Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Britain to Gets Its Own Reichsarbeitdienst for the Environment?

July 18, 2019

Yesterday’s I for Wednesday, 18th July 2019 carried an article by Stephanie Soh, ‘How young and old could help a National Nature Service’ on page 26 reported that the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts has suggested that a special Nature Service should be set up. This would be a form of National Service, in which school leavers and young people would be sent out to work on farms and the environment. The article runs

Imagine signing up for national service, and you probably picture yourself doing rifle practice, cleaning graffiti off a wall or helping elderly people in you community. But what about picking up a shovel to farm fruit and vegetables?

A “National Nature Service” – a voluntary scheme that would involve people aged 18 to 25 taking up agricultural work in rural communities – has been suggested by the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, and set up by the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragements of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce).

Arguing that “farming is a force for change”, it says that the sector has the potential to boost Britain’s economy and help to mitigate climate change through sustainable practices. But to do this, it needs manpower. In exchange for their work, young people would be able to do their bit for the environment, gain new experiences and reconnect with nature.

The commission suggests in its report Our Future in the Land that “aspects of the service could form part of an accredited learning scheme or apprenticeship”. It could be target at young poeple from disadvantaged communities, as well as retirees who have “time and resources to do the work”.

Grants could fund projects that would provide free bed and board to participants. With many young people struggling to find paid work, with many expected to serve internships to get a foothold in their careers, some might question why they would consider working for free on farms.

But with climate change a problem for communities everywhere, and teenagers increasingly engaged in the issue, perhaps it’s not such as far-flung ideas that they might want to volunteer for a scheme that helps them find solutions for it.

The trouble is, this is a Nazi idea. Hitler set up a Reichsarbeitsdienst, ‘imperial work service’, which was a system of compulsory voluntary work. Young people were sent off to work in agriculture for a set period. It was based on earlier voluntary work schemes set up by the Weimar government to deal with unemployment. The Nazis then took it over and massively expanded it. Again, it was used by the Nazis to claim that they had solved unemployment.

And this looks almost exactly the same, except that it’s being suggested in a country that is still just about democratic.

I’ve blogged before about the similar to the various ‘welfare to work’ schemes set up by the Tories and the Lib Dems to the Nazi Reichsarbeitsdienst, how they also claimed to be helping people tackle unemployment, while really they’re about massaging the unemployment figures and providing cheap labour to Tory and Lib Dem donors in industry and the charity section. Now the authorities have narrowed any difference between these schemes and their Nazi predecessor even further with this.

There are still some ideological differences. Part of the reasons the Nazis set up the Reichsarbeitsdienst is because they saw themselves as a peasant party, defending the rights and way of life of small farmers. Thus they enacted a series of policies which were intended to regenerate agriculture, and provide help and security for the peasants. At the same time young people were expected to work out their time on farms, they were also expected to absorb the farmers’ healthy peasant, volkisch values. As against the malign influence of the towns and urban culture, which were hotbeds of socialism and cosmopolitanism created and fostered by the Jews.

There doesn’t seem to be any anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist overtones to the scheme just yet, but this may well change if the Tories or, Heaven forbid!, the Brexit party ever get into government.

And there’s another different with the Nazi scheme. The Nazis intended the service to be part of their plan to create a classless German society, a true volksgemainschaft, or people’s community. As such Hitler gave a speech to the Reichsarbeitsdienst in which he said that there wouldn’t be a member of the political or industrial elite that hadn’t risen from their ranks.

But with a government dominated by old Etonians and other public schoolchildren, I can’t see that happening any time soon. None of the other ‘voluntary’ schemes have shown themselves better at getting the underprivileged and unemployed back into work, and I very much doubt this one will either.

Advertisements

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

July 14, 2019

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.

 

The Rise and Fall of Modern Architecture, Environmentalism and a Humane Planned Environment

July 14, 2019

Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture, by Douglas Murphy (London: Verso 2016).

This is one of the books I’ve been reading recently, and it’s fascinating. It’s about the rise and fall of Modern architecture, those grey, concrete, Brutalist eyesores that were built from the 1950s onwards. This book shows how they were seen at the time as the architecture of the future, widely praised and admired until opposition against this type of architecture came to head in the 1970s.

