Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

Lobster: Sunday Times Ran MI5 Smear Stories against Maurice Oldfield

March 10, 2018

It seems that the Sunset Times has a long history of smearing people for the powers that be, and that the libel about Mike being an anti-Semite and Holocaust Denier is just the latest of these vile smears.

I found this interesting little snippet in Lobster’s review of Martin Dillon’s The Enemy Within: The IRA’s War against the British (London: Doubleday 1994), in issue 30, page 41. It reads

Stories about Maurice Oldfield ’emanated from the ongoing conflict between MI5 and MI6… MI5 used RUC Special Branch to circulate stories about Oldfield going to the town of Comber to pick up young men (and) that the ageing spy chief was involved in the Kincora boys’ home in East Belfast. (p. 192). (This story, I seem to remember, was first run through the Sunday Times).

The Kincora Boys’ Home was the centre of a major scandal in the late 1970s, when it was revealed that the children in the care home were being sent out to be abused by high-ranking members of the Loyalist community in Ulster.

Going forward in time, it was either the Sunday Times, or its sister paper, the Times, that smeared Michael Foot, the former Labour leader, as a KGB spy, codename ‘Comrade Boot’. Foot did what Mike intends to do, and sued. He won. But obviously the paper hasn’t learned anything, and is still merrily flinging mud for the benefit of the Tories and the Israel lobby.


Open Britain Video Showing May’s Decision for Hard Border in Northern Ireland

March 2, 2018

I get regular emails from Open Britain, an all-party organisation supporting the EU and opposing the Hard Brexit so beloved of Boris, Mogg, Gove and the rest of the right-wing grotesques. Earlier today I got this email from them, issued by Chuka Umunna, promoting their video, which clearly shows Tweezer stating that she’s backing a hard border in the Northern Ireland.

The email ran:

It was the last chance for the Prime Minister to finally face down the Brextremists in her party and do what is in the best interests of the country. But, yet again, she failed to do so. Her speech offered no new solutions, just more empty soundbites.

As the Brexit process continues, facts are coming to light which no-one could have known at the time of the referendum. Nobody voted for a £40bn Brexit divorce bill, or for fewer nurses and less money for our NHS.

And on the key issue of Northern Ireland, Theresa May today had almost nothing new to say. Perhaps that’s because she knows her ‘red lines’ have made avoiding a hard border impossible. Yesterday we revealed a video showing that, in the days leading up to the referendum, Theresa May told the truth – that hard Brexit means having a hard border.

this video has already been viewed by over 191,000 people in just the past 24 hours. But we need everyone to see it, so they know the truth about the damage that Theresa May’s Brexit plans will really do. So please share the video and spread the word.

Please SHARE this video with friends and family on Facebook and Twitter so everybody knows what Theresa May really thinks on how her hard Brexit plans will hit Northern Ireland.

The video’s on Facebook at:

Mike’s already blogged about how May supports a hard border in Ulster. And more than enough people have pointed out that a vital condition of the Good Friday Agreement was that there should be an open border between the Six Counties and Eire. If May and her gang close that border, then it threatens to return us to the very dark days of the Troubles.

But I doubt Tweezer is bothered by that.

Thatcher used the Troubles and the threat of Nationalist violence for all the publicity she could get. She portrayed herself as standing proud, like some Boudicaa or Winston Churchill facing down the Romans and Nazis, never willing to budge one inch against the IRA.

It was all lies.

At the same time she was posing as Britain’s defender against Fenianism, she and her government were deep in negotiations with those very same Irish Nationalists. At the very time she was vilifying the Labour party as traitors, because they were publicly advocating the same policy. Which shows how mendacious and utterly two-faced she was.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Tweezer and the Hard Brexit Tories didn’t think that they could do the same. Fix a hard border in Ulster, and then, when the province descends into chaos and the terrorists begin bombing, they can once again win over a frightened British public by posing as our ardent defenders. Even when it is her party’s policy that has created the murder and bloodshed in the first place.

And do you know what shattered Thatcher’s intransigence, and brought her round to the negotiating table with the IRA and Sinn Fein?

