation by the same politics the Blairites and Tories were pushing. And they’re being promoted by the media because they represent the old style of politics the media like: austerity with a smiley face.

Labour MPs All Going Before They’re Pushed

Bastani begins the video by describing how the departure of the seven Labour MPs – Gavin Shuker, Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Ann Coffee, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, who left to form the Independents – wasn’t actually a surprise. They were all loud critics of Corbyn, and almost all of them had been subject to motions of ‘no confidence’ or were facing deselection. They were then joined the next day by Joan Ryan, another critic of Corbyn, who had also lost a ‘no confidence’ motion. They were then joined the day after that by Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston from the Tories, who complained about the old, ‘broken’ politics of Labour versus Tories.

Independents Not Democratic, and Not a Political Party

The Independents, however, aren’t a political party as such. Which means that they don’t get the Short Money given to opposition parties. This could add up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. They also don’t have to conform to the same standards as proper political parties, although they claim that they will try to do so as best they can.  They also don’t have a membership. You can give them your name and contact details, and make a donation, but there is no mechanism for creating a mass organisation where the membership can determine policy. It’s a private organisation more than a political party. But what concerns Bastani the most is that they don’t want to hold bye-elections, because this would ‘crush democracy’. It’s doublespeak, and the truth is that they don’t want bye-elections because they’d lose.

Angela Smith’s Racism

He then goes on to describe how the seven founding ex-Labour members claim that they were driven out of the party by its racism, only for Angela Smith to say within hours the most racist thing he’s ever heard a politician say on television. To show how badly their launch went, Bastani produces some viewing figures. On the Monday the video of their launch had 75,000 views on Twitter. The video of Angela Smith’s apology got 700,000 views. But the video of Smith making her racist comments got even more – 1.5 million views. And while the Mirror and the Guardian wanted to splash on a video by Tom Watson, which got 500 shares on Facebook, Novara’s video of their own Ash Sarkar showing the corruption at the heart of the group – she challenged smith on her chairmanship of a parliamentary group supporting water privatisation, funded largely by the water companies – got 200,000 views. Chris Leslie then appeared later on the Beeb to sort this out. Where once again he talked about their love of democracy. A love so strong, that they don’t want to hold bye-elections, thus disenfranchising the hundreds of thousands of people, who voted for these 11 MPs. They claimed to be anti-racist, but set a new record by being racist ‘pretty much by lunchtime’.

People More Politically Engaged, Not Less

But their fundamental principle is that people don’t want Labour or Tory, but what Labour used to be 15 years ago. But at the 2017 election, 82 per cent of the population voted for either of the two main parties – Tories or Labour. That was the highest percentage the parties had since 1979. In 2010 only 65 per cent of the public voted Labour or Tory. The idea that people are turning away from the two main parties when there is a clear choice, socialism or neoliberalism, isn’t true. And the claim that people are disengaged from politics doesn’t stand up either. Voter turn-out was higher in the 2017 election, just as it was higher during the Scottish reference in 2014, and the Brexit referendum in 2016. Which was the biggest democratic exercise in British history. More people voted in that than in any previous general election or referendum. And Labour now has more than 500,000 members – more than it has had in a generation. The same is true for the SNP. More people are members of political parties now than at any point in Bastani’s lifetime. And if people genuinely do want centrist politics, how is it that the Lib Dems, who got only 8 per cent of the vote in 2015, got even less in 2017? This was despite the ‘media Einsteins’ telling us all that they would do well against the two main parties in a Brexit election. It’s almost as if, says Bastani, that the media don’t know what they’re talking about when they claim to know what the public wants.

Labour Policies Massively Popular

And then there are the policy issues. Labour’s policies are very popular. They’re right at the top of the list of why people voted Labour. But they don’t want to imitate these popular policies. Chris Leslie in an interview with New Scientist said he didn’t want a top tax rate of 50 per cent. That’s not a Corbynite policy, it’s one of Gordon Brown’s. He was also against stopping tuition fees and rejects the renationalisation of the railways, both extremely popular policies. These aren’t just popular with Labour voters, but also with Tories and Lib Dems. And polls conducted by IPPR And Sky News did polls at the end of last year which showed clear majorities of the British public wanting the Bank of England to keep house prices down and a minimal presence, at least, of workers on company boards. People don’t want centrist policies. They’re moving left, as shown on poll after poll.

