Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

Policeman Killed by Terrorist Should Get Award for His Sacrifice

March 23, 2017

I’ve been listening to the news about the vile terrorist attack that occurred in London yesterday. Like everyone else, I’m disgusted by this man’s horrific attack on the innocent ordinary citizens on the bridge, including Aysha Frade, a Spanish teacher at a sixth form college, and the French students, who have been injured.

I believe that Keith Palmer, the police officer stabbed to death by the terrorist, should be posthumously given an award for his heroism in sacrificing his own life to defend the politicos, civil servants, members of the public inside the palace of Westminster.

I also have nothing but respect for the response of the medical staff of one of the hospitals, who rushed out to give immediate aid to the victims. This too was an act of bravery, as they did not know whether they themselves would also be targeted for attack.

Of all the speeches being made by the politicians about it, I think one of the most profound points was made by Ken Livingstone. Livingstone pointed out that London had survived the Blitz, and would survive this. He also said that the terrorists’ intention is to provoke non-Muslims to attack Muslims. However, after the 7/7 attacks, not one Muslim was attacked in retaliation. He followed this with the observation that the people coming to our country are attracted by our values of tolerance and community, and don’t want to change them.

It’s an excellent point, and needed to be said before the bigots of the extreme right try to capitalise on this terrible incident to demonise Muslims in turn, and create the hatred and division the killer and his vile collaborators want.

Trump Puts Iran ‘On Notice’

February 4, 2017

It seems that Drumpf is gearing up to start another war, this time with Iran. Yesterday the Trumpists’ National Security advisor, Michael Flynn, stated that they were putting Iran ‘on notice’ following an attack by Houthi rebels on a Saudi warship and the Iranians’ testing of a ballistic missile. The Houthis are supported by Iran. Under UN resolution 2231, Iran is barred from developing ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The missle launched by Iranians was not capable of carrying such a weapon. The rocket flew 500 miles before crashing. Iran has tested ballistic missiles before, and while they are observing the letter of the resolution, Obama’s administration condemned them for violating the convention’s spirit. This was because the results from these tests could be used to construct a missile that would be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The former Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, said that ‘this is not the first time an inexperienced person has threatened Iran … The American government will understand that threatening Iran is useless. Iran does not need permission from any country to defend itself.’ He also stated that the weapon was not covered by the nuclear accords, and that they would not use missiles produced in Iran to attack another country.

Trump also made a statement attacking Obama’s agreement with Iran, in which frozen assets were returned to the country in return for the regime abandoning any effort to development nuclear weapons. I think the monies returned to Iran was about $180 million. Trump declared that until Obama gave them the money, the country was on its last legs. There’s no evidence for that, and Drumpf misrepresents the payment as some kind of gift. And like his Republican predecessors, Drumpf also seems to want to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran. Despite the fact that it is preventing Iran from developing nuclear arms, and international monitoring agencies have confirmed that Iran is abiding by the agreement.

In the video, John Iadarola and Ana Kasparian also state why an invasion of Iran would be a bad idea. They make the point that the Iraq invasion and consequent occupation has been bad enough, but Iran would be much more difficult as it has a larger army and is better armed and equipped.

There are also a number of other points that could be made here. Firstly, any invasion of Iran would not only face difficulties presented by confronting a much better armed country, but would also cause the same ethnic blood bath that broke out in Iraq. 51 per cent of the Iranian population speak Farsi, but the country is also a mosaic of other tribes, including Arabs in Khuzestan, Kurds, Baluchis and various nomadic tribes speaking languages related to Turkish. Many of these have also waged war in the recent past for their independence. The Kurds have been fighting for their independence since the reign of the Shah, and several of the Turkish tribes rose up in revolt in the 1970s after the Iranian regime confiscated their tribal lands as part of a programme of land redistribution.

