Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Lotus Eaters Now Blaming Migrants for the Housing Crisis

June 21, 2022

I had to blog about this, as it’s another example of the right-wing media only telling you one side of the story. Yesterday or the day before the Lotus Eaters put up a video claiming that the housing crisis was a result of immigrants taking up so much housing, and no doubt looking at the channel migrants in particular as they did so. Because they should all be deported to Rwanda, of course. They argued that immigration was the source of the housing shortage, and thus all the new building work that is threatening to cover our green and pleasant land with concrete, as the British birth rate is 1.24, below that needed to maintain the population. The reason why our population is growing, however, is because of immigration. Now the Lotus Eaters are fervent Brexiteers, hate Woke and are very strong opponents of immigration. But they’re not wrong. I believe the Pears Cyclopedia 1984 edition said the same nearly 40 years ago. It’s solid fact, rather than racist myth. Mind you, I also believe that that the population has grown also because people are living longer and not dying off as young as they did, and so there’s a younger generation growing up at the same time as its grandparents and great-grandparents are still alive. But possibly for not much longer if Johnson and his foul effluvium have their way. In the past decade they’ve been in power, life expectancy has gone into reverse so that the present generation has a shorter life expectancy than we did.

Now for what John, Callum and Sargon aren’t telling you. The welfare state and capitalism need a population that’s stable or growing. Years ago, the Financial Times wrote that the welfare state was maintained by the contributions of the present generation of workers, which were needed to maintain the level of benefits to support the older generation. Fewer people being born means less money being paid into the welfare state,, equals cuts to welfare provision. This presumably is the thinking behind the Tories’ decision back in the ’90s to try and get people paying into private ‘workplace’ pension schemes rather than the state pension, and why the state pension’s been kept low. It’s also no doubt being used to support the cuts to the welfare state in general, following Thatcher’s line that we now can’t afford to support everybody and people should have to look out for themselves. This may not affect the Lotus Eaters, as their smug sneers about ‘socialism’ and ‘leftists’ and general support for unfettered capitalism suggests to me they come from monied backgrounds. But I could be wrong.

But capitalism also requires a stable or growing population. It’s all about consumer demand, you see. The more people, the more demand for goods and services, which in turn stimulates production and should produce more profits and less unemployment as workers are taken on to produce the goods. If you have fewer people, you have less demand, declining profits and rising unemployment.

Immigrants help solve these problems, because they tend to put more into the welfare state than they take out in terms of benefits and so on. And by maintaining or expanding the population, they help to create the demand that powers industry.

And I suspect some of the demand for new housing is local to certain parts of the country. A few years ago the ‘Communist’ BBC as the Lotus Eaters no doubt think of the Corporation produced a documentary following a prospective Romanian immigrant as he tried to find accommodation over here. He ended up sleeping rough in one of the London parks. At one point he went north seeking available homes. He found a whole street-load, boarded up and deliberately kept empty. Because some obscure reason of capitalism. He was obviously not impressed, and made the obvious comment that it was stupid to have houses go empty when people needed them.

I think – and this is only my impression – that some of the migration pushing up house prices and creating demand is internal. People from the declining north, or some of them, are moving south in search of work and opportunities. People in the countryside are being priced out of local homes by rich outsiders seeking second homes. And respect to the council the other day that was reported to have banned this! Here in Bristol local people are being priced out of the housing market due to recent migrants, not from Africa, Asia or Jamaica, but from London. As a result, some Bristolians are looking towards places like Wales and the borders for affordable homes, which is going to push the prices up there. And so there’s a knock-on effect.

And last but not least, the Tories and the Heil can take some of the blame. In order to keep the economy afloat, I think it was George Osborne who linked some part of our financial performance to house prices. As a result, house prices have to be kept high. Quite apart from the Daily Heil in the ’90s constantly advising its readers on the ‘money’ pages to invest in brick and mortar as part of the ‘buy to rent’ boom. People have done that, leaving less homes around for people, who actually want to live in them to purchase.

Yes, I think there are a lot of problems surrounding immigration that need proper discussion and solution. There are problems of assimilation and integration, and while I don’t like Kemi Badenoch’s party, I think she is right about growing segregation. That’s been going on for some time, since at least the beginning of this century. The concentration on race is probably a part of it, but only a part. But you can’t blame immigrants solely for the housing shortage and new building work.

