Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

August 8, 2020

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.

 

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

August 8, 2020

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

‘I’ Article on ‘Bardcore’ – Postmodern Fusion of Medieval Music and Modern Pop

August 5, 2020

I’m a fan of early music, which is the name that’s been given to music from the ancient period through medieval to baroque. It partly comes from having studied medieval history at ‘A’ level, and then being in a medieval re-enactment group for several years. Bardcore is, as this article explains, a strange fusion of modern pop and rock with medieval music, played on medieval instruments and with a medieval vocal arrangement. I’ve been finding a good deal of it on my YouTube page at the moment, which means that there are a good many people out there listening to it. On Monday the I’s Gillian Fisher published a piece about this strange new genre of pop music, ‘Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1199’, with the subtitle ‘Bardcare reimagines modern pop with a medieval slant. Hark, says Gillian Fisher’. The article ran

“Hadst thou need to stoop so low? To send a wagon for thy minstrel and refuse my letters, I need no longer write them though. Now thou art somebody whom I used to know.”

If you can’t quite place this verse, let me help – it’s the chorus from the 2011 number one Somebody That I Used to Know, by Gotye. It might seem different to how you remember it, which is no surprise – this is the 2020 Bardcore version. Sometimes known as Tavernwave, Bardcore gives modern hits a medieval makeover with crumhorns a plenty and lashings of lute. Sometimes lyrics are also rejigged as per Hildegard von Blingin’s offering above.

Algal (41-year-old Alvaro Galan) has been creating medieval covers since 2016, a notable example being his 2017 version of System of a Down’s Toxicity. Largely overlooked at the time, the video now boasts over 4.4 million views. Full-time musician Alvaro explains that “making the right song at the right moment” is key, and believes that Bardcore offers absolute escapism.

Alvaro says: “What I enjoy most about Bardcore is that I can close my eyes and imagine being in a medieval tavern playing for a drunk public waiting to dance! But from a more realistic perspective , I love to investigate the sounds of the past.”

In these precarious times, switching off Zoom calls and apocalyptic headlines to kick back with a flagon of mead offers a break from the shambles of 2020. Looking back on simpler times during periods of unrest is a common coping mechanism, as Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at New York’ Le Moyne College explained in her paper on nostalgia: “Nostalgic yearning for the past is especially likely to occur during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Dislocation or alienation can also elicit nostalgia.”

The fact that Bardcore is also pretty funny also offers light relief. The juxtaposition of ancient sound with 21st-century sentiment is epitomised in Stantough’s medieval oeuvre, such as his cover of Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. Originally from Singapore, Stantough (Stanley Yong), 35 says: “I really like the fact we don’t really take it very seriously. We’re all aware what we’re making isn’t really medieval but the idea of modern songs being “medievalised” is just too funny.”

One of Bardcore’s greatest hits, is Astronomia by Cornelius Link, which features trilling flutes and archaic vocal by Hildegard. It’s a tune that has been enjoyed by 5.3 million listeners. Silver-tongued Hildegard presides over the Bardcore realm, with her cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance clocking up 5 million views. Canadian illustrator Hildegard, 28, fits Bardcore around work and describes herself as “an absolute beginner” with the Celtic harp and “enthusiastically mediocre” with the recorder. Her lyric adaptations have produced some humdingers such as “All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots which she sings in rich, resonant tones.

HIldegard, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the Bardcore boom can be “chalked up to luck, boredom and a collective desire to connect and laugh.”

In three months, the Bardcore trend has evolved with some minstrels covering Disney anthems, while others croon Nirvana hits in classical Latin. While slightly absurd, this fusion genre has ostensibly provided a sense of unity and catharsis.

The humming harps and rhythmic tabor beats evoke a sense of connection with our feudal ancestors and their own grim experience of battening down the hatches against the latest outbreak. Alongside appealing to the global sense of pandemic ennui, connecting to our forbears through music is predicated upon the fact that they survived their darkest hours. And so shall we.

While Bardcore’s a recent phenomenon, I think it’s been drawing on trends in pop music that have happening for quite long time. For example, I noticed in the 1990s when I went to a performance of the early music vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, when they performed at Brandon Hill in Bristol that the audience also included a number of Goths. And long-haired hippy types also formed part of the audience for Benjamin Bagley when he gave his performance of what the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf probably sounded like on Anglo-Saxon lyre at the Barbican centre in the same decade.