It’s hardly known in the west, but there is also a massive, growing underground Christian church in Iran similar to underground church in China. Apostasy from Islam is forbidden, and converts to Christianity imprisoned and persecuted. It has got to the point that the Iranian regime is posting armed soldiers around the ethnic Armenian churches, so that Iranians don’t sneak in to participate in their worship. If America invades Iran, this already persecuted minority will suffer even worse harassment and victimisation as they will be identified with the invaders. And the same will be true of the Bahai’is. They see themselves as a separate religion, which has grown out of Islam, in the same way that Christianity developed from Judaism. Mainstream Islam, at least in Iran, sees them as a heresy, and they have been savagely persecuted. Because Baha’ullah, one of the religion’s founders, was imprisoned in Haifa, which is now in Israel, there’s a conspiracy theory grown up about the Bahai’is, which accuses them of being spies and saboteurs working for Israel. It’s rubbish, but this hasn’t stopped tens of thousands of Bahai’is being killed in pogroms. Any American invasion of Iran will see these people suffer even worse persecution.

Iadarola and Kasparian also make the point that Trump’s belligerence also threatens to miss a golden opportunity to turn the country into an ally. They make the point that it’s a young country, with a burgeoning middle class, who want western consumer products. It should be possible to draw Iran into the international community, and neutralise any threat they may pose simply through friendly relations. But Trump is taking the much easier route, of turning it into another North Korea, isolated from the rest of the world.

The peoples of the Middle East have suffered too much. The last thing they, and indeed the rest of the world need, is another wretched, stupid war of aggression. And let’s forget the rhetoric about Iran being a ‘rogue state’ and part of the ‘Axis of evil’ as George Dubya put it. The Iranian theocracy is brutal. But it is still more liberal than many of the other countries around it, like Saudi Arabia. There is a democratic component to their constitution, which there is certainly isn’t in the Wahhabi kingdom. And I’ve also heard that if the Iranians were developing nuclear weapons, it wouldn’t be to use against Europe, but to defend themselves against the Saudis.

If America were to invade Iran, it wouldn’t be to spread democracy. That would be another lie, the same that has been used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The reality would be that it would be another attempt by the Neocon political and economic elite to loot another Middle Eastern country, and steal its oil and industries. While the Saudis would back it in their campaign to advance their kind of repressive Sunni Islam against Iranian Shi’a.

BBC Wants to Rebut Fake News, But Who’s Going to Rebut Theirs?

January 13, 2017

There’s a piece in the I today reporting that the Beeb intends to set up a ‘Reality Check’ news team to correct the fake news on the internet. The article, by Kim Sengupta, states

The BBC is to create a dedicated team which will identify and expose “fake news” stories being shared on Facebook and other social media.

The corporation said it was not seeking to “police the internet”. But its Reality Check team will identify and correct the most egregious examples of fabricated stories and outright “lies” circulated by fake news sites.

James Harding, the BBC director of news and current affairs, told staff: “The BBC can’t edit the internet, but we won’t stand aside either. We will fact check the most popular outliers on Facebook, Instagram and other social media.”

He added: ” We are working with Facebook, in particular, to see how we can be most effective. Where we see deliberately misleading stories masquerading as news, we’ll publish a Reality Check that says so.”

The BBC believes it can employ the credibility of its news organisation to assist Facebook. However, the corporation said it would not target stories published by “mainstream” media such as UK newspapers. (p. 13).

There are several aspects to this story. First of all, it shows the fear the mainstream media have of the internet. The newspapers, television and radio stations and moguls are being increasingly abandoned as more people, particularly the young, prefer to take their news from the Net, feeling that it’s more trustworthy. Journalists writing in the Radio Times and elsewhere have already whined about this threat to their ability to shape consensus opinion. One of them stated that the different news sites on the internet, with their various biases, was a danger because it meant that people were only looking at the news sources which agreed with their personal biases, and so opinions and views were going to become increasingly polarised. He made it very clear that he wanted the mainstream opinion to continue to shape consensus opinion.

This is obviously an attempt by the Beeb to try and exercise its position as a purveyor of respected, supposedly objective news, to combat the threat posed by the internet.