Hidden behind this is also an anti-feminist agenda. Sargon and the other Lotus Eaters have the same anti-feminist views as American conservatives. In their view, the population decline is due to modern women choosing not to settle down and marry but concentrate on having careers. They’d like to return to the old traditional family in which mum stayed at home to raise the kids and Dad worked to support them. Now I think that if they were given the choice, more women probably would stay home to look after their children. But they don’t have a choice. Since women entered the workforce, it’s been argued that the economy has responded so that families need the income from both parents to pay off mortgages and buy the family groceries. However, this claim also needs examination as I’ve also read that long before the 70s families needed both parents to work. And back in the 30s and 40s, women didn’t have a choice about not working. Some of the firms in Bristol would not employ married women with children, which was a real problem for women running away from abusive or criminal husbands.

The decline of the existing, traditional populations is also one of the arguments against abortion. If all the kids lost to abortion were allowed to come to term and live, then the population would be growing. This isn’t necessarily a racist argument. Turning Point, an arch-conservative think tank, put up a video of one of its presenters challenging a young woman on the issue. He argued that the reason the Black population has remained at 13% in the Land of the Free is due to abortion. If there was less abortion, the population would expand. She was obviously racist for being in favour of abortion, and hence fewer Blacks, while he wanted more of them. I don’t want to get into the politics of abortion, except to say that it includes major issues of bodily autonomy, female healthcare, the dangers of a return to backstreet abortions and poverty. What happens in the case of women too poor to bring their children up? Conservatives like Thomas Sowell already blame the welfare state for the decline of the Black family, but without it many women would be too poor to have the children Conservatives would like them to. In the 1920s Mussolini got very worried about falling Italian birthrates, and one of the methods he chose to tackle it, apart from getting women out of the workplace, was providing something like the equivalent of family allowance. Perhaps, if the Tories want women to stay at home and raise their families they should consider providing them with a state income for doing so. But I can imagine the screams and horror from the right if someone dared suggesting that. They shouldn’t, not if they’re good classicists. The later Roman emperors were so worried about the declining population of their empire, they passed legislation giving first Italians, and then all Roman citizens throughout the empire, a kind of family allowance. Possibly not something Johnson wants to be reminded of, for all he goes on about how wonder the Romans were.

Years ago New Scientist covered this issue with an interview on demographics. A declining birthrate is happening not just in the West, but also in Japan and China. Way back in the 90s one of the leading Japanese newspapers was so worried about it that they published an article that declared that if it carried out, in one thousand years the Japanese would be extinct. They also tried encouraging men to take an extra day off work to improve marital relations with their wives and so make more little Japanese. This got an angry response from a housewife, who said that relations between married couples didn’t improve simply because the husband was at home. China and India are also suffering from a shortage of women because of generations of infanticide. What the New Scientist demographer noted, was that the countries that have the highest birthrate have the less macho cultures and men are prepared to share the childrearing. Thus Scandinavia has a higher birthrate than Italy, and China and Japan, which have the same traditional attitudes to the division of labour, also have a low birthrate. In the case of Japan, there’s also the problem that young Japanese aren’t dating and having sex. Some even say that it revolts them. A decade ago there was a Radio 4 programme reporting this phenomenon and asking why it was so. I honestly don’t know, but I’m sure someone will blame video games.

The birthrate is also falling all over the world, although obviously in developing countries it is still much higher than over here. But Africa loses very many of its infants to appalling rates of infant mortality, so its population is very stable. In fact, there are fears that if the population continues to fall in some of these nations, their population will actually decline.

Which bring me to another point: the same demographer predicts a population crash throughout the globe in the middle of this century. This obviously contradicts the predictions of the various scientists and experts of the ’70s, who were worried about the ‘population bomb’. If this happens, countries will instead compete with each other to attract migrants. P.D. James’ SF film, Children of Men, showed that. It’s a dystopian movie in which the human race has become infertile. As a result, there’s massive political instability, but Britain has managed to keep order by becoming a quasi-Fascist state. But migrants from the rest of the world are invited, as shown by Arab mule trains around London. The hero in the story is charged with protecting an immigrant woman, who’s become the first in a very long time to become pregnant. Its a chilling movie, and one which marks a departure from the detective novels with which she made her name. But it was chilling realistic and had a point.