Millennials Left-Wing because of Neoliberalism

And there’s a clear generational difference. At the last Labour split in 1981 when the SDP was formed, there was a clear movement to the right and post-war socialist policies had become unpopular. And yet when this split happened, the Economist carried an article decrying the popularity of socialism amongst millennials both in America and Britain. This meant ‘Generation Z’ young people, who want the government to address climate change as a fundamental part of 21st century politics. And these millennials despised the Tories, as shown by footage of an anti-Tory march. These are going to be the voters of the 2020s. And they’re not going to be bought off. They’re not left-wing because of something the read in a book, or because they want to be countercultural. They’re left-wing because their living standards and expectations are lower than their parents, they have a less expansive welfare state, they’re going to have higher levels of debt and earn less, and they will have to deal with systemic crises like demographic aging and climate change. They rightly feel that they’re screwed over. And the idea that these same people are going to agree with Chris Leslie’s idea of politics is probably the stupidest thing you’ll hear this year. And this is only February.

The Failure of Centrist Parties in France, America, Italy, Spain and Canada

But since 2015 centrist politicians have been hammered in election like Hillary Clinton in 2016. Emmanuel Macron in France was hailed as the saviour of French centrism, despite only taking 24 per cent of the vote in the first round. Now he’s the most unpopular president in French history after months of protests by the gilets jaunes, which have been met with tear gas attacks by the gendarmes, which have left people losing their eyes and their lives. Then there’s Matteo Renzi of the Partito Democratico, the Democratic Party, the Italian sister party to Britain’s Labour. In 2014 they took 42 per cent of the vote. But he was out within two years, having lost a referendum by 20 points. And in the last election the party lost half of their senators, leaving Italy governed by the Five Star Movement and the far-right Liga. Then there’s the example of the PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez. The PSOE is the Spanish equivalent of the Labour party. He’s also suffered mass protests and this week Spain called new general elections, which his party are certain to lose. Centrism is not popular in Europe or America, so the Independents have to turn to Canada’s Justin Trudeau. But Trudeau is now less popular in his country than Donald Trump in the US. Not that the media pushing ‘centrism’ will tell you this.

The Centrist Real Policy: More Austerity

The unpopularity of centrist politics is due to the fact that they still haven’t solved the problems of global capitalism created by the 2008 crash. They believed that financialisation would create the economic growth that would support public services. But financialisation hasn’t created growth since 2008. And as they can’t create prosperity and tackle income inequality, all they’ve have to give us is austerity ‘with a nice smiley face’.

Labour Splitters against Iraq Inquiry, For Welfare Cuts

And not only do the eight former Labour MPs have Brexit in common, they also voted against an independent inquiry into Iraq. A million people have been affected by the war, along with those, who suffered under ISIS, and Iranian influence has expanded across the Middle East. The idea that Iraq is irrelevant is not only absurd, it is a disgrace. People have died, and it has made an already volatile region even more so. And Britain is directly responsible. The former Labour MPs also abstained on the vote of welfare reform before Corbyn came to power. They do not stand for a moral foreign policy, or for a more just social system at home.

Their politics are a mixture of careerism and opportunism, and their opposition to Brexit actually makes a new deal more likely. They are driven by fundamental democratic principles, but won’t stand for a bye-election. No members, no policies, no party democracy, no vision. Bastani states that this isn’t the future of politics, it’s the past, and the worst aspects at that. He looks forward to sensible people joining them, because they’re going to be found out sooner or later. And if we want to establish the primacy of socialist ideas, he says, then bring it on.

Rees-Mogg Would Like to Be the Pope, But Would Left-Wing Catholics Want Him?

February 21, 2019

One of the most ridiculous things Jacob Rees-Mogg said this week was during an interview on Points West with host David Garmston. Points West is the local news programme for the Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire area. Mogg is the local MP for Bath in Somerset, and now one of the leading personalities in the Tory party. Garmston went to visit him at his palatial home in the Georgian city.

The Beeb interviewer asked him if he’d like to be Prime Minister. It’s a good question, as it’s clear that Mogg is very ambitious, and there are those in the party that would desperately like him to be in charge and in No. 10. But Mogg denied that he had any plans in that direction. Instead, he declared, he’d rather be Pope. Garmston then asked him the natural question: how could he be, when he’s married with six children? Oh no, Mogg declared, any Roman Catholic man could be.

