Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the Economic, Academic and Social Costs of Brexit

January 16, 2020

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown issued another stinging attack on Brexit in the I yesterday. She sharply criticised the Brexiteers triumphalism, that made them demand the mass celebration of Britain’s departure from the EU with a ‘festival of Brexit’, churches ringing their bells up and down the country, street parties and ‘a big, fat, jingoistic party in Parliament Square on January 31st’. She compared the proposed celebrations with the forced, state-mandated festivities of North Korea, and quoted the Roman satirist Juvenal on how the rich distracted the plebs with bread and circuses while taking away their liberties. She also bitterly complained about the way Remainers were now seen as somehow treacherous for their rejection of this wave of jingoism despite the closeness of the vote in the referendum. But she also made very good points about the immense cost Brexit had already inflicted on our economy, education, and society. She wrote

According to a detailed report by ratings agency S&P, Brexit has already cost the economy £66bn. It calculates that the amount is more than we paid into the European Union for 47 years. The economy is stagnant. The Union  of the four nations may not hold. Migrants and black, Asian and minority ethnic Britons are experiencing more hostility. Complaints are met with increased hostility or disbelief. Universities are panicking about the potential loss of EU grants and the Erasmus+ scheme – a travel bursary for young people which enriched their lives.

Musicians and artists are losing essential EU connections. Care homes cannot get workers because EU citizens are leaving. Too many feel unwelcome or are discouraged by new, costly and unfair immigration rules. NHS workers from elsewhere are becoming disillusioned.

She then describes how an Asian friend, Priti, told her about the increasing racism she was experiencing.

My friend Priti, a nurse who came over from India five years ago, says: “This is not the country I came into. Not the place my parents loved when they studied here. It has become so impolite. Even when I am changing a bandage or putting drops in their eyes, some patients shout at me to go bac. My colleagues are great but I am going – I have a job in Dubai. They need us but don’t behave well.”

We need these foreign nurses and doctors, who do an excellent job caring for our sick. It’s disgusting that they should be treated with such contempt and abuse.

Brexit is wrecking our economy, placing the Union under potentially devastating stress, and impoverishing our education system, our arts and culture, and denying needed expertise and labour to the NHS. But somehow we are meant to celebrate all this as a victory for Britain.

Alibhai-Brown herself says that Remainers should follow Will Hutton’s advice, and light candles on 31st January before going back to Brexit. She says that we must, for the sake of the younger generation and the future of this once-formidable nation.

I don’t think we can reasonable go on opposing Brexit forever without isolating ourselves politically. But I think we should be trying to get the best possible deal with the EU and trying to forge lasting, beneficial links with it.

While pointing out that so far, it is a massive, astronomically expensive failure.

Tories’ and UKIP’s Nazi Anti-Immigration Imagery

December 31, 2019

Remember how UKIP and its head honcho, Nigel Farage, got into trouble a few years ago for their anti-immigration poster? This showed a long line of middle eastern immigrants stretching across the landscape trying to get into Europe and Britain. It was based on the Syrian and North African refugees that had made their way to the West up through the Balkans, a million of whom had been promised asylum by German chancellor Angela Merkel. It was another piece of Farage’s anti-immigration propaganda. The argument runs that unless we get out of Europe, EU law will force us to take in more extra-European immigrants. And particularly Muslims, who are now the specific object of right-wing suspicion and hatred.

As Mike’s shown, the argument’s nonsense. Britain’s not part of the Schengen immigration area, and so doesn’t have to take in immigrants from outside Europe, who have sought refuge in one of these countries. The laws demanding Britain take in asylum seekers are UN treaties governing the rights of refugees, which obviously have nothing to do with the EU and will still be in place when we leave.

But Farage also got into serious trouble with the post because it was almost exactly like one put up by the Nazis protesting against Jewish refugees from eastern Europe trying to enter Germany. And there are more recent images from British neo-Nazi rags which also express the same type of bitter anti-immigrant sentiments.

I found this piccie of the cover of the British Nazi rag, The White Dragon, in Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s book on modern Nazi paganism, Black Sun. It seems to be of Hindu worshippers in the Ganges, but has been taken out of context and captioned ‘Welcome to Dover’. It’s from 1999, but could have come from any time up to the present.

Farage’s poster caused a storm of controversy, but the recent Tory victory and their promises of getting Brexit done have emboldened the islamophobes and racists. So can we expect more anti-immigration posters like UKIP’s? And will the Scum, the Depress or the Heil put a photo like this on their front pages when they issue another rant about non-White immigration?

Modeller’s Magazine on Building Kits of Real Spacecraft

December 21, 2019

Like many children in the ’70s I was into plastic model kits. I was particularly into air- and spacecraft, and so spent some of my free time and pocket money gluing together and painting kits of the Apollo Lunar Module and the mighty Saturn V rocket that took men to the Moon, the Space Shuttle, and a spaceship from the Science Fiction film and TV series, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I was therefore pleased to find looking through W.H. Smith’s magazine shelves that not only had the hobby not died out, but that manufacturers were producing models of contemporary spacecraft. You can find plastic model kits on sale at some hobby shops and in Waterstone’s, but these tend to be of military aircraft, usually, but not exclusively from the Second World War II, tanks, and high performance modern jet fighters. Spacecraft seem to be dominated by Star Wars. So it was a real surprise when I found Scale Modelling: Real Space.

