Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Have Astronomers Found Traces of Life on Venus?

September 19, 2020

The big story on Tuesday was that astronomers had discovered traces of a gas, phosphine, in the atmosphere of Venus. The gas is produced by living organisms, and so it’s discovery naturally leads to the possibility that the second planet from the Sun may be the abode of life.

The I’s edition for 15th September 2020 reported the discovery in an article by David Woods entitled, ‘Forget Mars, a startling discovery may mean there’s life on Venus’. This ran

Alien life could be thriving in the clouds above Venus: a team of astronomers detected a rare gas in its atmosphere, according to a study involving British researchers.

Venus, the second planet from the Sun, has a surface temperature of 500o C, and 96 per cent of its atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide. But the discovery of phosphine, around 31 miles (50Km) from the planet’s surface, has indicated that life could prosper in a less hostile environment.

On Earth phosphine – a molecule of one phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms – is associated with life. It is found in places that have little oxygen, such as swamps, or with microbes living in the guts of animals.

A group of British, American and Japanese scientists – led by Jane Greaves from Cardiff University – first identified Venus’s phosphine using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The presence of the gas was confirmed at an astronomical observatory of 45 telescopes in Chile. The discovery was published yesterday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Professor Greaves said: “This was an experiment made out of pure curiosity. I thought we’d just be able to rule out extreme scenarios, like the clouds being stuffed full of organisms. When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock.” Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, a Royal Greenwich Observatory astronomer, who was part of the research team, added: “This was an incredibly difficult observation to make. We still have a long way to go before we can confirm how this gas is being produced but it is definitely an exciting time for science.”

The team is now awaiting more telescope time to establish whether the phosphine is in a particular part of the clouds, and to look for other gases associated with life. While the clouds above Venus have temperatures of around 30oC, they are made from 90 per cent sulphuric acid – a major issue for the survival of microbes.

Professor Emma Bunce, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, has called for a new mission to Venus to investigate the findings.

This reminds me somewhat of the excitement in the 1990s when scientists announced that they may have discovered microfossils of Martian bacteria in a meteorite from the Red Planet found in Antarctica. The above article was accompanied by another piece by Woods, ‘Nothing found since claims awed Clinton’, which described how former president Clinton had made an official announcement about the possibility of life on Mars when the putative microfossils were found. The article states that confirmation that these are indeed fossils is lacking. It also notes that 4,000 exoplanets have also now been found, and that some of them may have life, but this has also not been confirmed. Astronomers have also been searching the skies for radio messages from alien civilisations, but these haven’t been found either.

Dr Colin Pillinger, the head of the ill-fated Beagle Project, a British probe to the Red Planet, also argued that there was life there as traces of methane had been found. This looked like it had been produced by biological processes. In a talk he gave at the Cheltenham Festival of Science one year, he said that if a Martian farted, they’d find it.

A few years ago I also submitted a piece to the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society suggesting that there might be life in Venus’ clouds. It was based on the presence of organic chemicals there, rather similar, I felt, to those on Saturn’s moon, Titan, which at one time was also considered a possible home of alien life. I got a letter stating that the Journal was going to run it, but in the end they didn’t. I think it may have been because another, professional astronomer published an article about it just prior to the proposed publication of my piece. I think I threw out the Journal’s letter years ago while clearing out the house, and so I don’t have any proof of my claim. Which is obviously disappointing, and you’ll have to take what I say on trust.

The possibility that there’s life on Venus is interesting, and undoubtedly important in its implications for the existence of life elsewhere in the cosmos if true. But I think that, like the Martian microfossils, there isn’t going to be any confirmation for a very long time.

History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

September 8, 2020

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.

The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

August 8, 2020

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.

 

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

August 8, 2020

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

19 Years Ago Private Eye Revealed New Labour Plans to Privatise NHS and Education

July 24, 2020

One of the good aspects of Private Eye that has kept me reading it – just about – is the way it has covered the deep and pernicious connections between the political parties and big business. And in their issue for 15th-28 June 2001, right at the beginning of Blair’s second term in government, the Eye revealed his plans to privatise the NHS and the education system in the article ‘How the New Government Will Work’. This ran

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are in two minds: should they privatise the entire delivery of public services or just some of it? To help them decide they are consulting the best minds money can buy.

For a start, Downing Street has a report from the Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research. It recommends that private firms deliver health and education on the widest possible scale. The report, a final paper from IPPR’s “Commission on Public Private Partnerships”, claims that “the crucial ingredient that the private sector possesses and the public sector needs is management.”