There are issues with immigration, but it ain’t the sole cause of the housing shortage, nor is the solution the Lotus Eaters want underneath it palatable to today’s women wanting independence. It may not even be one that works. We might instead be better off passing legislation giving greater assistance to manage family and work, like perhaps more maternity leave, and encouraging dad to share some of the housework more. But those aren’t good, Conservative attitudes and involve capitulating to feminism and greater state legislation of industry. But this terrifies the Lotus Eaters, and so they ain’t going to tell you about it. Except to argue against it.

A Thorough Critique of Afrocentric Pseudo-History, Psychology, and Science

January 27, 2022

Stephen Howe, Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (London: Verso 1998)

This is another excellent book I’ve been reading lately. I first came across in it an excellent review by the Black British writer, Caryl Phillips in the Financial Times at the time it was published, though it’s only now I’ve actually got round to ordering a copy and reading it. Afrocentrism is a set of inter-related, pseudo-academic disciplines based on the claim that the ancient Egyptians were Black and are the unacknowledged source of White western culture, which was stolen from them. Not only were the Egyptians themselves Black, but they may also have derived their culture and achievements in turn from the peoples further to the south, the Nubians and Ethiopians. Some Afrocentrists claim that Greece, Rome and Carthage were originally Black ancient Egyptian colonies and that the original peoples of the British isles were also Black. Some push this claim of Black African primacy even further, claiming that ancient Egyptians travelled to the Americas before Columbus, where they founded the Olmec culture. The ancient peoples of Asia too, the Indians, Thais, Chinese and Japanese were also Black. At the same time ancient Egypt expanded to colonise Africa, where it was also responsible for the major cultural, artistic and architectural achievements. Where these coexisted with alleged brutality and barbarism, as in West Africa, which had a highly sophisticated art alongside human sacrifice, this was due to biological degeneration from the original Egyptian herrenvolk.

Black Americans are held to be part of a single Black race and culture with Black Africans, and Afrocentric scholars are active trying to trace authentic African survivals in the speech, culture and psychology of Black America. There is supposed to be a single Black character and psychology and a distinct Black philosophy. At the same time, ,Afrocentric scholars believe that the Egyptians were masters of political theory and science, which can similarly be grotesquely exaggerated. Some of them claim that the ancient Egyptians knew about quantum physics and gravity and that the Tanzanians had semi-conductors. At the same time they are active researching and promoting various Blacks figures they believe were great scientists. Again, these figures, who could, like Benjamin Banneker, be genuinely impressive in their real lives, and their achievements are often wildly exaggerated.

Unsurprisingly there’s much racism mixed up with this. There’s a bitter hatred of Whites, as well as, Jews and Arabs. One Afrocentric writers claims the latter has been attempting to destroy African civilisation and enslave its peoples for 5,000 years. Which is quite incredible, considering that I think the Muslim Arabs only conquered north Africa in the 7th/8th century AD. There’s also a bitter hatred of homosexuality and strong rejection of feminism. In the early 1960s one Afrocentric group insisted that female members should show their submissiveness by crossing their arms and lowering their heads when one of the men passed them. There’s also an insistence on traditional family structures. At the same time, some believe that Blacks are intellectually and emotionally superior to Whites because of the greater amount of the melanin pigment in their brains.

At their heart, this is an attempt to compensate for the massive racial oppression and disparagement Blacks and their civilisations have suffered over the centuries, far more than any other ethnic group. Yet much Afrocentric scholarship is based on the severely dated writings of 19th and early 20th century European colonial officials and anthropologists, as well as other White writers, who definitely believed that Blacks were inferior. For example, Afrocentric scholars assert that, while Whites and Europeans are logical and rational, Blacks are emotional and intuitive. Which is very much like the old imperialist claim that Blacks were inferior because they weren’t rational and logical. The claim that ancient Egyptians were responsible for the colonisation of Africa and every advance made by the peoples of the continent also derives from 19th and early 20th century White sources. The only difference is that those writers believed that the Egyptians were part of a superior, ‘Hamitic’, White civilisation. And also mixed up with it are various occult, Masonic and New Age ideas. Some of these derive from Albert Churchward, a freemason, who believed that there was a war going on between freemasonry and socialism, and only the former could defend civilisation from the Red Menace. Other figures in the New Age part of the Afrocentric movement include Credo Mutwa, a genuine Zulu shaman, honest guv, and apologist for the South African apartheid state.