The kits built and described are those of the International Space Station; the Retriever Rocket, designed in the 1950s by Werner von Braun as part of the original concept for the Moon Landings which was then abandoned; the early Redstone rocket which launched some of the first Mercury capsules; the American Skylab space station; the Chinese ‘Celestial Palace’ space station, formed from their Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 spacecraft; the French Ariane 5 rocket; the Russian Buran orbiter, their answer to the American Space Shuttle, which has been built but never flown; the Titan IIIC launcher; NASA’s Space Launch System heavy lifting rocket.

Interspersed with these are articles on some of the real spacecraft themselves, written by NASA scientist David Baker. These are on the history of the ISS, how the final Saturn V launch for Skylab was very nearly a disaster, and the station became a success, and the Space Launch System rocket and its Orion capsule.

The very last model kit of a real spacecraft I built was of the Jupiter C way back in the 1990s. This was one of the early rockets that launched one of America’s first satellites into orbit. I’m very glad that people are still enjoying the hobby and building models of the real spacecraft which are carrying men and women into orbit. I was very pleased indeed when James May in one of his programmes on boy’s hobbies of the past, tried to revive interest in plastic model kits for a new generation of boys and girls a few years ago. As part of it, he built a full-scale replica of a Spitfire as a plastic model kit, complete with a dummy pilot, whose face was his own. It was cast by the artist Esther Freud, using the same techniques used to create creature masks for SF/Fantasy/Horror movies.

This issue of the magazine celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings with these kits. As NASA, ESA, India, and China again discuss plans for a return to Earth’s airless companion world, I hope the magazine and the kits encourage and inspire more children to become interested in space and the great vehicles that take us there. 

 

 

Boris Johnson Declared Islamophobia ‘Natural Reaction’ to Islam

November 28, 2019

Mike also put up another excellent piece, pointing out that while the Tories are misdirecting people to look for massively over-exaggerated anti-Semitism in the Labour party, they have been actively promoting hatred against Muslims. According to the magazine Business Insider, in 2005 our comedy prime minister wrote in the Spectator that

To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia — fear of Islam — seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.

This was in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings, and Johnson questioned the loyalty of British Muslims and said that the country must realise that ‘Islam is the problem’.

Mike concludes ‘He’s not my prime minister. He is racist filth.’

Boris Johnson believes Islamophobia is a ‘natural reaction’ to Muslims. Let’s vote this racist OUT

No argument there from me, especially after Mates Jacobs has released a dossier of rabidly islamophobic, racist and anti-Semitic comments from the supporters of Jacob Rees-Mogg and our buffoonish Prime Minister. Not after Sayeeda Warsi has repeatedly demanding investigations into islamophobia in her party, and been condescendingly told that there’s little to worry about. Not when an inquiry into it has been pushed back after the General Election – presumably so that it won’t embarrass Johnson when it uncovers massive prejudice and hatred.

Now let’s put Johnson’s comments into their context. Many Brits understandably were worried about the possible danger from Islam after the 7/7 bombings on the London Underground and on buses. This was also a period when alienated Muslim youths marched through the street waving placards against the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, proclaiming that Islam would dominate the West and promising more violence and terrorism. But it is a mistake to claim that this alienation and rage represents true Islam, or comes from the pages of the Qu’ran.

In fact Islamism is the product of a distinct set of social and political circumstances. This includes the economic and political stagnation of Islamic societies, rising poverty and the bewilderment and dislocation felt by many Muslims to rapid modernisation. Some of the problems are due to the adoption of neoliberal economic programmes by secular Arab and Middle Eastern states, like Algeria, which have massively increased poverty. Some of it is a reaction to western colonialism and cultural and economic hegemony. And some of it is a response to real oppression by non-Muslim states around the world. Like there is massive discrimination and organised violence against Muslims, as well as Sikhs and Christians, by Hindu ultra-nationalists in India.

I studied Islam as part of my religious studies minor degree at College. Yes, Islam has expanded through violence and conquest, just as Christianity has. But it has also spread through peaceful contact and conversion. And the problems Islam is experiencing as it modernises aren’t unique to it. Christianity and the West experienced the same process in the 19th and 20th centuries. There were reactionaries in the Anglican Church in the 19th century, who were frightened of the extension of the franchise and political rights to Protestant Dissenters, Roman Catholics, and other religions. In the middle of the century the Papacy placed on its index of forbidden doctrines the idea that Roman Catholic countries should allow freedom of religion and conscience to non-Catholics. But now the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches as a whole very definitely are not anti-democratic, despite the attempts of General Franco and Roman Catholic clerico-Fascists during the Second World War. And aggressively atheist states like the Soviet Union have their own bloody history of intolerance. Religion was viciously persecuted in the USSR, and millions of people of faith, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or shamanist, were killed or imprisoned in the gulags for simply holding their beliefs. Nathan Johnson, surveying the vicious intolerance across secular, atheist as well as religious societies in his books on the mythology of New Atheism, has suggested that such intolerance may be part of human nature, rather than just unique to religion or a specific religion.