Bardcore also seems connected to other forms of postmodern music. There’s the group the Postmodern Jukebox, whose tunes can also be found on YouTube, who specialise in different 20th century arrangements of modern pop songs. Like doing a rock anthem as a piece of New Orleans Jazz, for example. And then there’s Orkestra Obsolete, who’ve arranged New Order’s Blue Monday using the instruments of the early 20th century, including musical saws and Theremin. There’s definitely a sense of fun with all these musical experiments, and behind the postmodern laughter it is good music. An as this article points out, we need this in these grim times.

Here’s an example of the type of music we’re talking about: It’s Samuel Kim’s medieval arrangement of Star Wars’ Imperial March from his channel on YouTube.

And here’s Orkestra Obsolete’s Blue Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fighting Racism Means Restoring the Welfare State

July 17, 2020

One of the most important things I learned when I was studying Geography for ‘A’ level nearly forty years ago was that poverty leads to political extremism. Part of the course was on the Third World, although I now gather that term, coined by Gandhi, is now out of favour. It was fascinating. We were taught that the countries of the Developing World varied in their levels of economic development and that many of their problems stemmed from the neocolonial system put in place when the European imperial power granted their independence. In return for their political freedom, the former colonies were required to confine themselves to primary industry – mining and agriculture. They were forced into a relationship with their former masters in which they were to trade their agricultural and mineral products for finished European goods. Punitive tariffs were imposed on industrial goods produced by these nations. They are therefore prevented from developing their own manufacturing industries and diversifying their economies. And as the primary resources they export to the global north are produced by a large number of countries, competition works against them. If one country tries to raise the price of copra, for example, the developed countries can simply find another nation willing to supply it at a lower cost. And so the Developing World is kept poor. And that poverty will drive people to political extremism – Communism and Fascism.

Poverty, Economic and Political Crisis and the Rise of Fascism

The same forces were at work behind the rise of Fascism in Europe. Part of the impetus behind the formation of Italian Fascism and German Nazism was frustration at the international settlement at the end of the First World War. Italy was angered by the great powers’ refusal to grant it the territories it claimed, like the Yugoslavian island of Fiume. Germany was humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles and the imposition of crippling reparations. The new democratic system in both countries was unstable. The Nazis made their first electoral breakthrough as the champions of the small farmers of Schleswig-Holstein in the 1920s. But arguable what gave them the greatest spur to power was the 1929 Wall Street crash and the massive global recession this caused. Combined with the breakdown of the ruling Weimar coalition between the Catholic Centre Party, the German  Social Democrats – the rough equivalent of the British Labour Party and the two Liberal parties – the crisis boosted Nazism as a mass movement and allowed President Hindenberg, then ruling by decree, to consider giving them a place in power in order to break the political deadlock. He did, and the result was the twelve years of horror of the Third Reich. Faced with rising unemployment, national humiliation and social and political chaos, millions of people were attracted by the Nazis denunciation of international capitalism and Marxist Communism and Socialism, which they blamed on the Jews.

The Collapse of Louisiana Oil Industry and the Witchcraft Scare

Sociologists and folklorists critically examining the witchcraft scare of the 1990s also noticed the role poverty and wealth inequalities have in creating social panics and the persecution of outsider groups. From the ’70s onwards a myth had developed that there existed in society multigenerational Satanic groups practising child abuse and infant sacrifice. A critical investigation by the British government over here – the Fontaine Report – and the FBI over the Pond found absolutely no evidence that these sects ever existed. But large numbers of people uncritically believed in them. As this belief spread, innocent people were accused of membership of such cults and their mythical atrocities. As the American folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand pointed out, this witch hunt emerged and spread at a time when the gap between rich and poor in America was increasing. One of the places hit by the scare was Louisiana. Louisiana had a strong oil industry, and the state levied a tax on its profits to subsidize local housing. This was fine until the industry went into recession. Suddenly ordinary, hard-working Louisianans found they could no longer afford their mortgages. There were cases where the banks were simply posted the keys to properties as their former owners fled elsewhere. With poverty and insecurity rising, people started looking round for a scapegoat. And they found it in these mythical Satanic conspiracies and in real, New Age neo-Pagan religions, which they identified with them.