Okay, there’s an awful lot of rubbish put out by some websites. You only have to look at the content of much of Alex Jones’ Infowars show, which is real tin foil hat conspiracy theory material. Jones’ stock in trade is very loud allegations that the secret rulers of the world are Satanic aliens. Just before the election he was screaming that Hillary Clinton was either an alien, or a cyborg. Other sites on YouTube have ludicrously claimed that Killary has kuru, a degenerative neurological condition caused by eating human brains, contracted from cannibalistic orgies in which she has consumed the brains of children. It’s rubbish, and clearly fake news.

But there is a lot of news on YouTube, which isn’t fake, and which very much is a threat to the establishment. Like the reporting on the real Fascism of the Ukrainian government, and its persecution of ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians. The same is true of the information on what is really going on in Syria, which isn’t about freeing the enslaved Syrian people from a dictator, but about ousting a genuinely popular president in order to break Russian power and enrich the western allied oil companies and states still further. Oh yes, and we’re using al-Qaeda and ISIS, the very organisation we’re supposed to be fighting, to overthrow a secular government.

This alternative news is also under threat from the internet companies. I’ve put up a piece from The Jimmy Dore Show in which the American comedian reports how his pieces and those of others about the real nature of the Syrian conflict have been demonetised by Google in an attempt to discourage people from posting them.

And the Beeb itself has plenty of previous when it comes to bias and fake news. That infamous piece of film of the striking miners at Orgreave, which was shown backwards so that it appeared to show the miners attacking the cops when the opposites was true is a particularly notorious piece. Academics from Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities have reported how the Beeb is far more likely to report the views of Conservative politicos and businessmen, particularly from the financial sector, over those from the Labour party and trade unionists. The Kushner brothers in their book Who Needs the Cuts describe their anger at the way the Beeb automatically accepted the need for austerity, and consistently refuses to allow a dissenting voice onto their news shows. When one does appear, the presenter immediately gets annoyed and tries to cut them off or interrupt them. Nothing must stop the proles from accepting that the government is right in taking away more of their rights and destroying the welfare state in favour of corporate profit.

This isn’t just about combating the real, poisonous fake news. This is the mainstream media trying to suppress a danger challenge to the right-wing consensus. It’s about maintaining the credibility of establishment bias and fake news in the face of alternative reporting.

Counterpart’s Ken Surin on the Arguments against South African and Israeli Apartheid

January 11, 2017

On Monday Counterpunch published an article by Ken Surin, one of its regular contributors, about a meeting of the Modern Language Association he attended in Philadelphia. This debated two resolutions, one for, the other against, the BDS movement. Surin discusses in his article the similarity between Israeli apartheid and that of South Africa. He was himself active in anti-apartheid politics as a student in the late 1960s and ’70s, and shows how the same arguments against sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa are still being trotted out today to defend Israel, and how the arguments for sanctions against South Africa still apply to Israel today.

The article as a whole deserves to be read. But there is one passage which is particularly interesting, where he makes the counterarguments against the attempts by South Africa and Israel to deflect criticism by pointing to other countries, which are equally guilty of human rights violations, but are much less criticised. He writes

The “Why pick on Israel, when there is also North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and so forth?” plaint was also heard at this conference, and for me this resonated very closely with the similar complaint made by South African apartheid sympathizers: “Why pick on South Africa? What about those African cruel dictators– Mobutu, Idi Amin, the “Emperor” Bokassa—who treat their people as excrement?”.

The answer to this objection is fourfold:

1/ No African despot ever pretended to uphold “western values” (whatever these may be) in the way Israel does, and white South Africa did, at least symbolically.

2/ If the African tyrants were asked whether they respected “democracy”, their deep resounding laughter would have answered this question. Israel on the other hand….

3/ Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, nearly all of which is used to subjugate the Palestinians. If the US turned off this tap, Israel would probably soon be motivated to mend some of its ways. So would Saudi Arabia, effectively an Israeli/US proxy in the Arab world along with Egypt. No such tap exists where North Korea is concerned. The simple lesson is that we fight battles where we can be effective.

4/ The logic of this argument is faulty. Consider the following analogy:

You own a house and the land it’s on. Some people come to your house, citing some holy book if it suits them, and they take it over by force of arms, perhaps invoking the holy book. You are told that from now on you must live in the tiny tool shed at the back of the property.

