Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education

August 15, 2020

There’s massive outrage at the way the education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have downgraded pupils’ marks according to a set a algorithms. This has unfairly affected the mass of these children, damaging the hopes of all-too many for a university education. In the poorer areas, according to an I headline yesterday, 36 per cent of students have been affected. This is despite the hard work, time and effort these children and their teachers have put in despite the lockdown and necessary school closures. Teachers are angry, students and their parents are angry, and the schools are protesting. The Scots are trying to correct their errors, but there’s been precious little from the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, except excuses and bluster. And only the mildest criticism from the useless Blairite leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer.

Private Schools and the British Class System

But strangely, none of this downgrading has affected students at the elite private schools, like the Eton from which our clownish, mass-murdering prime minister Boris Alexander, DePfeffel Johnson and so many of his cronies and cabinet have attended. Mike has published a couple of excellent articles pointing out the class dimension to this marking down of the hoi polloi on their schools.

And he’s right. This isn’t accidental. The elite private schools are an intrinsic part of the British class system. They supply and educate this country’s elite, who heartily despise not just those below them, but the state schools that educate them.

Britain is one of the few country’s in Europe that has this devotion and the attendant promotion of elite private schools. It simply doesn’t exist in France and Germany, where most children, I believe, attend state schools. Private schools exist, but there isn’t the same cult surrounding them. There have at times been attempts to introduce it in Germany, but it’s failed. And a Fabian pamphlet on education I read in the 1980s stated that in France many pupils at private schools were there because, er, they were less intelligent than those at the state schools.

Some of this difference in attitude comes from the different history of education on the continent. In France following the French Revolution, there was a bitter conflict over schooling between the Church and the liberal, secularist authorities. This has been decided in favour of the latter, so that French republican society has an official policy of laicism – secularism. Germany also had its Kulturkampf with the Roman Catholic church in the 19th century over the Roman Catholic schools. But I think both countries, as well as Italy, had a very strong tradition of state support for schools and state or parish school provision. There was mass illiteracy in these countries in the 19th century, but I got the general impression that after the Napoleonic invasions where education was provided, it was through local school boards. In Britain education tended to remain a matter of private industry and provision. I’d also argue that the attitude that Eton and the rest of the private schools represent the acme of the British education system is actually only quite recent. Well into the 19th century wealthy children had a broader education at the grammar schools – the public schools were criticised for their narrow specialisation on the Classics – and bullying and brutality by the teachers was rife. The diet was also so poor that the pupils boarding there sometimes died of starvation. This changed after Matthew Arnold became the visionary headmaster at Rugby, and his massive improvement in the standards there and influence across elite private education.

There is, apparently, also a class divide in France in their secular, state education system. The children of the technocratic elite attend a set of similarly exclusive, but state-run schools, which are very difficult for someone outside that class to get into. This was part of the argument the Daily Heil advanced in favour of the British public school system in article back in the 1990s, when Eton and its fellows were coming under attack again as bastions of class privilege. According to this article, British public schools were superior because they developed in their pupils an independence of thought impossible in the French state system. This was roughly at the same time the journo Danny Danziger was interviewing old Etonians in his book, Eton Voices, who droned on about how wonder the old school was, praising it for its tolerance. How ideologically independent private school education is, is a highly questionable point. I’ve met a number of ex-public schoolboys who have rebelled against their upbringing and affected a very working class persona. But for the most part, since Arnold there has been a definite emphasis on moulding character – no bad thing in itself – and the existence of these schools and their very narrow class background is responsible for the maintenance of the British class system and all its attitudes against those further down the British social hierarchy.

Tory Hatred of State Education

And the Tories themselves hate state education. Some of us can still remember how they tried to part-privatise it in the 1980s by encouraging schools to leave the Local Education Authorities to become City Academies. That failed, and was quietly wound up. Until it was revived and expanded again by Blair and New Labour. And the Tories have continued, expanding the academy chains and even trying to bring back grammar schools to absolutely zero enthusiasm. I also remember the ignorant pronouncements of some Tory businessmen in the 1980s, who showed their own contempt for education. Pupils, according to these ignorant blowhards, should just be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else was necessary, and they should then be sent out to work. But although it wasn’t said, they probably didn’t mean children from the upper and upper middle classes.

Elite Feminist Attacks on State Education

And part of the defence and promotion of elite private schools has come from ex-private schoolgirls arguing from feminism. There’s a reasonable point there, but it’s mixed up with much elite class ideology. And it includes the liberal, Blairite elite as well as Tories. Way back in the 1980s there were articles in the paper during the debate about girls’ education which pointed out that girls in single-sex schools had better grades than their sisters in mixed schools. Girls tended to be pushed into the background in school performance by boys. I don’t know if this has changed, but since then there has been a reversal in academic performance between the sexes. Girls have been outperforming boys for several years now, and the worse performing demographic are White working class boys. Despite this reversal, feminist arguments are still being used to defend what it basically class privilege. Single-sex schools are centres of female excellence, and away from boys, more girls take STEM subjects. So said an article by one of the female hacks in the I. I don’t doubt she’s right.