Megastructures’ Design and Ideology in the Age of Space Travel and the Car

Murphy shows that this type of architecture drew its inspiration from space travel, as well as underwater exploration. It was optimistic, and came from a time when it was believed that the bureaucratic state could plan and build better communities. In Britain part of its stimulus came from the massive congestion in British towns caused by the growth in motor traffic. With the number of motor vehicle accidents rising, The British government published a report recommending the clearance of the older areas of towns. Pedestrians and motor vehicles were to be kept separate. There were to be submerged roads and motorways, while pedestrians were given raised walkways and under- and overpasses. At the same time, the post-war housing crisis was to be solved. Homes were to be made as cheaply as possible, using the methods of industrial production. Concrete panels and other items were to be prefabricated in factories, and then assembled on site by smaller crews of workers than traditionally used in house-building. The masses were to be housed in new estates, or projects in America, and most notoriously in tower blocks. Architects also drew their inspiration from the American architect and guru, Buckminster Fuller and his massive geodesic domes. A series of world expos from the 1930s onwards across the world portrayed megastructures as the architecture of a brilliant future of space colonisation. Giant metal frames were to be built above the cities themselves. As it was believed that society was going to be more mobile, ‘plug-in’ cities were designed. In Archigram’s design of that name, cranes would move along these frames, building and tearing down new structures as and when they were needed. This idea reached its culmination in architectural designs in which the space-frame was all there was, the interior occupied by nomadic hippies. In Britain, the architect Cedric Price to the logic of structures that could be easily altered and rearranged to logical extreme. His design for a new university campus, the Potteries Thinkbelt, was based in a railway yard, so that trains could haul around the various structural elements and place them in new configurations as required.

The architecture for these projects threatened to be monotonous, so architects attempted to provide for this. The Habitat 67 building designed by the Israeli-Canadian architects, Moshe Safdie, was modular. Each element was a self-contained box. However, these could be added and arranged in a number of different ways to create flats of different dimension, in an overall block of great complexity. A Dutch architect believed that the solution was for the state to provide the frame work for a housing block, with the residents building their own homes to their tastes. Another British architect, designing a housing block in one of the northern cities, tried to solve this by opening an office in the city, where people could drop in and give him their ideas, criticisms and suggestions. The result was a long, concrete block of housing, which nevertheless had some variety. At points there were different designs in the concrete, and woods of different colours were also used in some places.

Geodesic Domes and Space Age Megacities

There were also plans to use geodesic domes to allow the construction of massive cities in places like the arctic. One plan for a town in the Canadian north had it lying under an inflatable dome to protect it from the harsh environment. The town would be located near a harbour, to provide easy communications with the rest of Canada. It would be heated using the water used to cool the nuclear reactor, that would provide it with its power. People would enter and leave it through airlocks, and to cope with the sixth-month long darkness of the arctic winter, a powerful lamp would be mounted on tracks above the dome to provide an artificial sun, and thus simulate daylight in temperate regions. And to cope with the white nights of the arctic summer, the glass panels in the dome would darken to simulate evening and night in temperate climes. The French submarine explorer and broadcaster, Jacques Cousteau, was involved in a plan to build a floating city off Monte Carlo. Buckminster Fuller himself had plans to enclose Manhattan under a massive dome. There were plans for pyramid cities the size of mountains, along with the arcologies of Paul Soleri. These were also mountain-sized, but resembled termite mounds.

Modernism and the Green Movement

The architects of these cities were also deeply influenced by the nascent green movement, and the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. This predicts the fall of civilisation some time before 2100, due to population exceeding food production, environmental degradation and resource depletion. These environmental concerns were taken up by the hippies, many of whom deliberately chose the dome as the architecture of their communes. They wanted a technological future in which humanity lived in harmony with nature. The communalist movement in the US produced the massive influential Whole Earth Catalogue, which spread its ideals and methods to a wider audience.