The report was paid for by the Serco “institute”, a front for the firm which privately runs a slew of Britain’s prisons and immigration detention centres, including the grim “Doncatraz” Doncaster gaol. Serco failed to win the air traffic control privatisation precisely because of worries about its management.

The report was also supported by Nomura, Japanese bank with a big interest in private finance initiative-style (PFI) deals: Nomura’s management of army housing under PFI has been lamentable. KPMG chipped in to support the report as well. It is not a disinterested party either. KPMG advised on 29 hospital PFI schemes, and many other deals outside health.

The giant accountant’s role in these hospital sell-offs has only come under indepdent scrutiny once: at Dartford and Gravesham hospital. The national audit office (NAO) found that, despite KPMG’s “healthcare” advice, the new hospital probably made no financial saving but did cut beds drastically. KPMG’s own fees were originally tendered at £152,000. It finally billed the NHS for £960,000. For good measure, the Norwich Union, which also put millions in PFI, invested in the IPPR report too.

Martin Taylor, chancellor Brown’s friend who used to run Barclays Bank, acted as “commissioner” in drawing up the IPPR’s advice. He is perfectly suited to the job: as an adviser to Goldman Sachs he is in the pay of a multinational bank which wants to make a profit out of Britain’s poor. Goldman Sachs is involved in PFI: it originally funded the PFI buy-out of all Britain’s dole offices.

As the “honorary secretary” of the Bilderberg group, Taylor is also involved in the secretive corporate schmoozing of big name politicians (he signed up for Bilderberg originally alongside Peter Mandelson). And when he ran Barclays, he showed his “secret ingredient” was disastrous management. Under his stewardship the bank lost £250m gambling in Russian financial markets, and had to stump up £300m to bail out the absurd American “hedge fund”, Long Term Capital Markets.

Eventually Taylor was ousted by a boardroom battle in November 1998 before he could cause more damage. Now he’s decided to help the public sector.

The treasury meanwhile wants to take a second look at IPPR’s prediction about the efficiency of privatisation. In particular chancellor Brown wants to test the idea that the private sector gets greater productivity out of employers through “reskilling”, “efficient shift systems and better motivation” – rather than low pay, poor conditions, long hours and casualisation.

To test the theory he will commission a study by the Office of Government Commerce. This office in turn also has a private manager: Peter Gershon, Britain’s highest paid civil servant on £180,000 a year, plus performance benefits and a three-year contract.

He was formerly chief operating officer at British Aerospace. But far from being expert in efficiency, BAe is best at massive cost overruns, project failures and non-competitive tendering. The managers in charge of the Tornado, Bowman Radio and Type 45 destroyer programmes – all plagued with late delivery and technical problems – reported directly to Gershon.

Since then, Serco have become notorious for their massive inefficiency and the inhuman conditions at the prisons and detention centres they run. One of the most notorious of the latter was Yarl’s Wood, which was so atrocious the asylum seekers rioted. And I don’t think that was only one either. I also remember the outrage that the government’s sale of the army barracks to Nomura caused.

Goldman Sachs and Lehmann’s Bank caused the 2008 world banking crash, ushering over two decades of cuts and austerity, which has made conditions for the poor even more worse. For those who are managing to survive the low pay, monstrous levels of debt, and the almost non-existent welfare state. This has forced millions of people onto food banks to keep body and soul together, and hundreds of thousands are suffering from starvation, or ‘food poverty’ as the media now delicately put it. And I forget what the death toll from this is, it’s so high.

As for low pay, poor conditions and job insecurity – that all increased under Gordon Brown, and has increased even more so under the Tories, as it all keeps the working woman and man down, cowed and fearful, in her and his place.

And the Bilderbergers will be familiar to anyone interested in conspiracy theories. They were some of the ‘Secret Rulers of the World’ covered by Jon Ronson in his documentary series on Channel 4 of the same name.

I dare say some of the names involved in the privatisation agenda has changed, but you can bet it’s all going to come in with Starmer, despite his retention of Corbyn’s election manifesto. ‘Cause that was popular. Now it looks like he’ll undermine it by starting to ignore it.

And we’re back to Blairite misery, despair, poverty and starvation again. Except for the multinationals and their utterly talentless managers. It all looks pretty good for them.