Howe’s book traces the history of these ideas, some of which have been around for longer than I thought. I was aware that the claim that the ancient Egyptians were Black and therefore equal to or superior to White civilisation began in the 19th century. I was surprised, however, to find that Black Americans, largely clergymen, were making the claims as early as the 1820s. He carefully distinguishes between those writers, like the Senegalese mathematician and nuclear physicist Cheikh Anta Diop, who, while wrong, nevertheless were diligent researchers and produced significant insights, and others who were far less impressive. Some of the latter can only be described as cranks, like the female Afrocentrist who claims that nearly everything, including Christmas trees, are representations of the Black male genitals. Some of the most virulently anti-White racist material comes from White writers, such as the assertion that Whites are inferior because we’re all descended from the Neanderthals, who are given a whole series of unpleasant traits. Some Afrocentrists seem to have set up their own Stalinist ‘cult of personality’. Molefi Asante, for example, has his own academic department and institute, who members and scholars always pay generous tribute to him for guiding them on their intellectual quest, and largely don’t say anything that wasn’t already said by the master. Quite a number give themselves impressive African names, meaning things like ‘Bearer of Enlightenment’, and a number have also claimed to have been African princes or holy men. Their real identities and backgrounds, however, tend to be much more prosaic. He also notes the connection and major differences with other major figures in Black scholarship and anti-racist campaigning, like Franz Fanon and W.E.B. DuBois, and the French Caribbean Negritude movement.

There are some significant difference between the scholars discussed here. Cheikh Anta Diop believed that ancient Egypt was the source of western culture and I think he wanted Greek and Latin replaced as languages by ancient Egyptian. But while his thinking was highly racialised, he wasn’t a racist. He wanted Blacks to join the global community of peoples as equals. He also believed that civilisation was cyclical, and that as Europeans supposedly took their ideas from Africa, so Africans should now learn from Europeans. Others were definitely racist, such as the speaker at the first Black History Month in 1986 who seemed to advocate shooting Whites, although he couldn’t tell his audience when, where and whom. In the case of Marcus Garvey’s son, this went into pure Black Nazism. When Jamaica celebrated Garvey’s birth in the 1970s, his son called for Garvey’s movement to become a Black National Socialism, because Africa also needs its lebensraum.

Among the researchers and writers examined and critiqued is Martin Bernal, the White author of Black Athena. This caused a major stir when it was published in the 1980s, possibly because, as Bernal himself suggested, he was White. Bernal was able to assemble a massive amount of information and was extensively criticised at the time. But he was also controversial because he believed that ancient Greece was also strongly influenced by the Semitic peoples, specifically the Phoenicians and the Jews. This was in fact based on contemporary Israeli scholarship, and was itself highly controversial. As a result, some of the criticisms of him and his work have a very nasty element of anti-Semitism.

The book is a thorough examination and demolition of Afrocentric scholarship with considerable sympathy for the genuine achievements of Black scholars, some of whom have made very trenchant criticisms. One Ghanaian or Nigerian philosopher lampooned the claim that there is a single, African philosophy based around a transcendent life force. In a spoof article he argued that the English, and therefore all westerners, venerated the mystic force ING, because English verbs often ended in ‘ing’, like ‘doing’ or ‘being’. In fact the claim that there is a single African philosophy comes from Tempels, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, who only researched a single Bantu tribe, and the anthropologist Griaule and his Dogon informant, Ogotommeli. The latter two have become notorious because of their books’ claim that the Dogon had an advanced knowledge of astronomy. They knew that the planets circled the Sun in ellipses, and that Sirius had an invisible companion star. For R.K.G. Temple in the 1970s, it was because they’d been visited by aliens. For the Melanists, it was because they had intuitive knowledge of it through their pineal gland. Howe suggests that Ogotommeli probably knew about it from visiting colonial officials with an interest in the subject, and made the claim that all this was known to the Dogon as a way of pulling this arrogant colonial anthropologist’s leg.