Islam also has a tolerant side. Christianity survived in the Balkans after the Turkish conquest because, when the Ottoman emperor wanted to force the Christian peoples to convert to Islam, the majlis, the assembly of Muslims scholars and jurists, told him it was specifically forbidden, for example. And even after the conquest, there were many areas in which Christian and Muslim lived side by side in peace. When Mike visited Bosnia after the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, he saw areas where churches and mosques had been built next to each other. Not the mark of an intolerant society, at least, not at that time.

Boris Johnson is, as Mike and so many others have repeatedly pointed out, a vicious racist. This is in sharp contrast to the Labour leader, who is a determined opponent of all forms of racism. Don’t believe him when he smears Labour as anti-Semitic.

And don’t let him get away with smearing Muslims. This is what the Tories are doing and have always done: manufacture hate against an out-group in order to gain power. They are doing it against the poor. They are doing it to the unemployed, to the disabled, to anybody, even working people, who claim benefits. And in the early part of the 20th century they did it to Jews. Now they’re doing it to Blacks, Asians and particularly Muslims.

A better world is possible. Reject the Tories and their prejudice and bigory, and vote for Corbyn and his anti-racism instead.

 

 

Unbelievable! Woman in Food Bank Says She’ll Vote for Boris

November 25, 2019

Okay, this is a bit of hearsay, as I didn’t see the piece on the news myself. But I’ve no doubt it’s true. Points West, the local Beeb news programme for the Bristol region, this past week went down to Avonmouth near Bristol to see what people there thought about the coming election and who they’d vote for. And one of the locations they filmed in was a food bank. One of the customers there, a woman, blandly told the interviewer that she intended to vote for Boris Johnson.

Say whaaaat!

Yes, she’d vote for Johnson. The man, whose party had forced a quarter of million people to use food banks through their punitive attitudes towards welfare and poverty. When the interviewer asked her about this, and told her she’d be voting Conservative, she apparently denied it. She would not be voting Tory, she said. She would be voting for Boris, because he was a strong man, who would get things done his way.

Er, no. Boris isn’t strong. He really isn’t!

Boris has been a massive failure as a Prime Minister so far. The last time I looked, he had managed to pass none, or almost none, of his policies through government. In fact his stance on Brexit had further split and alienated members of his own party, rather than unite them around a core of principles. Much of the effective work of government and politics generally is about negotiation and compromise, altering policies and decisions so that they overcome opposition enough to be passed by a majority. Boris Johnson is atrociously bad at that. He’s even worse than Tweezer, which is really saying something.

He only looks strong because he’s a massive egotist.

Boris is a massive narcissist with grandiose fantasies – about his own importance, and about the great projects he will achieve. He sees himself as a statesman of the same stamp as Winston Churchill, hence his biography of the wartime prime minister. But he comes nowhere near Churchill’s level, who in any case also committed some truly monstrous failures himself. Like Gallipolli, which killed and injured tens of thousands of allied troops, and the horrific Bengal Famine, which claimed the lives of 2 – 6 million Indian peasants. While mayor of London he threw away millions on three watercannons, which could never be used ’cause they’re illegal over here, a garden bridge that was never built, and various other vanity projects that have been massive white elephants. As a leader, he’s a disaster. But he’s very good at self-publicity. Although even here, he has arguably managed to antagonise and irritate as many people as he appealed to.

And the woman has exactly the same attitude that Hitler openly manipulated in his rise to power.

Yeah, I know I’ve just proved Godwin’s Law again: that sooner or later any debate on the internet will end in comparisons with the Nazis. But this is true, rather than just hyperbole. The woman, if she did say all this, has precisely the same mentality Hitler looked for in prospective voters. He aimed his propaganda at people we would now politely call ‘low information voters’. People, who were politically naive and poorly-informed. What he called ‘silly old women’. And he considered ordinary people themselves to be essentially passive and feminine. ‘The masses are like women’, he opined, ‘they want a strong man to lead them.’

Feminists and working class activists will naturally bridle at this, along with just about every self-respecting woman and member of the working or lower middle classes. But that was how Hitler saw women and the masses.

But as Paul Weller and the Style Council once sang, ‘You don’t have to take this crap’.

At the risk of being accused of ‘mansplaining’ or otherwise being condescending, here’s a bit of advice. Have a bit of self-respect. Educate and inform yourself about how the Tories regard you, how they manipulate you into voting against your own interests. Don’t let them use cynical appeals based on personal strength – whether in a man, Boris, or a woman, Tweezer, to trick you into voting for them. Vote instead for people who will genuinely empower you, rather than themselves and their upper class chums.

And that can only mean Corbyn and the Labour party. 