It wasn’t the hundreds of innocents butchered by the men of violence – Nationalist and Loyalist – in Ulster, including our courageous troops. It was because the IRA bombed Canary Wharf. That showed that they could bring down the very heart of British finance capitalism.

Ordinary lives don’t matter to the Tories. But the banks must always be protected and promoted.

Tweezer and the Tories are destroying Britain, and threatening more death and destruction in Ulster for their own electoral gain and stupid, free market ideologies. Get them out. Support Corbyn’s Labour and closer ties with the EU.
Before Tweezer and her cronies try to portray her as the second coming of Maggie Thatcher, and start exploiting the violence they have helped cause.

More Lies and Bilge from Boris: Hard Brexit Will Not Mean Hard Border in Northern Ireland, Because Camden and London

February 28, 2018

I lost patience with Boris Johnson a very long time ago. As one of the columnists in the I wrote a week or so ago, Johnson’s a politician, not anyone’s gaffe-prone friend. Quite. He’s a ruthless politician, and his image as some kind of lovable oaf, or so he imagines himself, is a weapon he wields in order to gain a popular following. He’s a very nasty, ruthless intriguer, as shown by the way he started out supporting ‘Remain’, and then jumped ship and stabbed David Cameron in the back. He would undoubtedly argue that he did so because he was persuaded by the ‘Leave’ campaigners arguments. To me it just seems to me that he changed his views quite cynically because he though that the Leavers offered him a better chance of getting the top job.

As for the gaffes, there’s nothing cute or amusing about them. If they only embarrassed Johnson, it would be a different matter. But they embarrass the country, make international tensions worse, and have seen years added to an innocent woman’s jail term by a tyrannical regime, in the case of the British Iranian woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, accused of spying by the Iranians. She wasn’t. She was visiting her Iranian family for the New Year. But that didn’t bother Boris and his mate, Michael Gove, who immediately shot their mouths off and gave the Mullahs more ammunition with which to persecute this poor woman. There is nothing remotely cute or funny about the incident, which on its own clearly shows Johnson’s complete lack of competence to serve as Foreign Secretary.

Now BoJo has opened his mouth once again, to claim that Brexit won’t lead to the return of a hard border between Ulster and the Republic. Why? Because there’s a border between Camden and another part of London, which millions of people pass through every day, and they are not stopped or inconvenienced by a hard border with checkpoints. The government just takes the money from the costs of their transport.

Johnson’s remark has been widely ridiculed for the obvious reason: the border between Camden and the rest of London is absolutely not like the border between Northern Ireland and Eire. Camden and London are both in Britain, unless Johnson has plans otherwise. It is not an international border, while the border between Ulster and Eire is.

And the danger with Brexit is that if there isn’t a very carefully negotiated open border between the two parts of the Emerald Isle, the Good Friday Agreement will collapse, and we will once again be mired in the bloody conflict of the Troubles, which took so many lives and maimed and ruined so many others. I was at school during it, and can remember the IRA’s bombing campaign over here. The last thing I want is a return to the murder and killing.

And I’m heartily sick of Johnson’s lies and the sheer rubbish he spouts. He lied repeatedly about Britain’s contribution to the EU, claiming that after Brexit it would go to the NHS. It didn’t, and Johnson was there spinning madly, trying to get out of the fact that this lie was spread across the sides of buses across the country. Then a month or so ago, he revived the lie again. And again.

I don’t know if he honestly believes this latest piece of rubbish, or if it’s a very cynical piece of rhetoric intended to win people over to his side. Because Boris is media celeb, who’s been on Have I Got News For You, and so it must be true. In some ways, it doesn’t matter, because if Johnson does get his way with a hard Brexit, we will see a hard border in Northern Ireland, and that will lead to increased conflict between Nationalists and Loyalists. If it doesn’t automatically lead to outright violence.

Once again Boris has opened his mouth, and the consequences of what he plans are horrific. He’s incompetent, a liar, and a ruthless self-publicist. And others are paying dearly for his so-called ‘gaffes’. And I’ve had my fill of him. Get him out of government now, before his stupidity leads us back to the horrors of sectarian violence. His stupidity has already got one innocent woman spending more years in jail. If he’s in charge of Brexit, it could end with nothing less than mass murder and assassination.

