Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

A Jewish Traveller’s Description of a Moroccan Slave Market

January 20, 2022

I found this description of an 18th century slave market in Morocco in Samuel Romanelli’s Travail in an Arab Land, trans. and notes by Yedida K. and Norman A. Stillman (Tuscaloosa: University of Arizona Press 1989). Romanelli was an Italian Jew, who found himself stranded in Morocco from 1787 to 1790. His book, originally published in Hebrew, is a detailed description of Morocco, its society and Jewish communities. Romanelli was a highly cultured man, deeply versed in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud and Hebrew. He was scathing both of the Arabs and what he considered to be the ignorance and superstition of Morocco’s oppressed Jews. Morocco was the endpoint of a route used by slavers taking enslaved Black Africans from sub-Saharan west Africa. Unfortunately this slave trade survived into the early 20th century because we disrupted a European blockade of Morocco c. 1909 or thereabouts to prevent the other nations invading. Morocco was kept free, but the consequence was that its indigenous slave trade continued to flourish. Romanelli states

“Twice a week there is an auction called delal … In this type of delal, they also sell black men and women. Slaves and maidservants follow behind the slave driver. The buyer will examine a maidservant as he would examine a sheep. She then becomes his permanent possession. He may either keep her as his slave or be harsh to her and resell her to another. In olden times even whites and Jews were sold, as we know from the story of Joseph and from the Mosaic ordinances.”

In fact Morocco, with Algeria, was one of the centres of the Barbary pirates, which raided Europe and attacked European and American shipping to capture white slaves. This carried on in Algiers until the British launched a reprisal in the 1830s. I’ve put this up because, as western slavery is now again a topic of controversy, political debate and demands for reparations and education, it is important to remember that slavery and the enslavement of Black Africans was not unique to the West.

And it is also disgusting that slavery is returning in the 21st century, as slave markets reopen in Uganda and in the Islamist-held portion of Libya. The last is a consequence of Blair’s overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy, and should count as another reason why the warmonger shouldn’t get a knighthood.

Rightwingers Outraged at Acquittal of the Four Who Toppled Colston’s Statue

January 7, 2022

As a Bristolian with long personal roots in the city, I feel I’ve got to tackle this. The four people responsible for pulling the down the statue of the 18th century slave trader and philanthropist in a massive Black Lives Matter protest last year were on trial for it this week. They were charged with criminal damage, and yesterday were found ‘not guilty’ by the jury. And the right has been predictably incensed. The story’s on the front page of the Daily Mail, which reports that the jury may have been placed under pressure to acquit by the defence, which urged them ‘not to be on the wrong side of history’. The prosecution is therefore planning to appeal the decision. Nigel Farage has released a video on YouTube about it. Mixed-race Tory commenter Calvin Robinson has appeared on GB News talking about it. And inevitably the Lotus Eaters have also released a video about it, with Callum and one of Sargon’s other mates expressing their poor opinion of the whole thing. The message from the right has been the same: this decision imperils every statue in Britain, because it legitimises attacks on them through an appeal to the emotions of the attacker regardless of the letter of the law. Calvin Robinson in his interview on GB News agreed with the two journalists, one Black, one White, that you had to be very careful about limiting people’s freedom of expression. However the decision to acquit was, he explained, based on a legal loophole in the criminal damage law. This permits such damage, if the property damaged or destroyed itself serves to promote a crime. The argument made by the accused in a feature about them in the Groan was that the statue constituted a hate crime against Black Bristolians. The right-wing critics of the decision have therefore argued that this makes every statue unsafe, as an emotional reason could be found for any attack on them. The person, who vandalised Churchill’s statue last year could get off because, despite defeating Fascism, Churchill was a racist and imperialist. They have also made the point that the decision also means that Conservatives also have a right to tear down Marx’s bust in London, as he was also racist and anti-Semitic, quite apart from the millions murdered under Communism. Darren Grimes, the repulsive spawn of the Guido Fawkes site, said that he could also therefore tear down the statue of Friedrich Engels in Manchester.

Jury Freedom and the Historic Acquittal of Guilty Murderers

Yesterday Simon Webb of History Debunked also joined the debate, comparing the decision to the jury’s acquittal of the attackers of three policemen during a riot in 1820s London. The cops had been stabbed, and one killed, but the jury acquitted their attackers because the cops had attacked in a particularly aggressive and provocative manner. Webb stated that back in the 17th and 18th centuries judges could and did send juries back to reconsider their verdict, and even imprison them if they didn’t give the right verdict as directed. It was, of course, a great improvement to allow the juries the freedom to judge themselves rather than according to the opinion of the beak. But this did raise problems in cases like this. Indeed. Juries won the right to judge freely according to their own judgement following arguments for such free trials by the Levellers and particularly when William Penn, a Quaker and the founder of Pennsylvania, was put on trial for preaching his radical views in Bristol. The jury repeatedly refused the judge’s order to find guilty, and were even imprisoned. They eventually won out, and the trial helped established true British justice.

Allegations of Bias against Witness David Olasuga

One of the other objections to the trial was that one of the witnesses was the historian, David Olasuga. whom the Lotus Eaters describe as a Black activist and who admitted that, had he been able, he would have joined the mob in toppling the status. There is indeed a problem with Olasuga as some of his historical interpretations are questionable. For example, he and Reni Edo-Lodge turned up in video by the Beeb laying a plaque in Liverpool to a victim of racist lynching. Except that Wootton, the lynched man, had been part of a gang of West Indians, who had launched an attack on a group of Swedes and Russians. When a cop intervened, the West Indians repeated stabbed and tried to slash his throat. They retreated to a house where someone, probably Wootton, shot three policemen, before he was chased down to the docks trying to escape. He was hardly an innocent victim. Olasuga has been one of the Black historians claiming that historically, Britain had a much larger Black community than it probably did. He claims that there were Blacks in Roman Britain. History Debunked has shown that this largely comes from one of the legions at Hadrian’s Wall coming from the Roman province of Mauretania. This has been confused with the present day country in West Africa. However, the Roman province of Mauretania was further north in Morocco. I think there are perfectly reasonable questions of bias in Olasuga’s testimony.