Now this is news to me, and to just about everyone else, I should imagine. The pope is the bishop of Rome, and so should already be a member of the clergy of a sufficiently high rank. Like a cardinal. Or so it seems to me, as an Anglican, looking at the history of the Roman Catholic church. If laymen have been made pope, I can only assume that this occurred sometime during the Middle Ages as part of the political maneuvering surrounding the papacy. For example, after the collapse of the Roman Empire the only form of government left in many towns in Gaul and elsewhere were the bishops. Hence there were instances where, after the death of the previous incumbent, local townspeople chose laymen, including pagans, to become their bishop. Those laymen, who accepted the demand, then had themselves baptized and converted to Christianity. There are accounts of such conversions and the election of lay people in Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks. Or so I believe. I did medieval history at school, and these are the only instances I can remember, in which a layman entered the episcopacy directly, let alone the papacy.

Of course, Rees-Mogg is saying all this just to present himself as a good Roman Catholic. But I wonder how many Roman Catholics would actually want someone as right-wing as him as a member of the clergy, let alone sovereign pontiff. There’s a range of political views amongst Roman Catholics, just as there is in any religion or metaphysical ideology. And there’s also a strong tradition of genuinely social, left-wing activism. For all that elements within the Roman Catholic church during the War and after have supported Fascist regimes, I got the distinct impression that most Roman Catholics in Britain and the British colonies were actually left-wing. Certainly in Australia Irish Catholics formed the backbone of the Ozzie Labor party, and the Roman Catholic members of my own family were very staunch Labour. Radical organisations for Roman Catholics have included Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement, and I have the impression that, as well as Quakers, there were many Roman Catholics involved in CND and other peace movements. One of my Catholic aunts was a member, and I can remember her telling us that when she was on a march, she found herself next to a group of Franciscan friars.

A little while ago I bought a book on Roman Catholic social thought, which is broadly left-wing, although outside formal party politics. This includes activism and work on behalf of the poor, for peace and on behalf of women. This latter obviously doesn’t include supporting contraception or abortion, which feminists obviously see as central women’s rights. And there have been Roman Catholic prelates, who have been martyred because of their advocacy of the poor. Like Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down by a Fascist death squad in one of the central American countries, who brutal dictator Reagan was supporting. He was assassinated outside his church. After his murder, the assassins scrawled on the wall, ‘Be a patriot – Kill a priest’.

The present Pope, Francis, seems to have moved the papacy closer to supporting the poor, defending the environment and even stating that it is not his place to judge gays. Some of that may reflect the wider changes in social attitudes, at least in the developed West. For example, right-wing Roman Catholic traditionalists, like Peter Hitchens, who are against same-sex marriage, have said that they feel the battle against it, is lost. It may also reflect a genuine horror on Francis’ part against the vicious homophobia that exists in some parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. But also the centre of Christianity, and Roman Catholicism, is moving towards the global south as the developed West becomes more secular. Thus the Church has to speak out on issues that directly effect the peoples of the developing world. Like poverty, hunger, exploitation, the rape of the environment. Issues that also concern other Christians around the globe.

I can’t see Rees-Mogg being interested in any of that. Indeed, his voting record shows he’s strongly against it, although I’ve no doubt that, like Margaret Thatcher, he is probably personally very generous. It seems to me that Mogg’s comments may partly have been to appeal to the religious right within the Tories. Like Ian Duncan Smith also stressed what a good Catholic he was, and how he was very concerned at poverty in Britain. Their appeal goes beyond Roman Catholics, of course. Under aIDS the DWP seemed to be stuffed with right-wing Christians of various denominations. Mogg may have made his comments partly with an eye to inheriting the Gentleman Ranker’s grubby mantle.

But no matter how pious he appears, I can’t imagine any left-wing Roman Catholic wanting to see him anywhere near an official position in the Church, just as an increasing number of Christians of all denominations are turning away from the religious right and their vile policies.

Andrew Neil’s ‘This Week’ BBC Show Axed

February 18, 2019

Last week was not a good one for Andrew Neil, the presenter of the Beeb’s politics shows ‘This Week’ and ‘The Daily Politics’. It was reported on ITV News on Friday that his show, ‘This Week’, was being axed. The article about it in this weekend’s I for 16-17th February 2019, by Keiran Southern on page 16, entitled, ”This Week’ ends as Neil quits his late-night show’ read

The BBC’s long-running politics show This Week is to end after presenter Andrew Neil announced he was stepping down.