But this does create some very skewed attitude towards state education in ex-private schoolgirls. I came across about a decade ago when I studying for my Ph.D. at Bristol Uni. Passing through campus one day, I overhead two former private school inmates, who I think I had just met, who were overjoyed to find that they both had the same educational background. They were glad to find another you woman, who went to the same type of school. Which, one of them declared, was better than ‘the little woman thing they teach in state schools.’

What!

Not in my experience, nor my mother’s. I went to the local primary school, and my mother was a teacher in one of the other primary schools in Bristol. Mike and I were also lucky to get into a church school. This had been a grammar school, but was now a state-assisted comprehensive. And in none of them was there any teaching about the ‘little woman thing’. Now there was a debate within the education system at the time about gender and schooling. There was an article in an edition of Child Education about whether girls should be allowed to play with traditionally boys toys in school, like Meccano sets. But this debate, I think, has been settled a very long time ago. And I do remember that there was a positive attitude towards feminism amongst some of the staff at the Church school. I was in our house master’s office one day – I honestly can’t remember why, but I don’t think it was as a punishment for anything – when one of the women teachers came in. She had some materials on the Suffragettes she wanted to show him. ‘Ah, excellent!’ said the housemaster, ‘a bit of feminism!’

By  contrast, I’ve also come across teachers of both sexes, who in my opinion couldn’t teach boys. One of them was a male teacher, who gave sneers and put downs to the boys if they couldn’t answer questions or gave the wrong one, but was extremely encouraging to the girls. He clearly thought that girls needed gentle encouragement, while boys needed to be kept in line by shaming and humiliation. But it gave the impression he didn’t like teaching them. I’ve also come across some horror stories about the way girls have been treated in schools as well. Another story I heard back in the ’80s was about the headmaster of a London school, who immediately decided to divide the pupils into two classes, an ‘A’ and ‘B’. And all the boys ended up in ‘A’, and the girls in ‘B’. The headmaster, apparently, was Turkish, and this looks like the product of a traditionally Islamic cultural attitude to education. It was mostly definitely not common throughout the British state system and there were very loud complaints.

Blairite Feminism and Class Snobbery

My guess is that these skewed ideas about the sexism of state education are shared not just by Tories, but by Blairite liberals. The hacks writing in newspapers like the Groaniad and the I, although that’s technically non-aligned politically, seem to come from the same wealthy, privately educated class. And I think they share the same attitudes towards social class as the Tories, but argue for it from a liberal, feminist perspective. A few years ago the I carried a piece about a female Labour MP or activist, who was very definitely a Blairite. She commented on how male-dominated the old, trade union dominated Labour movement had been. And so we see the same attitude directed towards state education, by people, who have never once set foot in a state school except perhaps on an official visit.

Conclusion

Boris Johnson famously declared that every school should be like Eton. Well, every school could if it had the money spent on it Eton has. As for the academies, ditto. Once you account for the masses of money they have had spent on them, far in excess of the state sector, and the way they skew their results by excluding difficult and underperforming pupils, they are very definitely not better than state schools. See the book The great Academy Fraud for a very detailed discussion of their failings.

But ‘failing state schools’ is a nice mantra to justify the privatisation of the education system, even though one academy chain has gone down the toilet after the other. The Tories hate state education, and, in my opinion, will do anything to sabotage it. As will the Blairites.

And that includes deliberately marking down state school pupils, while awarding high marks and grades to the privately educated children of the elite.

 

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.

Dua Lipa Sparks Controversy over Kosovar with Social Media Comment

July 22, 2020

Reading through today’s I, I came across a piece by Sally Guyoncourt reporting that Dua Lipa had posted a controversial piece on social media. She put up a map of Albania, alongside the tweet ‘au-toch-tho-nous adjective (of  an inhabitant of a place) indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists.’ She said that she was merely debunking the view that Albanians are not indigenous people in the Balkans.

But what made her tweet controversial is that the phrase is associated with Albanian nationalists, who would like to unify the various Albanian enclaves in the other, neighbouring countries into a single great Albania. It’s particularly associated with the claim that Kosovan Albanians are indigenous to the area. Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008, but has not been recognised by Serbia and its allies, including Russia. She posted her tweet a few days after someone posted a petition requesting Apple to put Kosovo on its map. This was supported by Rita Ora, who said “Would love to see Apple spreading awareness by putting Kosovo on the map! Albania and Kosovo are full of so much beautiful and great talent!’Lipa’s parents are Kosovar Albanians, and she spent part of her childhood there, and Rita Ora also has links to Kosovo.

Lipa denied she was trying to spread hatred, saying

“We all deserve to be proud of our ethnicity and where we are from. I simply want my country to be represented on a map and to be able to speak with pride and joy about may Albanian roots and mother country’.