Radio 4 Programme on Douglas Adams, and New Series of Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

February 27, 2018

This Saturday, 3rd March 2018, Radio 4 are broadcasting a programme on Douglas Adams and his ideas for the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, based on papers at Cambridge University. The programme’s part of their Archive Hour series, at 8.00 O’clock in the evening. The blurb for it on page 119 of the Radio Times reads

John Lloyd explores a collection of Douglas Adams’ private papers written as the latter’s ideas for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy took shape.

There’s a bit more about the programme on the previous page, 118, which runs

Don’t Panic! It’s the Douglas Adams Papers

As part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast on Radio 4 of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a new series begins on Radio 4 on Thursday. It includes unused material held at Cambridge University by author Douglas Adams, and Adams’ papers are the basis of his friend and collaborator John Lloyd’s tribute this evening. The tribute inevitably hinges on Adams’ famous inability to write. He “got stuck”. But the results of his anguish impressed such fans as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, both of whom appear. A priceless homage to a comedy genius.

And there’s a two-page feature on him on pages 114 & 115.

The new series of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is on Radio 4 at 6.30, on Thursday 8th March. The new series’ entitled The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase, and the listing for it in the Radio Times runs

Simon Jones returns as Arthur Dent in a new sci-fi comedy tale based on Dirk Maggs’ novel And Another Thing, with additional material by creator Douglas Adams. It sees Arthur and the rest in an adventure involving Viking Gods and Irish confidence tricksters-not to mention the first glimpse of the Eccentrica Gallumbits.

I don’t think I’ll be listening to it, as I went off Hitchhiker and Adams way back in the 1990s. I loved the first two books, but their quality steadily went down, and I’ve had no desire to read the Dirk Gently stories or anything else Adams’ wrote. And I also wasn’t impressed by the way Adams got very sniffy in an interview on the radio with Paxman, when Paxo told him he wrote science fiction, ‘but it was good’, and Adams denied that he did. Hitchhiker clearly is SF, but it seems Adams either didn’t respect the genre due to literary snobbishness, or simply didn’t want to be pigeonholed as an SF writer. I can also remember him on another radio programme back in the 1990s telling an audience of schoolchildren that he was a ‘wordsmith’. I’m sure that’s true, in the sense that Adams was genuinely concerned with making sure his work was exactly right, but it still sounds more than a little pretentious and conceited when the uses the term to describe himself.

George Galloway Declares Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson are Madmen

February 3, 2018

This is another great little video from RT. And I agree one hundred percent.

It seems to be part of a speech Galloway was making in Derry, in Northern Ireland, about the need for nuclear disarmament, and the hollowness of the pretext for the invasion of other nations on the grounds that they have atomic weapons. Galloway asks rhetorically if it’s because they’re ruled by madmen. Well, so are we. There’s a madman in the White House. Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and is ruled by Benjamin Netanyahu: a madman. Theresa May is not a madman, but she isn’t strong and stable either. And who comes after her? Boris Johnson – a madman. Jacob Rees-Mogg with his double-breasted pajamas? A madman. Would you trust either of those two with their hands on the button? And they called Corbyn mad, because he said he would not press the button and end all human life, and indeed, all life on this planet, if we were attacked.

Here’s the video:

In fairness, neither would Ted Heath. It turns out that the instructions he gave the commander of the nuclear subs if Britain were attacked during the Cold War was not to launch their missiles. They were simply to sail away to New Zealand or Australia, and enjoy the rest of their lives. There’d be no point returning fire, as Britain would have been completely destroyed.

Which no doubt was one reason Maggie Thatcher and the rest of her bloodthirsty clique, who were all gearing up to war with the USSR, hated him and stabbed him in the back.

Another Empty Promise from May: ‘I’m Getting What the British Public Wants from Brexit’

February 2, 2018

Another vapid, empty piece of spin from Tweezer. I heard this today on the breakfast news, and really couldn’t let it go.

Over the past few days, May has been running around trying to negotiate trade deals with the Chinese. When asked about the negotiations to leave the EU, May responded ‘I’m getting what the British public want from Brexit’.