1990s Prosperity and Positive Challenges to Affirmative Action

It’s a truism that poverty creates social and racial conflict, as different groups fight over scarce resources. There was a period in the 1990s when it looked like racism was well on the wane in America, Britain and Europe. Blacks were still at the bottom of American society, but some Blacks were doing well, and challenging stereotypes and the need for affirmative action. The Financial Times approvingly reported a self-portrait by a Black American artist, in which he pointedly exaggerated his ‘negrotic’ features in order to make the point that these didn’t define him. There were cases of Black college professors turning down promotion to senior, prestigious positions at their seats of learning because they didn’t want people to think that they hadn’t earned them through their own merits. They hated the idea that they were just being given these places because of their colour. Whites further down the social scale were also challenging the need for affirmative action in a different way, which didn’t involve racist abuse and violence. The FT reported that four American firemen had changed their names to Hispanic monickers, as this was the only way they believed they could get promotion under a system designed to give preference to ethnic minorities. Back in Blighty, some TV critics naively applauded the lack of racism in a series of Celebrity Big Brother, before that all shattered as Jade Goody and one of her friends racially bullied Indian supermodel and film star Shilpa Shetty. Sociological studies revealed that people’s accent was more important than their race in terms of social identity and acceptance. And then when Barack Obama won the American election in 2008, the chattering classes around the world hailed this as the inauguration of a new, post-racial America. But wiser voices reminded the world that the terrible racial inequalities remained.

Austerity, Poverty, and the Destruction of the Welfare State Behind Growth in Racism

All this has been shattered with the imposition of austerity following the banking crash, and the increasing impoverishment of working people across the world. The crash has allowed Conservative government to cut spending on welfare programmes, force through even more privatisations and cuts, and freeze and slash workers’ pay. At the same time, the top 1 per cent has become even more incredibly wealth through massively increased profits and tax cuts.

One of the many great speakers at last Saturday’s Arise Festival on Zoom – I think it was Richard Burgon, but I’m not sure – remarked that talking to people in the north, he found that they weren’t racist. They didn’t hate Blacks and ethnic minorities. But they were worried about access to jobs, opportunities and housing. He made the point that we need to restore these, to fight for all working people and not allow the Tories to divide us. He’s right. If you read rags like the Scum, the Heil and the Depress, the line they take is of virtuous Whites being deprived of employment and housing by undeserving immigrants. Who also sponge off the state on benefits, like the White unemployed the Tories also despise. But they’re obviously not going to tell the world that they are responsible for the shortage of jobs, the insecure conditions for those, who are lucky to have them, and that the shortage of affordable housing is due to them selling off the council houses and defining ‘affordable’ in such a way that such homes are still out of the pocket of many ordinary people. Even if enough of them are built by companies eager to serve the wealthy.

Austerity and Black Lives Matter

It’s austerity that has given urgency to the Black Lives Matter movement. Blacks and some other ethnic minorities have been acutely affected by austerity, as they were already at the bottom of society. If prosperity had continued, if the banking crash had not happened and austerity not imposed, I don’t believe that BLM would have received the wave of global support it has. Blacks would still have occupied the lowest rung of the social hierarchy, but conditions would not have been so bad that they have become a crisis.

White Trump Voters Whites Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action

At the same time, some disadvantaged Whites would not have given their votes to Donald Trump. While Trump is a grotty racist himself, who has surrounded himself with White supremacists and members of the Alt Right, some sociologists have counselled against accusing all of his supporters as such. Years ago Democracy Now’s anchorwoman, Amy Goodman, interviewed a female academic who had done a sociological survey of Conservative White Trump supporters. She found that they weren’t racist. But they did feel that they were being denied the jobs and opportunities they deserved through unfair preference given to other ethnic groups. She likened their mentality to people in a queue for something. Waiting at their place in line, they were annoyed by others pushing in ahead of them. And this was made worse when the queue jumpers responded to their complaints by accusing them of racism. I think the sociologist herself was politically liberal, but she stated that the Conservatives Whites she’d studied should not automatically be called racist and it was dangerous to do so.

Conclusion

It’s clear from all this that if we really want to tackle racism, we need to restore jobs, proper wages, trade union power, real affordable and council housing, and a proper welfare state. These are desperately needed by all members of the working class. I’ve no doubt that they’re most acutely needed by Blacks, but this certainly isn’t confined to them. Restoring prosperity would bring all the different racial groups that make up the working class together, and it would stop the resentment that leads to racial conflict by one group feeling disadvantaged for the benefit of the others.