You protest, saying “but this is my house and land!”. “Tough”, they say, “from now on this is ours”.

The law (as international law does for the Palestinians), however, allows you to use all legal means, including justifiable force, to resist them and get them to end their seizure of your house and land.

As you are about to do this, someone comes along and says at the Philadelphia MLA conference: “No, you can’t take measures to get them to leave. In this town, there are several other houses that have been taken over by lawbreakers, who also tortured their owners, kidnapped their children, and so on. So, you can’t evict the illegal occupiers of your own house, until you go out and protest against these other illegalities, initiate boycotts of their perpetrators, and so on”.

The appropriate response: “If the law is on my side, I can resist the home invaders, so you can go *@#$ yourself”.

The complete article can be read at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/09/resolutions-advocating-a-boycott-of-israel/

Jeremy Corbyn Suggests Capping Director’s Pay – Media Goes Ballistic

January 11, 2017

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting on another good suggestion from Jeremy Corbyn, and the predictable response of outrage and sneering from the meejah. The Labour leader had said on an interview on Radio 4 yesterday morning that he believed that there should be a cap on the pay earned by company directors and senior execs. The media naturally responded by pointing out that Corbyn has an annual pay of £138,000 a year, and tried to draw him into giving a price figure for what the maximum amount earned should be.

The story got onto the One Show yesterday evening, where they did a brief survey of people in the street. Opinions were, as they say, mixed. One elderly objected to the cap on the grounds that it might take away the incentive for people rising to the top. Looking at the headlines on the various papers this morning, it was very clear that it had riled someone at the Torygraph, as this was the story they shoved on their front cover. Other newspapers, like Mail, led by claiming that Labour’s policy in immigration was ‘in disarray’. Mike’s also written another article this week showing that’s also rubbish.

Mike in his article makes the point that compared to some of the vast, bloated salaries awarded to company executives, Corbyn’s own salary appears very modest indeed. He suggests that it is stupid to try to lay down a particular set figure – it should be based on company turnover and the lowest wage earned by an employee at that company. He also makes the point that the casting of particular star actors can make a great difference to how well a movie does, and that when this happens, everyone else who worked on the movie should also enjoy the films’ financial awards.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/10/if-we-examine-who-is-complaining-about-corbyns-maximum-wage-idea-well-know-why/

This is all correct. And there’s something else that needs to be added:

Japan already has maximum wage legislation.

Yep, it’s true. Japan is one of the world’s five wealthy countries with a very capitalist economy. The centre right Liberal Democratic party has ruled the country almost uninterrupted since the Second World War. And it also has a cap on how much company directors may be paid. I think it’s set at about 20 times that of the lowest paid employee, but I am not sure.

And the limitation of wage differentials is not something that has been simply added on in the course of reform, but an integral part of the dominant, guiding vision of the nature of Japanese society. East Asian societies can be extremely collectivist, stressing group loyalty over individual opportunity or achievement. In Japan the goal was to create a harmonious, middle class society, where there would be no extremes in wealth or poverty. This isn’t quite the case, as the Burakami, an outcast group rather like the Dalits in India, and those of Korean descent are still subject to massive poverty and discrimination.

The Japanese have also tried to justify their collectivist outlook through racist pseudo-anthropology. One school textbook claimed that Japanese society was more collectivist and co-operative because the Japanese people were descended from agriculturalists, who had to forge strong links with each other in order to cultivate and harvest rice. We Westerners, however, were all isolated individualists because we’re all descended from hunter-gatherers.

As anthropology, it’s rubbish, of course. Some social historians have argued that agricultural societies are more prone to tyranny and absolute government, which would include the type of Asian absolute monarchies described by Western observers as ‘oriental despotism’. But all human societies were originally hunter-gatherers, including the Japanese. And European society has practised settled agriculture since the beginning of the Neolithic 6,000 years ago.