The book also argues that Afrocentric views of Africa are themselves also damaging. They present the continent as a static, unfied culture, which has never suffered war and conflict between its peoples before the advent of Europeans. In fact it’s a continent of many different peoples and cultures. There’s no evidence that it was ever colonised by the ancient Egyptians. Only six ancient Egyptian artefacts have been found outside Egypt and Nubia. And rather than the ancient Egyptians introducing agriculture to the rest of Africa, there is evidence that it was independently discovered in six different places on the continent. As for the assertion that ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are the source for various African writing systems, such as the Vai of Liberia, some of these are known to have been invented by specific individuals in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some African peoples are happy to promote the idea that they are descendants of the ancient Egyptians, while others very definitely are not. The problem here is that Afrocentrist claims of Egyptian primacy are obscuring the real achievements of Africa and its peoples.

As for the question of the racial origins of the ancient Egyptians, the book notes that this is a subject of near to Zero interest to professional, mainstream Egyptologists. A number of academics books and journals he surveys make no mention of it. When one does, it is simply to say that it is a distraction from the real issues Egyptologists want to examine. Genetic and craniological examination, however, suggest that the ancient Egyptians were racially identical to other peoples in that part of Africa. They show genetic links to the peoples of Neolithic Europe, the Middle East and India, and lesser genetic connections to the peoples further south. The Egyptian scholars themselves, however, see themselves as racially mixed and there was an argument at a conference in Cairo when the Black Americans insisted that they were Black. I also find some of the Afro-centrists’ concern to establish the racial identity of the Nubians rather odd. One Afrocentric writer hoped that one day science would be able to reconstruct the features of the Nubian pharaoh Taharqa from its skull fragments, and that these would show he was Black. I found this quite puzzling, as I’ve always assumed that the Nubians were Black. In fact I’ve never seen anything said to the contrary. When TV documentaries refer to Egypt’s Black pharaohs, they usually refer to the period when the country was conquered and ruled by Nubian kings. I honestly don’t know who these people are that assert that the Nubians were White, unless it’s some of the White writers the Afro-centrists have discovered in their search for suitable sources.

This pseudo-scholarship is spreading massively. The book notes the large number of university departments teaching it, as well as college and private schools and the torrent of books published, some of them also aimed at schools. It’s alarming that such pseudo-scholarship has become so widespread. And rather than liberating, as Afrocentric scholars believe, he makes the point that the subject is deeply racist, drawing on the same sources as White racists.

But rather than be angered by it, he finds it immensely sad.

Medieval Arab Writers on the Effects of the Sun on the Black Temperament

January 26, 2022

I put up a post the other day stating that we need to have more research into extra-European and non-White racial prejudice, as the situation is more complex than simply White hatred of people of colour. I mentioned the fact that 3rd century AD Chinese writers believed that people in the west, with blond hair and green eyes, were descended from monkeys. According to Stephen Howe’s Afrocentrism, they also had similar views about the Japanese. Some of the bigoted writers decided that the Japanese were descended from Chinese criminals who interbred with monkeys. Howe also notes in the above book that medieval Arab writers also had their own prejudices when it came to Black Africans, citing a 1992 article by Aziz al-Azmeh, ‘Barbarians in Arab Eyes’ in Past & Present. These writers believed that there was a distinct Black temperament and personality caused by the heat of the tropical sun. Howe writes

‘As Aziz al-Azmeh shows, numerous medieval Arab writers, drawing on a theory of climatic zones whi8ch seems originally to have been proposed by the Greeks, saw black Africans as suffering from a mental deficiency resulting from life in excessive heat and dryness: ‘Negroes therefore tended to be given to erratic behaviour, to levity, to prodigious sexuality, and to be much disposed to dance and rhythm, all because of the afore-mentioned effects of the sun’.’ (274). He also notes other books which discuss Arab racism, some of which deal with the Arab slave trade. This suggests that the Arab trade in Black slaves also had the effect of promoting ideas of Black inferiority. I can remember coming across a book on Arabic, which informed the reader that the word for ‘Blacks’ literally meant ‘the slaves’, but this was not held to be derogatory. This was in the 1980s, nearly forty years ago. Now in the 21st century real slave markets have opened in Libya, and Arab Sudanese enslaved Blacks during the civil war in the Sudan in the 1990s, that attitude, if it still exists, should be discarded.