The BBC1 show, which airs on Thursdays after Question Time, will be taken off air this summer when its current series ends, the corporation said.

Neil has fronted the show since it began in 2003 and regular guests include the former Tory MP, Michael Portillo, and Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott.

Fran Unsworth, BBC’s director of news, said: “We couldn’t imagine This Week without the inimitable Andrew Neil, one of Britain’s best political interviewers. After 16 years, Andrew is bowing out of late-night presenting on the show, at the top of his game.”

Neil will continue to present Politics Live on Thursdays, Ms Unsworth added, and the BBC wants to keep the 69-7ear-old “at the heart” of its political coverage.

This Week is known for its informal look at politics, while Ms Abbott and Mr Portillo formed an unlikely TV double act, despite being on opposite sides of the political divide.

The announcement comes amid uncertainty surrounding the BBC’s news output – it is under pressure to cut £80m from its budgets and to attract younger audiences.

Earlier this week, BBC journalists wrote to the broadcaster’s director-general to oppose the decision to shorten its News At Ten programme after it emerged it would be cut by 10 minutes to make way for youth programming and Question Time.

Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and other foreign correspondents have asked Lord Tony Hall to reconsider.

Last year, Sunday Politics, hosted by Sarah Smith, was axed and replaced by Politics Live, which airs Monday to Friday.

Other people, who are sick to death of the Beeb’s right-wing Tory bias, including Andrew Neil, are actually quite delighted and amused. The good fellow at Crewe, who does the Zelo Street blog, posted a piece on it on Friday, whose title said it all ‘Andrew Neil Nearly Out the Door’. He noted that despite Hall defending Neil over his ‘crazy cat woman’ remark to the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, the cancellation of one of Neil’s vehicles shows that the comment and the outrage it sparked has had an effect.

The deputy political editor of the Heil on Sunday, Harry Cole, was furious, tweeting

“A bloody outrage. Will only give succour to Corbynistas and sad sacks like Jukes and Carole who are modern equivalent of green ink dickheads who pester management. Since when did boss class start listening to loons before the viewers? Bring back #ThisWeek and make @afneil DG”. Which brought forth the reply from Peter Jukes

Harry Cole defending Andrew Neil, and desperately trying not to look like a member of the boss class.

Rather more damaging to Brillo and his supposed impartiality was another photo Carold Cadwalladr unearthed, showing Neil in the company of the former Ulster Unionist MP, David Burnside, who was formerly the PR man to Cambridge Analytica shareholder, Tchenguiz, who was in his turn the publicity man for Dmitryo Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch wanted by the FBI. And Nigel Farage, now desperately trying to claw his way back into British politics with his wretched Brexit Party.

Zelo Street also noted that this was in addition to the discomfort Neil was bringing the Beeb with his continued association with the Spectator, now increasingly Alt Right, which specializes in climate change denial, pro-Brexit propaganda, and vicious islamophobia from pundits like Douglas Murray. As well as the snobbery and elitism of James Delingpole and anti-Semitism and Fascist propaganda from their other long-running contributor, Taki. Who a few weeks ago embarrassed the magazine by praising the Greek neo-Nazi group, Golden Dawn, as just ‘patriotic Greeks’, who were just a bit rough around the edges. Like when one of them murdered left-wing journalist, perhaps, or when the attack and demolish market stalls belonging to illegal immigrants and attack and beat asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East.

The Zelo Street article concluded

In any case, Andrew Neil should be grateful that he’s been allowed more or less free rein to reinvent himself as a broadcast journalist after falling out with Rupert Murdoch. Now he’s got more dosh than he knows what to do with, it’s time to yield to youth.

He’s at the top of his game? Good. Then he may be remembered well. Time to go.

See: http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/02/brillo-almost-out-of-bbc-door.html

Unsworth’s cancellation of his show, rather than handing it over to someone else to present, also says something about the show’s audience. It’s viewers are clearly people, who want it to be helmed by an older White man, whose backgrounds is very much in establishment, centre-right journalism: Neil was editor of the Sunday Times and The Economist. And Zelo Street has quoted other journos at the Spectator that he is another Thatcher cultist, who wishes Maggie was still around running the country. Presumably it’s the same kind of audience that avidly supports John Humphries on Radio 4’s Today programme, another massively overpaid, right-wing White man of mature years. Which would indicate that the audience for these two is also largely made up of right-wing, very establishment White men who are middle-aged to elderly.