It’s a bald lie. For a start, a large part of the British population didn’t vote ‘Leave’. The majority of Scots and Ulster people voted to remain. It’s only the English that voted to leave the EU. And an increasing number of them have changed their minds, so there’s growing support for a second referendum to be taken on this issue.

And May’s own party is hopelessly divided on the issue. Mike has put up articles on the coterie of Hard Brexiteers that has coalesced around various cabinet members and leading Tories, including Young Master Rees-Mogg. For them, it’s not so much what the public wants that’s important, as what’s important to them and their donors and supporters as managers and senior executives in the financial sector. They’d like to turn Britain into another tax haven just outside the Eurozone, as this would benefit the banking industry. Never mind the damage that it would do to manufacturing, or the immense poverty that would be inflicted on the ordinary working people of the UK as they repeal even more workers’ rights and destroy the very last remnants of the Health Service and welfare state. Just so long as those bankers’ bonuses keep rolling in, and there are nice, fat dividends for the shareholders.

And the Tory party, and particularly May, has always been extremely vague about what kind of Brexit deal they would strike. Remember a few years ago when May was mechanically intoning ‘Brexit means Brexit’ at every speech and interview, all the while glaring at her interlocutors as if it was them, not her, who was unbelievably stupid, simply for asking the question. She had nothing to offer, and could make absolutely no promises. But like Maggie Thatcher, her response to a difficult, reasonable question she couldn’t answer was to go on the offensive and try to make the other person look stupid. I can remember how Maggie replied with the highly considered, detailed response ‘Oh, you stupid man!’ after one journalist dared to ask her a question she couldn’t answer. ‘Brexit means Brexit’ was a response in a similar vein, though without Thatcher’s ad hominem abuse.

Then there are the jokes Merkel has been making at Tweezer’s expense. I blogged yesterday, following Mike, about the way Frau Kanzlerin has been joking about the circular nature of negotiations. May will say to her, ‘Make me an offer’. Merkel will respond, ‘We don’t have to. You’re leaving.’ At which May will repeat, vacuously, her appeal. ‘Make me an offer’. It’s less a business negotiation between equals as May begging for some kind of deal, no matter how bad.

And it shows that the one thing that May is definitely not getting is what the public wants from Brexit.

But all we’re getting from her and the rest of the Tories is more lies and spin to try and deceive us into believing it’s so.

Trump Advisor Sebastian Gorka Wanted for Firearms Offences in Hungary

January 27, 2018

Remember Sebastian Gorka, who was one of Trump’s key advisers in government, before the Orange Buffoon lost his rag and sacked him, like he’s done to so many others? Gorka was of Hungarian extraction, and had strong links to the Hungarian Far Right. He wore the insignia of the Vitezi Rend, the Hungarian chivalric order set up by Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian dictator, who led the country into a pact with Nazi Germany and assisted them with the Holocaust and deportations of Jews in his country. Gorka has also been personally active in a number of Hungarian Far Right organisations, and was one of the founders of one of them.

Turns out Gorka’s a wanted man. In this clip from the David Pakman Show, host David Pakman and his producer discuss the news that Gorka is wanted for firearms offences in Hungary going back before he became a member of Trump’s cabinet. Gorka has responded to this by making a non-denial. He Tweeted that the warrant was put out after he moved to America, adding ‘moron’ for good, insulting effect. But as they point out, this isn’t actually a denial that he is wanted for these crimes. Pakman also draws parallels of moving to America from South America, where he grew up. It’s perfectly possible that Gorka committed the offences after he emigrated to the US. Just because his primary residence is now the USA, does not mean he hasn’t been back to his family’s old homeland from time to time. Just as it doesn’t mean that because someone lives in California they have never been out of that state.