Political Bias in Prosecution of Vandals

And then have come the various commenters sneering and deriding Bristol. I’ve seen the usual rants about how it’s a ‘Communist’ or ‘left-wing’ shithole; it’s a lefty university town, and as terrible as Liverpool or London. Rather more interesting was one comment from a working class Bristolian, who had been having a meal at a cafe in the city, whose customers were largely Black West Indians. These people had all been solidly against the decision. I can well believe it. I don’t think the Black community Bristol or elsewhere in our great nation is a monolithic bloc. Just like other racial groups, like Whites, Asians or Jews aren’t either. As for the four defendants, they were White middle class liberal kids, who most likely didn’t come from Bristol. There was also speculation about what would happen if someone vandalised a statue to a Black personality, like Nelson Mandela. Would this be treated the same way? Not if the example of the vandalism done to a mural of Marcus Rashford was an example. Although the messages sprayed on it weren’t racist, it was nevertheless treated as a racist hate crime. Actually, you don’t have to look that far for a similar example. After Colston’s statue was torn down, a bust in one of Bristol’s parks of a Black writer and dramatist was vandalised and the cops were after those responsible.

Some Black Bristolians Genuinely Upset at Statue

As for the feelings of fear or outrage that the defendants claimed justified the attack, the Black interviewer on GB News and Robinson both questioned whether Black people are so emotional fragile that they would be upset simply walking past Colston’s statue. Some may well not be, but others definitely were. Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy elected mayor, head of equalities and city councillor for St. George’s, was on Radio 4 last year giving her opinion about the statue and Bristol’s historic connection to the slave trade. The programme also talked to others about it, including one ordinary Black woman. She said that she felt physically sick having to walk past it on the way to work every morning. I understand and sympathise. I think her example was far better and more persuasive than the various political activists angrily demanding that it should be torn down. It was the voice of an ordinary, working-class woman, about how the statue affected her.

Arguments for the Preservation of the Statue

It also has to be stated that Black Lives Matter’s attack was deliberately against the wishes of Bristolians themselves. There had been several polls in the past about whether the statue should be taken down or not. The majority of people voted against it. Paul Stephenson, one of the organisers of the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s against the bus company’s refusal to employ Blacks, gave his opinion on the issue in an interview with Philippa Gregory in the 1990s. Gregory had just had her novel, A Respectable Trade, about the Bristol slave trade adapted for television and there was an exhibition about the city and slavery then at the City Museum and Art Gallery. It has since been moved and is now on display, sans title, at the city’s excellent M Shed Museum. Stephenson has something of a mixed reputation. To some he’s a respected civil rights activists, while others regard him more a deliberate troublemaker. He declared to Gregory that Colston was a bloody mass murderer responsible for a ‘Holocaust in Africa’. This follows the statement of W.E.B. DuBois, the pioneering American Black rights activist, that slavery and the slave trade were a Black Holocaust. It sounds like hyperbole, a deliberately emotional exaggeration, but I believe it’s based on the accounts of 19th century anti-slavery activists about the fierce tribal violence generated by the slave trade, and the devastation of whole regions as a result. But Stephenson also said that he didn’t think the statue should be torn down. He believed it should remain standing with an additional note to remind people of his crimes. A similar argument was made by the Lotus Eaters, who felt that statues should be left standing, even though they may be to terrible people, because they’re history. And we need to learn from history if we are to move on.

It’s a perfectly good argument, and one advanced in the ’90s by radical anarchist band The Levellers. They took their name from the radical, proto-democrat, proto-socialist sect during the British Civil War. They also believed in ‘Godly reformation’ and so, along with the other merchandising at their concerts were copies of the Bible and Christopher Hill’s Marxist study of the British Civil War, The World Turned Upside Down. I particularly remember one of their songs that had the lines ‘I believe in justice, I believe in vengeance, I believe in getting the bastard’. But they also released a song protesting about the decision by Manchester’s Labour council to rename the town’s historic Free Trade Hall. They objected to it because it was the destruction of history and an attempt to rewrite the past. It’s strange and rather disconcerting that they should have the same view on this issue from a libertarian left perspective, as the Tories.

Lastly, it needs to be remembered that Colston was not honoured for enslaving Blacks. The statue was put up long after that was over. Rather it was because he was a great philanthropist, who gave much of his fortune away in charity. There were schools named after him and funded by his largesse. My old school used to celebrate Colston Day in his honour, when the children were given a few days off. A few were specially honoured and went to a special service at Redcliffe Church, where they were given a Colston bun.

Bristol Great City

Now for a few remarks on the decision and the views of the various right-winger, who have sounded off about it. Firstly, Bristol isn’t a shithole. It’s a large, great city with a proud history of trade, exploration, industry and invention with excellent museums and theatres. The Bristol Old Vic and its theatre school have a particularly excellent reputation and have produced some of the country’s great thesps. It has it’s problems. I believe that the Bristol’s Black community is one of the three largest in the country, along with Birmingham and London. It has its problems with marginalisation, lack of educational achievement, unemployment, drugs and violent crime, though this is by no means confined simply to Blacks. But it’s not particularly left-wing. Some areas, like Stokes Croft, have a reputation for radical politics. I’ve heard local people refer to it as ‘the people’s republic of Stokes Croft’. Other areas are Conservative, and all the shades of political opinion in between.