 

Anton Petrov Shows Paintings of a Space Future that Never Came

October 19, 2019

And now for something a bit more cheerful. Anton Petrov is the Russian presenter of the YouTube show, ‘What Da Math’, about space and astronomy. The video below is the second part of his tribute to the Russian cosmonaut, Alexey Leonov, who passed away on October 11th, 2019. Leonov was the first man to make a spacewalk, but as his previous video also showed, he was also an artist. He worked with another artist, Andrei Sokolov, on the illustrations for a number of popular science books. Petrov’s earlier video showed some of them. This is a longer look at those paintings, which Petrov dedicates to those who dedicate their lives to inspiring humanity.

The paintings shown are truly beautiful. Yes, there are landscapes of the dull grey moons and the metal  of rockets and space stations against the black of space. But it’s also a universe of rich, deep colour – vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens – the light of alien suns on the unearthly landscapes of distant worlds. They’re depictions of a future that never arrived, done when it seemed that Russia would win the space race and Communism would lead humanity to a more prosperous, technological future of international proletarian brotherhood. Progressive humanity would at last realise its destiny and conquer space, moving outward to space stations, the moon and then the rest of the Solar system and the stars beyond. It never happened. Communism collapsed, and the Soviets lost the space race. They had a record of spectacular firsts – first satellite, first man in space, first space walk, a series of successful probes to the planets and a solid record of prolonged life and research in orbit in the Salyut space stations. But they were beaten to the Moon by the Americans. The massive N1 rockets that would have taken them there kept blowing up until the programme was finally cancelled. Instead of sending a man, the Russians had to send instead an automated rover, the Lunakhod. In itself, this is no mean achievement, but it couldn’t match that of Armstrong, Aldrin and their successors. But these paintings look forward to that failed future.

However, it’s possible that something like the future they envisaged may yet come to be. Not created solely by the Russians, of course, but by all the other countries that are now entering space. Nations like India and China, as well as America, Britain and France, Germany and Switzerland with their designs for space shuttles. And if the Space Age really is going to arrive at last, it’s been a very long time coming. It’s fifty years since Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon, and some of us would humanity to return for good. The Space Race always was somewhat artificial in that it was driven by largely political reasons, as both the Soviets and Americans tried to show which of their systems was superior by outperforming the other. But if the head of the Russian space programme, Sergei Korolyov had not died, but had lived to guide the design and construction of the N1, I think the situation might have been very different today. The N1 might have become a success, and the Russians just might have sent their own people to the Moon. They may not have beaten the Americans, but they would have come a very close second. And if that had happened, I don’t doubt that we’d have had a permanent base on the Moon. Just to make sure that the Soviets didn’t have all the place to themselves.

According to Petrov, the paintings themselves were taken from old postcards which are very difficult to get hold of. This is a pity, as these are paintings that would, I am sure, find an audience among western as well as Russian space fans and enthusiasts. There is a market for books and albums of SF and Fantasy art. Waterstones even has on its SF, Fantasy and Horror shelves collections of 100 postcards of Science Fiction book covers. Some of the published histories of SF, like John Clute’s Science Fiction: An Illustrated History – use illustrations from the novels, pulps and other magazines. There is thus space available, if I may use that phrase, for a similar volume of Russian and eastern European space art. Tarkovsky’s great Science Fiction films, Solaris and Stalker, are considered to be two of the classics of SF cinema. Similarly the Czech SF film, Ikarus IE was shown a couple of years ago at a British cinema. So why not a showcase of Russian and eastern European space art?

Petrov in his tribute was pessimistic about public interest in science, quoting a Russian film director, Kushantsev, who believed that there was no demand for popular science. In his opinion, people had regressed to the level of animals, wanting only to eat and sleep. I think this is too pessimistic. I can’t comment on Russia, but there certainly is a great interest in space and astronomy in Britain and America, as shown by the numerous series Brian Cox has churned out for the Beeb. Since the fall of Communism, western countries have filmed at Star City, the Russian centre of their space programme covering astronauts training for their missions to the International Space Station. Wannabe space tourists were offered the opportunity to train there themselves a few years ago, for the modest fee of £7,000. Russia is the country not just of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, but also Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the deaf school teacher who investigated the problems of space travel and living in space in the 19th century. I therefore feel sure that there is an opening for a series on space fact, perhaps something like the British Sky At Night, on television presented from Russia, but perhaps with an international team.

In the meantime, however, we can admire these paintings. And I hope Anton Petrov, and other YouTube broadcasters on space and astronomy, like John Michael Godier and Isaac Arthur, will continue to educate and inspire new generations of humanity on their channels. 

Lobster Reviews Boris Johnson’s Biography of Churchill

October 9, 2019

There have been a couple of deeply critical reviews of books by leading Tories. Last fortnight Private Eye reviewed and dissected David Cameron’s self-serving tome. In it, Cameron tries persuading the rest of his that his time at No. 10 resulted in us all being more prosperous, with a strong economy and political stability. The satirical magazine trashed this nonsense by showing instead that Cameron comprehensively wrecked Britain by calling the referendum on EU membership.  And last week Lobster added to its number for Winter 2019 a review by John Newsinger of Boris Johnson’s 2014 biography of Churchill.