It seems to me that Neil’s show needn’t be axed, but could easily be handed over to someone else, someone younger, who was rather more impartial, or at least less publicly biased. It struck me that the team on the Beeb’s breakfast news could probably do it, Charlie Stayt, Naga Manchetti and Louis Minchin. And the rise of the new left-wing media on the internet has show what very incisive minds there are well outside of the establishment media. Like Novara Media’s Ash Sarkar, and The Canary’s Kerry-Ann Mendoza and Steve Topple. They’re all young, Sarkar and Mendoza are both BAME, while Topple definitely had a countercultural appearance with his Mohican coiffure. But they’re all very shrewd reports, who keenly analysed and dissected the news. And their example shows that out there is a vast pool of talent, which is currently being ignored by the current media political establishment.

Of course the Beeb’s refusal to appoint someone else to present the show may also be partly based from their experience of what happened to Newsnight after Paxo left: its audience collapsed. But rather than cut back on current news reportage and analysis altogether, the Beeb could actually launch a replacement instead, presented by younger people and aimed at younger people. You know, all the millennials and younger, who are trying to make their voices heard in a political climate dominated by the old and middle-aged. The people a genuinely functioning democracy needs to get involved and interested in political debate.

But I’m sure this would be a step too far for the Beeb. You’d have the establishment media whining that the Corporation was dumbing down, that it was ‘Yoof TV’ after the various tasteless disasters in youth programming spawned in the 1990s by Janet Street-Porter and others of her ilk. As well as the more serious fact that the establishment is absolutely terrified of millennials and what the Victorians used to refer to as ‘the rising generation’ because they’re generally more left-wing than their elders in the political establishment. You know, all those pesky kids in America and Britain, who are backing Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn against the corporatists in the Democrat Party, Trump and the Republicans, and Tweezer, the Tories and the Blairites over here. Young people, who want socialism rather than the tired, destructive Neoliberalism of the past forty years.

But the political, media and industrial establishment is absolutely petrified of them and their views. They don’t want them to be heard. And so they’d rather axe one of Neil’s shows than hand it over to them. Which shows how paralyzed the Beeb is in trying to hang on to its aging, establishment audience at the expense of trying to bring on board young, and potentially radical talent.

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.

‘I’ Newspaper: Scots Spaceport Company Has Rocket Ready for Launch in 2021

February 8, 2019

Excellent space news, if today’s I for 8th February 2019 is to be believed. According to the paper, Orbex, the company that’s building a spaceport to launch satellites in the Scottish highlands, has a rocket and intend making its first launch in 2021. The article by Lucinda Cameron, entitled ‘Rocket Revealed for Scottish Spaceport’ on page 13, runs

A spaceflight company has unveiled a new rocket as it opened its headquarters and rocket design facility in the Highlands.

Orbex, which is involved in plans to create a spaceport in Sutherland, said its new base in Forres, Moray, will create more than 130 jobs.

At the opening yesterday the company unveiled its Prime rocket, which is designed to deliver small satellites into Earth’s orbit.

Made from a specially formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite, it includes what the company said is the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine.

It is designed to work with biopropane, a clean-burning, renewable fuel source that cuts carbon emissions.

The Prime rocket will make its maiden flight from Scotland in 2021, when it will carry an experimental payload from UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Lt, which manufactures small satellites.

Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said the new rocket design facility “firmly positions the UK as Europe’s frontrunner for those looking to Earth’s orbit and beyond for new opportunities.”

If all goes ahead as planned, then this is brilliant! Brilliant! As we used to say when I was at school. Britain developed a number of superb space rockets over the years, including the sounding rocket Skua used in high atmosphere research. The first and last time this country launched a satellite into orbit using a domestically developed rocket, it was way back in 1973 with Black Arrow. This was launched from Woomera in Australia, and carried the satellite, Prospero. After that, the politicians and civil servants decided that producing and developing rockets for space research was too expensive, and cancelled the programme. It was decided that instead we’d use American rockets. Which put us at a disadvantage, as it meant that we were dependent on the Americans and whether they had space available in their launch vehicles. Meanwhile, the French pressed ahead with their rocket development programme, and produced the superb Ariane, which is the launcher used by ESA, the European Space Agency, from its launch site in Kourou in South America.