Academic Freedom and Marxist Indoctrination at Universities

As for the universities, the comment blaming them for the decision comes from the standard right-wing attitude that the unis are full of Marxists indoctrinating students. In fact, universities, courses and individual lecturers vary immensely. Some universities had a reputation, even in my day, for being hotbeds of left-wing activism, others were more Conservative. It also varies with the course you’re on. There hasn’t, traditionally, been much opportunity for far left-wing indoctrination in maths, science, medicine and engineering courses because of the nature of those subjects. Although it’s creeping in now in the form of ethnomathematics and the demands that the achievements of Black scientists and mathematicians should be particularly taught, it’s mostly been confined to the humanities. There have always been Marxist historians. These include the very well respected Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Saunders, and there is a specific Marxist view of history. You are taught about this on the historiography courses in history at University, along with other forms of history, such as women’s history, social history, what Butterfield called the ‘Whig view of history’ and more conservative and Conservative views. I’ve been taught by lecturers with feminist or left-wing views. I’ve also been taught by people with far more traditional views. I also know lecturer who determined to keep their political views out of the classroom. University is supposed to be a place of free speech and debate, and it’s important that this is maintained. Students should be encouraged to read sources and the historical literature critically, and make up their own views. This means an engagement with Marxism as well as other ideologies. I think Bristol university has particularly come under fire because it’s rather more conservative and traditional compared to the newer universities. It received funding from the Colston charities when it was established early in the last century. Hence I believe the granting of a chair in the history of slavery to a Black woman. It also has relatively few Black students, which contrasts with the population of the city as a whole. This is partly because it has very high standards, and as a rule Blacks generally have poorer grades than other racial groups. It is also no doubt because when I was young, going away was seen as part of university education and so you were discouraged from applying to the local university. Hence the university is now trying to give greater opportunities to study to more Blacks and ethnic minorities.

Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory and the Marxist Attack on Western Culture

Now I largely agree that the acquittal of the four defendants has set a dangerous precedent because it allows people to attack public monuments they dislike or which are controversial. James Lindsay, one of the group with Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose that has attacked postmodernist Critical Theory, has argued that ideologies like Queer Theory and Critical Race Theory are deliberate attacks on traditional western culture and Enlightenment values. They are aimed at destroying the past to create a Marxist future, just as Chairman Mao did during the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. One of the ancient monuments the Red cadres smashed as part of the campaign against the ‘Four Olds’ was the tomb of Confucius! This sounds like an idea straight out of loony right-wing paranoids and conspiracists like Alex Jones and the John Birch Society, until he backs it up by reading chapter and verse from the founders of such postmodernist Marxism, like Marcuse, Horkheimer and others. And yes, I can quite believe that vandalism to a monument to a Black politico or celebrity, like Nelson Mandela, would be treated far differently and as a terrible hate crime than the attack on Colston.

But regardless of the defence’s plea to the jury to ‘be on the right side of history’, I think there would always have been pressure on the jury to acquit. Colston was a slave trader and had been controversial for decades. They naturally wouldn’t have wanted to acquit people who attacked a monument on that score, rather than the philanthropy the statue commemorated. And the defendants make a good point when they say that ‘he no longer speaks for Bristol’. There were others in the city who opposed the slave trade. As well as the slavers and the West Indian planters, Bristol also had a large abolitionist movement. If you go a little way from the centre of Bristol into Redcliffe, you’ll find the Georgian church where Jeremiah Clarkson, one of the leading 18th century abolitionists, collected the testimony of Bristol’s slavers as part of his evidence against the trade.

Other Statues Not Vandalised

As for other statues, none of those in the surrounding area were touched. Not the statue to Edmund Burke, the politician and founder of modern Conservatism through his book, Reflections on the Revolution in France. The Lotus Eaters are offering it, or reading through it, as their ‘book of the month’. I wonder if they’ll mention that Burke’s statue was signally left untouched by the rioters. As was the statue of a monk in Lewin’s Mead, which had before the Reformation been a monastic complex. They also failed to destroy the statue of Neptune and a sailor on the docks. Queen Victoria was left untouched on nearby College Green. They also didn’t destroy the statue of John Cabot outside the Council House, sorry, ‘City Hall’ and the Central Library. This was despite various ‘spokesmen’ for the Black community claiming that the City’s celebration of his discovery of Newfoundland and America, following Columbus, was a celebration of slavery. There may well be similar defences used on similar attacks on other statues, but I think such attacks will be far more difficult to defend. Churchill was indeed a racist and an imperialist, as well as personally responsible for sending troops to gun down striking miners in Wales. But to the vast majority of severely normal Brits he was also the man, who helped save Europe and the world from Nazism and the Axis. And that would also count powerfully in the case against anyone who vandalised his monument.

Historians also Successfully Defend Controversial Statues

As for testimony from historians, this can work against the iconoclasts. The BLM fanatics trying to get the statue of Cecil Rhodes torn down at Oxford university claimed that he was somehow ‘South Africa’s Adolf Hitler’. Now Rhodes was a grotty character and an imperialist, but this goes too far. Rhodes’ biographer tackled this claim on social media, at which the BLM protesters making it went quiet. They couldn’t refute it, and so went silent.

I therefore do not feel that other statues are necessarily in a greater danger than previously because of the acquittal.

Then there’s the question of any possible statue to replace it. There are rumours that it could be a Black person. Well, if there is, it should be of a Black person, who actually had contact and lived in the city. One of Bristol’s sporting heroes way back was a Black boxer. One of my aunts was friends with his daughter. I’d say this gentleman would be a good candidate for such a statue, because as a sports hero he united everyone from left and right, as well as being a citizen of Bristol.

Nigel Farage has suggested a memorial to the British navy. Absolutely. The British West India squadron did excellent work patrolling the seas for slavers. And they were by no means all racist. Captain Denman, giving evidence on a massacre of 300 unsold slaves by one of the West African slaving states to parliament, made the point that ‘it is remarkable given the advances they have made in the arts of civilisation’. He clearly believe European civilisation was superior, but had been particularly shocked because the African peoples responsible for the massacre were also comparatively civilised. Africans serving or aiding the British navy were also given the compensation payments awarded to British tars when they suffered injury and loss of limbs.

We also patrolled the waters between east Africa and India to stop western and Arab slavers, and one antipodean historian has written that in the Pacific, the royal navy was the chief protector of its indigenous peoples against enslavement.