The Utterance Robot that Speaks Like Humans

December 30, 2021

I hope everyone’s still enjoying the Christmas season. I know I haven’t posted anything political over the past few days, or even much at all, but I thought I’d try to leave the important, emotive subjects till after the holiday. Well, that’s not going to happen, as I’ve found a few videos on very serious issues I’d like to post and comment on. But first some fun.

This is another robot video, from the ikinamo channel of YouTube. It’s about professor Hideyuki Sawada and his team at Kagawa University, who have created a robotic version of the human mouth in order to mimic real, human speech more closely. The mouth looks like a long, flesh-coloured tube, below which are a series of rods which rise and fall to manipulate it. The mouth also has a tongue, The machine is operated by a pump, which pushes air into the mouth through vocal chords. Above the mouth itself is a plaster nose to add resonance, the plaster having the same resonance as a human nose. The robot needs this to make the ‘m’ and ‘n’ sounds, while its tongue allows it to say the ‘r’. The changes in the mouth cavity and movements of its artificial lips create the same types of sound as a biological human mouth. The machine also has a microphone so that it can hear itself. It possesses autonomous learning, so that it can correct its mistakes by listening, and working out what a particular sound should be. It’s not quite right just yet, as it has no teeth and so can’t pronounce the dental fricatives. However, they are teaching the pitch and words to a Japanese song so that it will be able to sing that.

Something very like this robot was created by Klemper, a German scientist, in the 19th century. He also reasoned that in order to create speech mechanically, you should start with a mechanical mouth. As he was German, the machine also spoke with a German accent. And back in the 1980s I read an article in one of the popular science magazines around then that the way to solve problems with robot and computer speech would be to build an artificial mouth, so that the machine would speak like a human would.

Like the various types of artificial muscle being developed, this is clearly another example of robotics engineers following nature in their quest to create machines that function like humans and animals more closely. It’s ingenious, but does look weird as a disembodied, mechanically operated mouth and nose.

Fabio Pacucci on the Science of Space Elevators

December 11, 2021

This short video comes from the TedEd channel on YouTube, presumably connected to the TED talks in which leading intellectuals and academics explain their ideas. In this case, its about space elevators. These are long cables that would carry materials and passengers up to Earth orbit. The idea was first proposed by Russian space pioneer, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, in 1895, after the deaf school teacher saw the tallest building in the world at the time. If one could be built, it would massively reduce the costs of transporting people and material to orbit. These would be taken aloft in special capsules called ‘Climbers’, which would have to be shielded against radiation to protect human passengers. At the moment, it costs SpaceX $7,600 per kilo. It’s estimated that space elevators, their immense power needs supplied either by solar energy or nuclear power, could reduce this by 95 per cent. The problem is that that at the moment there is no material strong enough to support such a building. It has been suggested that carbon monofilaments and nanotubes could provide the solution, but only tiny amounts of these have been manufactured at the moment. There is also the problem that the gravitational stresses and hence the thickness of the cable would vary with height. One solution to this problem would be to extend the cable to counterweight, either a satellite or captured asteroid in geostationary orbit 36,000 km above the Earth. The problem of keeping the tether rigid would be solved by using centrifugal force from the Earth’s spin. The station back on Terra would be best situated at the equator, and possibly a ship at sea. This would allow it mobility to avoid storms and terrible weather. It is immensely difficult to build such an elevator on Earth, but they could be built on the Moon and Mars using current technology and materials. But they’d be far more of an advantage built here on Earth. Another problem is that if the cable was cut, the effects as it fell to Earth would be catastrophic. Despite the difficulties of construction, there are companies in China and Japan planning to build them by 2050.