The origins of Japanese and East Asian collectivism probably lie more in the influence of Confucianism, which stressed the right relationships between the members of society, such as between the prince and the people, and between elders, parents and children, and the still powerful influence of feudalism in structuring social relationships. Instead of a samurai warrior giving his loyalty and service to a daimyo feudal lord, it’s now the sarariman – the corporate warrior – becoming part of the retinue of company employees under the lordship of the director.

And European individualism probably comes not from any vestiges of our hunter-gatherer deep past, but from the effect of Hobbesian Social Contract political theorising and the free trade economics of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith. Hobbes has been described as the first, of one of the first philosophers of the emerging bourgeois society of the 17th century. This was the period which saw Cromwell sweep away the last vestiges of feudalism in England, and the emergence of modern capitalism. But Hobbes’ philosophy views people as social atoms, all competing against each other, as opposed to other views of society, which may stress the importance of collective or corporate identities and loyalties, such as family, feudal lordship or membership of trade and professional bodies. Similarly, the founders of the economic theories of modern capitalism, such as the Physiocrats in France and Adam Smith and in Scotland, also stressed unrestrained individual competition. They were also specifically arguing against the mercantilist system, in which the state regulated trade. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries the British government enacted a series of legislation governing trade with its emerging colonies, so as to tie them to the economy of the home country, which would benefit from their products. Modern Western individualism come from these theories of capitalist society and the perceived operation of its economy.

The collectivist nature of Japanese society also expresses itself in other ways in the structure and management of Japanese corporations. Singing the company song in the morning is one example. Management are also encouraged or required to share the same canteen as the workers on the shop floor. Both of these practices, and no doubt many others, are designed to foster group solidarity, so that management and workers work together for the good of the company.

This isn’t a perfect system, by any means. Apart from the immense pressure placed on individuals in a society that places such heavy emphasis on the value of hard work, that individuals actually keel over and die because of it when doing their jobs, it has also made Japanese society and corporations extremely resistant to change. Confucianism places great stress on respect for one’s elders and superiors. While respect for the older generation is an admirable virtue, and one which our society in many ways is sadly lacking, in Japan it has resulted in a mindset which resists change or apportioning due blame for historical crimes and atrocities.

At the corporate level, the slow down of the Japanese economy in the 1990s meant there was no longer such a pressing need for company staff to work such long hours. However, so great is the corporate inertia, that staff still feel that they have to keep working past six O’clock in the evening, even if there is little or no work to do, because they don’t want to be seen as breaking with the approved practices of previous generations of employees.

And at the national level, it has been suggested that the exaggerated respect for one’s elders and ancestors is the reason why Japan has had such immense difficulty confronting the atrocities their nation committed during the Second World War. Japanese school texts and official histories have been criticised because they’d don’t discuss the atrocities committed by the imperial Japanese army. One school textbook even talked about the army’s ‘advance’ through Asia, rather than its invasion. The reason for this failure to admit the existence of these crimes, and criticise those who perpetrated them, is that respect for one’s elders and social superiors is so engrained in Japanese society, that except for a few extremely courageous mavericks, casting shame on those responsible for such horrors and, by implication, the whole of society during this period, is unacceptable. Even though many over on this side of the Eurasian landmass would consider that a failure to confront the atrocities committed by one’s nation to be even more shameful.

Japanese and Asian collectivism is not, then, perfect. But a maximum wage cap certainly did not hinder Japan’s advance to become one of the world’s foremost industrial countries. And the goal of creating a harmonious, co-operative society where there is little disparity in wealth is a good one.

The title of Mike’s article on Corbyn’s suggestion for a maximum wage states that the identities of those complaining about it reveal why they’re doing so. Indeed. The proprietors and leading executives of newspaper companies, like the Barclay twins at the Torygraph, have awarded themselves immense salaries. They’re multimillionaires. This wealth is increasingly not being shared with the hacks, who do the actual work of putting the paper out. The Torygraph has been particularly struck with declining sales to the point that Private Eye’s ‘Street of Shame’ column regularly reported further job cuts. Many of the big newspaper companies depend on the work of unpaid interns, particularly the Groaniad. And even if they’re not being threatened with the sack, conditions for the paid staff are becoming increasingly Orwellian. For example, the Eye reported a few months ago that one of the managers at the Torygraph had tried to install motion detectors on the staff’s desks to prevent them moving around too much, just like the staff at call centres are also monitored. The hacks were so annoyed, however, that management had to back down and the motion detectors were removed.