That sounds reasonable enough, and I’ve seen absolutely zero evidence to suggest that Albanians are anything but indigenous to Europe. The Romans called the country Illyria, and there were also Illyrian tribes living in Italy at the same time. What makes her tweet controversial is that Kosovo has always been claimed as a province of Serbia. It contains the notorious Kosovo Polje, or ‘Field of Blackbirds’, the site of the decisive battle in which the Serbs were defeated in 1455 by the Turks and their country conquered and absorbed into the Turkish empire. Quite when the population became majority Albanian is a good question. I understood that it might have been during the 17th century.

And the Kosovan independence movement is highly questionable. When fighting between the Kosovars and Serbs broke out, Private Eye published a piece claiming that the Kosovars, rather than the ethnic Serbs, were the Fascists. During the war in Bosnia, Serbia was supported by European Nazis and did commit horrendous atrocities. As did the other combatants. However, the Serbs didn’t persecute the Jews. The Kosovar militias did. They’re supposed to have been Islamist supremacists, who massacred Serbs and harvested their organs, a fact not reported in the western press.

The other problem is that there are also significant Albanian minorities in the west of Macedonia and some of the other countries, and they’ve also been restless over the past few decades. There were fears not so long ago that there would be an Albanian uprising in Macedonia, plunging the Balkans into yet another war.

I remember the horrors of the Bosnian War and the atrocities there all too well, not least because Mike, as he says on his best blog, went there and lived with a Muslim family as part of his job. The last thing the region and Europe need is another bloody conflict there.

 

2001 Private Eye Article on Israeli Assassinations and Atrocities Against Palestinians, Americans, and Lebanon

July 18, 2020

Keir Starmer has shown himself determined to purge the party of any and all critics of Israel on the utterly specious grounds that they are automatically anti-Semites. They must be, despite the fact that very many of them are self-respecting Jews and equally self-respecting non-Jewish anti-racists. This is because the Israel lobby and the British establishment and media have declared that anybody who supports Jeremy Corbyn and/ or shares his conviction that Palestinians should be allowed to live in peace in their traditional homeland has to be a horrible Jew-hater and a Nazi. Even if, like Corbyn, Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Mike, Martin Odoni and any number of others, they are determined anti-racists. So let’s remind people just what the Palestinians are facing, and why criticising Israel is entirely legitimate and is based on what the Israeli state and its armed forces do, not because they’re Jewish.

I found this ‘Letter from Israel’ in Private Eye’s edition for 30th November – 13th December 2001. This was a time when the Eye didn’t flinch at criticising Israel, even when outraged Zionists complained that it was being anti-Semitic by doing so. The Eye has said that the ‘Letter From…’ pieces are written by journalists from countries described, so that this piece, although anonymous and possibly reworked by someone else in the Eye to cover up the author’s identity, comes from an Israeli journo. And it’s a long list of Israel’s attacks, not just on the Palestinians and their leaders, but also the Americans and Lebanon. It runs

Terrorism is the topic of the year, and whatever the current focus, history shows that we in Israel have a certain historical experience.

Take the bombing of American targets. Our chaps bombed the US cultural centres in Cairo and Alexandria as early as 1954, planning to let Abdul Nasser’s new Egyptian government take the blame. Unfortunately the scam went wrong and our defence minister Pinhas Lavon had to resign, though the director-general of his ministry, Shimon Peres, managed to hang on. Today he is Ariel Sharon’s foreign minister.

Or take political assassinations. If you ever wondered why Yasser Arafat’s lieutenants are hard to understand, the answer it simple: we shot most of his organisation’s top foreign language speakers. In fact in one glorious year, 1972, our Mossad secret service managed to kill both the PLO’s political representative in Rome, Wael Zouetar, and his counterpart in Paris, Mahmoud Hamdan.

Admittedly we make the odd mistake. There was the embarrassing 1974 incident in Lilienhammer, when a Mossad hit squad shot dead Moroccan waiter Ahmed Bouchiki in front of his heavily pregnant Norwegian wife, having mistaken him for a PLO man.

Still, we maintain a sense of proportion and have never believed in simply takinig an eye for an eye. In 1982 when an assassin from the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon wounded (but not killed) our London rep, Shlomo Argov, we invaded Lebanon and more than 20,000 people there died, mostly civilians.

Then there is the bombing of local public buildings, one of our specialities. In recent months we have shelled not just West Bank police stations, but hotels, an orphanage and the Bethlehem maternity hospital. (Not that many Palestinian women reach the hospital. Our boys at the checkpoints surrounding their townships are particularly mistrustful of women claiming to be in labour and so refuse to let them through).

None of this would have happened, of course, if the Palestinians would agree to live happily while surrounded by our soldiers and settlers. But they won’t and we must protect ourselves. Not for us any lily-livered effort to apprehend the actual perpetrators. We prefer hostage taking. This is certainly what we did when some Palestinians recently shot that nice man, ex-general Rehavam Zeevi, the founder of a party whose sole platform is the expulsion of all Arabs. Such a view had resulted in his being invited into Mr Sharon’s government as a tourism minister.