 

US Air Force Planned Orbital Warplane 20 Years Ago

July 4, 2020

I found this fascinating piece in the June 1999 issue of the popular science magazine Frontiers. Now 21 years old, it’s still acutely relevant now that Trump has said he’s going to set up a Space Force. The article has the headline Space Fighter Plane, with the subtitle ‘The US Air Force plans to become a Space Force.’ This states that the US air force was developing a fighter that could travel beyond the atmosphere into space. It runs

By the early 2010s US military pilots could be flying scramjet warplanes that can leave the atmosphere behind. Research by the US Air Force’s Air Vehicles Directorate suggests a trans-atmospheric vehicle (TAV) could be built as early as 2013. The intention would be to build a reconnaissance plane or bomber that could reach anywhere in the world within three hours. Flying at Mach 10 the TAV could piggyback a small spaceplane to the top of the atmosphere so it can fly the rest of its way into orbit.

The proposed vehicle is part of a shift in military thinking that will eventually see the US Air Force renamed the Aerospace Force. Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine reports that the Air Force is doubling its £100 million space-related research budget. One intention is to shift surveillance work carried out currently by aircraft such as AWACS to satellites equipped with advanced optics, space-based radar and hyperspectral imaging. To deliver such hardware into orbit the Air Force intends to build an unmanned reusable spaceplane called the Space Manoeuvre Vehicle (SMV).

The other thrust of Air Force research is to perfect space-based lasers that could in principle be used with space-based radar to target enemy ballistic missiles for ‘Star Wars’ operations, or even take out targets on the ground at the speed of light. The downside of such ‘space superiority’ tactics is that satellites will become a tempting target for other nations. Air force researchers aim to maximise satellite ‘survivability’ by flying clusters of satellites that work collectively and whose function can survive the destruction of individual units. (p. 37).

The article has two pictures of the projected space warplane, one of which is a computer simulation.

The caption reads: ‘The Air Force’s Space Manoeuvre Vehicle is the first in a series of planned military spaceplanes.’

As this image’s caption suggests, it appears to be a photo of the plane going through flight tests.

Trump doesn’t seem to be acting alone in demanding a US space force. It looks like he’s following a policy that was suggested at least twenty years, if not longer. I’ve got a couple of books dating from the 1980s about possible future wars in space. As for the space-based lasers, this was one of the projects in Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ programme, or the Space Defence Initiative as it was officially called. Which means in one form or another, Trump’s space force has been floating around the Pentagon for about forty years. ‘Star Wars’ was cancelled due to its massive expense and the fact that it became irrelevant after Glasnost’ and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now it seems that it’s been taken out of the cupboard of bad ideas and dusted out.

I see nothing wrong in transatmospheric spaceplanes, but let them be used for the peaceful exploration and colonisation of space. Trump’s Space Force violates international law and threatens to increase international tensions through the militarisation of space. In Arthur C. Clarke’sand Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, at the time the black monolith is found on the Moon, the Earth’s superpowers have ringed the planet with orbiting nuclear bomb platforms. The Cold War is becoming hot. Right at the end of Clarke’s book, the nuclear missiles are launched only to be stopped by the Star Child, the transformed astronaut Bowman, as he returns to the solar system from his journey to the home system of the monolith’s builders. The book ends with him pondering what to do about the crisis: ‘But he would think of something’.

Trump’s space force threatens a similar nuclear holocaust. But there will be no Star Child to rescue us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sargon of Gasbag Smears Black Lives Matter as Anti-Semitic

July 3, 2020

Despite their recent popularity and the wave of sympathetic protests and demonstrations that have erupted all over the world in the past few weeks, Black Lives Matter is a very controversial organisation. They’re Marxists, who wish not only to get rid of capitalism, but also the police, the patriarchy and other structures that oppress Black people. They support trans rights, and, so I’ve heard, wish to get rid of the family. I doubt many people outside the extreme right would defend racism, but I’m not sure how many are aware of, let alone support, their extreme radical views.

A number of Black American Conservatives have posted pieces on YouTube criticising them. One, Young Rippa, objects to them because he has never experienced racism personally and has White friends. He’s angry because they’re telling him he is less than equal in his own country. It’s an interesting point of view, and while he’s fortunate in not experiencing racism himself, many other Black Americans have. Others have objected to the organisation on meritocratic grounds. Mr H Reviews, for example, who posts on YouTube about SF and Fantasy film, television, games and comics, is a believer in meritocracy and so objects to their demands for affirmative action. For him, if you are an employer, you should always hire the best. And if the best writers and directors are all Black, or women, or gay, their colour, gender and sexuality should make no difference. You should employ them. What you shouldn’t do in his opinion is employ people purely because they’re BAME, female or gay. That’s another form of racism, sexism and discrimination. It’s why, in his view and that of other YouTubers, Marvel and DC comics, and now Star Wars and Star Trek have declined in quality in recent years. They’re more interested in forced diversity than creating good, entertaining stories.