It also needs to be remembered that one of the reasons for the British invasion of Africa was to stamp out slavery and the slave trade. I’ve no doubt that the main, if not the real reasons were simple hunger for territory and resources, and to stop those areas falling into the hands of our European imperial rivals – France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. But some of the officer involved took their duty extremely serious, such as Samuel Baker and Gordon of Khartoum. The Mahdi, against whom Gordon fought, and his followers were slavers outraged at the British government’s ban on it and the enslavement of Black Sudanese. There are therefore excellent reasons for putting up a memorial to the British navy and armed forces.

And I would also support a statue to Jeremiah Clarkson for his work in the city bringing the horrors of the trade to light.

In the meantime, despite the right-wing outrage at this act of vandalism, I think we should view the attack on Colston’s statue as a special case.

Claims of a general threat to British history because of it may well be exaggerated.

Grayson Perry, Futurism and the Democratisation of Art

December 13, 2021

One of the best programmes to have been on during the lockdown has been Grayson Perry’s Art Club on Channel 4, hosted by the Turner Prize-winning potter. He has attempted to encourage people across the country to get creating their own personal works of art. They have included ordinary Brits, as well as celebrities like Johnny Vegas and Boy George. At the end of the series, the works he selected for inclusion on his programme were exhibited in one of the country’s museums. Last year’s entry’s were displayed, I think, in Manchester. This year they’re being exhibited at the City Museum and Art Gallery here in Bristol. Accompanying the exhibition was an edition of his programme last Friday, in which he went behind the scenes to show the works being put up, as well as display the pieces that he had selected and talk to their creators. Those included came from all works of life. One was a volunteer at a food bank, who had painted one of the other women working there behind the counter. Another was a transvestite, who had painted himself in feminine make-up. Johnny Vegas had produced a highly stylised human figure representing Norman. This was a young lad he remembered from school, who always seemed hunched up in his coat as if he had already been defeated and given up on life. Vegas wished he could go back and encourage him to become more positive. One of the most amazing people was Becky Taylor, a young woman stricken with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, she nevertheless was able to speak and create through the same type of computer technology as Stephen Hawking. She was able to paint a portrait of Perry by moving her eyes across the computer screen. Their movements were captured by the software, which turned them into brushstrokes. The result was an astonishingly good likeness. Perry tried to do it for himself, but unsurprisingly only succeeded in making a mess.

It struck me that Perry’s programme in many respects was close to some of the ideals and demands made by the Italian Futurists. Not that the gentle, transvestite Perry had anything politically in common with the hypermasculine, nationalistic belligerence of the Futurists, who celebrated violence and declared war to be ‘sole hygiene of the world’, and whose survivors after World War I joined Mussolini’s Fascists. But Taylor’s art and the technology that enabled her to express her creativity would certainly have pleased them, as they celebrated the new industrial Italy. Marinetti, in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism of 1909, had looked forward to ‘the coming union of man and machine’.

But Marinetti had also called for museums and exhibition spaces to be opened up to the public, to display the works of art that were being produced by ordinary Italians. He was impressed by the number of people, even in small villages, who were artistically inclined and dismayed by how they were frustrated and crushed. In his ‘Florentine Address’ of 1919, he remarked on ‘the proletariat of geniuses’, the frustrated intellectuals of contemporary Italy, calling for their encouragement and display. He said, or, more probably, declaimed

“I wish to fill another gap by turning now to the only proletariat that remains forgotten and oppressed: the vitally important proletariat of geniuses.

It is indisputable that our race surpasses all others in the large number of geniuses that it produces. Even the smallest Italian group, the smallest village, can claim seven or eight twenty-year olds, who are brimming over with creative fervor, youths of overweening ambition as revealed in volumes of unpublished verse and in eloquent outbursts in the public squares and at political rallies. Admittedly some (though they are few in number) are little more than foolish dreamers who will probably never attain true genius. But there is genius in their temperament, which is to say that, encouraged in the right manner, they might well contribute to the nation’s intellectual dynamism.

In that same small group or village it is easy to find seven or eight middle-aged men above whose heads hovers the melancholy halo of failed genius, a halo that accompanies them through their lives as petty clerks or professionals, in neighbourhood cafes, and with their families. Remnants of a genius that never found a propitious environment in which it might thrive, they were quickly laid low by economic and sentimental necessities.

I founded the Futurist artistic movement eleven years ago in order to brutally modernize the literary-artistic milieu, to deprive it of any authority and destroy its ruling gerontocracy, to debunk pedantic professors and critics, and to encourage the reckless outbursts of young genius. My aim was to create a fully oxygenated atmosphere, a healthy, encouraging, supportive atmosphere where all of Italy’s young geniuses might prosper. I sought to encourage all of them, to increase their pride, to clear a path for them, to swiftly reduce the proportion of failed and worn-out geniuses.

It is sometimes difficult to recognise, appreciate, and encourage young geniuses. In part this is because instead of viewing their homeland as a vast malleable mass to be molded spiritually, these youths regard it as an idiotic network of abuses of power, criminal rackets, corrupt authorities, and asinine rules. And, of course, they are right. Everywhere in our country, genius is undervalued, derided, imprisoned. Only mediocre opportunists and over-the-hill, one-time geniuses are celebrated and crowned….

Many other youths – dynamic, impetuous young men, intoxicated with spiritual heroism and revolutionary patriotism – have now swollen the Futurist ranks. But a great many others remain ignorant or depressed, stifled by the atmosphere of small ultrapasseist cities. Thanks to the vast wave of stormy soirees and demonstrations that swept up and down the Italian peninsula, Futurism came into contact with nearly everyone. But the nation’s political forces will have to undertake a more systematic campaign if we are to save, re-ignite, and tap the vast energies possessed by the proletariat of geniuses.