Furious! Tories Include NHS in Secret Trade Deal with Trump

July 23, 2020

I’m afraid it’s taken me a few days to get round to this story, but it’s partly because this whole, shabby deal has made me so enraged. Mike put up a piece a few days ago reporting that the Tories have lied to us. Despite their fervent denials, they have put the NHS on the table to Donald Trump. This means the privatisation of the NHS as a whole comes that bit closer, and medicines are going to be more expensive. Because what Trump’s donors in big pharma really hate is a big state machine demanding value for money and affordable drugs. Some of us still remember the moan of one of these company heads when he took over the firm making the anti-AIDS drugs. He immediately raised the price to exorbitant amounts as he didn’t want to make them for poor Indians. I think his name was Martin Shkreli, and he was torn to shreds for his disgusting attitude on social media. But the attitude against supplying cheap drugs is still there.

Mike in his article pointed out how the Tories lied to us. Jeremy Corbyn told the public the truth. He presented the evidence, but was shouted down by the paid liars of corporate media, who carried on smearing him and his followers as anti-Semites. As Mike showed, one of those claiming that the NHS was not going to be included in the deal was Laura Kuenssberg. She claimed it would be far too unpopular. Well, it would be if more people knew about it, I suppose. But it’s been kept off the front page so far by the scandal about Russian interference, so I’m guessing that the Tories hope that their grubby deal has been successfully buried.

Mike also pointed out in his article that the Tories have a proprietorial attitude towards the Health Service. It isn’t ours, it’s theirs, and they can, in their view, do what the devil they like with it. There’s so much truth in this. When David Cameron was busy preparing the dismemberment of the NHS eight years ago with his disgusting Health and Social Care bill, there was a meme showing just how many Tory and other MPs were connected to private healthcare companies, or companies supplying the NHS, that would stand to profit from the deal. And there was no shortage of them – over 100. This is all for the profit of Dodgy Dave, Bozo and their friends and donors in private healthcare.

It also shows how little libertarian internet personality Sargon of Gasbag really knows about free market capitalism as it really exists, as opposed to the idealised version he’s taken over from the panting disciples of von Hayek, Mises and Milton Friedman. When the possibility that the Tories would include it in the deal with Trump first broke, the Sage of Swindon put up a piece on YouTube denying that such a deal would be made. This was because no private businessman would want it.

Sargon obviously hasn’t been paying attention for the past couple of decades. Because ever since John Major’s time American companies have been desperate to get their claws into Britain’s NHS. It began with the private healthcare insurance fraudsters Unum, who advised Major’s health secretary, Peter Lilley. And when Major lost the 1997 election to Blair, Unum simply moved in there. Along with other American companies. Blair even decided he wanted to remodel the commissioning system of the NHS on American private healthcare company Kaiserpermanente, because he thought mistakenly they were able to provide better value for money.

The Tories and the media lied to the British public. As Mike states in his article, the Tories are inveterate liars. But they succeeded in getting the British public to believe them, handing them an 80 seat majority. Because Boris was going ‘to get Brexit done’. And Brexit would be absolutely wonderful, we’d be able to have all these wonderful trade deals made on our terms without the interference of the EU. And we wouldn’t have to worry about all the nasty bureaucracy we’d need to travel to or trade with the Continent, because all that was just lies dreamed up by Project Fear.

That was also a lie, as Zelo Street has also shown in his articles about it. No-one is queuing up to trade with us on our terms. The Japanese have made it very clear that any deal they make with us will be very much on theirs. And I have no doubt Donald Trump has made the same point. Outside the great trading block of the EU, we are very weak and vulnerable. The Tories need Trump’s trade deal, and so it was almost inevitable that despite their weasely denials, they’d fold and give into him.

Not that selling off the NHS isn’t something they haven’t wanted to do since Margaret Thatcher planned on doing it in the 1980s. Or when a section of the Tories in 1948 refused to back the NHS as it was too expensive, and then returned in the 1950s to demand its denationalisation.

If this deal goes through, it will bring even closer the Tories’ dream of replacing the NHS with a private healthcare system, funded through private health insurance. Where if you don’t have the cash, you try getting your treatment from medicare or the charity hospital. Something like 20 per cent of Americans can’t afford their health insurance. As Mike says, 3/4 of all bankruptcies in the US come from Americans unable to pay their medical bills.