Newsinger is the professor emeritus of history at one of the universities in Bath. As such, he knows what he’s talking about – and makes it very clear that BoJob, on the other hand, doesn’t. It’s a comprehensive demolition of both Johnson’s book and the aspirations behind it. Newsinger argues that Johnson’s reason for writing this unnecessary piece – there are hundred of others published every year – is not to prevent Churchill from being forgotten, as he claims, but to try to burnish his own reputation through identification with Churchill. And it’s here that Newsinger is also brilliantly critical. He makes it very clear that Churchill was far from the greatest of the great men, who make history, as Johnson seems to believe. He was a deeply flawed man, who enjoyed war for the opportunities it gave him and members of his class for greatness, while viewing those lower down the social scale as mere cannon fodder. The review begins

When this book was first published back in 2014 it did not seem to be worth the trouble reviewing. It was a truly appalling volume that no one except the right-wing press could possibly take seriously; and they only praised it to advance the career of its author. As a supposed biographical study of Winston Churchill it was altogether worthless, even worse than Johnson’s earlier ‘histories’ of the Roman Empire and London and they were pretty dire. And dire books are obviously a reflection of their author. Johnson is a serial liar and casual racist, a homophobe, a sexist and a xenophobe. He is akin to a cross
between Benny Hill and Benito Mussolini: completely without principles, wholly
irresponsible and unfit for any public office. However, as we know, the incredible has happened and a desperate Conservative Party has actually installed him as Prime Minister! Thus, the book is now worth some critical attention – not for anything it has to say about Churchill but, as I have already indicated, for what it tells us about the author.

Churchill’s reputation for heroic leadership during the War is the product of very careful state propaganda comparable to Stalin’s. He had nothing in common with ordinary people. He didn’t meet them and only once used public transport. As for Churchill’s concern for ordinary people, Johnson believes he found it in the great warleader’s concern for his nanny. Newsinger bitingly observes that only a public schoolboy could think that concern for their nanny equals concern for ordinary people.

Newsinger is also suitably derisive about Johnson’s claim that Churchill resonated with the British public for four reasons. These are 1) our national sense of humour, 2) our massive capacity for booze, 3) our suspicion of people who are unusually thin, and 4) our view of Britain as the homeland of eccentrics. Newsinger comments

Really! It is difficult to know what to make of this moronic garbage. The whole discussion is positively embarrassing. One is shocked that the author of this nonsense is a Member of Parliament, let alone the Prime Minister, and can only hope that the book never falls into the hands of someone studying for their History GCSE.

As for Churchill not being a warmonger, Newsinger acknowledges that Churchill fought bravely in the campaign against the Mahdi in the Sudan, and in the Anglo-South African War. The battle of Omdurman was more of a massacre than a battle. British casualties number only 48, while 16,000 Sudanese were killed, many of them when they were trying to surrender or lying wounded. Newsinger does, however, credit Churchill with opposing the shooting and bayoneting of the wounded. As for Churchill not being a warmonger, Newsinger writes

Quite how he squares this with his account of how Churchill ‘loved’ – yes, loved – war is
difficult to see. On one occasion, Churchill actually told Margot Asquith that war was ‘delicious’ – and this was during the horror that was the First World War. He was ‘excited by war’ and ‘without war he knew there could be no glory – no real chance to emulate Napoleon, Nelson or his ancestor Marlborough’. ‘War sent the adrenalin spurting from his glands’. (pp. 168-169) But while he ‘loved’ war, he did not support wars of aggression. Once again, this is so much nonsense. In 1914 Britain was a satisfied Empire intent on holding on to what it had already conquered but, as soon as the war began, the country’s war aims encompassed the dividing up of enemy colonies with its allies. As Johnson himself admits, the British Empire was in control of 9 per cent more of the world after the War than it had been before. This was not just by chance. This was what the war was really all about, what millions had died for – that and the glorification of men like Churchill.

Johnson admires Churchill’s support for all the reforms brought in while he was a liberal under Asquith, reforms Newsinger notes were opposed by the Tories at the time. He also tries to give Churchill credit for the achievements of Attlee’s government, though objects to the pension age having been lowered from 70 to 65. He states that the government will have to correct this, which, as Newsinger also notes, will leave millions with no pension entitlement.

Johnson also tries to equate Churchill’s own views and policies towards India with that of himself and his relations with the EU. He claims that Churchill largely ignored India, and was chiefly concerned with positioning himself as the successor to Stanley Baldwin. But this ignores the fact that Churchill was determined to maintain the British position in India. He also doesn’t mention the Bengal Famine, which killed three million Indians, which Churchill caused. He does mention it in his previous book on The Spirit of London, which Newsinger also criticises in the review. Johnson gives it two, very critical comments in that book. However, Johnson isn’t alone in ignoring the Famine. And he doesn’t include it because it would cast doubt on his view of Churchill as the great man, and the British Empire as a benevolent institution towards the indigenous peoples.