I propose the construction in every city of a number of buildings that bear a title like the following: Free Exhibition of Creative Genius. In these facilities:

  1. works of painting, sculpture, graphics, architectural drawings, machine drawings, and designs of inventions will be on display for a month at time;
  2. Musical works, small or large, for orchestra or piano, in any genre, form, or size will be performed.
  3. poems, prose, scientific writings of all kinds and lengths will be read, displayed, recited;
  4. all citizens will have the right to exhibit free of charge;
  5. works of any kind or any value, even if seemingly judged to be absurd, inane, crazy or immoral, will be displayed or read without a jury.

With these free and open exhibitions of creative genius, we Futurists wage war against an ever present danger: the danger of seeing the spirit shipwrecked on the ideological seas that swirl around the formulas of communism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

From: A Primer of Italian Fascism, ed. and introduced by Jeffrey T. Schnapp (University of Nebraska Press 2000) 271-3.

Some of this has been realised through recent initiatives to open up museums and art galleries to the public and aspiring artists, as well as the new opportunities for display that have come through the internet. I don’t quite share the Futurist’s artistic tastes – they were militant avant-garde artists who attacked traditional art and Italy’s artistic heritage. And there are obviously artistic, literary and scientific works that are too dangerous or immoral to be displayed or encouraged. But Marinetti had a point. Up and down Britain there are people, who have tried their hand at art or literature, and been discouraged because of lack of opportunity. They also deserve their chance. It’s great that programmes like Perry’s are there to encourage them.

But perhaps, to encourage the genius of ordinary people still further, we should build the exhibition halls he called for to show what talent is still out there, waiting to be discovered.

The Rolling Stones and Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robots

December 5, 2021

I’m fascinated by robots and their use in musical and artistic performances. There’s an awesome robot band, Compressorhead, created by a team of robot engineers who seem mostly to perform covers of Rock and Heavy Metal hits. In this video from Boston Dynamics, the Stoned perform their song, ‘Start Me Up’, accompanied by boogie dance moves from a group of the four-legged Spot robots produced by the company. And these do a very good job of impersonating Mick Jagger.

The Italian Futurists would have loved this, as their art was based on and celebrated the new machine age and industrial Italy that was just then emerging. One of their operas was about a love affair between a train and her driver, while other pieces had titles like ‘The Agony of the Machine’. Real science is catching up with the Futurist aesthetic while popular culture with its robots, video games and the near instantaneous communication of the internet would have amazed and delighted them. The Futurists, however, were determined that their creations were high art, while pop music and videos are seen as much less. Nevertheless, I do wonder how long it will be before the technology becomes sufficiently cheap and accessible for writers and impresarios to use them in rather more serious productions.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Trashman, 60s Underground Comix Anti-Hero

November 30, 2021

Here’s another video from YouTube comics creators and YouTubers, Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor, in which the two discuss one of ‘Spain’ Rodriguez’s best-known and most notorious characters, Trashman. Rodriguez was one of the major talents in ’60s underground comics. The two state he was first published by Evo and the East Village Other, and was part of a group of underground comix artists and creators called the Berkeley Tribe. Spain was fully part of the ’60s counterculture and Trashman was an explicit expression of that decade’s political radicalism and youth revolt. The Kayfabers remark that stylistically Spain appears influenced by mainstream comic artists, like the legendary Jack Kirby and John Romita at Marvel, he’s far removed from them in politics and content. Because Trashman was an agent of the ‘6th International’, gunning down the enemies of the people. The comic, The Collected Trashman, has the date ‘1969’ on it, but this doesn’t mean it was actually published them. Even so, it deals with the decade’s topics of distrust of the government, Vietnam, drugs, free love and hippies. There’s a lot of sex in it, so be careful about watching it at work. The two also compare Trashman to later heroes like Mad Max and Judge Dredd. Trashman careers about an urban environment in a souped-up car, to which armour and a set of tank tracks have been added, rather like one of the bizarre, demented vehicles in Mad Max: Fury Road. It might also be because of the mixture of automotive mayhem, extreme violence and urban dystopia that’s behind the Kayfaber’s comparison to Judge Dredd.

Rather more problematic to contemporary readers is Spain’s highly sexualised view of women. A number of underground comix creators were accused of sexism and misogyny, such as Robert Crumb, and I think Rodriguez may have been another one. But the Kayfabers argue that Rodriguez was doing it when feminism was emerging, and so was probably trying to get more publicity through notoriety.

It’s an interesting look at one of the best-known and remembered of the decade’s underground heroes. I don’t know if such a comic would be possible now. Certainly the decades of terrorism that followed the 60s from groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, the various radical terrorist groups running amok in Italy, and the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland would probably make such a character deeply unappealing to large sections of the public, quite apart from the Fall of Communism. Trashman was going to be controversial even in the 1960s, with the rise of terrorist groups like the Weathermen and the violence at the Democratic National Convention. There’s even a story in the comic in which Trashman shoots that up.

Nevertheless, there are still students sticking posters of Che Guevara on their walls and the rise of Black Lives Matter and strong initial support for former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the US shows that a sizable section of the British and American electorate want far more radical change than the right-wing cliques that have seized control of the Labour party in Britain and Democrats in the US are prepared to give them. Not that either Corbyn or Sanders ever remotely endorsed terrorism and violence, despite the vilification of the former by the British political and media establishment.

One of the complaints among some comics creators and fans is that Marvel and DC, the two main comics companies in the US, have moved too far leftward. Instead of producing good, enjoyable stories with strong plots and characters, the two are instead concentrating on explicit statements about social issues and promoting characters based solely on their gender, race or sexuality. This is putting readers off, and as a result American comics are in decline as people turn instead to Japanese manga, which eschews these issues. This is the view of Ethan van Sciver and the Comicsgaters. I can see their point of view, although the Guardian pointed out in an article a few years ago that comics have always dealt with political and social issues. That’s quite true. One episode of the Superman radio series in the 1940s was applauded by NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League as the Man of Steel had gone after the Klan. In the 1970s both Marvel and DC dealt with racism and the collapse of American self-esteem following Watergate. There were several issues of Captain America in which the Captain forswore his patriotic identity to call himself ‘Nomad’ following his own, brief loss of faith in his country. There were also a number of Hulk stories which showed a very strong critical attitude to the military, doubtless influenced by the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. However, Stan Lee, the man responsible with artists like Kirby and Ditko, for so many of Marvel’s most iconic heroes, also said in an interview that he was careful not to let the political content alienate those readers who didn’t agree with it.