After 46 years, Britain could once again be sending home-produced spacecraft back into the High Frontier.

Radio Programme on Controversy over Space Launch Site in Scotland

January 22, 2019

Radio 4 this Thursday, 24th January 2019, is broadcasting an edition of their Open Country programme on local attitudes and debate over the proposal to build a space launch complex in Scotland. The programme is entitled ‘Journey into Space, in Sutherland’, and the blurb for it in this week’s Radio Times runs

The A’Mhoine Peninsula in the Scottish Highlands has been chosen as the potential site of a spaceport that would launch small satellites at the rate of three a month. Many local people are enthusiastic about the plans; others are angry about building on a wilderness virtually unchanged since the last Ice Age. Ian Marchant travels to the peninsula and hears from people on both sides of the debate. (p. 137).

The programme is going to be broadcast at 3.00 pm in the afternoon, and will be repeated next Saturday at 6.07 am.

Andrew Neil Loses Badly to Owen Jones and Carole Cadwalladr on Fascist Content of the Spectator

January 20, 2019

More fun at the expense of the right press! About a fortnight ago, left-wing journo and activist Owen Jones appeared on Andrew Neil’s current affairs show, This Week, and seriously upset him by reminding him of the Spectator’s dodgy far-right content. Neil and his guests had been supposed to talk about whether the media was assisting the rise of the far right. Just to show that people in glass houses shouldn’t raise topics they may find embarrassing, Jones reminded the world that the Spectator, of whose board Brillo is the distinguished chairman, had published an article praising Greek neo-Nazis. This was the rag’s long-time columnist, Taki, which praised the Golden Dawn as just good, patriotic Greeks. Well, they are patriotic in the same sense as the Nazis, Mussolini’s Fascists and the BNP. They’re a violent neo-Nazi group notorious for violent attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers. If I remember correctly, one of their members was also accused of murder of an opposition politician or journalist. As for Taki himself, he’s a snobbish Greek multimillionaire playboy, who has spent time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in Pentonville for possessing cocaine. He’s also published articles in the Speccie which are anti-Semitic.

Brillo Pad tried to shut Jones up, talking over him and accusing him of persuing a personal vendetta against him. That sequence of his wretched programme ended with Brillo staring into the camera like an existentialist philosopher like Sartre or Camus contemplating the awful meaninglessness of the universe. It seems that the veteran newspaper editor was afraid Jones was trying to get him sacked, and the spat continued on Twitter. According to a piece put up on Zelo Street last Monday, Brillo was denying that the Spectator was a ‘facist’ magazine and repeated the claim that Jones was pursuing a personal vendetta. He was also upset because one of the magazine’s own columnists had compared him to Mussolini and another that he was a ‘Paisley Pleb’. Jones hit back, saying

“There is no personal vendetta. You are the licence payer funded BBC flagship politics interviewer, and the Chairman of a hard right magazine whose articles praise the Wehrmacht, claim black people have lower IQs than white people, and defend Greek neo-nazis. These are facts”.

Zelo Street, quoting Michael Walker on Twitter also said that Jones did not accuse the magazine of being Fascist, but of publishing and platforming Fascists. The website also added that Brillo has also published a piece from Rod Liddle, saying that there should be more islamophobia in the Tory party, and from Douglas Murray, who said that conditions should be made harder for Muslims right across the board. As for Brillo’s statement that instead of pursuing his personal vendetta on the Beeb, Jones should have first come to him with his complaint, Zelo Street pointed out that this would have been worthless, because of the way Brillo tried to shout him down.

http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/01/owen-jones-roasts-andrew-neil.html

Brillo was also roundly criticized by Observer journo Carole Cadwalladr, who rebutted Neil’s claim that he doesn’t interfere in the content of the Speccie. This is the journalist Neil had insulted as a ‘crazy cat woman’. After asking Neil on Twitter if he was sitting comfortably, she began with telling him that an ex-employee had said that

“The Spectator today is entirely made in Andrew Neil’s image. His constant presence in the building means that he looms over everything editorial … he shapes the agenda by his contempt for anyone and anything that challenges his right-wing, ultra-capitalist world-view. He wishes the Spectator was the Economist and that Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister. He has drained the magazine of gentleness and joy”. She also quoted another ex-Speccie journo, who said

The idea that Andrew is not responsible for content at the Spectator is…laughably false.’ … ‘The editors were frankly a little scared of Andrew.’