Now Carl Benjamin aka Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, has also decided to weigh in on Black Lives Matter. Sargon’s a man of the far right, though I don’t think he is personally racist. Yesterday he put up a piece on YouTube asking if the tide was turning against Black Lives Matter ‘at least in the UK’. He begins the video with a discussion of Keir Starmer calling BLM a moment, rather than a movement, although he later apologised for this and retracted the description. Starmer also rejected their demand to defund the police. Benjamin went on to criticise a Wolverhampton Labour group, who tweeted their opposition to Starmer’s comment about BLM and supported defunding. Sargon also criticised the football players, who had taken the knee to show their support, and also Gary Lineker, who had tweeted his support for BLM but then apologized and made a partial retraction when it was explained to him what the organisation fully stood for. But much of Sargon’s video is devoted to attacking them because they’re anti-Semitic. Who says so? Why, it’s our old friends, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Who are once again lying as usual.

Tony Greenstein put up a piece about a week or so ago on his blog discussing how the Zionist organisations hate BLM and have tied themselves in knots trying to attack the organisation while not alienating the Black community. Black Lives Matter support the Palestinians, and according to all too many Zionist groups, including the British Jewish establishment – the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish Chronicle and other papers, anyone who makes anything except the mildest, most toothless criticism of Israel is an anti-Semitic monster straight out of the Third Reich. This also includes Jews. Especially Jews, as the Israel lobby is doing its damnedest to make Israel synonymous with Jewishness, despite the fact that’s also anti-Semitic under the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism they are so keen to foist on everybody. As a result, Jewish critics in particular suffer insults, smears, threats and personal assault.

Yesterday BLM issued a statement condemning the planned annexation of one third of Palestinian territory by Netanyahu’s Israeli government. This resulted in the usual accusation of anti-Semitism by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. The deliberately misnamed Campaign then hypocritically pontificated about how anti-Semitism, a form of racism, was incompatible with any genuine struggle against racism. Which is true, and a good reason why the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism should shut up and dissolve itself.

Israel is an apartheid state in which the Palestinians are foreigners, even though in law they are supposed to have equality. In the 72 years of its existence, Israel has been steadily forcing them out, beginning with the massacres of the Nakba at the very foundation of Israel as an independent state. The Israel lobby has been trying to silence criticism of its barbarous maltreatment of them by accusing those voicing it of anti-Semitism. The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism is a case in point. It was founded to counter the rising opposition to Israel amongst the British public following the blockade of Gaza. And Tony Greenstein has argued that Zionism is itself anti-Semitic. Theodor Herzl believed that Jews needed their own state because there would always be gentile hostility to Jews. He even at one point wrote that he had ‘forgiven’ it. It’s a surrender to anti-Semitism not an opponent, although obviously you would never hear that argument from the Israel lobby.

Sargon thus follows the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism in accusing BLM of being anti-Semitic. He puts up on his video a screen shot of the CAA’s twitter reply to BLM’s condemnation of the invasion of Palestine. But there’s a piece on BLM’s tweet that he either hasn’t seen or is deliberately ignoring.

Black Lives Matter issued their condemnation as a series of linked tweets. And the second begins by noting that over 40 Jewish organisations have objected to Netanyahu’s deliberate conflation of Israel with Jews.

That tweet can clearly be seen beneath the first and the CAA’s reply as Sargon waffles on about anti-Semitism.

It says

‘More than 40 Jewish groups around the world in 2018 opposed “cynical and false accusations that dangerously conflate anti-Jewish racism with opposition to Israel’s policies of occupation and apartheid.”‘

This section of their condemnation should demonstrate that BLM aren’t anti-Semites. They made the distinction, as demanded by the I.H.R.A.’s own definition of anti-Semitism, between Jews and the state of Israel. If Black Lives Matter was genuinely anti-Semitic, not only would they not make that distinction, I doubt that they would bother mentioning that Jewish organisations also condemned it.  It is also ironic that it’s up when the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and Sargon are doing precisely what these 40 Jewish organisations condemned.