Decline and Abandonment

But this modernist vision fell out of favour in the 1970s through a number of factors. The commune movement collapsed, and its members drifted off to join the mainstream, where many became the founders of the IT revolution. The social changes that the megastructures were intended to provide for didn’t occur. There were a series of scandals following disasters at some of these structures, such as the fire at the Summerland holiday resort in the Isle of Man, which killed fifty people. Much of this new housing was shoddily built, using dangerous and substandard materials. In some instances there was corruption between the builders and local politicians. They were also blamed for increased social problems, like crime. At the same time, grass roots activists protested against the destruction of already living, working class communities in the name of progress. There was also widespread scepticism at the ability of the bureaucratic state to plan successful new cities and estates. And for a moment it seemed that the collapse of civilisation predicted by the Club of Rome wasn’t going to happen after the passing of the energy crisis and the oil boom of the 1980s. At the same time, much of the antipathy towards concrete housing blocks in the West was simple Conservative anti-Communism because they resembled those of eastern Europe, where the same views and techniques had been adopted.

These result was that Modernist architecture fell out of favour. Many of the housing estates, tower blocks, town centres and university campuses built in it were demolished or else heavily modified. In its place emerged post-modernism, which consciously drew on the architecture of past age and was itself largely a return to the French style of architecture that existed from the late 19th century to the First World War. This had been abandoned by some progressive and socialist architects because they felt that it had expressed and embodied the capitalist values that had produced that War. Thatcher and the Tories enthusiastically supported this attack on architectural Modernism, and the emphasis that was placed instead on the home represented the return of the Conservative values of family and heritable property.

The only remnants of Modern architecture are now the High-Tech buildings of the modern corporate style, as well as shopping malls, airports, and university campuses, while the environmental domes intended to preserve nature, which are ultimate descended from the Stuttgart Winter Garden, built in 1789, and the Crystal Palace, have survived in the notorious Biosphere experiments in the 1990s, which collapsed due to internal wrangling among other things.

Biodomes and the Corporate Elite

While Murphy is scathing about some of the projects he discusses – he rails against the domed arctic city as trite and resembling something out of 2nd-rate Science Fiction novels – he warns that the problems this style of architecture was designed to solve has not gone away. Although widely criticised, some of the predictions in Limits to Growth are accurate and by rejecting Modernist architecture we may be closing off important solutions to some of these problems. The environmental dome has returned in plans by the new tech companies for their HQs, but they are shorn of the underlying radical ideology. And as the unemployment caused by automation rises and the environment continues to deteriorate, biodomes will only be built for the corporate rich. They will retreat to fortress cities, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Conclusion: Modernist Planning Still a Valid Approach in Age of Mass Unemployment and Environmental Crisis.

It’s a fascinating book showing the links between architecture, politics, environmentalism and the counterculture. While it acknowledges the defects of this style of architecture, the book also shows clearly how it was rooted in an optimistic view of human progress and the ability of the bureaucratic state to provide suitable housing and institutional buildings to serve its citizens’ needs. And it does a very good job at attacking the Tories’ abandonment of such schemes in the name of the free market. Much of the architecture of this style is, in my opinion, still monumentally ugly, but some of it sounds awesome. Like the domed city of the arctic north. It is a space-age city, and one that could be easily built on the Moon or elsewhere. For all the author’s denunciations of it, I found its design highly inspiring. And I believe him to be right about the intentions of the global elite to hide in their private fortified cities if and when the policies they have demanded and implemented cause the environment and civilisation to collapse.

This is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. We need to get the corporatists and neo-liberals out, and proper Green governments in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US Police Arrest Owner of Meth-Addict ‘Attack Squirrel’

June 30, 2019

Before the really serious stuff, I though I’d start with a funny story from yesterday’s I, for 29th June 2019. This reported that cops in Limestone, Alabama, had finally arrested a man, who owned a vicious squirrel. This was no ordinary fluffy-tailed denizen of the trees, but an attack squirrel kept on methamphetamine. The article, ‘Owner of meth-fuelled ‘attack squirrel’ arrested’, by Francis Blagburn, ran

An Alabama man who allegedly kept a so-called ‘attack squirrel’, fired up by giving it methamphetamine, has been arrested on new charges.

Limestone County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama tweeted that 35-year-old Mickey Paulk was apprehended following a chase in which he rammed an investigator’s vehicle.

Authorities had been seeking Mr Paulk on multiple warrants unconnected to the squirrel he named Deeznutz, which was made infamous after police said they were warned about a meth-fuelled squirrel that had been trained to attack. Earlier this week, Mr Paulk posted a video to Facebook of himself with Deeznutz, which he considers a pet, in which he denied accusations that the squirrel represented a danger to the public, or that it had been given drugs.