The idea of the space elevator has been around for some time. Arthur C. Clarke thought for a while that he had invented the idea in his book about the building of such a tower in his adopted home of Sri Lanka in his 1970s novel, The Fountains of Paradise. This lasted until he looked the idea up in the scientific literature, and found it went all the back to the Russians. It would truly be a giant leap in space exploitation and colonisation if we could build a space elevator, but I think building one by 2050 is extremely optimistic. Way back in the 1990s or the early part of this century I remember an American firm announcing they were going to develop the idea. Unfortunately one of the problems at the time is that, according to the techniques being proposed, the station back on Earth would have to be anchored by an entire mountain range. So, not really possible and that was the end anyone heard of the idea.

It’s great that research into space elevators is continuing, but I think it will be a long time before they become reality, whether built by Americans, Chinese, Japanese or whoever.

Private Eye on the Massive Failure of the Pepper Commercial Robot in Japan

December 1, 2021

I found this highly amusing little snippet in Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column in their edition for the 6-18 August 2021. It’s report from the Japan Times about a Japanese company suspending manufacture and recalling thousands of their robots due to malfunctions and poor performance. The article runs

“We have suspended production of our Pepper robot,” a spokeswoman for Softbank Group Corp told reporters in Minato (Tokyo), “the AI robot, home companion and store assistant that we first marketed in 2014. We are in discussions with our French robotics unit about potential job reductions.”

Over the past seven years, 27,000 Pepper robots have been produced, and marketed as the world’s first AI robots, but many were sacked by the companies that bought them for inappropriate behaviour. “We bought one for our flagship Edinburgh store,” said a spokesman for Margiotta grocery chain, “but fired it because it kept telling customers ‘to look in the alcohol section’ when they asked it where things were.” Funeral director Osamu Funaki bought a Pepper robot to recite sutras during ceremonies, but sacked it after repeated malfunctions, lamenting “what if it refuses to operate in the middle of a ceremony? It would be such a disaster.” A Japanese nursing home purchased three Pepper androids to lead community singalongs, but dismissed them for repeatedly breaking down.

“Pepper did a lot of harm to genuine robotics research by giving an often false impression of a bright cognitive being that could hold conversations,” Professor Noel Sharkey observed. “But it was mostly remote-controlled with a human conversing through its speakers. I’m happy to see an end to it.”

This is less the ruthlessly efficient killing machines of The Terminator franchise or the similarly murderous androids of the early Tom Baker Dr. Who story, ‘The Robots of Death’ or any number of other stories in which the machines rise up to exterminate their human masters. It isn’t like Judge Dredd’s Megacity One, where automation and the use of robots has created a 95 per cent unemployment rate. No, it’s the Sirius Cybernetics Company from the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose products are so uniformly terrible that the complaints division now covers the major land masses of three whole planets, as this clip from the Beeb TV series on Michael Snow’s channel on YouTube explains:

As for the robots being sacked, for comics readers of a certain age this sounds like they suffered the same fate as those poor machines that were sent down to be ripped apart by the frightening, but also frighteningly stupid demolition robot Mekquake in the ‘Robusters’ and ‘ABC Warriors’ strips in 2000 AD. Mekquake was always being frustrated at not being able to destroy the strips’ two heroes, Rojaws, a foul-mouthed sewer droid, and Hammerstein, an old war robot, who continually outwitted him. But if robots keep being manufactured with the same spectacular flaws as the Pepper robot, it probably won’t be long before someone invents a Mekquake-style machine to take care of them. Oh, by crikey, yes, as the thuggish old machine used to say!

Rojaws and Hammerstein prepare to meet Mekquake for the last time. From ABC Warriors – Return to Robusters, by Pat Mills and Clint Langley, (Rebellion: 2015, 2016).

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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.