It will mean a return to the terrible, deeply unequal provision of medical care that existed before Labour’s foundation of the NHS in 1948. When millions of working people couldn’t afford the doctor. And what is also boiling my blood is that Nandy and Starmer are complicit in this privatisation. Blair would also liked to have privatised the NHS, although I think he would still have kept it funded by the state. But Nandy revealed on the Andrew Marr show that she and Starmer would also have kept the NHS’ inclusion in Trump’s trade talks secret as well.

British working men and women are being sold into grinding poverty, debt, despair, starvation, illness and death for the corporate profit of a Thatcherite political and media class. Mike in his piece comments about how generous the Beeb and newspaper hacks, who stand by when deals like this are being made and dutifully keep their keyboards and mouths shut, or hail it as a success in bringing more private investment into the NHS, are rewarded with personal private healthcare cover for themselves.

Because you can bet that they have. Just as Tory bigwigs have connections to the big private healthcare firms slavering to buy up the NHS.

Here’s how the Tories reneged on their promises to protect ‘our’ NHS

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/brexit-ball-and-chain-exposed.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/brexiteers-meet-project-reality.html

Boris’ Lockdown Delay Killed 30,000 People

June 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Zelo Street concluded its article with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s keep on reminding him and them.

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

Farage and Charlie Kirk Stir Up Racial Tensions with Accusations of Chinese Responsibility for the Coronavirus

March 20, 2020

As if the disease itself, and the fear and uncertainty caused by the measures by the measures countries all across the world have been forced to adopt to combat the Coronavirus aren’t enough, certain figures on the British and American political right have decided to make the situation worse by throwing around groundless accusations about responsibility for the outbreak. Nigel Farage, owner of the Brexit Party Ltd, and the odious Charlie Kirk, have declared that the Chinese are responsible for it. Zelo Street put up a piece about this latest revolting development, as Benjamin J. Grimm, your blue-eyed, ever-lovin’ Thing used to put it, yesterday.

Almost predictably, it appears to have begun with a comment Trump put out over Twitter. In flat contradiction to everything he had previously said, Trump declared that he had always taken ‘the Chinese virus’ very seriously. One Twitter commenter, who went by the monicker of BrooklynDad_defiant, told Trump that the disease was called the Coronavirus or Covid-19 if he found the first name too difficult. He was endangering Chinese-Americans, and had dismissed the virus as a hoax, claimed it was down to zero and that it had been contained. None of this was true.

Then the Fuhrage decided to put his oar in. He tweeted that corporate America was standing with their President in this emergency, unlike the UK, and that Rishi Sunak’s relief measures were in line with those of France. Which ignore the fact, as Zelo Street reminded us, that the French government isn’t offering loans to help out businesses. And then Farage went to his default position of blaming foreigners, and claimed that the Chinese were responsible. He tweeted “It really is about time we all said it. China caused this nightmare. Period”. And then followed this with “It is time we all challenged the Chinese regime. Enough is enough”. He followed this up by retweeting an approving tweet from Charlie Kirk, the poster boy for the right-wing organisation, Turning Point USA, who said

In the age of Trump -we’ve learned that the media is hellbent on spreading disinformation and lies. So if we don’t speak the truth, who will? [Nigel Farage] is right and its time we all listen: China caused this pandemic. They should be forced to pay”.

Zelo Street remarked about this display of racism that Farage and Kirk wouldn’t know the truth if it kicked them squarely in the crotch. They are good, however, at screaming ‘liar!’ and ‘Fake news’ at media organisations they dislike in order to rile up their bases. The Sage of Crewe concluded

‘The situation with Covid-19 is serious. It is serious enough that no responsible politician should be going anywhere near leveraging it to whip up the mob.

That Nigel Farage is doing just that tells you all you need to know about where he’s at.’

He’s exactly right, as he began the article with a quotation from the South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha on the Andrew Marr Show, expressing her concern about a rise in racially motivated attacks on Asians in other countries in response to the crisis. She naturally wanted governments to crack down on it, because it was helping the spirit of collaboration the world needs to combat the crisis.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/farage-uses-crisis-to-whip-up-mob.html

She isn’t alone in these fears. A few days ago I received a message from the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organisation, Hope Not Hate, describing what they were going to do as a response to the virus. They aren’t just trying to help combat the virus itself, as very many other organisations and charities are also doing, but are trying to expose and tackle the way the crisis is being exploited by Fascist groups. The email said of this part of their work

For example, we’ll be releasing new content on how extremists use the messaging app Telegram to promote terrorism next week. At the same time, we’re adapting our work, conducting research on how the far right are responding to COVID-19 and any way in which they may be weaponsing it. Because of the nature of the virus we are also increasing our research into conspiracy theories. We hope that these areas will allow us to counter how forces of hate are seeking to use this global pandemic.