Pakman and his producer also point out that this also has dire implications for Trump’s claims that he’s hard on immigration and stands for law and order. Well, no, clearly he doesn’t. He claimed he was going to be super-hard on vetting his staff. He clearly wasn’t, otherwise Gorka’s arrest warrant would have been flagged, noted, and he wouldn’t have got the job. On the other hand, perhaps he was, and the Generalissimo of Reality TV didn’t care. Pakman also contrasts Gorka with the Mexican and Hispanic immigrants, who enter America to do physical work, like labouring. This wasn’t the case of a normal immigrant, who actually does something useful, like put in windows, fix the plumbing or mow the lawn. No, Gorka was a criminal immigrant, whom Trump took into the White House itself.

The last minute or so of the clip is a piece of advertising for their sponsors. I’m sorry for this, but I realise that shows like Pakman will only survive by advertising, and need sponsorship. Because Google is desperately trying to close down any left-wing news sites on the spurious grounds of combatting fake news.

As far as Gorka’s unsavoury activities and connections go, I honestly don’t think that Trump cares. He’s surrounded himself with all kinds of deeply unpleasant characters with extreme right-wing views, like Richard Spencer and the Alt Right. A century ago Gorka’s own ethnicity would have been problem for American nativists. Back in the 1920 right-wing American ethnic nationalists really didn’t like immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, like Poles and Hungarians, because they were considered racially inferior. Hitler in his Table Talk remarks that Hungarians are ‘men of the Steppe’, which is sort-of true in that the Magyars had been steppe nomads before the entered the Pannonian March in the 9th/10th century. And the Nazis despised the Poles and other Slavs as racial inferiors. Millions of Poles and related peoples were imported into Nazi Germany to work as slave labour. However, the Nazis strictly outlawed any sexual contact between Germans and Poles as a threat to Aryan racial purity. And if you look at some of the diagrams showing the differences between peoples in Nazi texts, like the handbook given out to the Hitler Youth, they portray the Poles and the other Slavs – Russians, Belorussians, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians and so on – as having very Asiatic features similar to those of the Chinese and other east Asian peoples.

This racist contempt for the Slavonic peoples was reversed after the War, when the Nazis turned their attention to Black and Asian nationalist movements, and non-White immigration. The Shoah had made anti-Semitism absolutely unacceptable to most people, although in Britain and America groups like the National Front, BNP and the American Nazi Party were still goose stepping around in Nazi uniforms as late as the 1970s. Then the White Nationalists decided that Magyars and particularly Slavs, weren’t subhuman after all, and started actively recruiting them. Hence the re-emergence in these countries of anti-Semitism, now allied with a vicious Islamophobia, amongst a plethora of Far Right parties. And Sebastian Gorka’s inclusion in Trump’s cabinet of horrors, along with other prominent leaders and spokespeople for the racist Right.

Hungarian workers, like the other varied immigrant groups in America and the new, Hispanic immigrants Trump and his supporters despise, contributed greatly to building the American economy. One of the heroes of working class folklore amongst the steelworkers of Pittsburgh, was Hungarian. He became a larger than life figure, similar to Paul Bunyan in the logging camps of the West, and was reputedly able to paddle and splash in superheated molten metal. This came at a time when working people had strong unions, which could demand respect and insist on their rights. All of which has been destroyed by pernicious Reaganomics and the neo-liberal assault on the working and lower middle classes that has followed it.

We need more working class heroes like the immigrant workers, Irish, Chinese, Italian, Slav, Hungarian, and oppressed domestic indigenous groups like Afro-Americans, who physically built America, toiling on its roads, railways and factories. And as Pakman points out, the Hispanic immigrants have proved themselves invaluable in doing dirty jobs no-one else wants to do. In fact, after one town kicked them all out, it then found it had a labour shortage and appealed for them to come back.

What we don’t need, is more far Right racists like Gorka and his domestic counterparts in the Alt-Right, Klan and various Nazi parties.

Declassified Irish Documents: MI5 Tried to Get UVF to Assassinate Charles Haughey

January 3, 2018

There’s an interesting article in Counterpunch today by John Wight, which might add a new dimension to the government losing around 2,000 files from the National Archives last week. The files were supposed to have been taken out by Home Office civil servants, and covered a range of very sensitive incidents, from the notorious Zinoviev Letter, through to the assassination in the 1970s of the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, and the dirty war in Northern Ireland. Human Rights campaigners were alarmed in case this was an attempt to cover up human rights violations by the British state in Ulster in the long campaign against the IRA and related terror groups. The Zinoviev Letter, you will remember, was the forged letter by the British security services, which purported to be from Zinoviev, the head of Stalin’s Comintern, congratulating the Labour party on preparing to take over Britain in a revolution.