Lab Grown Goats and the Shape of Wombs to Come

November 19, 2021

I found this photo of goat fetuses growing in tanks filled with amniotic fluid in a Japanese lab in an old an old issue of Scientific American Presents – Your Bionic Future from autumn 1999. It illustrated an article by Tabitha M. Powledge, ‘The Ultimate Baby Bottle’, which had on the contents page the comment ‘Aldous Huxley was right. Artificial wombs are in our future.’ I hope, I really hope that they aren’t. At least, not in the way he portrayed it in Brave New World. In the book, the Fordists have abolished natural reproduction so that everyone is grown artificially in hatcheries. As a result, sex is only for pleasure – and as this is a hedonistic society there are plenty of orgies – and the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are dirty terms of abuse. This is definitely not a society anyone would want to see realised. On the other hand, milder forms of such reproduction have also been suggested. The people of humanity’s first extraterrestrial colony also reproduce in hatcheries in Brian Aldiss’ and David Wingrove’s history of the future, The Third Millennium. And in Paul McAuley’s book, In The Belly of the Whale, the two human species on Fomalhaut also reproduce through cloning in hatcheries, but are placed with surrogate parents who raise them in something like a normal family structure after their birth.

The success of the Japanese scientists in growing the goat fetus’ generated a considerable interest at the time. It was widely predicted, as the Scientific American article did, that this would lead to artificial wombs. In fact there was speculation about possible breakthroughs in such research a decade earlier in the 1980s. About 1984/5 I remember an article appearing in the Absurder which predicted that some day people would be gestated in such devices.

I’ve got very mixed feelings about this. I can admire the scientific skill behind it, and it does touch that part of me that enjoys seeing Science Fiction become reality. I can also see that it would benefit women, who for one reason or another could not carry a baby to term. But I don’t know how women would react to such machines if they became possible. I realise that pregnancy and childbirth are fraught, dangerous times for women and their children. Many women go through everything from the discomfort of bad backs and morning sickness to far worse conditions that may seriously damage their health. The other night there was a piece on the One Show, for example, about the dangers to pregnant women from a condition that causes severe nausea. And then there are the problems and dangers in childbirth itself.

But femininity throughout history has been intimately bound up with motherhood. So much so that in many traditional societies the view of women has been that of baby factories, whose primary role is the bearing and raising of children. Modern feminism challenges this in order to give women the freedom to work outside the home in previously masculine roles and professions. But I am not sure if women would welcome the complete separation of femininity from motherhood. Would women feel somehow diminished, deprived of a vital component of their womanhood, if there was a wholesale move towards artificial reproduction? Part of the psychological motivation behind gender critical feminisms opposition to transwomen being accepted as women is a powerful feeling that this is men usurping and appropriating femininity, while marginalising natural biological women. Reading through some of the comments on Kellie-Jay Kean’s videos, I came across some women talking about the joy they felt as women bearing children. One women said that men’s lives must be so empty because of their inability to do so. Now these are just a few women’s views, but I do wonder how women with a similar attitude would look upon artificial wombs.

I also wonder whether there would be the same strong bond between parents, and especially mothers, and their children if babies weren’t born naturally but collected from the hatchery. I realise that the parents of adopted children are in a similar position, and generally greatly love their children, as, of course, to step-parents. I’m also well aware of the dreadful neglect and abuse some parents inflict on their kids. It’s perfectly possible, therefore, that bringing your baby home from the lab for their first time would have all the emotional impact of a natural birth and that the parental bond wouldn’t be affected. But nevertheless, I wonder.

And I’m also worried that such hatcheries could lead to the further mechanisation of what would once have been considered essential human traits, to produce genuine post-human creatures like the cyborgs of the transhumanists. These could be far beyond us in their capability while at the same time lacking in what we consider to be our essential human natures, like the Cybermen and Sontarans of Dr. Who.

These are deep, ethical issues. But fortunately, they have become pressing just yet, as the promised artificial wombs have yet to appear.

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.

Official Trailer for Live Action Version of Cowboy Bepop

October 29, 2021

I found this trailer on Moviegasm’s channel on YouTube. It’s for a live action TV version of the Japanese anime cartoon of the same name, which I have to say I haven’t seen. As far as I can tell, it’s about three future bounty hunters – one Black, one Asian and a kick-ass White woman, who come together to take down the most dangerous crims in space. It looks really good, and I like the soundtrack. It’s seems to be seventies style Funk, or strongly influenced by the kind of Funk used in that decade’s action movies and television. So, a nice bit of nostalgia for us oldies. There is one problem though: It’s going to be on Netflix. There are a number of great SF series now on the streaming channel – The Expanse and Foundation, and now this, which makes it awkward for those of us who’d rather watch mainstream terrestrial and satellite broadcasting.