Newsinger particularly attacks one chapter in Johnson’s book about the great man’s errors and mistakes. These are given ratings for the Churchill Factor and the Fiasco Factor. Newsinger calls it the most stupid part of the book. Gallipolli, which resulted in 55,000 British and imperial troops dead and 123,000 wounded. Johnson gives this debacle a rating of 10 in each category. Newsinger writes

what that actually means is anyone’s guess. While Johnson is attempting to be witty, what he actually displays is an astonishing degree of callous disregard for the immense suffering and enormous loss of life that the battle cost. In many ways, this sums up his own particular version of the Great Man view of History.

He also comments that when Johnson describes how Churchill was regarded with distaste and suspicion by the Conservatives in 1940 as an outsider and ‘rotter’, he’s talking about himself. The difference, however, is that by that time Churchill had considerable experience in government. The promiscuous Johnson also seems somewhat concerned about Churchill’s sexual appetite, or lack of it. He finds this remarkable in a man with such otherwise titanic appetites. As Newsinger says, this tells us nothing about Churchill but much about Johnson. And he concludes

One thing that we can be certain of is that, whatever one thinks of Churchill, there is no way he would ever have let someone like Boris Johnson anywhere near the levers of power.

This is an article that deserves to be read because it lays bare how Johnson regards himself and Churchill, and exposes some of the myths about Churchill that we’re still taught through the mass media. If you want to read it, it’s at

https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster78/lob78-churchill-factor.pdf

RAF Pilot Set to Join Branson Satellite Programme

October 6, 2019

There were a couple of really great, fascinating science stories in Friday’s I newspaper, which I’d like to cover before I get to the political stuff of attacking and refuting Boris Johnson, the Tories, and other right-wing nonsense.

One of these was the report that the RAF had selected a pilot to join the crews set to fly Cosmic Girl, an adapted 747 developed by Branson’s company, Virgin Orbit, send satellites into space. The article by Ewan Somerville, titled ‘RAF pilot gets space wings as first to join satellite programme’ on page 15 of the newspaper for Friday, 4th October 2019, ran

The Royal Air Force is heading for new heights after selecting its first pilot to join a space programme.

Flight Lieutenant Mathew Stannard has been assigned to a new £30m Ministry of Defence project. He will swap the cockpit of a Typhoon jet to fly a modified 747-400 plane, called Cosmic Girl, to launch satellites into orbit from mid-air, marking a “significant step” for British space endeavours.

A partnership between the RAF and space company Virgin Orbit to develop space technology, a response to billions of dollars being spent by the US, China and India, was unveiled at the Air Space Power conference in July.

Flt Lt Stannard hailed the programme a “truly unique opportunity” adding: “This programme is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of space so it’s a real privilege to be part of it and I’m looking forward to bring the skills and knowledge I gain back to the RAF.”

Over three years, Flt Lt Stannard will join several test pilots to send satellites into space from 30,000ft using a launcher attached to the Boeing 747’s fuselage. Freed from the need to launch from the ground, hi-tech satellites, developed by Britain, weighing only 300kg and described by Flt Lt Stannard as “the size of a washing machine”, could be launched from anywhere worldwide.

The RAF already has a similar small satellite, Carbonite 2, in orbit and plans for a “constellation” of them to provide HD imaging, video and secure communications. 

The mission is design to ensure Britain is not target by foreign powers for lacking its own space capabilities. It comes as the UK is due to send eight military personnel to join Operation Olympic Defender, a US-led coalition to deter “hostile acts in space” over the next 12 months.

I’m another British satellite launcher is being developed, even if the plane is made by Boeing, an American company. I’m also glad that the RAF have supplied an officer, as previous efforts to get a Brit into space have been hampered by squabbling within the armed forces. Before Helen Sharman became the first British person to go into space with the Russians to Mir, Britain was offered the opportunity by the Americans of sending an astronaut to go aboard the space shuttle. The army, air force and navy all put their men forward, and the scheme failed because of the wrangling over which one should be chosen.

I am not, however, altogether optimistic about this project as it’s a space company owned by Beardie Branson. How long has his company, Virgin Galactic, been claiming that ‘next year’ they’ll send the first tourists into space? Since the 1990s! I can see this one similarly stretching on for years. I have far more confidence in Orbex and their spaceship and launch complex now being built in Scotland.

As for using an aircraft as the first stage to send spacecraft into orbit, this was extensively discussed by the aircraft designers David Ashcroft and Patrick Collins in their book Your Spaceflight Manual: How You Could Be A Tourist in Space Within Twenty Years (London: Headline 1990). After discussing some of the classic spaceplane concepts of the past, like the XIB rocket plane and the Dynosoar, they also describe the design by the French aerospace company, Dassault, of 1964-7. This would have consisted of a supersonic jet capable of reaching Mach 4 as the first stage. The second stage would have been a rocket which would have flown at Mach 8, and used fuel from the first stage launcher. The whole vehicle was designed to be reusable.