Zelo Street went on by reminding its readers that under Brillo Pad, the Sunday Times paid holocaust denier David Irving to write articles, as well as publishing pieces claiming that the HIV virus did not cause AIDS. It also lost Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli whistleblower, who was jailed for revealing that Israel had developed nuclear weapons. The article continues by stating that Neil has got away with flagrant conflicts of interests with his position at the Beeb, including running the Addison Club, an elite dining society which may have been responsible for Russian money finding its way into the Leave campaign. He also used his position at the Beeb to promote his own denial of climate change. The article concluded with the statement that he got away with all that, but one more callous insult could be the last straw.

http://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/01/brillo-faces-cadwalladrs-revenge.html

Last time I looked, Neil was still on the Beeb and I really doubt that the corporation wants to fire him. But Neil’s own history of publishing extreme right-wing and unscientific articles in his newspapers clearly shows that he really can’t claim to be an impartial host, and lay the broadcaster open to further criticism.

Short Film on the Police Targeting Anti-Fracking Protesters, Particularly the Disabled

December 26, 2018

Yesterday, Christmas Day 2018, Mike also put up a piece and a short film, about ten minutes long, Targeting Protesters, produced by Gathering Place. The film-makers have been working on a long form documentary about fracking in the UK, during which time they have observed some features of this issue they found ‘surprising’.

They contacted Mike after he put up a piece last week about how the rozzers were reporting disabled people at anti-fracking protests in Lancashire to the DWP. The assumption seems to be that any disabled person out on protest is committing benefit fraud, as if their condition was genuine, they would be in no condition to attend. The DWP’s response to any allegation of fraud is to suspend benefits during the investigation, so that disabled people are automatically denied the money they need to live on before the Department has made a decision on whether or not they are guilty. Opponents of the police’s actions have called it ‘ableist’, and stated that it’s based on a very simplistic view of disability. Not all conditions, that mean someone is unable to work, are obvious, and the severity of many of them can vary from day to day. They have also argued very persuasively that the police seem to be doing this to intimidate disabled people as a deliberate strategy to prevent them going on these demonstrations.

Mike quotes the film’s publicity, which states

“The police have identified and targeted prominent anti-fracking campaigners, key protest organisers and invariably protesters with disabilities – in order to undermine or neutralise their effectiveness in challenging the interests of the shale oil and gas industry.”

The film has been posted on social media by Netpol, the Network for Police Monitoring, and features their coordinator, Kevin Blowe. Blowe explains that the police have a deliberate strategy of targeting particular individuals for arrest. These are people, who are respected by the other protesters. They are either in a position of leadership, or can make critical decisions and actions when the moment comes. They also stop people travelling to the protests. The film shows an example of this, in which a carload of people are stopped by the cops at the side of the road. A woman, one of the crew, asks why they have done this. The policeman states that they are stopping them because they have information that their car contains a tripod. It’s a trumped up charge, and the woman asks them if they really think a tripod can fit in her car. The cop doesn’t respond and simply walks away. Later in the video Raj Chada, a member of a firm of solicitors, states that the cops’ charge that a woman was using a car illegally was complete ridiculous. The police haven’t charged her, or applied to the courts about it. Their arrest is simply a way of stopping free speech, which is unacceptable. It’s against the culture the police should have, which should be about facilitating those, who want to protest. The video also shows Labour’s John McDonnell talking to a group of protesters about the way they’ve been harassed. The film shows another woman, who has been grabbed by the rozzers, just as they release her. She says that it’s the second time that day the police have grabbed her.

Blowe states that the police target particularly influential people. This may sometimes involve arresting them, and pushing that arrest right up to taking them to court, even though the accused person would normally get off in other circumstances. If the targeted individual is local, the cops may continually go round to their homes or disrupt their business, deliberately making it very clear to them that they are under scrutiny.