As for the film industry, the presence of big name Hollywood stars can sink a movie simply through the sheer expense of paying. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger was paid $7 million for his appearance in the second Terminator movie. While that was a box office success, the presence of ‘A’ list celebrities in a movie does not guarantee that a film will be a success. One of the reasons why the film Ishtar became such a notorious flop in the 1990s was that the producers cast three major stars, who all commanded multi-million dollar salaries. This pushed the bill for the movie towards $20 million or so, even before the film had been shot. The film was thus under financial pressure from the start.

Apart from the Japanese, there are other, successful European nations that also deliberately avoid huge inequalities in wealth. One of these is Denmark. The newspapers have been full of articles analysing and celebrating the traditional Danish concept of ‘hygge’. This has been translated as ‘cosiness’, but it actually means much more than that. The way I’ve heard it explained by a Danish friend, it’s about being content with the homely necessities. I got the distinct impression that it was similar to the Swedish notion of ‘lagom’, which translates as ‘just enough’. You make just enough to satisfy your basic needs, but no more. And from what I’ve heard about Danish society, the social attitude there is that no-one should try to appear ostentatiously better off than anyone else. This is not to say that everyone has to do the same low-paid job, or that they should not earn more than anyone else. But it does mean that they should not be conspicuously more affluent.

This is the complete opposite from the values promoted and celebrated by Thatcher and the wretched ‘New Right’ of the 1980s. They demanded making conditions harsher for the poor, and giving ever larger salaries to management on the grounds that this would act as an incentive for others to do well and try to climb up the corporate and social ladder. The result has been the emergence of a tiny minority, who are massively wealthy – the 1%. Like the Barclay twins, Rupert Murdoch and just about every member of Theresa May’s cabinet. For everyone else, wages have stagnated to the point where a considerable number are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

But wage caps and an attitude that discourages inequalities of wealth have not harmed Japan, nor Denmark and Sweden, which also have very strong economies and a very high standard of living.

The massive difference between the millions earned by the heads of the big corporations has been a scandal here in Britain, to the point where David Cameron and May made noises urging company directors to restrain their greed. Corbyn’s suggestion is eminently sensible, if Britain is to be a genuinely inclusive, prosperous society. The outrage shown by various media execs to it shows that the Tories are still committed to a policy of poverty for the many, riches for a very few. And all their concern at reining in executive pay is just platitudes to make it appear that they’re concerned when the issue becomes too embarrassing.

Two South Asian Rock Bands

December 6, 2016

This is a little break from politics. Looking around the Net, I found a number of Rock/ Heavy Metal bands from India and Pakistan. Here’s two of them. This Punkh, a Hindi band, performing with the German robot rockers, Compressorhead.

And this is The Nuke, a band from Pakistan, performing their track, Waaday (Promises).

I don’t speak either Hindi or Urdu, and so have no idea what the lyrics mean. However, the music’s good, solid Rock and they both have the genuine spirit and aesthetic. I’ve put them up because they both contradict western perceptions of these nations’ culture. Unless you have some contact with these communities, you simply don’t expect either country to have anything in the way of Rock music. My guess is that most people in Britain would think of Ravi Shankar and sitar music, Bollywood, and possibly Bhangra in connection with Indian music. As regards Pakistan, most of our impressions of the area are reports of terrorism and Islamic militancy. There have, however, been concerts over here of Pakistani musicians performing traditional Sufi music. This shows an entirely different side of these nations’ culture and their music.

Backlash to Judges’ Brexit Ruling Reveals Right-Wing Racism and Authoritarianism

November 8, 2016

Last week the Guyanese-born investment banker, Gina Miller, succeeded in her legal action to force the government to open up the decision on the start of the Brexit process to the rest of parliament. Three judges ruled in her favour, and the result has been a tide of right-wing hatred and vilification directed against the lady herself and the judges, who made the ruling. And Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, has come out of the woodwork once more promising to lead a march against the decision.