Anyway, whenever that sort of thing happens we just hold the entire population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip at gunpoint and station tanks in their streets. Then we smash the place up (just look at Manger Square after we finished with it!) and kill a few dozen locals of mixed age and sex.

And, oh yes, we also use helicopter gunships to blow to smithereens any Palestinian we suspect of planning any attacks on us, though not usually the actual perpetrators. Those we expect Yasser Arafat to hand over, in exchange for the goodwill we have shown in our peace talks with him, which have been dragging on for a mere eight years. Why are those Palestinians in such a rush?

That we have spent those years building thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank is a mere accident, not a lack of sincerity. True, this may have involved confiscating Palestinian land, arresting its owners and shooting demonstrators, which slows down agreement; but it makes sense: we just like holding peace talks so much we never want them to end.

Of course, we cannot negotiate with just anyone, and so we are currently helping improve Arafat’s administration by picking off any unsuitable figures. And we don’t just mean military men: one of those killed by us was Dr. Tahbed Thabed, the director-general of the Palestinian health authority.

In the 19 years since then, we’ve had the blockade of Gaza and now Netanyahu has declared his intention of seizing 1/3 of Palestinian land on the West Bank. But organisations like the Chief Rabbinate, Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jewish Leadership Council, the entirely wrongly named Jewish Labour Movement, whose members don’t have to be Jews or members of the Labour Party, and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, founded to bolster British support for Israel after the bombardment of Gaza, will denounce anything more than the mildest, token criticism of Israel’s actions.

The Israeli state has been engaged on a decades-long campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, and many of its own citizens have protested against it. Israel is a country. It is not, and never have been, synonymous with the Jewish people, no matter what law Netanyahu passes to claim that it is. Criticising Israel and its leaders is not anti-Semitic, no matter how much the Board and the Chief Rabbis howl that it is.

And Starmer has no business kicking genuine anti-racists and opponents of anti-Semitism out of Labour, simply for supporting the Palestinians. And especially not when he is tolerating real, anti-Black racists and islamophobes.

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.

 

Norman Tebbitt Thinks Nazis Must Have Been Far Left Because of Name

June 24, 2020

Here we go again. Things must be desperate for the Tories, as they’ve got Thatcher’s bully-boy, Norman Tebbitt, to write a piece declaring that the Nazis were far left and socialists. Because they had the word in their name, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. It’s an old like that’s been going around for years. It surfaced about the beginning of this decade with the publication of Joshua Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Now Communism as genuine far left socialism is guilty of horrendous atrocities by Stalin and other monsters, but the Nazis were never socialists. They had their origins in radical right-wing patriotic movements around the time of the First World War, which believed that the Second Reich of the Wilhelmine emperors had failed to capture the support of German workers, and thus left them exposed to the allure of democracy and socialism.

As Social Darwinists, the Nazis believed that the aristocracy and the leaders of big business were biologically superior to the rest of humanity. Hitler made it clear to the genuinely anti-capitalist elements in the Nazi party, led by Otto and Gregor Strasser, that he didn’t intend to nationalise anything. Businesses and enterprises would only be taken into state ownership if they were failing. He courted the support of German industrialists by giving a speech in which he declared that private enterprise could only survive through the personal autocracy which the Nazis were going to introduce. Hitler had introduced the word ‘socialist’ into the party’s name against the wishes of its founder, Anton Drexler. He did so with the deliberate intent of luring voters away from the real socialist parties – the SPD, USPD and later Communists. Yes, thanks to Stalin’s order, the Communists did demonstrate alongside the Nazis after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact. But once the Nazis seized power, socialists and communists were among the first prisoners in the concentration camps, as well as trade unionists after they smashed them.

Nazi Germany was a centrally-planned economy, like the Soviet Union and Fascist Italy, in which the government controlled production and issued commands to business. But industry was largely not nationalized. It was controlled through a series of state-mandated trade and industrial associations. German law divided property into three categories: private, public, and private, but used for public purposes. The industries they controlled fell into the last. They also embarked on a massive privatisation campaign. Even when the industries remained largely in state ownership, like electricity, the heads of the associations managing them were drawn from private industry. The Nazis also took over private businessmen as heads of the government department managing the economy. It’s a method very similar to New Labour’s and the Tories’ appointment of senior business chiefs to run government departments in the new corporativism.