The Kayfaber’s state that Trashman is a product of its times, though it can also be seen as a period piece set in that decade because of its timeless quality. Back in the 1990s the Heil went berserk at a similar radical, underground comic on sale in the shops. This was an anarchist version of Tintin, in which the boy detective was shown joining the struggle against the cops and the state. Of course, the book had absolutely no connection to anything Herge actually wrote or did. However, the rise of the internet has provided would-be comics creators with an opportunity for launching their own comics without the hindrance of the mainstream comics publishing industry. It’s therefore possible that as Thatcherite neoliberalism continues to collapse and show itself corrupt and bankrupt, underground comix heroes like Trashman may rise to stick it to oppressive capitalist authority once again. And especially if less radical ways of changing the system or expressing dissatisfaction are suppressed by Blairites and Thatcherite Labour leaders like Keir Starmer.

Kojo Moe: Factories as Tourist Spots in Japan

November 15, 2021

I found this interesting snippet in the ‘Funny Old World’ column in Private Eye’s issue for 18-31 March 2011, ultimately taken from a CNN item for 26th January of that year. It’s about a recent development or fad in the Japanese tourist industry: visiting factories. I know they do this in Britain, where people tour historic factories looking at things being made, or learning how they were made in the past. A good example is Ironbridge. But this is something different. It’s about appreciating factories as objects of beauty in themselves. This is radically different to previous ideas of beauty, which are centred on the living landscape, either natural or that of the rural village. And from reading the article, it seems to have its origins partly in the beginning of the film Blade Runner, where Deckard’s car flies past a refinery belching fire. The article runs

‘”Kojo moe is an infatuation with factories,” Daigo Yokoto told reporters outside a power plant in the industrial city of Kawasaki, near Tokyo, “and it’s becoming an alternative form of tourism in Japan. The geometric patterns of metal pipes and frames, the eerie smoke and sudden eruptions of flames – it is a completely different world, and it’s less than an hour away from Tokyo, where and my friends live. It’s not what goes on inside the factories that interests us, it’s the moment where the cylindrical smoke stack sends up steam, or a furnace starts belching smoke. That’s what makes us happy.”

Over the past year, kojo moe has grown from a tiny Japanese subculture into a major form of tourism, with 4,000 yen cruises to industrial zones booked out months in advance. “I love taking photos and I love factories,” added photographer Masaki Ishitani from Osaka, “and combining the two gives me an innocent sense of enjoyment. Kawasaki factories are the biggest, the most beautiful, and most wonderful in Japan. Standing here watching a giant power plant billowing out smoke is just like being in the movie Blade Runner.”

There is a similar aesthetic over here as well, albeit to a far lesser extent. I can remember passing a refinery near Cardiff with friends on the way to a re-enactment event in the ’90s, and we were struck by its awesome beauty. It was floodlit and really did resemble the refinery from Blade Runner. Ridley Scott, the film’s director, based that sequence on a factory or refinery he used to pass when he was a schoolboy or arts student. One night as was passing he said to himself, ‘God, this is beautiful’.

I find this particularly fascinating because it’s precisely the kind of aesthetic that the Futurists were trying to promote. They were a reaction to Symbolism and hated traditional, especially neo-classical art. They celebrated instead the new, modern, urban Italy, of youth, speed, violence and the new machine age. The Futurist architect Sant’Elia designed huge modernist buildings representing the new aesthetic, designs which even now, after the horrors of mid-20th century Brutalist architecture, still look futuristic. Kojo moe also interests me because it does seem to be an instance where Science Fiction has altered or set up a different ideal of beauty. I really don’t believe that the Conceptualism that was all rage as the official art of the ’90s really has done much to push the boundaries of art. I think that’s being done elsewhere, and particularly within Science Fiction and Fantasy, in media such as computer games, films, TV, book illustration and comics. And I’d like to see it appreciated by the art establishment.

Johnson Squirms and Blusters When Questioned About Not Wearing Mask at COP26

November 4, 2021

The world’s great, if not good, have gathered in Scotland to discuss the climate crisis and so far the conduct of our shambolic excuse for a prime minister has been of his usual standard: abysmal. As Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out, Bozo fell asleep at one of the talks, while sat between David Attenborough and the UN Secretary General. Our free and fearless broadcasters, both Beeb and ITN, did not show the footage. This suggests that they’re becoming the British equivalents of the official news services in dictatorships like Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia or Fascist Italy, where nothing that would possibly show the dictator in an unflattering light could ever be published. This even extended to the Gorbachev era. Although Gorbachev opened up a new era of democracy, openness, ‘glaznost’, and friendship with the West, the state media still acted to preserve the great man’s vanity. Gorby was born with a birthmark on his forehead, but this was carefully airbrushed out in the official pictures. Mussolini literally used to stand on a soapbox when he delivered his rants to the unfortunate Italian public, but this too was carefully airbrushed out of the photos. And then there’s that notoriously doctored photograph showing Stalin sat cosily next to Lenin on a bench. Now we have British television showing it’s quite prepared to do the same in order to spare Bozo’s blushes.

Bozo also didn’t wear the required facemask to protect everyone else from Covid as he was slumbering next to Attenborough. David Attenborough is 95, and therefore particularly vulnerable to the disease. Unlike Bozo, he was also wide-awake and alert, or at least he appeared to be. Nobody could blame him at his age if he had dozed off. But Attenborough generally appears far more intelligent than Boris generally, and much more popular. Also more accomplished in cross-species communication. After all, Attenborough found himself accepted into a family of gorillas in Africa during his blockbusting wildlife series, Life on Earth way back in 1979. It was one of the truly great pieces of natural history broadcasting. For all his background as a journalist, Boris has done nothing remotely similar, nor behaved with the grace, dignity and gravitas one would expect of someone who aspires to be a grand statesman. Boris is colossally graceless and inept, and when faced with difficult or not so difficult questions, his only recourse is to bluster incoherently.