While many fracking protesters are local, some do come from outside the area. They are also deliberately targeted by the police, who will visit their camps and make it clear that they are being targeted for arrest. They will also claim that any public order offences are due to people from outside the area. One protester from elsewhere in the country states that not only do the police target them, they also target anyone who associates with them, and that they can’t go anywhere without having a police escort. McDonnell also states that he’s concerned about the level of physical force used by the police, and particularly the incident where the police tip a disabled man out of his wheelchair. The film shows this happening, and the man says that it has happened to him three times already. McDonnell explains that the people on these protests are locals concerned about fracking in their area, and that most of them have had no interaction with the police before. The cops’ actions have shocked them, just as they’ve shocked him. The video shows another disabled man, in an orange T-shirt, being seized by the police, who then appear to strap him down physically into his chair. Blowe explains that the police will target someone, who appears vulnerable, in order to show that they will do absolutely anything possible to stop this person being as effective as they could be. Another disabled man tells the camera how the police told him that they had informed Motability that he was using his car for illegal purposes. The same man appears a few minutes later telling John McDonnell that the police have tried to stop his benefits, and passed on to the DWP a years worth of footage of him and other protesters. McDonnel states that this is unacceptable, and that this person should take it up with their MP, so that it can be discussed in the House of Commons. It appears to be done to prevent disabled people protesting, when they should have the same rights and ability in society to protest as everyone else.

Blowe also explains how the police will try to create ‘a situation’ where they can start arresting people by picking on someone vulnerable, like someone in a wheelchair or an older person, so that the other protesters will react. This is done so that the fracking lorries can get through. Sometimes the police is reactive, such as when the police on the day arrest particularly influential people. But they will also target otherwise unlikely targets, like women. They also target the young in order to give them the message that they are vulnerable, and the police consider them to be at risk of getting sucked into extremism. But it’s also a way of letting that person know they’re on the cops’ radar, and they have identified them for harassment. Blowe’s comments are accompanied by footage of a tall, long-haired young man being seized by the police, and forced onto the ground with his head all but in the gutter, before being dragged off. The man then briefly explains in a piece clearly filmed later that he was frightened after this happened to him in the short term, but in the long term absolutely not. Blowe then continues, explaining that this is all about identifying the key people to disrupt and end the protests.

Keith Taylor, an MEP from the Green Party, appears, and makes the point that many people still remember Orgreave from the miner’s strike, and that when the police follow orders, heads get broken. This is not the future that either he nor the community groups want to see.

John McDonnell then appears in turn to say that some form of inquiry into the conduct of the police is needed, and the evidence he’s seen is deeply worrying, and he believes other people seeing it will feel the same. There’s a level of physical force that’s unacceptable, and that therefore needs to be addressed.

Blowe explains that it’s all done to reduce the level of protest in an area, to cut down their duration time of months or weeks, to cut the numbers of people on these protests down to numbers they can manage, and to stop the mass opposition to fracking.

The film ends with the young chap, who was arrested, stating that he knows it’s all done to put people off, and that knowledge itself completely overrides any fear they would try to put upon him or others.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/25/watch-this-short-film-about-the-way-the-police-target-disabled-people-at-protests/

Taylor’s right when he says that it will remind many people of the miner’s strike. It seems very similar to the way Thatcher used the police in the 1980s to break the miner’s union. This was very much a political strategy on the part of the Tories. They remembered and resented the way the miners had defeated Ted Heath’s government in the 1980s, and were determined not to let this happen again. I can remember going to a meeting of the Fabian Society in Bristol, where one of the speakers explained how the efforts of the police, the Tory government, and Tory local authorities were very carefully coordinated and planned, with the same Tory politicians and activists appearing again and again around the country to try to break the strikers and the picket lines.

As for targeting women, they tried doing it to one of the members of my family. One of my female relatives was amongst the people protesting against the poll tax in London, and the police tried to grab her and pull her away, but her friends managed to hold on to her and pull her back. And I can very well believe that this is done deliberately to provoke the crowd to violence, so that the police will have an excuse to crack heads and arrest people.

The police did very well under Margaret Thatcher. They were well paid and given a range of benefits, like cheap or subsidized housing. Since then many very senior police officers have made it plain that they regret how they were used, stating that they were used by Thatcher as her private army. Recently the police have been decimated under Cameron and May through cuts in funding, which have led to a drastic fall in the numbers of police officers. Because the Tories clearly don’t think ordinary people and their homes and property are worth protecting as much as the rich. And they still probably believe that twaddle about neighbourhoods funding their own policing through hiring private security guards.

It is clear, however, that the link between the Tory party, the police and private industry still remains strong, at least as regards the fracking industry. Such politicised policing is a threat to the environment and democracy. McDonnell is right. We need an inquiry. Now.