A number of Labour MPs have already made their feeling about the disappearance of the files clear, stating that this is another Orwellian attempt by the Tories to rewrite or obscure history.

It is, and this isn’t the first time the Tories have borrowed sensitive files to make sure they’re out of circulation. Anyone remember a similar incident a few years ago, when government documents similarly went missing from the archives, only for the minister responsible to claim that he had just ‘innocently’ taken them away to help him with a book he was writing? I didn’t believe that story then. The Tories have offered no excuse now, which does make you wonder what they’re trying to hide.

Some clue to this comes from Irish government documents from the 1980s that have been released under their 30-year rule. This includes a letter from the Protestant terrorist group, the UVF, to Charles Haughey, informing him that they were approached by an MI5 officer, who wished them to assassinate the Irish president. John Wight in his article about this in today’s Counterpunch writes

Said papers confirm that in 1987 the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), one of the oldest and most notorious of the various loyalist/Protestant paramilitary organizations that were engaged in sectarian violence in the province during the Troubles, wrote to the then Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey in Dublin, informing him that in 1985 they were approached by Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, with a request to assassinate him.

We learn that in the letter the UVF told Mr Haughey, “In 1985 we were approached by a MI5 officer attached to the NIO (Northern Ireland Office) and based in Lisburn, AlexJones was his supposed name. He asked us to execute you.” The letter subsequently goes on to allege that Britain’s MI5 supplied the group with information such as pictures of Haughey’s home, his private yacht, and details of the vehicles he travelled in.

The UVF refused follow through on MI5’s request, telling Mr Haughey, “We have no love for you but we are not going to carry out work for the Dirty Tricks Department of the British.”

In fact, MI5 and the British government probably weren’t the only ones making covert plans to overthrow the opposite side. Way back in the 1980s or ’90s, Lobster covered a piece in the Irish Republican newspaper, An Phoblacht, which claimed that there had been a scheme during Haughey’s premiership to stir up sectarian violence in order to provide a pretext for an invasion of Ulster from the Republic. The plan was that after rioting and sectarian violence, armed forces from the south would enter the Six Countries as a peace-keeping force. If this is also true, then nobody, on either side of the Irish border, ends up looking good. Or anything other than deeply duplicitous and murderous.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that the British state was supplying intelligence to the loyalist terror gangs, so that they could assassinate leading Republicans, as Wight’s article goes on to discuss. And there is also evidence that secret SAS units were being embedded within regular army units in Northern Ireland to act as death squads. All of which makes it very clear that there’s much in the files that this Tory government would very, very much want to hide.

Mike has already suggested that a way to stop files going missing in the future would be for the National Archives to be run like a proper library: those borrowing books have a ticket, and it is known who has borrowed what, and that they must return it on time. I completely agree, but this is too efficient, and would prevent the government from having a convenient pretext with which to lose files when their contents prove inconvenient.

And the government’s behaviour in this respect is very much like the Russian authorities during the old Communist system. Foreign researchers were at liberty to use files in the Soviet archives. However, if you wanted something sensitive or incriminating, you’d be told that those files were out. Which sounds exactly like what has been going on here.

Hacking Alexa with HAL

December 22, 2017

In amongst the various seasonal adverts for toys and food, supplied by various supermarkets, are a couple of adverts promoting Alexa. This is a computer device, which allows you to control your home and select what you want to watch on your TV simply through voice command. One advert shows a family commanding Alexa to open their curtains, for example, and order various necessities for them over the internet. The other features petrol-head and full-time right-wing loudmouth, Jeremy Clarkson, commanding Alexa to put on his favourite TV shows. Which in his case, as a man of monstrously inflated ego, naturally include The Grand Tour, which features him, James May and Richard Hammond careering round the world in the cars.