Black Lives Matter as an organisation is controversial, and I don’t believe it or any other movement or ideology should be immune or exempt from reasonable criticism. But I don’t believe they can fairly be accused of anti-Semitism.

As for Sargon, the fact that he drones on accusing them of it while just behind him is the statement clearly showing that they aren’t tells you all you need to know about the level of his knowledge and the value of his views in this matter. But you probably guessed that already from his illustrious career destroying every organisation he’s ever joined.

I’m not going to put up Sargon’s video here, nor link to it. But if you want to see for yourself, it’s on his channel on YouTube, Akkad Daily, with the title Is The Tide Turning Against Black Lives Matter. The tweet quoting the Jewish groups denouncing the deliberate conflation of Israel and Jews to accuse critics of Israel of anti-Semitism can be seen at the bottom of the twitter stream at 5.26.

 

 

Radio 4 Programme on Saturday on Apollo 13

July 2, 2020

Also according to next week’s Radio Times, this Saturday’s edition of the Radio 4 The Archive is on the Apollo 13 disaster. This was when an explosive malfunction meant the crew had to abandon their mission to the Moon and use the lunar module as a lifeboat as they made their way back to Earth. The air purification system was also damaged so they had to rig up a quick replacement for one of the damaged systems.

The blurb for the programme on page 115 reads

Kevin Fong explores the story of the aborted 1970 mission to the Moon, as told by the astronauts who flew it and the teams in mission control who saved the day after an explosion aboard the spacecraft. With archive clips of crew members Jim Lovell and Fred Haise, as well as a host of characters who worked round the clock to save Apollo 13 and Nasa from disaster. With contributions from the broadcaster James Burke, who covered the Apollo 13 mission live for the BBC.

Kevin Fong’s a doctor specialising in space medicine. He’s also appeared on several programmes himself, including one in which he, Dan Snow and a female presenter tried to retrace the steps of the prospective miners on the gold rush trail to the Yukon.

James Burke also has two-page piece about the disaster on page 110 of the Radio Times.

I think there’s been several programmes about Apollo 13 already, including the film of the same name that came out in the 1990s.

The programme’s titled Archive on 4: Apollo 13: The Rescue, and its on Radio 4 on Saturday, 4th July at 8.00 pm.

Tony Greenstein’s Review of Exhibition and Talks by Pro-Palestinian Arab/Israeli Artist Gil Mualem-Doron

July 1, 2020

Yesterday Tony Greenstein put up a piece about an art exhibition on the plight of the Palestinians by an Arab/Israeli artist, Dr. Gil Mualem-Doron. Titled ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ after a 1953 article in the Israeli paper Maariv by its editor, Ezriel Karlebach. This compared the new legislation then passed against the Palestinians to the infamous Nuremberg laws the Nazis passed against the Jews. The article took its title in turn from the 1948 book by the South African artist Alan Paton on the rise of that country’s apartheid regime. The exhibition also features a conversation between the Palestinian historian Dr Salman Abu Sitta, Mualem-Doron, Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, the founder of the NGO Zochrot, somebody called Decolonizer and the exhibition’s curator, Ghazaleh Zogheib. It includes photographs of some of the ‘present refugees’ – Palestinians, who fled or were forced off their land during the Nakba of 1948, and who are officially regarded as foreigners in their own country among other photographic and artistic installations. There is also a screening of the film To Gaza and Back Home, by Aparicio and Decolonizer about the Arab village of Ma’in and its destruction. It was due to open on the 2nd April, but this was impossible due to the lockdown. It’s now showing online until sometime in September, probably the 27th, when it will open at the P21 Gallery in London.

Tony’s article quotes the exhibition, which says that

“Cry, the beloved country” is a nightmarish series of room installations and photography works dealing with the links between Great Britain, Israel and Palestine and depicting the catastrophic results of this unholy conundrum.  Built as a journey into “the heart of darkness” the exhibition is intended to negate many Israelis and Zionists supporters’ view of Israel as a “villa in the jungle”.

The photographs include several of an actor dressed in KKK robes, a Jewish prayer shawl and waving an Israeli flag, saluting Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. It was taken in 2017 during the centennial celebrations of the promulgation of the Balfour Doctrine, in which Britain backed the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. This was very much against the wishes of the British Jewish community, who did not want their Britishness questioned through the foundation of a state for which they had no loyalty and no desire to live in.