And he did exactly this when questioned on CNN about why he didn’t wear the facemask and so risked Attenborough coming down with the potentially lethal disease. Alex Belfield posted this video yesterday, which shows the buffoon squirming in embarrassment. Of course, the mad right-wing internet radio host has his own reasons for posting the video. He vehemently opposes the lockdown, viewing it as doing more harm than good. It’s an attitude shared by much of the right. He early posted a video showing what he considered to be the hypocrisy of the world leaders in Scotland over the issue of facemasks. This showed them all posing for a photoshoot wearing them. As soon as the photographers had taken their pics, off the masks came. I don’t agree with Belfield about facemasks. I do think they are helping to protect the vulnerable. But I’ve got no problem sharing this video about Bozo’s hypocrisy and stupidity.

Astronomer Percival Lowell’s View of a Peaceful Mars

October 20, 2021

Percival Lowell is the American astronomer most associated with the notorious and unfortunately entirely illusory Martian canals. The Italian astronomer Schiaparelli first saw what he called canali in the 19th century, but the Italian can mean both ‘canals’ and ‘channels’. Lowell also believed that they were canals dug by a global Martian civilisation, who used them to bring water from the poles to irrigate their desert planet. For them to achieve this, the highly advanced Martians had finally succeeded in banning war. I found this quotation from the great astronomer in Patrick Moore’s and David A. Hardy’s The New Challenge of the Stars (London: Mitchell Beazley in association with Sidgwick and Jackson Limited 1977), with the authors’ own comments looking forward to a similarly peaceful human colonisation of the Red Planet.

Perhaps we may look back to the words of Percival Lowell, written in 1906. He may have been wrong in his interpretation of the so-called Martian canals, but at least he put forward an idealistic view of the attitude of his ‘Martians’, whom, he believed, had outlawed warfare and had united in order to make the est of their arid world. There could be no conflict upon Mars. In Lowell’s words: ‘War is a survival among us from savage times, and affects now chiefly the boyish and unthinking element of the nation. The wisest realize that there are better ways of practising heroism and more certain ends of ensuring the survival of the fittest. It is something people outgrow.’ Let us hope that we, too, have outgrown it before we set up the first place on the red deserts of Mars.(P. 18).

Okay, the Social Darwinism is grotty, but of its time. And unfortunately humanity has not outgrown its capacity for violence and war, with the 20th century one of the worst periods. But it is an inspiring vision. The late, great comedian Bill Hicks used to end his gigs with a similar vision: If the world spent on peace all the money it now spends on arms, we could end hunger. Not one person would starve, and colonise space in peace forever.

That day can’t come too soon.

Another Step on the Road to Fascism as Raab Plans Attack on Judges’ Independence

October 19, 2021

Mike’s put up a chilling post about the Tories’ latest attack on our civil liberties. It starts with a tweet from Paul Delaney stating that Dominic Raab plans to set up a mechanism in the UK’s human rights act which would ‘correct’ rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. Mr Delaney concludes ‘We live in dangerous times as Fascism looms large’.

Yes, we do. As Mike points out, this means that if the government does not like the decision made by human rights judges here in Blighty, he will override them. Raab has tried to excuse this attack on the judiciary by stating that it will somehow strengthen democracy by stopping ‘judicial legislation’. But as Mike explains, the judges don’t actually make laws. They simply apply them, and stopping them from doing so breaks the law. He goes on to explain

You see, so-called “case law” – legal precedents set by judges – are only examples of the way the law should be interpreted when applied to particular situations, to be followed if such situations arise again in order to avoid contradiction and confusion. They are not situations in which judges take legislative power for themselves and Raab is lying by suggesting that.

Mike’s article also contains a tweet from Nafzir Ali, explaining that the Human Rights Act is British law, enforced by British judges in British courts. We already have a mechanism for overriding it – legislation. It is dishonest to blame foreigners for it, and challenges to government are part of the basis of democracy.

Jonathan Jones, the former head of the government’s legal service, stated that as parliament was already able to do this, it seems that Raab is attempting to enable ministers to do so without parliaments approval. Mike’s article also quotes Cambridge professor of public law, Mark Elliott stated that giving ministers the power to overturn judicial decisions simply because they didn’t agree with them cut across ‘principles that are the fundamental components of the rule of law.’ Mike’s article goes on with this quotation:

“If that is what is in contemplation, then that is profoundly problematic,” said Prof Elliott. “Indeed it turns constitutional principle on its head.

“Ministerial power to do this would itself be deeply troubling. It would reassign a basic judicial role – interpreting the law – to ministers.

“Ultimately, this all strikes me as part of a project to enhance executive supremacy by treating courts, whether foreign or domestic, as unwelcome interlopers.

“And yet all of this masquerades as an attempt to protect parliament. The reality of this executive power project, as we might call it, is that it will be the executive that is the principal beneficiary of such changes, and the loser will be basic standards of good governance.”

Mike calls this what it is: Fascism. It resembles the Nazis’ attack on the independence of the judiciary during the Third Reich.

The entry ‘Justice in Nazi Germany’ in James Taylor’s and Warren Shaw’s A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1988) has the following passages. These show how the Nazis also attacked the judiciary in order to subordinate to their control. While much of this is far more extreme than what Raab is currently proposing, I’m including it here as a warning of where this ultimately leads.

Hitler’s revision of the laws of Germany did not affect civil laws, such as those on wills, torts, commercial contracts, but criminal law was massively restructured. By 1945, 43 crimes carried the death penalty. Judges who did not conform to the practice of Nazi justice were removed from office; only conformists survived. Their role was to maintain not ‘the state’ but the Nazi view of the state, preserving the existing volkisch (traditional ‘Aryan’ and Germanic) elements, punishing anything like anti-Nazi behaviour and getting rid of any obstruction to the Party’s will. Prosecution lawyers were given added powers and importance in court, while lawyers for the defence were weakened… To ensure the operation of Nazi justice, from 1942 judges and prosecution were allowed to confer without any defence lawyer being present.