The Nazis weren’t socialists at all for all Hitler’s propagandistic claims. But Conservatives, including the American Republican Party, like to claim that they were as a smear on the left. They also contradict themselves by trying to deny that the Nazis were nationalists, despite the glaringly obvious fact that it is precisely what they said they were. Candace Owens, a young Black lady whose one of the leaders of the American Conservative youth organisation, Turning Point, infamously denied that the Nazis were nationalists when she and the equally loathsome Dave Rubin turned up over here trying to promote their British branch, Turning Point UK. Owens declared that Hitler wasn’t a nationalist, because he wanted everyone to be German. This is flat wrong – he wanted a Europe ruled by Germany, in which those races deemed biologically unfit or hostile would be exterminated. This started with the Jews, but as he makes very clear in Mein Kampf and his Table-Talk, would have gone on to the Slav peoples like the Czechs. She also thought that Hitler’s policies would have been all right, if he’d only put them into practise in Germany. Which means presumably that she believed the ending of democracy, the imprisonment of political prisoners and the Holocaust would all have been acceptable if he’d just stuck to Germany. She was naturally torn to shreds for this stupid, ridiculous and vile remark.

As for Norman Tebbit, he became notorious in the 1990s for his remark that British citizenship should be decided on who you supported at cricket. If a Black or Asian person didn’t support England, then they weren’t really Brits. Not surprisingly, people also tore into him for this piece of prize bigotry.

Mike’s put up a piece criticizing this latest piece of Tory lying, including some very amusing and interesting Tweets by the very many peeps not impressed with the Chingford Skinhead’s knowledge of such matters. My favourite is the comment wondering, based on Tebbitt’s logic for telling the world that the Nazis were socialists, whether he has had spotted dick. It’s a good question, as while I don’t doubt Tebbitt enjoys good, traditional British fare, he also has a reputation for homophobia.

Joking aside, this is a deliberate attempt by the Tories once again to misinform the public and distort history. Tebbitt always had a reputation for thuggish ignorance, but the Torygraph is supposed to be an upmarket, informative newspaper. Well, it lies badly and constantly, like the Tories themselves. This highly mendacious claim is yet another demonstration why shouldn’t believe anything it says.

The newspaper is making a loss hand over fist, and is heading down the tubes at a rate a knots. And this piece has just shown that when it finally goes under, British journalism will improve.

Raving racist Norman Tebbit admits he’s more right-wing than Hitler

Elon Musk and Tom Cruise to Film Movie on International Space Station

June 23, 2020

Here’s another fascinating video that has absolutely nothing to do with politics. It’s from the YouTube channel Screen Rant, and reports the news that tech mogul Elon Musk and Tom Cruise are planning to film an action movie on location in space. They’re planning to use the International Space Station. Neil Lehmann, who was worked with Cruise before on previous movies, is going to be the director. And no, apparently it’s not a hoax or publicity stunt. NASA’s Jim Bridenstine has announced that the space agency is totally behind the idea, and hopes that it will inspire more people to be interested in space, and to become scientists and engineers.

There aren’t, however, any details yet regarding the movie’s title or what it will actually be about. It won’t be a sequel to Mission: Impossible nor to Top Gun: Maverick. Neither is it connected to another film set in space that starred, or was to star Cruise, Lunar Park. What is certain, however, is that it’s going to be expensive. It cost Musk $90 million to launch his $100,000 Tesla car into space. Another film-maker, Richard Garriott, also spent two weeks in space at the station, where he filmed a five minute short, Apogee Lost. NASA charged $30 million for those two weeks. The station is open to paying guests, who are charged $35,000 per night for their stay.

According to Garriott, the station isn’t the best place to shoot. Because of the weightlessness, anything not stuck down with velcro tends to float away, and he did have trouble with the sets and props he was using floating off the walls. It also gets hot up there, so the station has a multitude of ventilator fans going, whose noise may pose a problem when recording sound.

There’s also a problem in that Cruise, and everyone of the film crew who goes with him, must pass NASA’s stringent astronaut fitness tests. They also have to be proficient swimmers and pass the course on water survival as part of the rigorous astronaut training.

The film is being billed as the first to be shot in space. It isn’t that – that honour belong’s to Garriott’s, but it will be the first full-length movie shot in space. And Screen Rant says that it will be interesting to compare it with other SF films shot on Earth.

The video naturally includes clips from a number of Cruise’s movies, including Top Gun and Mission: Impossible.

I’m particularly interested in this news because I presented a paper at a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society recommending the same idea. 

It was at a symposium at the Society’s headquarters in London on the popular commercialisation space in September 2001. All of the talks presented were really fascinating, but the one that justly received the greatest interest and applause was on how space could be used for sport, especially Harry Potter’s school game, Quidditch. Some of the papers, including mine, were later published in the May/June 2002 issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS). The paper is quite long, so I’ll just put up the abstract:

Space exploration is the subject of intense media interest in a way unparalleled in any other branch of science. It is the subject of countless films and television programmes, both fact and fiction, many using original footage from space. Astronauts have broadcast live from the Moon, and TV journalists have travelled to Mir, similar to the use of exotic terrestrial locations for filming by professional film crews. Although prohibitively expensive at the moment, the next generation of spacecraft may lower launch costs to an affordable level, so that space locations become competitive against computer graphics and model work. The constructions of orbital hotels will create the demand for human interest stories similar to those set in holiday locations like the south of France and Italy made just after the Second World War, at a time when much tourism on foreign holidays was just beginning, aided by the development of large transport aircraft able to cater to the demand for mass flight.