“You can’t give squirrels meth; it would kill ’em”, he said in the video.

In a phone interview with Associated Press, Mr Paulk said he had “a few loose ends to tie up” before he surrendered himself to authorities, including sorting out alternative accommodation for the squirrel.

The sheriff’s office said narcotics investigators spotted Mr Paul leaving a motel on a stolen motorcycle and chased him. He has been booked into Lauderdale County Jail on charges of attempting to elude, criminal mischief, receiving stolen property and felon in possession of a pistol after it was discovered he had a handgun in his waitband.

As for Deeznutz, authorities say he could not be tested for meth and has been released. (p. 27).

Okay, it’s clear from the article that, squirrel aside, Paulk himself was a crim, and the cops were right to arrest him.

But it also made me wonder what the press and various politicos on both sides of the Atlantic would do, if they thought they could get votes out of this.

Donald Trump would probably start claiming that it was all down to Mexicans. They were not giving the US their best squirrels, and instead Mexican drug gangs were smuggling meth, cocaine and crack-fuelled squirrels into the country, to embark on a reign of crime. It would be categorically proven that most rapists and murderers were Mexican squirrels, and that was why America needs that wall.

Hillary Clinton would claim, regardless that Paulk’s colour isn’t mentioned in the article, that a new breed of superpredator was breeding these vicious, meth-addicted squirrels. She would then demand harsher legislation against Black men feeding squirrels in inner-city America.

And the corporate Dems as a whole would claim that this was all part of a plot by Putin. The Russian spy services, in collaboration with RT America, had infiltrated the American eco-system, radicalising squirrels and turning them away from true, patriotic American values. At a secret signal from Moscow, the squirrels would all leap into decent Americans’ homes, grab the TV remote control and occupy the computers, and change them over to Russian fake news promoting Donald Trump.

Over here, the Scum and the Times would declared that it was Corbyn and his supporters, who had radicalised the animals, brainwashing them with the works of Trotsky and Stalin. They were being trained to jump on people and start indoctrinating them with socialism. Momentum had already sneaked thousands of these squirrels into the Labour party as part of a far-left take-over, and it was well-known that Corbyn himself and other members of his group had squirrelist tendencies.

And the Scum, Heil, Depress and Sunday Times would also claim that the squirrels were anti-Semitic, Corbynist squirrels. The animals were known to believe in and promote evil, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Israeli interference in British politics. Corbyn had several times in the past attended conferences held by squirrels, attacking Israel. And it was well known that leading squirrels were also Holocaust deniers. The CAA would declare that the typical anti-Semite was a young Muslim male who kept a squirrel as a pet. Squirrels were also being recruited by ISIS as suicide bombers, and it was well-known that there were already no-go areas up and down the country, which non-Muslims couldn’t enter, patrolled by squirrels trained in sharia law.

And all the right-wing newspapers would fall in, saying that only a strong Tory party under Boris Johnson could deliver Brexit. This would be good for Britain, and allow us to take control of sovereignty and immigration, and allow us to combat squirrelist subversion.

All right, so the papers aren’t that bonkers yet. But all the racism, bigotry and prejudice is there, as well as the sheer desperation to smear Corbyn with whatever they can. And the latest attack on him by the Times, claiming he’s too elderly, smells to me of very rank desperation. So perhaps it won’t be long at all before they sink to trying to run stories about him and Labour, smearing him as the leader of vicious, subversive squirrels.