Now you would have thought that Trump would have been more careful before he blamed the Chinese for the virus. I can remember how George W. Bush during his tenure of the White House 12 years and more ago made an official apology to Japanese-Americans condemning their internment during World War II. It was an apology Japanese-American activists like Star Trek’s George Takei had fought long and hard for. The last thing Trump should be doing is trying to reopen old wounds about his country’s treatment of Asian Americans, and no politico on either side of the Pond should be trying to stir up racial tensions at this time anyway.

The Chinese Communist regime is responsible for any number of atrocities and horrors, from the invasion of Tibet, the genocide of the Uighurs, the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong and the mass deaths of the Cultural Revolution. But it is definitely not responsible for the Coronavirus. The Chinese have made massive efforts to contain and eradicate it, even isolating the province in which it emerged, Wuhan. I’ve also heard nothing to suggest that they have been nothing but entirely collaborative with other nations in the global attempts to combat this disease.

I think Trump called the Coronavirus the ‘Chinese disease’ simply out of stupidity and laziness. He couldn’t remember, or couldn’t be bothered to remember, what it was really called. But Farage and Kirk just seem to have blamed the Chinese out of sheer racism.

This is immensely dangerous, when people are as isolated, vulnerable and fearful as they are now, and Farage and Kirk are to be condemned for their inflammatory, bigoted remarks.

Bhaskar Sunkara on Blair’s Devastation of the Labour Party

January 25, 2020

The papers and the media have been doing everything they can to attack the left-wing candidates in Labour’s leadership contest and puff the ‘moderates’. That has meant trying to discredit Rebecca Long-Bailey, the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate. She was the subject of a series of smears and untruths last weekend by the Tory press, in which it was claimed that she and her husband were millionaires and so on. At the same time, the remaining liberal papers, like the I, have been promoting candidates like Lisa Nandy. I’ve just heard someone from the Labour party, speaking on a Radio 4 news programme just now, make a few scornful comments about Long-Bailey. He remarked that it was surprising that Keir Starmer and Nandy were so far ahead, considering that the Corbynites had their hands on the centres of power in the party for three years. He was particularly sneering at Long-Bailey for saying that she gave Corbyn ’10 out of 10′. Corbyn, he stated, had lost three elections. And that was the point where I decided to put fingers to keyboard to make a few comments myself, and correct this fellow’s biased and misleading remarks.

For a start, I think Corbyn did exceedingly well, at least initially. The party had lost much of its membership under Blair and Brown. Corbyn managed to turn this around, so that it became the largest socialist party in Europe. Yes, he did lose three elections. But during one of those elections, even though he lost, he won an enormous number of seats from a  low starting point, so that it marked the most gains by the party in several years. And he did this despite massive opposition. This came from the Parliamentary Labour Party, a sizable number of whom were constantly intriguing against him, threatening coups and mass departures. These were aided by the media, including the increasingly far right and wretched Beeb, which did everything it could to smear and vilify Corbyn and his supporters. And then there was the unrepresentative organisations that pass themselves off as the Jewish establishment. These, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Chief Rabbinate, Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish press, did everything they could to smear Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites simply for making perfectly valid criticisms of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

And from what I understand, Corbyn did not have his hands on the mechanisms of power. Or not completely. When he was first elected I was told by a friend that Corbyn had left himself in a very weak position by not purging the party bureaucracy. This was based on a piece he’d read in an online magazine. The bureaucracy were all Blairites, and had been expecting to be sacked. But Corbyn retained them, preferring instead to run his campaign from his own constituency office. If this is true, then he made a rod for his own back. It is certainly true that he had to struggle for control of the NEC and the Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, also did his best to undermine and discredit Corbyn at every opportunity. I don’t think any Labour leader could have won elections under these circumstances.

The press and the Labour centre – for whom, read ‘Thatcherite entryists’, are nostalgic for Blair, his neoliberal economic policies of privatisation, including NHS privatisation, and restructuring of the welfare state. New Labour under Blair and Brown was in power for 13 years, from 1997 to 2010. This was because they had the support of the mass media and big business, whom they rewarded with government posts. But their leadership decimated the party itself, and ultimately helped to discredit them.