Moreover, special effects and studio artificiality have been eschewed by a new generation of auteur directors in pursuit of cinema verite like the Danish Dogme ’94 group. These directors will prefer to travel to orbit to film, rather than use terrestrial studio locations and special effects. The construction of zero-gravity playrooms in orbital hotels may create new spectator sports which can only be played in low or zero gravity, necessitating sports journalists to travel into space to cover them. The lack of human-rated vehicles for the Moon and the great distance to Mars will rule these out as film locations for the foreseeable future, although journalists may well accompany colonists to Mars, and a native, Martian film industry may develop when that colony matures. (p.188).

I can’t claim that Musk and Cruise stole my idea, as I doubt Musk and Cruise are even aware my article exists, let alone have read it. When I wrote the paper, NASA was testing advanced spacecraft designs using aerospike engines, which they hoped would significantly reduce launch costs. These never materialised due to the repeated failures of the spacecraft leading to the programme’s cancellation. It may be, however, that the development of Musk’s SpaceX rocket, which has just successfully carried a crew to the ISS, may lead to the emergence of further spacecraft vehicles which may do this. NASA is also is also involved in the development of landers for a possible crewed mission to the Moon. Space hotels aren’t a reality yet, but a first step towards them was made in 2016 with the addition of an inflatable section, the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) to the International Space Station. This was launched aboard the Spacex rocket, and was developed by the hotel magnate Robert Bigelow.

Despite the immense costs involved, I hope this movie does get made and that it inspires other film makers to use space as a location. And I also hope they do start building proper space tourist hotels and start playing and broadcasting sports in space. After all, one of the last Apollo crewmen played golf on the Moon.

And if there are other billionaire space entrepreneurs looking for a few ideas to develop, perhaps they might consider another I had, which I discussed in a previous post. I had a piece published in one of the British Interplanetary Society’s magazine’s looking forward to competitive, human-carrying hobby rocketry, similar to hang gliding and microlights in aviation. I’d be delighted to see someone start developing that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book on Slavery Around the World Up To the Present

June 23, 2020

Jeremy Black, Slavery: A New Global History (London: Constable & Robinson 2011).

One of the aspects of the contemporary debate over slavery is that, with some exceptions, it is very largely centred on western, transatlantic slavery. This is largely because the issue of slavery has been a part of the controversy over the status of Blacks in western society and the campaigns for improving their conditions and combating anti-Black racism since the abolitionist movement arose in the 18th and 19th centuries. But it ignores the crucial fact that slavery is a global phenomenon which was certainly not confined to the transatlantic slavery of the European empires. One of the arguments marshaled by the slaveowners was that slavery had existed since antiquity. Both the Romans and the ancient Greeks had possessed slaves, as had ancient Egypt. It still existed in Black Africa, the Turkish empire, the Arab states and India. Hence slavery, the slaveowners argued, was a necessary part of human civilisation, and was impossible to abolish. It was ‘philanthropic’ and ‘visionary’ to demand it.

This was partly the reason why, after the British had abolished slavery in their own empire, they moved to attack it around the world. This meant not only freeing the slaves in the West Indies and their South American colonies, but also at Cape Colony in South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Hong Kong and further east in the new territories of Malaya, Fiji and the Pacific Islands, and Australia.  Most histories of slavery focus on transatlantic slavery. However, Jeremy Black’s book discusses it as existed around the world.

The book’s blurb concentrates on European slavery in the Americas. It runs

The story of slavery – from the ancient world to the present day

In this panoramic history, leading historian Jeremy Black explores slavery from its origins – the uprising of Spartacus and the founding of the plantations in the Indies – to its contemporary manifestations as human trafficking and bonded labour.

Black reveals how slavery served to consolidate empires and shape New World societies such as America and Brazil, and the way in which slave trading across the Atlantic changed the Western world. He assesses the controversial truth behind the complicity of Africans within the trade, which continued until the long, hard fight for abolition in the nineteenth century. Black gives voice to both the campaigners who fought for an end to slavery, and the slaves who spoke of their misery.

In this comprehensive and thoughtful account of the history of slavery, the role of slavery in the modern world is examined and Black shows that it is still widespread today in many countries.

But Black begins his introduction with the case of Hadijatou Mani, a Niger woman, who was sold into slavery at the age of 12 and subsequently beaten, raped and prosecuted for bigamy because she dared to marry a man other than her master. She successfully brought her case before the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, which ruled in her favour and fined her country. She stated that she had brought the case in order to protect her children. Slavery is officially outlawed in Niger, but the local customary courts support the custom by which the children of slaves become the property of their masters.