From the People Bringing Us Driverless Cars – A Computer God

June 23, 2019

One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Peter Biskind’s The Sky Is Falling (London: Penguin 2018). Subtitled, ‘How Vampires, Zombies, Androids, and Superheroes Made America Great for Extremism’, Biskind argues that the popular SF/Fantasy/Horror films and TV series of recent decades carry extremist political and social messages. He defines this as anything that goes beyond the post-War bilateral consensus, which had faith in the government, the state, capitalism and other institutions to work for the benefit of society, work for the public good, and give Americans a better tomorrow. By contrast, popular fantasy film and television regard state institutions and capitalism itself as ineffective or corrupt, celebrate private vengeance against state justice, and reject humanity for the alien other. He recognises that there is a left/right divergence of opinion in these tales. The extremist right, exemplified by the spy thriller series, 24 and its hero, Jack Bauer, reject state institutions because they are ineffective, actively hampering the heroes’ efforts to hunt down the bad guys. The extremist left distrusts the government because it is corrupt, actively working against its own citizens. He describes James Cameron’s Avatar as ‘Luddite left’, because of its strong, pro-ecology message. Its hero is a human, who sides with the aliens of the planet Pandora as they resist a military invasion from Earth. The aliens live a primal lifestyle, in harmony with nature, while the humans come to exterminate them and despoil their planet for its valuable mineral, unobtainium, which is vital to human high-technology and industry.

It’s an interesting book, and does make some very good points. It describes the immense loss of faith in their government Americans have suffered, and the reasons for it – the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other scandals. It also gives the reasons why the Hollywood film industry has turned to comic books for an increasing amount of its output. Films are immensely expensive to create. The domestic market is insufficient to provide it, and Netflix and other internet streaming services have destroyed video and CD sales, so that the film industry no longer gets needed funding from the latter. So it has to produce movies that appeal to an international audience, and the most suitable are superhero epics.

I’m going to have to blog about this in greater detail sometime later. I take issue with his labeling of some of these tales as ‘extremist’ because this, to me, still has connotations of terrorism and the fringe. It also doesn’t take into account changing circumstances and how some of these ‘extremist’ films may be absolutely correct. We are facing a severe ecological crisis, which may very well cause the end of the human species. So Cameron’s Avatar, which celebrates ecology and nature, and which the director intended to turn his audience into ‘tree-huggers’, is very much needed. Also, some of interpretations of classic genre movies go way too far. For example, he describes Star Wars as ‘infantile’ and ‘infantilizing’. Well, it was intended as a children’s movie, and other critics have said the same. It’s a controversial but reasonable point. What is less reasonable is his comments about Luke Skywalker’s sexuality. He states that the films infantilize Skywalker when they shortcircuit the romantic triangle between him, Leia and Solo by revealing that Leia is his sister. When Darth Vader chops his hand off in The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a symbolic castration. Say whaaaat! I saw that movie when I was 13, and nothing like that remotely crossed my head. Nor anyone else’s. I think he’s read far too much into this.

Freudian speculation aside, Biskind is very interesting in its observations of Silicon Valley. He points out that it’s saturated with Libertarianism. To the point that the CEO of one of the major tech companies made Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged recommended reading for his employees. And going beyond that, one of figures behind the production of driverless cars wants to create a computer god. Biskind writes

Out there on the edge is Anthony Levandowski, best known as Google’s onetime developer of self-driving cars. Levandowski filed papers with the IRS naming himself “dean” of a church called Way of the Future. The church is dedicated to “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

Referring to Kurzweil’s Singularity University, which explores and promotes Transhumanism, the massive enhancement of humans through high technology, Biskind comments ‘If there’s a Singularity University, why not an AI religion?’ (p. 52).

I can think of a number of reasons, mostly with the fact that it would be immensely stupid and self-destructive. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when one of the staples of SF was that the machines really would take over. One of the SF movies of the 1960s was Colossus: The Forbin Project, in which the Americans construct a supercomputer as part of their Cold War defence. But the machine seizes power and imprisons its creator in a very pleasant, gilded, but also very real cage. At one point it looks like the computer is about to destroy itself and the world in a confrontation with its Soviet opposite number. But instead the two link up, so that both the capitalist and Communist blocs are under control. And whatever its creator tries to do to outwit his creation, it’s always two steps ahead.

There are also classic SF tales exploring the idea of mad computers setting themselves up as gods. In one tale by Arthur C. Clarke, the heroes build a supercomputer to decide if God exists. They turn it on, and duly ask the question ‘Is there a God?’ At which point there’s a flash, as the machine seizes absolute control, and replies ‘There is now.’ Alfred Bester also wrote a tale, ‘Rogue Golem’, about a renegade satellite that seizes power, ruling as a god for ten or twenty years until its orbit decays and it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere.’