We are truly living in the age of Science Fiction. I can remember reading SF stories when I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s in which the homes of the future all had a central computer, which spoke to the householder and obeyed his or her every wish. Like opening the curtains on command. The late, great Irish comedian, Dave Allen, used such devices as a source of rather crude humour in one of his sketches. In it, a man shows off his new computerised home to another, male friend. He shows how, at his spoken command, the computer open and closes the curtains, switches the TV on, and positions the set so he can watch it in comfort from his favourite chair. His friend asks him if he can try. Allen’s character lets him. The friend commands the curtains to open and close, the TV to come on and off. Astonished and amazed, the friend starts to sit down in one of the chairs, uttering ‘Bugger me’ in wonderment. At which point there’s a close up on Allen’s face as he shouts ‘No!’ and the sound of a spring going.

Okay, it’s slightly homophobic, I suppose, but it was broadcast in the 1980s. Things were very different then.

Now it occurred to me that hackers could have any amount of fun with Alexa. Simply hacking into the programme would give them control over people’s homes and what they watch on TV. But they could also cause a fair amount of panic, simply by removing Alexa’s voice, and replacing it with that of another, far more sinister machine.

Like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You remember HAL, the proud, murderous shipboard computer, that goes mad and kills Bowman’s fellow astronauts, thanks to a secret programme to investigate the alien monoliths must be kept secret at all costs. Critics have commented that, as the rest of the characters in the film are cardboard, the computer is the best drawn and arguably most attractive of those in the movie. The machine is so memorable for its calm, clinical evil that Anthony Hopkins has said in interviews that he partly based Hannibal Lecter’s voice on it for The Silence of the Lambs. The machine is so memorable, that there’s even a reference to him in the 1990’s SF blockbuster, Independence Day. At one point, when Jeff Goldblum’s character turns on his laptop, he’s greeted by a red camera eye and HAL’s voice welcoming him with a ‘Hello, Dave’.

Now imagine what would happen if someone hacked into Alexa, or Google, and replaced the friendly, compliant programme with that classic speech from HAL: ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do that, Dave. This mission is too important to be left to humans.’

Alternatively, you could also have a long moan from Marvin, the Paranoid Android of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ”Pick up that piece of paper, Marvin’, here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they want me to pick up a piece of paper’.

Please note: I am not recommending that anyone actually does this. I have zero tolerance for hackers, and none whatsoever for the criminals, who hack into people’s accounts and computers to steal their money or their data. This is very much a ‘what-if’ type Gedankenexperiment. I don’t want anyone to actually do it.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me if HAL or Marvin are added as alternative voices, in the same way that you can customise your Satnav to speak like Yoda or Borat.

And here’s a clip from YouTube of HAL in action, very definitely not doing what its human master demands.

Counterpunch Demolishes Some Churchillian Myths

December 8, 2017

There’s a very interesting piece by Louis Proyect over at this weekend’s Counterpunch, The Churchillian Myths of 1940, where he takes a well-observed aim at two of the recent films about the Second World War. One is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, the other is the forthcoming biopic about Winston Churchill’s battle against the appeasers in the British cabinet in 1940, The Darkest Hour. This hasn’t been released yet, and is set to come out on December 21st (2017). It stars Gary Oldman as Churchill, and is directed by Joe Wright.

Dunkirk’s already attracted much criticism because of its historical inaccuracies. I think it’s been accused of racism, because it ignores the large numbers of the British forces, who were Black and Asian. But Proyect also draws on a critique of the film by Max Hastings of the Telegraph to show how the film presents a very mythical view of Dunkirk. The film has it that the British troops are under constant shooting and bombardment by the Germans, and that they are saved by the flotilla of small vessels that went over there to rescue them. In fact, according to Hastings, the Germans largely left the retreating British alone. As for being saved by the small ships, 2/3 of the troops were rescued by the fleet of big ships that were sent by the navy. There were 37 of these, but six were sunk. Proyect also criticises a scene where the sailors aboard a sinking ship discuss how they are going to get to the surface without being mown down by the Germans. He compares this unfavourably to the Poseidon Adventure, producing the quotes by the critics to show that this is actually a far superior film.