Bhaskar Sunkara describes how Blair and Brown managed to reduce the party to half its former size in his book The Socialist Manifesto. He writes

The Japanese have a word for looking worse after a haircut: age-otori. Its synonym in English should be Blairism. Despite initial electoral success and some attempts on the margins to solve social issues such as child poverty, Blair and Brown pursued policies that undermined their own social base. When Blair became prime minister in 1997, Labour had four hundred thousand party members. By 2004, it had half that. That year Labour lost 464 seats in local elections. With anger over the party’s privatisation agenda and oversight of the financial crisis, as well as its support for the disastrous Iraq War, Labour was out of power and completely discredited by 2010. (p.209).

Part of the reason Labour lost the north was because, under Blair and Brown, the party ignored its working class base in order to concentrate on winning swing voters and appealing to the middle class. The working class were expected to carry on supporting the party because there was nowhere else for them to go. But that base showed its dissatisfaction by voting for Brexit, and then backing Johnson because he boasted that he was going to ‘get Brexit done’. But Corbyn’s left-wing followers and successors realise this, and are determined to start representing and campaigning for the working class again.

The Blairites, the media and the industry want the Labour party back to where it was – numerically small, and supporting big business and the rich against the working class, the NHS and the welfare state. This is the reason they’re attacking Long-Bailey and the other left-wing candidates, and praising and promoting moderates like Starmer and Nandy. But Blair’s success was only possible because the Tories were even more discredited than he was. And there was no need for his Thatcherite policies. They weren’t particular popular with the electorate at large, and with the massive majority that he won in the year, he could have started putting back real socialism instead. But that would have alienated the Tory voters he was determined to win over, Murdoch and the Tory press, and his backers in business.

Corbyn was defeated, but I don’t believe for a single minute that his policies have been discredited. Rather I think it’s the opposite: Blairism has. And while the Tories now have a massive majority, their policies are destroying the country and its people.

Only a return to traditional, old Labour values and policies will restore it.

The Tory Attacks on Health and Safety Legislation Is Causing Carnage

January 21, 2020

Since almost as long as I can remember, the Tories and their lackeys in the press have been attacking health and safety legislation. The common reasons trotted out are that it is an unnecessary burden to employers, binding them with complicated red tape and costs. More recently the authors of Britannia Unchained and similar works have demanded that such legislation protecting people at work should be rolled back in order to make Britain more competitive against countries in the Developing World, whose workers don’t benefit by such protection. The Tories have tried to make this assault popular by making health and safety legislation seem not only cumbrous, interfering and bureaucratic, but also massively overprotective and silly. Remember all those stories from the Heil years ago claiming that, thanks to the ‘Nanny state’, schools were having to make children wear goggles before playing conkers?

The truth is that when health and safety legislation was introduced in the ’70s, it massively cut down on deaths and injuries among working people – and that’s basically why the Tories would like to get rid of it. They want labour to be cheap and easily disposable, and health and safety laws are an obstacle to that. And the chapter by Hilda Palmer and David Whyte in The Violence of Austerity by Whyte and Vickie Cooper shows exactly how devastating in terms of lives and injuries their attacks on the legislation has been. The government watchdog in charge of overseeing the implementation of the legislation, the Health and Safety Executive, has had its funding cut by 47 per cent. The Tories have also threatened to close it down altogether. In 2013 the government launched a review in order to see whether there was still a need for its functions and if it complied with good governance. The number of staff employed at the executive fell from 3,702 in April 2010 to 2,706 in December 2013. Since the Tories came to power, the number of inspections by the Executive has fallen by a third.

These cuts have resulted in an increase in work-related accidents and injuries, although the authors warn that the government’s figures are almost certainly too low. The real figures are almost certainly higher. They write

Typically, the official ‘headline figure’ published by the HSE records between 140 and 240 deaths per year resulting from sudden injury and 13,000 deaths caused by occupational diseases and illnesses. Those figures, however, only reflect a small proportion of total deaths caused by work. The first figure does not include key categories of deaths cause by work. The Hazards Campaign estimates that seven times more deaths are caused by work incidents than the figure official cited by the HSE. HSE figures exclude work-related road traffic deaths, the workplace deaths recorded in other industries that the HSE does not have formal responsibility for, like the maritime and civil aviation industries, or deaths to members of the public killed by a work activity, such as scaffold collapses or train crashes. A more complete estimate would also include suicides attributed to work related stress. There are approximately 6,000 suicides involving working-age people in the UK each year, and a number of those involve workers driven to despair by work-related stress. In Japan, where work-related suicides are officially recognised and compensated, it is estimated that 5 per cent of suicides are work-related. This estimate, if applied to the UK, would amount to roughly 300 people killed through work related strees.