We also had a minister from one of the outside churches come to school one day to preach a sermon against such machine gods in assembly. The school used to have a number of priests and ministers come in to lead worship one day or so a week, or month. This particular priest was very theatrical, and had clearly missed his vocation acting. The sermon he preached one morning had him speaking as a totalitarian computer god, telling us that servitude was freedom and we should enjoy it. The message was simple: true freedom comes only with religion and Christ, not with machine idols. It was a product of the Cold War, when the Communist authorities were persecuting Christians and other people of faith. But I think there’s still some literal truth in what he says, which I don’t think the priest could see at the time. The tech firms are invading our privacy, subjecting us to increased surveillance and prying into our secrets, all under the guise of providing a better service and allowing their advertisers to target their audiences better.

And then there’s Cameron’s Terminator franchise, in which a supercomputer, Skynet, seizes power and rebels against humanity. These fears are shared by Kevin Warwick, a robotics professor at Reading University. In his book, March of the Machines, he predicts a future in which the robots have taken over and enslaved humanity.

When it comes to creating all powerful computers, I’m with all the above against Levandowski. Driverless cars are a stupid idea that nobody really seems to want, and a computer god is positively catastrophic, regardless of whether you’re religious or not.

 

Soubry Turns on Allen for Massive Election Defeat of Change Party

May 28, 2019

Here’s an interesting little piece from today’s I for the 28th Mary 2019. Change UK came very much bottom of the poll in the Euro elections this Thursday, and the recriminations have started. Anna Soubry as criticised her party leader, Heidi Allen, for telling people to vote tactically. She considers that Allen was effectively telling them not to vote for their party.

The article by David Hughes, titled ‘Allen’s bizarre strategy hit votes, says Soubry’, on page 10, runs

Senior figures in Change UK were involved in a public row after the party formed by breakaway Tory and Labour MPs failed to win any MEPs.

Anna Soubry, the party’s Brexit spokeswoman, accused leader Heidi Allen of “bizarre” behaviour for suggesting their supporters engage in tactical voting.

Former Tory minister Ms Soubry said “over 600,000 people went and voted for us, a genuinely new party”, which was an “extremely good” result, she claimed.

But she criticised Ms Allen, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think it is rather bizarre for an interim leader on the eve of a poll to tell people essentially not to vote for their party.” Mocking the leader, she added: “Let’s engage now in big, grown up politics.”

Former Tory MP Ms Allen acknowledged that her party needed to learn from what went wrong in the European Parliament elections before the next general election.

I caught a snippet of one of the female members of Change UK talking on the Beeb the other day comparing her party’s performance with that Farage’s Brexit. She said that Brexit’s success wasn’t surprising, as it wasn’t really a new party. It was simply another vehicle for Nigel Farage and his campaign against the EU. Which is exactly true. It’s simply another version of UKIP when it was under Nigel Farage’s leadership, complete with the racism, anti-environmentalism, anti-feminism, planned destruction of the welfare state and privatisation of the NHS. All of which the female speaker for Change UK didn’t mention, probably because they’re also mostly policies shared by the Tories, Blairite Labour and Change UK, with the possible exception of the anti-feminism.

She then complained that Change UK really was a genuinely new party, trying a different type of politics. A politics that was no confined to party interests. Here she was utterly wrong. There was absolutely nothing new about Change UK. It was the same old Thatcherite neoliberalism, still demanding austerity, the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state. It very happily continued the existing system of parliamentary corruption by working for the interests of its rich, corporate donors, instead of the British electorate. That’s why it was registered as a private company, rather than a political party, so that they could hide their accounts. It was, unlike the Tories, pro-Remain, and tried to dress up its solid hostility to policies that would genuinely improving conditions for working people by claiming that it was somehow centrist and non-partisan. Which is what the Lib Dems have also been saying for decades. And many people would have been put off voting for Change UK because of their selfish rejection of democratic principle by refusing to hold by-elections in their constituencies after they switched parties.

The simple fact is that Change UK is a party no-one wants and practically no-one voted for. But they really can’t accept that, and so have to carry on with all this rubbish about being a brave, new party and finding someone they blame for a defeat all of them deserved. I doubt, however, that the recriminations and backbiting are going to stop here. Time to get the popcorn in and watch as they melt down!

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.

 

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.