Black then describes how slavery was truly a global phenomenon, and the treatment of slaves at Cape Coast in Ghana resembles the treatment of Christian slaves taken by the Barbary pirates. And its history extends from the ancient world to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. He writes

The mournful, underground dungeons at Cape Coast Castle and other bases on the low, watery coastline of West Africa where African slaves were held from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries prior to shipment to the New World are potent memory of the vile cruelty of slavery, and notably of the approximately 12.5 million Africans forced into this trade and transported on about 35,000 transatlantic voyages, yet these dungeons are not alone and should not crowd out other landscapes where slavery was carried on and the slave trade conducted. Nicholas de Nicolay’s mid-sixteenth-century account of slave dealers parading their captives naked to show that they had no physical defects, and so that they could be examined as if they were horses, with particular reference to their teeth and feet, could have referred to the world of Atlantic slavery, but actually was written about Tripoli in modern Libya, where large numbers of Christians captured from Malta and Sicily by the Barbary pirates of North Africa were sold.

Indeed, the landscapes of slavery span the world, and range from the Central Asian city of Khiva, where the bustle of the slave market can still be visualized in the narrow streets, to Venice, a major entrepot for the slave trade of medieval Europe albeit not one noted by modern tourists. The range is also from Malacca in modern Malaysia, an important centre for the slave trade around the Indian Ocean, especially under the Muslim sultans but also, from 1511, under, first their Portuguese and, then, their Dutch successors, to the few remains of the murderous system of labout that was part of the Nazis’ genocidal treatment of the Jews. The variety of slavery in the past and across history stretched from the galleys of imperial Rome to slave craftsmen in Central Asian cities, such as Bukhara, and from the mines of the New World to those working in spice plantations in east Africa. Public and private, governmental and free enterprise, slavery was a means of labour and form of control. (p.2).

The book has the following chapters

  1. Pre-1500
  2. The Age of Conquest, 1500-1600
  3. The Spread of Capitalist Slavery, 1600-1700
  4. Slavery before Abolitionism, 1700-1780
  5. Revolution, Abolitionism and the Contrasting Fortunes of the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1780-1850
  6. The End of Slavery, 1830-1930?
  7. A Troubled Present, 1930-2011
  8. Legacies and Conclusions.

I feel very strongly that the global dimension of slavery and the slave trade needs to be taught, and people should be aware that it isn’t simply something that White Europeans forced on to Black Africans and other indigenous peoples. British imperialism was wrong, but the British did act to end slavery, at least officially, both within our empire and across the world. And odiously slavery is returning. After Blair’s, Sarkozy’s and Obama’s bombing of Libya, the Islamist regime in part of the country has allowed slave markets selling Black Africans to be reopened. Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, posted a video on YouTube discussing the appearance of yet more slave markets in Uganda. He pointedly asked why none of the ‘SJWs’ protesting against the racism and the historical injustice of slavery weren’t protesting about that. Benjamin is a member of the extreme right, though I would not like to accuse him personally of racism and the question is a good one. As far as I know, there are no marches of anti-racist activists loudly demanding an end to racism in countries like Uganda, Niger, Libya and elsewhere. Back in the ’90s the persistence and growth of slavery was a real, pressing issue and described in books like Disposable People. But that was over twenty years ago and times have moved on.

But without an awareness of global history of slavery and existence today, there is a danger that the current preoccupation with western transatlantic slavery will just create a simplistic ‘White man bad’ view. That White Europeans are uniquely evil, while other cultures are somehow more virtuous and noble in another version of the myth of the ‘noble savage’.

And it may make genuine anti-racists blind to its existence today, an existence strengthened and no doubt increasing through neoliberalism and the miseries inflicted by globalisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boris’ Lockdown Delay Killed 30,000 People

June 17, 2020

Nonessential shops reopened on Monday, and the Beeb news was all about hordes of people queuing outside Primark. This will no doubt boost the spirits of Boris and the Tories, who care more about the economy than human lives. Boris’ lead in the polls has collapsed over his mishandling of the Coronavirus epidemic. The last time I heard anything about it, he was at -2 and Starmer was way ahead of him. And after the scandals of the government’s failure to provide adequate supplies of PPE, of deaths from the disease now having reached 40,000 and still climbing, of the massive increase in the deaths of the elderly and vulnerable in care homes there have been the additional scandals of Dominic Cummings breaking the lockdown rules to drive 240 miles to Durham and Robert Jenrick approving the development of Westferry in London after Richard Desmond sent the Tories a £12,000 donation. And then there’s the mass BLM anti-racism protests. BoJob is therefore going to be looking for some good news to distract attention away from the real problems his vile government is in. He’s no doubt hoping that people will be so delighted at the partial lifting of the lockdown and being able to get out and spend their cash again, that they’ll forget all about the deaths, misery and corruption.