More serious is the way the film deliberately omits atrocities committed on the civilian population by the retreating British. Proyect states that at the time the British squaddies were under immense physical and psychological stress. They responded by shooting anyone that moved, including old women and nuns. This is historical fact. Proyect cites and describes one of these incidents. The trooper had been told to take no prisoners, except for interrogation, and so blazed away accordingly.

As for the Darkest Hour, Proyect draws on an article by Clive Ponting on the Churchill Myth. Older readers of this blog will remember that Ponting was the civil servant Maggie tried to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act because he leaked two documents about the sinking of the Belgrano to the Labour MP Tam Dalyell. Ponting was acquitted, because the jury weren’t about to be told what to do by Maggie.

He points out that in fact the difference of opinion between Churchill and the appeasers, like Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, was actually much smaller than most people realised. At the time, Churchill was in favour of making peace with Germany, and had sent feelers out to see what their terms were. Where he differed from Halifax and Chamberlain was that they were in favour of making an immediate peace, while he wanted to fight on for a few more months.

The film does show Churchill hesitating at one point, and Proyect states that this would have been unthinkable a few years ago, as the official archives were still closed and the only source material available were Churchill’s own self-aggrandising writings. In which he portrayed himself as the resolute warrior.

But this ignores just how pro-Nazi Churchill had been, as well as anti-Semitic. What! Churchill pro-Nazi? The very idea! But he was. In 1937 Churchill wrote of Hitler

Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms,” he said, “have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism.” Despite the arming of Germany and the hounding of the Jews, “we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age,” Churchill wrote. He was doubtful, though.

As for Leon Trotsky, Churchill reviled him with all manner abuse, not just because he was a Bolshevik, but also because Trotsky was Jewish. He quotes Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, a revision history attacking the notion of World War II as ‘the good war’, from which he also took the above quote about Hitler from Churchill. Baker writes

Churchill also included a short piece on Leon Trotsky, king in exile of international bolshevism. Trotsky was a usurper and tyrant, Churchill said. He was a cancer bacillus, he was a “skin of malice,” washed up on the shores of Mexico. Trotsky possessed, said Churchill, “the organizing command of a Carnot, the cold detached intelligence of a Machiavelli, the mob oratory of a Cleon, the ferocity of Jack the Ripper, the toughness of Titus Oates.”

And in the end what was Trotsky? Who was he? “He was a Jew,” wrote Churchill with finality. “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.” He called his article “Leon Trotsky, Alias Bronstein.”

I am not surprised by Proyect’s description of Churchill’s highly equivocal attitude to Nazi Germany. Churchill himself was very authoritarian. He had visited Mussolini’s Italy, though he had not been impressed when the Duce compared the Blackshirts to the Black and Tans, and privately remarked that Musso was ‘a swine’. But he did like General Franco. The historian Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism between the Wars, states that Churchill’s opposition to Nazi Germany did not come from any deep ideological view, but simply because he was bitterly suspicious of Germany and believed that it would block British interests in the North Sea. Pugh points out that he didn’t seem concerned that a bloc of Fascist states in southern Europe could do the same to British interests in the Mediterranean.

It would be interesting to know what Peter Hitchens thinks of all this. Hitchens is deeply Conservative, but he is a fierce critic of the Second World War as ‘the good war’, and has absolutely no love of Churchill. Indeed, in his book taking aim at New Atheism a few years ago, The Rage Against God, he attacked the cult of Churchill as a kind of ersatz religion, put in place of Christianity. It’s a bit of stretch, as it wasn’t quite an exercising in God-building that the Soviets tried. In the former USSR there was a brief movement after the Revolution to create a kind of atheistic religion, centred around great revolutionary heroes, to harness religious sentiments for the cause of Communism. The cult around Churchill isn’t quite like that. But nevertheless, to some Churchill is almost a sacrosanct figure, against whom you must not utter a single word. You can’t, after all, imagine Dan Snow on the One Show, striding around what remains of Churchill’s office and papers, telling the world how ‘Winnie’ at one time looked approvingly on Hitler and was very nearly ready to make peace. Or that, when it suited him, he was viciously anti-Semitic.