In sum, a more complete figure of workplace deaths caused by sudden injury, which takes into account all of the above exclusions, would amount to between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths every year, or 3-4 deaths per day. (p. 142).

They also argue that the estimated number of deaths from occupational diseases are also probably grossly underestimated once recent academic studies are taken into account. For example, a 2005 study of the causes of occupational and environmental cancer by Richard Clapp estimated that about 8-16 per cent of all cancer deaths came from occupational cancer. If the mid-range figure of 12 per cent is taken as the number of occupational deaths from cancer, the number of people dying through work-related cancer is 18,000 per year.

A 2005 paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimated tath 15-20 per cent of all cases of COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – could be work related. Which means 6,000 deaths per year. There is also evidence that up to 20 per cent of all deaths from heart disease are related to conditions at work. This figure adds up to 20,000 deaths per year.

A further conservative estimate that diseases in which work can be a contributory cause, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis and so on comprise a further 6,000 deaths per annum.

They state

All of this adds up to an overall estimate by the Hazards Campaign of up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illness every year – four times the typical HSE estimate of around 13,000 per year. Our contention then, is that the HSE figures grossly underestimate the number of workers whose current working conditions expose them to both the well-known and the newer risk factors, that will produce the workers deaths of the future. (p. 143).

They also make the point that the death toll is still rising, because of toxins to which people may have been exposed to as much as 40 years previously, such as some carcinogens. The EU has estimated that in the 1990s five million workers, or 22 per cent of the working population, were exposed to cancer-causing substances.

They also argue that, thanks to austerity, more workers are suffering under poor working conditions that are damaging their health. These include bullying and harassment, long hours, and the zero hours contracts imposed on 5.5 million workers. The insecurity these contracts cause are linked to stress, heart and circulatory diseases. Workers are also still exposed to dusts and chemicals that cause or contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. They also point to the connection between low paid work and poor safety standards

Low paid work guarantees more than hardship: low pay goes hand in hand with low safety standards. Occupational injuries and diseases such as diabetes and cancer are directly linked to low paid jobs. (p. 144).

They also make the point that the ‘compensation culture’ the Tories have claimed exists is actually a myth. In fact, many workers don’t receive the compensation to which they’re entitled. They write

One of the first moves of the Coalition government, in October 2010, was to appoint Lord Young, a former Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, to deliver ‘a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.’ He found absolutely no evidence of this ‘compensation culture’, citing figures which actually showed a downward trend to legal claims, but still demanded action to deal with ‘red tape’. Indeed, figures obtained by Hazards Magazine show that fewer than one in seven people suffering an occupational injury or disease ever receive compensation. For occupational diseases alone, this drops to just one in twenty-six. For most occupational cancers, there is barely any prospect of compensation at all.  (p. 145).

They also show that the government’s division of work into high and low risk is also highly dubious and has resulted in an increase in deaths at work. It was done by Cameron’s government in order to restrict HSE inspections to those jobs considered high risk. But the low risk category is wide, and includes textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, road and air transport and docks, electricity generation and the postal and courier services. Hazards Magazine found that 53 per cent of all deaths at work caused by sudden injury were in the low risk sector. Palmer and Whyte state ‘In other words, the government’s fiscal purge of health and safety enforcement has meant abandoning scrutiny of the workplaces where the majority of deaths occur’. (p. 145).

Palmer and Whyte state that this death toll should be a ‘call to arms. to any government, regardless of its political stance. But instead, despite the ‘glaring’ evidence that the red tape is good for workers, employers and the economy, governments have doubled down and insisted that such legislation is an intolerable nuisance. This has reached the point where the HSE doesn’t even both to ask ‘what’s so wrong with red tape anyway?’ The government’s ideological obsession with red tape means that ‘there is no room for argument or evidence that health and safety legislation doesn’t burden business, while its absence carries a high cost to business, workers and the public purse.’

This means that when some rag like the Heil, the Depress, or the Scum claims that health and safety legislation is unnecessary, costly and stifling business, they are lying. And lying to defend an attitude to workplace safety that is murderously dangerous to working people.

But then, as the disabled have found, Tory responsibility for mass injury and death is nothing new.