So let’s remind them. Last Thursday Zelo Street posted a devastating piece about the news from Channel 4, the Financial Times and the Groaniad that Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College had estimated that if Johnson had imposed the lockdown a week earlier, the death toll from the disease could have been halved. This is the real death toll from the disease, which is believed to be above 60,000 instead of the government’s figure of 40,000. Prof. Ferguson believes that if this had been done, 30,000 lives could have been saved. Despite Matt Hancock appearing on Andrew Marr’s show telling everyone that he was sure that lives wouldn’t have been saved if this had happened, Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall considered otherwise. Zelo Street’s article quotes him thus:  “Neither Vallance nor Whitty directly demur from Neil Ferguson’s assertion that the death toll could have been halved if lockdown measures were introduced earlier. They both say, in various forms, that lessons will have to be learned. PM chooses not to answer”.

Paul Waugh on Twitter also noted that Whitty, one of Boris’ advisers, had said that we were not at the end of the epidemic, but in the middle of it. He also reminded everyone that Boris had also said, nearly 12 weeks ago, that in 112 weeks’ time Britain would have beaten the virus and sent it packing. Well, we haven’t. It’s still there and killing people. Then Channel 4 announced that it had seen a leaked paper from one of the government’s advisory committees calling for a lockdown two weeks earlier than when Boris finally bothered to do it. The paper was by Dr. Steven Riley, also at Imperial College London, who believed that the policy Boris was then following of mitigation would lead to 1.7 million deaths. He therefore called for the government to turn to the strategies adopted by Hong Kong, Japan and Italy of ‘successful ongoing control’ – in other words, lockdown. Prof. Ferguson said that the epidemic had been doubling every three to four days before the lockdown had been imposed. If it had been done a week early, the death toll could have been reduced by at least half. And on ITV’s Good Morning, the former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King said that if the country had gone into lockdown a week earlier, the final death toll would only have been less than 10,000.

Zelo Street quotes a Tweet by Tom Hatfield, who declared that the government didn’t impose the lockdown when it should because Boris and the Tories were more concerned about the economy than keeping people alive. They failed at both, because it’s ‘bollocks’ that any one country can come up with a trick in today’s globalised economy to prevent a global economic crisis. ‘They killed people for nothing’, he concluded.

The response of the Tory press was predictable. They poured scorn on the estimate, and carried on their personal attacks against Prof. Ferguson, despite the fact that he was supported in his beliefs by the other scientists Anthony Costello and David King.

Zelo Street concluded its article with

‘The deflection, pushback and whataboutery confirm this is news that cannot be merely swatted away. Alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson got it horribly wrong; he and his ministers misled the public deliberately and shamefully. And as a result, tens of thousands died needlessly. That is the reality of the situation.

The families of the 30,000 should get an explanation. But they probably won’t.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/boris-legacy-30000-more-deaths.html

Absolutely. And governments, the WHO and other international health organisations have known that something like Coronavirus was coming for a very long time. Meera Senthilingam in her book Outbreaks and Epidemics: Battling Infection from Measles to Coronavirus (London: Icon Books 2020) quotes Mike Ryan, executive director of the Health Emergencies Programme at the World Health Organisation, said that an airborne version of Ebola or a form of SARS that was even slightly more transmissible would be enough ‘to bring our society to a halt’. And she observes that this prediction has been confirmed with the emergence of the Coronavirus and the subsequent national lockdowns, the border and school closures and the cancellation of events and their disastrous consequences for business.

Mike, Zelo Street and other left-wing bloggers and news sites have posted endless reports revealing how the Tories cut the preparations the Labour government had put in place to guard against an emergency like the Coronavirus. They’ve also revealed that Dominic Cummings and other senior Tories were so taken with the eugenicist doctrine of the survival of the fittest and the desire to protect the economy, that they were determined not to impose a lockdown. And if that meant a few old people dying, ‘too bad’.

Well old people have died, along with the disabled, children, and even those, who were in otherwise excellent health. It’s also carried off the dedicated, heroic doctors, nurses, carers and other vital workers, who have been doing their level best to treat the sick and keep the country running. We’ve all been impressed by their immense dedication and how they’ve worked long hours at great personal risk.

The opposite has been true of Johnson. Not only was he murderously complacent, he was personally idle. The Tories have been trying to portray him as a heroic leader, who has himself worked long hours to combat the disease. But this is a myth, a conscious piece of propaganda, like the way Mussolini put a light in his window at night to convince Italians that he never slept. Boris didn’t bother attending the first five Cobra meetings, and doesn’t like working weekends.

Deaths were unavoidable. But if Boris had acted sooner, if we hadn’t had ten years of Tory misgovernment, during which the NHS has been run down and privatised, poverty massively increased and government preparedness decimated, all in the name of austerity and giving tax cuts to the rich, 30,000 people would still be alive.

Boris Johnson and the Tories are definitely hoping that the reopening of the High Street will bring good news from now on, and that everyone will forget this horrendous death toll.

So let’s keep on reminding him and them.

Boris has killed 30,000 people. And that doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands already murdered by austerity.