The two authors also proposed their own designs for composite, two-stage spaceplanes, Spacecab and SpaceBus. These would have consisted of a jet-propelled first stage, which would piggy-back a much smaller rocket-driven orbiter. They estimated that Spacebus’ cost per flight would be higher than that of a 747, but much, much less than the space shuttle. It would be an estimated $250,000 against the Shuttle’s $300 million. Space bus was designed to carry 50 passengers, at a cost to each of $5,000. The pair also estimated that it would need $2bn to fund the development of a prototype Spacecab, and believed that the total development cost would be $10bn, the same as the similar Sanger concept then being developed in Germany. Although expensive, this would have been less than the $20bn set aside for the construction of the Freedom Space Station.

It’s a pity Ashcrofts and Collins’ spaceplane was not developed, though hardly unsurprising. Space research is very expensive, and the British government has traditionally been very reluctant to spend anything on space research since the cancellation of Black Arrow in 1975. The pair were also writing at the end of the 1980s, when there was little interest in the private development of spaceflight. This changed with the X-Prize in the 1990s so that we now have several private space companies, such as Elon Musk’s and Jeff Bezos’ outfits, competing to develop launchers, as well as Orbex. Hopefully, sooner or later, someone will start taking paying passengers into space and developing space industry. But somehow I doubt it’ll be Branson.

Labour Promises State Pharmaceutical Company to Guarantee Affordable Drugs

September 25, 2019

This is really going to drive the Tories and the private healthcare companies that are funding them and dictating policy on the NHS up the wall. According to today’s I for 25th September 2019, Jeremy Corbyn has declared that Labour would set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company to make sure everyone had access to affordable medicines. It’s discussed in the article ‘Corbyn vows to ‘put power back into the hands of the people’ by Nigel Morris on page 17. The article states

Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour would would set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company to provide cheaper life-saving medicines to all patients regardless of their wealth.

Insisting that the “tide is turning” against the Conservatives, he urged activists to prepare for an election victory that would “put the power back into the hands of the people.”

The Labour leader, whose address was brought forward 24 hours following the Supreme Court judgment on the Prime Minister’s decision to close parliament, won cheers as he denounced pharmaceutical companies which deny vital medicines to ill patients by charging extortionate prices.

And he promised that Labour would redesign the system to “serve public health, not private health” by ensuring all patients had access to generic versions of patented medicines.

Mr Corbyn cited the case of nine-year old with cystic fibrosis, Luis Walker, who is denied the drug he needs because its manufacturer refuses to provide it at a modest price. “Luis, and tens of thousands of others suffering from illnesses like cystic fibrosis, hepatitis C and breast cancer, are being denied life-saving medicines by a system that puts profits for share-holders before people’s lives,” he said.

This is excellent, but it’s really going to rile Trump and his attempts to get his hand on Britain’s NHS. The exorbitant prices charged by the pharmaceutical industry is a continuing scandal in America. A few years ago, Martin Shkreli, the head of one of the American drug companies, found himself vilified when it was revealed that under him his company and massively increased a drug used to treat AIDS to several hundred dollars per tablet from only a couple of dollars. The reason? He didn’t want it bought by poor Indians. The American private healthcare system is such an expensive sham that one of the campaign groups put a video about it up on YouTube, narrated by Stephen Fry. This opened by revealing that in America, simply calling an ambulance can get you charged $200 +. The whole point of the video was to warn people about the dangers to the NHS posed by the Fuhrage and the Brexit party. Farage is in favour of introducing private healthcare, like America. And Trump wants to get his mitts on the NHS. One of the things that annoys him about the NHS, quite apart from the fact that it’s supposed to provide free healthcare, is that it also acts at the moment to stop the American pharmaceutical companies charging what they like. Farage, of course, isn’t the only right-winger to hate the NHS. So do the Tories and the Blairites. They’re just quieter about it.

The only people you can trust with the NHS is Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

The article also mentioned some of the other policies Labour were putting forward, stating that Corbyn had received standing ovation after standing ovation for them. In the words of the article, Corbyn

vowed to repeal Thatcherite trade union legislation, introduce a £10 an hour living wage, nationalise railways, mail, water and the National Grid, and trigger a “record investment blitz ” in the UK’s infrastructure.

The Labour leader denounced Boris Johnson as part of “an elite that disdains democracy” who was not fit to be in Downing Street and demanded his resignation.

All absolute correct. And you can see how much the Tories disdain democracy by the frenzied denunciations of the 11 Supreme Court judges by the Tory press. Who really can’t stand the fact that we live in a constitutional country, governed by the rule of law, rather than the arbitrary whim of an unelected populist leader. Like Putin. Or Boris as he’d like to be.

We definitely need Corbyn to be put in No. 10. The health of our people, and the prosperity of our country, and the security of our democracy absolutely depends on it.

 

More Nationalist Bigotry from Johnson as He Sneers at EU Leaders

July 21, 2019

Boris Johnson and his supporters preparing for government.

Mike put up a post yesterday reporting some of the recorded view of Boris Johnson on the leaders of various EU countries. In this case, they were Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emanuel Macron and the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. And as you would expect, they aren’t flattering.