This is obviously an extremely provocative piece. I have no doubt that the very people and organizations, who scream ‘anti-Semitism’ at any criticism of Israel, no matter how reasonable and justified, would go berserk about this. It comes very close to one of the IHRA’s examples of anti-Semitism: the comparison of Jews to Nazis. But it is a reasonable comment on the Israeli state and its present government, composed of Likud and various parties from the Israeli religious right. Groups of settlers do launch attacks on Palestinian villages, like the Klan lynched Blacks in America. Those campaign for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians similarly claim a religious basis for their crimes, just like the Klan claimed to be defending White, Protestant Christians from Jews, Blacks, Roman Catholics and Communists. And Tony himself has shown all too often how the present Israeli government and British Zionist activists have very strong links to the real far right groups. Jonathan Hoffman, who has frequently protested and demonstrated against pro-Palestinian exhibitions and meetings over here, shouting anti-Semitism, has done so in the company of Paul Besser, the former intelligence officer of Britain First, and members of the EDL. The event’s supported by Arts Council England and the Hub Collective. I think they should be commended for supporting such an important exhibition, despite the abuse and demands for cancellation the organizers of similar events receive.

The Israelis were due to begin their annexation of 1/3 of the West Bank today, in blatant contravention of international law. The Likud regime is zealously pursuing its persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians with the active support of right-wing American Christian groups like Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. It does so against the wishes and passionate efforts of very many Jews and Jewish organisations in America, Britain and Israel itself. The latter includes the veterans’ group, Breaking the Silence, which works to reveal the atrocities in which its members have personally participated, and the Zionist humanitarian group, B’Tsalem. The supporters of this ethnic cleansing, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the various ‘Friends of Israel’ groups in the political parties, are doing their best to present Israel as synonymous with Judaism. This is in breach of the IHRA’s own guidelines, which state that it is anti-Semitic to claim that Jews are more loyal to another country, or hold them responsible as a whole for Israel’s actions. As these atrocities continue, more young Jewish people are becoming critical of Israel and the Zionist organisations themselves were frightened by the British public’s disgust at the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Hence the foundation of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the revival of Paole Zion, now renamed the Jewish Labour Movement, in the Labour Party. It was all to promote public support for Israel and quash reasoned, justified criticism.

It is why exhibitions like this continue to remain important and necessary, whatever the witch-hunters do to shout them down and silence them.

For more information on the exhibition and the individual pieces, go to:

https://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/06/visit-cry-beloved-country-palestinian.html

NASA Film Explaining Their Plan to Return to the Moon

June 25, 2020

Here’s a short film from NASA. Narrated by William Shatner, Star Trek’s original Captain Kirk, it explains that the space agency intends to return to the Moon after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed there fifty years ago. This time the agency intends to stay.

It discusses some of the problems that have to be overcome, like isolation, radiation, gravity and the harsh environment of space. To get there, NASA has produced the SLS -Space Launch System – rocket, the most powerful yet developed, to lift heavier payloads into space. The crew will be carried by a new space capsule specially developed for the mission, Orion. The film also states that they’re developing new instrument system for exploring the Moon with their commercial partners.

They want to create fully reusable lunar landers that can land anywhere on the Moon’s surface. The simplest way to enable them to do this is to create an orbiting platform – a space station – around the Moon. This will also contain experiments as well as humans, and has been called ‘Gateway’. Gateway has been designed so that it will move between orbits, and balance between the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity.

It was discovered in 2009 that the Moon contains millions of tons of water ice. This can be extracted and purified for use as drinking water, or separated to provide oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for fuel.

They also state that the Moon is uniquely placed to prepare and propel us to Mars and beyond. The film also declaims that humans are the most fragile part of the mission, but humans are at the heart of it. NASA is going back for all humanity, and this time the Moon isn’t a checkpoint, but a way station for everything that lies beyond. Shatner ends with ‘Our greatest adventure lies ahead of us. We are going.’ This last sentence is repeated as a slogan by the many engineers, technicians, astronauts and mission staff shown in the video. They are shown working on the instruments, rocket engines, launch infrastructure, training aircraft, mission control centre, and the huge swimming pool used to train prospective astronauts in zero G. NASA’s staff and crew are both men and women, and people of all races, Black, White and Asian. One of the ladies is Black, clearly following in the footsteps of the three Afro-American female mathematicians who helped put America’s first men in orbit.

It also includes footage of the first Apollo astronauts walking to their Saturn V rocket and landing on the Moon, with computer simulations of the planned missions, as well as Mars and Jupiter.