Mike in his article on the original decision reports personal threats Miller received, including rape, and comments that she should ‘f*** off’ back to her own country, and people telling her that Brits were sick of foreigners telling them what to do. She has also been denounced as a traitor to democracy.

Miller herself hit back at her critics and those, who insulted and threatened her. Mike quotes the press report on this incident, in which she told the International Business Times

“Yes there has been a deluge of hatred and anger but this is because people were lied to in respect to the EU referendum, and because (of) irresponsible figures like Farage and tabloid media who lack any understanding of parliamentary democracy and the rule of law that is the bedrock of our civil society”.

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/11/04/sad-state-of-britain-someone-stands-up-for-democracy-so-she-gets-racist-abuse/

The reaction of part of the Tory right, and the Daily Mail and Express has been hysterical. On the Beeb’s Question Time, Sajid Javid, who Private Eye suggested looks like The Claw, one of the villains from one of Gerry Anderson’s puppet SF series, went over the top, exclaiming that the ruling was an attempt ‘to thwart the will of the British people’.

The Express, never known for anything like statesmanlike restraint and diplomacy, declared that “Today this country faces a crisis as grave as anything since the dark days when Churchill vowed we would fight them on the beaches.”

See Mike’s article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/11/04/irrational-responses-to-brexit-high-court-ruling/

Not to be outdone in the ultra-patriotism stakes, the Daily Mail put photos of the three judges on its front page along with the screaming headline ‘Enemies of the People’. As Mike, Tom Pride and many others have pointed out, the Heil is never very far from Nazism, and this was another instance where the rag’s headline almost exactly reproduced the propaganda and stance of the Nazi party. The cartoonist Gary Barker put up the image of the Heil’s front page, along with a similar page from one the Nazis’ newspapers, denouncing a line of judges as ‘Volksverrater’. Barker translates this as ‘Enemies of the People: Get Out of the Way of the German People’s Will’. This isn’t quite right. A more literal translation would be ‘Betrayers of the People’ or ‘Race Traitors’ – the German word volk has an ethnic connotation, which the word ‘people’ doesn’t have. The sentence underneath reads something like ‘shoved out of the German racial community’. That’s roughly what the German Volksgemeinschaft means, rather than ‘common people’s will’. Volksgemeinschaft was obviously one of the key planks of Nazi domestic ideology. I don’t know where Barker got the page from, but it looks very much like the Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer. On its own, Sturmer just means an impetuous fellow. The Nazi newspaper of the same name is infamous as the vehicle through which the Nazis, under the rag’s editor, Julius Streicher, demonised the Jews. Back in the 1980s the goose-steppers in the BNP or NF decided to launch their own version, The Stormer, which was similarly intended to spread hate against Jews and non-Whites. Mike in the title of his article on this appalling headline asks if it is proof that the UK is shifting towards Nazism. I’d say that it was. English doesn’t quite have a word for ‘racial community’ like the Nazis’ Volksgemeinschaft, but the ideology is certainly there on the Tory xenophobic right. Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP for Devon, who’d like to privatise the NHS, has raved in his column on the Telegraph blogs about ‘the Anglosphere’, meaning the English-speaking world, and there certainly is a tendency in the American Libertarian Right to view this in racial terms. White Anglo-Saxons are inclined towards free trade and small government, according to them, while the Irish and Continental peoples are genetically determined to be the enemies of freedom favouring Socialism and big government. This is despite the fact that Adam Smith based his views on free trade as the foundation of the ‘Wealth of Nations’ on those of the French physiocrats. And the hostility of the Heil and Express to non-White immigration is notorious.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/11/06/is-this-proof-that-uk-politics-is-shifting-towards-nazism/

As for the Fuhrage’s declared intention to lead a mass demonstration of 100,000 outside the high court to protest against the judges’ ruling, Mike states in the title of his piece on it that ‘someone should tell Nigel Farage this is the UK, not Nuremberg’.