Johnson apparently has raised and pondered the question whether Merkel was a member of the Stasi. Well, she does come from the former East Germany. However, I think she’s a Lutheran Christian, in which case the answer is, no, almost certainly not. Christians and other people of faith in the former Soviet bloc were harshly persecuted. It wasn’t illegal to hold services, but if you actually taught the doctrines of your religion in the former Soviet Union, you would be arrested. If you held a religious service in your home, not only would the secret police arrest you and everyone else there, but they’d also demolish your house if you were lucky enough to have a private residence. Some determined Protestants in the former DDR used to worship in the Anglican Church attached to the British embassy. See one of the chapters in the book, Why I am an Anglican, which contains testimony from a number of leading public figures, including Ian Hislop. Though I don’t blame you if his inclusion puts you off. Given the immense suspicion Merkel would have been under if she had been a practising Christian, I doubt very much she was a member of the Stasi.

But this is just a simple nationalistic jibe at her just ’cause she’s German and he doesn’t like her. She comes from the from East Germany, and so, to Boris, that means that she has to me some kind of totalitarian monster. However, as she’s a member of the Christian Democrats, the German equivalent of the Conservatives, he can hardly accuse her of being Commie. Still, I suppose we should be glad that he didn’t fall back on the old sneers and jokes that as she’s German, she must be a Nazi. I really wouldn’t put it past some of the Eurosceptics in the Tory party and peeps in UKIP and the Brexit party to make jokes about the German leaders all being Nazis, all while goose stepping about party headquarters with their fingers under their lips and their hands up in the air in a mock Nazi salute, guffawing and making comments like ‘Don’t mention the war!’ after that episode of Fawlty Towers.

Going on to the French president, BoJo called him a ‘jumped-up Napoleon’. Which surprised me, as I didn’t think Macron was a general in the French army or that he wanted to invade the rest of Europe. He’s a determined supporter of the EU, and as the Eurosceptic brigade are convinced the EU is descended from the plans of Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler to create a united Europe, all under their leadership, of course, it’s probably inevitable that Boris would compare him to the French emperor. Especially as the EU was mooting plans for a common European army. I thought on the other hand, that rather than being a megalomaniac military dictator, Macron was simply a bog-standard Neoliberal desperately trying to promote its policies of unfettered free enterprise and austerity, even though it was wrecking his country’s economy and society.

Johnson also seems to have found Varadkar’s surname difficult to get his head around, leading to another nationalist sneer. He’s reported to have asked why the Taoiseach wasn’t called Murphy like the rest of his countrymen. We’re heading dangerously close to the really offensive racist stereotypes here. He didn’t say it, but it’s close to referring to the Irish as ‘Pads’ and ‘Micks’. The reason why Varadkar has this as his surname is because his antecedents were Indian. It’s a reflection of the growing multiculturalism of modern Irish society. Which Johnson obviously can’t quite get his head around. But perhaps we should be grateful he only made a xenophobic sneer about the Irish, and didn’t say something really racist about Varadkar himself because of his Indian heritage.

The article Mike cites for this states that Johnson is planning a European tour, including Paris, Berlin and Dublin, if he wins the Tory leadership. The snippet Mike includes on his blog says that Johnson might have a few bumps ahead of him. The other EU leaders don’t trust him because of his long history of lying and frequent comparisons of the EU to Nazi Germany. And they don’t like his British exceptionalism, which is demonstrated in the above sneering remarks.

Absolutely not. But then, what can you expect from the man, who, when he was head of the Foreign Office, described the French as ‘turds’? Actually, I’m surprised Johnson, who tries so hard to project an image of himself as someone from the Tory past, didn’t use the 17th-19th century racist term for them, Nic Crapaud, from the French word for ‘frog’, crapaud. I can’t speak French, but I think the word’s pronounced ‘crapo’, which is how I feel about him and all the other Tory candidates.

Johnson was a disaster at the Foreign Office, who seemed determined to make tensions with the Russians even worse than actually soothe them. And in Thailand he opened his mouth and started reciting Kipling’s ‘Road to Mandalay’ in the country’s holiest Buddhist temple. What’s worse, he really didn’t know how that could possibly be offensive to his hosts. He had to be told it was inappropriate by the ambassador.

If Boris gets in, he’s likely to alienate Britain even further from the other European nations as well as other countries around the world. And we’re going to need them as trading partners after we leave the EU. And it’s especially dangerous regarding Northern Ireland. There have already been terrorist outrages in the Six Counties because of the collapse of the power-sharing agreement at Stormont and uncertainty over the border with Eire. The very last thing the people of Ulster and the rest of Britain need is Boris fanning the flames of Nationalist resentment over there even further with racist stereotypes and sneers.

Ah, but I forgot! He’s not bothered about them, because he’s a big fan of Trump. As is Nigel Farage. They believe Trump will give us a good trade deal. But that must include the NHS – Trump has said that nothing must be off the table.

And despite the hollow assurance by the Tories that they’re not going to give it to him, this is precisely what Johnson, Farage and the rest of the Tories and Brexit party want to do.