From the video, it looks like NASA has returned to its original strategy for reaching the Moon. This was to build a space station between the Earth and Moon at which the powerful rockets used for getting out of Earth’s gravity well would dock. Passengers to the Moon would then be transferred to the landers designed to take them down the Moon. These would be less powerful because of the Moon’s lower gravity.

This was the infrastructure of lunar missions that Wernher von Braun originally intended. It’s the plan shown in Floyd’s journey from Earth to Clavius base on the Moon in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. America, however, needed to beat the Russians to the Moon in the space race for geopolitical reasons, and so chose to go directly to the Moon instead of building the intermediate space station. As a result, after the cuts of the 1970s, America and humanity never returned.

There was talk of a commercial mission to the Moon in the 1990s, using Titan-Centaur rockets assembled into a lunar vessel in orbit. Just as there were also confident predictions that by this year, humanity would have put an astronaut on the Moon. Or perhaps a taikonaut, the Chinese term for it. Stephen Baxter in an article on possible Mars missions in this present century suggested that the first person to walk on the red planet would be a Chinese woman. Who knows? The Chinese are making great strides in their space programme, so I think that’s still a real possibility.

 

Ren Wicks’ painting for NASA of 2019 mission to Mars, from Peter Bond, Reaching For The Stars: The Illustrated History of Manned Spaceflight (London: Cassell 1993).

Fifty years is far too long for us to have stayed away from the Moon. I can remember all the books on space from the 1970s and early ’80s which predicted that by this time there’d be holidays in space, orbital colonies, a base on the Moon and expeditions to Mars and beyond. These haven’t materialised. The last section of Shatner’s voiceover for the video was a piece of oratory designed to evoke JFK’s classic speech, in which he declared America was going to the Moon. ‘We intend, before this decade is out, to put a man on the Moon. We do this, and the other thing, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.’

I wish NASA and all the other space agencies and companies around the world all the very best in realizing the ancient dream of taking people into space. Despite the economic and medical crises caused by the virus, I hope they are successful and in four years’ time put people on the Moon at last. And that this will be just the first in a series of further steps out onto the High Frontier.

As somebody whispered on that fateful day when the Saturn V rocket carrying Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins took off, ‘Godspeed’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trailer for AppleTV’s ‘Foundation’ Series

June 24, 2020

Here’s another video that has zilch to do with politics. Apparently, the computer giant Apple has, or is launching, their own TV channel. And one of the shows they’ve made for it is an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation series of books. This is one of the works for which Asimov is best remembered, along with his Robot books – I, Robot, The Caves of Steel and others. I, Robot was filmed a few years ago with Will Smith playing a human detective investigating the suicide of a robotics scientist. Together with the chief suspect, a unique robot with free will and a mind of its own, Smith uncovers a conspiracy to take over the city with a new generation of robots. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know how faithful the movie was to them. Something tells me that they took a few liberties, but I don’t know.

I haven’t read Foundation either, but I gather it’s an epic about an academic, Hari Seldon, who invents the science of psychohistory. Using its techniques, he predicts that the vast galactic empire that is so ancient, no-one actually knows where Earth is anymore, is about to fall into a new Dark Age. He prepares for this by setting up the eponymous Foundation on a barren planet with the intention of collecting all human knowledge in preparation for the restoration of civilization. It’s one of the major influences behind both Frank Herbert’s Dune and George Lucas’ Star Wars. The heart of the galactic empire is Trantor, a world that has become one vast, planet-wide city. This is the model for Coruscant, the city planet which is the capital of the Republic and then the Empire in Star Wars.

The video shows scenes from the new series along with clips of others as they were being shot. There’s also a comment from the director or one of the producers, who says that Asimov was keenly interested in technology, and so would have approved of Apple making the series. There have been attempts to adapt Foundation before, apparently, but they’ve all failed due to the complexity and immense time span covered by the books. I do remember way back in the ’70s there was an LP version, where it was read by William Shatner. Less reverently, back in the ’90s one of the Oxbridge theatre groups decided to stage a play which combined it and Dr. Strangelove, titled Fundament! This ended with a Nazi scientist shouting, ‘Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!’, just like the end of Kubrick’s movie.

Take a look at the trailer. It looks awesome, though unfortunately there have been movies where all the best bits were in the trailer, and the film itself actually dull. I hope this isn’t the case here. My problem with it at the moment is that it’s going to be on another streaming channel, which will mean having to subscribe to that, rather than getting it with a satellite/cable TV package.