From March 1933 Special Courts (Sondergerichte) were set up to try political offences without a jury. In 1934 the People’s Courts (Volksgerichthofe) were established to try cases of high treason, but with a jury drawn exclusively from Nazi party members. This was the court over which the vicious Roland Freisler presided in Berlin and which condemned those accused of complicity in the July 1944 bomb plot.’ (P. 198-9).

As Mike has also pointed out, this has been coming for a long time. The Tories have been stirring up hatred of the courts when they have dared to rule against them. Remember the Heil’s headline labelling the judges who upheld Gina Miller’s challenge to Brexit as ‘Enemies of the people’. That could have come direct from the Nazis, Italian Fascists, Stalin or any of the other totalitarian monsters. The independence of the judiciary has been a vital part of the British constitution with its origins going right back to the founding legal theorists of the twelfth century. It, and parliament, are part of what has made Britain a democracy rather than an absolute monarchy or dictatorship.

And now Raab plans to destroy this bulwark of British freedom. And he’s justifying it by claiming it’s all being done to protect our sovereignty from those evil Europeans. Just as Priti Patel is claiming to be protecting us from the threat of illegal immigration by planning to grant officials immunity from prosecution if they push the channel migrants back out, or don’t rescue them, and someone dies.

The great Tony Benn pointed out that before the Tories start taking away the rights of the settled population, they always begin with immigrants. It’s because they can count on a good reception from the right-wing press by dressing it up in nationalist garb.

But Raab’s attack on the European Court of Human Rights is just a pretext and the beginning. After he’s passed this nasty piece of legislation, he’ll be coming for more British freedoms.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2021/10/19/fascism-looms-as-raab-threatens-to-correct-court-judgments/

History Debunked on the Media’s Un-Reporting of the Attack on a Statue of Hailie Selassie

October 9, 2021

I’ve posted a number of videos about Simon Webb and History Debunked. Webb’s channel specialises in attacking what he considers to be myths and falsehoods published as authentic Black history. He’s a Telegraph-reading Tory, and so, like everything else on the net, his claims need to be checked. Sometimes they’re true and at other times they’re much less so. As I’ve also pointed out. But this short video, of just over two minutes, is interesting.

In it, he contrasts the massive reporting of the felling of the statue to Edward Colston in Bristol last summer by a mainly White crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators with the felling of a statue to the late Ethiopian emperor, Hailie Selassie three weeks later. This received hardly any coverage. The Beeb briefly mentioned it, but did not report that its attackers were Black. The statue had been attacked as part of a dispute between the Oromos and Amharas, two Ethiopian tribes. It didn’t receive the same coverage as the attack on Colston’s statue as it didn’t fit the narrative the media were trying to push at the time of the BLM protests.

I can see how this would be so. Colston’s statue was torn down as part of the Black Lives Matter movement’s anger at the racism they perceived in British society and the continuing legacy and celebration of colonialism and slavery.

The problem is, so could the attack on Selassie’s statue.

My guess is that the attack on the statue wasn’t covered because it was seen as a dispute between the citizens of a foreign country which didn’t have any relevance to British racial politics. But this is not the case. Ethiopia has rightly been admired by Black radicals because it is the single African country that was not conquered by Europeans. But it was, like many other African nations, a slaving culture. In the 19th century the British and Egyptian authorities were concerned about Abyssinian slave raiding in the Sudan to the point were a punitive expedition was launched. In the early part of the 20th, the British authorities in central Africa were concerned about Abyssinian raids into Uganda to capture slaves there. One British officer, Major Darnley, was so outraged at the Britain’s refusal to stop these raids that he went undercover into Abyssinia itself to write a book, Slaves and Ivory, to describe his adventure. Darnley wrote that the dominant tribe, the Amharas, were enslaving the other Abyssinian peoples and as a result, whole provinces were being depopulated. His book was written with the intention of provoking an outraged British public into demanding an invasion to stop these atrocities. In fact, so great was the problem of Ethiopian slaving that Dame Kathleen Simon, a fervent opponent of it, supported the Italian Fascist invasion in the belief that it would finally put an end to it. The entry on her on Wikipedia states “Lady Simon embarrassed the supporters of Haile Selassie IEmperor of Ethiopia, on the eve of the Second Italo–Ethiopian War by uncovering his slave-owning wealth.[2] She claimed that Benito Mussolini had convinced her that he would try to eradicate slavery in Ethiopia.[5]

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathleen_Simon,_Viscountess_Simon

It’s clear that this is a problem for Black Lives Matter and their attacks on historical slavery as there really does seem a determination to play down indigenous African slavery and involvement in the global slave trade. Slave markets have reopened in the continent in Libya and Uganda. However, there is silence about this from western Black activists. Barbara Barnaby, the head of British Black Lives Matter, mentioned the slave markets in Libya in a speech at the Arise Festival of left-wing ideas, Why Socialists Oppose Imperialism. But did she did so only as the result of European and American imperialism in the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy. She didn’t mention Uganda at all. The I’s columnist, Kate Maltby, has said this refusal to involve questions about Black slaving is because the question is a diversion to stop the struggle of western Blacks against racism. She has a point, but there is still a racial double standard being exercised. Whites are being criticised for historic crimes, but the same outrage is not directed at African peoples and nations that were equally culpable. How many Brits, for example, are aware that there are streets named after and statues to Efronye Tinobue, a 19th century female African slaver, in her native Nigeria? I doubt many of the mob that demolished the statue to Colston were aware of the African involvement in the slave trade, and would probably be upset if they were told.

But if monuments to Whites with connections to slavery are to be torn down and renamed, so should those to Africans with the same connections, like Hailie Selassie. And the African and Islamic involvement in the slave trade should be far better known.