A mass rally to oppose democracy? Someone should tell Nigel Farage this is the UK, not Nuremberg

Mike has defended the democratic basis of the judges’ decision, pointing out that far from being traitors to democracy, the judges have upheld it. Their decision does not affect the Brexit decision, which has been settled by the referendum. It does, however, prevent Theresa May and her cabinet from deciding how it is to be implemented solely by herself, and then presenting it to the rest of us as a fait accompli. This, Mike quite rightly points out, would be despotic. He rebuts the Javid’s stupid comment by making the point that the judges merely upheld the sovereignty of parliament, which is enshrined by law. He shows how ridiculous it is to compare their lordships’ decision with the threat of Nazi invasion, as well as the homophobia in the Express’s article, which attacked one of the judges for being ‘openly gay’. As if the man’s sexuality had anything to do with the judicial soundness of his decision. And he rightly quotes the Angry Yorkshireman on the ridiculous bigotry and hypocrisy of the Heil’s attitude, who wrote:

“Thus anyone who doesn’t agree that Theresa May should be allowed to behave like a dictator by bypassing democratic accountability and making up the law as she goes along is an ‘enemy of the people’ (as decided by a bunch of right-wing hacks working for a billionaire sociopath who lives in Monaco to avoid paying British taxes!).”

The ranting of the Tory ‘Leave’ campaign on this shows the fundamental racism and authoritarianism which runs all the way through them. The Tory right are deeply undemocratic. They would far prefer that the issues were settled by a small coteries of elite, moneyed individuals in their favour. Parliament is grossly unrepresentative of the economic background of British society. Most MPs are millionaires, as Mike has shown again and again in the meme showing this fact. Even so, they represent a wider and more diverse circle than May and her cabinet. As for Gina Miller not being ‘British’, Guyana is a former British colony, and before Thatcher altered the immigration law in the 1970s, citizenship of a British colony or member of the commonwealth automatically granted the right to immigrate to this country and be considered a British citizen. This principle was held by an older generation of imperialists, including Winston Churchill. By their standards, she’s as British as the rest of us. You could even argue that as someone born in Guyana, she also has a perfectly reasonable right to bring her court action. One of the arguments of the ‘Leave’ campaign has been that if Britain leaves the EU, we will have greater freedom to develop trade links with our Commonwealth partners. As a lady born in one of those former colonies, she therefore has every right to make sure she and the other prospective trading partners are properly represented in these decisions.

The Tory attitude also contradicts one of the fundamental principles of democratic freedom articulate by John Stuart Mill. Mill was concerned that the views of the minority should always be protected and represented, even to the extent of being over-represented. He stated that if everyone in the country held the same political opinion, with the exception of one man, that one man should still be allowed to hold and express his views without suppression. But the Tories behind all this hysterical ranting clearly don’t believe that the views of the general public should be represented in the ability of parliament to vote and decide on this issue, rather than just May and her privileged cronies.

It’s also highly hypocritical. Remember when the Tories were complaining at how ‘presidential’ Tony Blair was, and how he was sidelining parliament? They were right – Blair was presidential. But this shows that their objections to a presidential style of British politics, in which power is concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister in a manner more suitable to the American political system, was purely tactical. Once presidential power is in the hands of a Tory PM, all objections mysteriously disappear, and it is the defenders of the sovereignty of the British people and parliament, who are vilified as ‘enemies of the people.’ Perhaps, like the judges denounced by the Nazis, they’d like to see them shoved out of a British volksgemeinschaft.

This has to be stopped. Mike is quite right to recommend that people stop buying these dreadful right-wing rags, and vote out the Tories. They’re the real enemies of democracy and popular sovereignty here. Not the EU, and not the judges.

RUR Performed by Lego Robots in Prague

October 24, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece discussing the similarities between the humanoids in H.B.O.’s WestWorld SF TV series, based on the 1970s film of the same name by Michael Crichton, and R.U.R., the 1920’s play by Czech writer, Karel Capek, which introduced the word ‘robot’ to the English language. In both WestWorld and RUR, the robots are actually closer to the replicants of Blade Runner, in that rather than being machines, they’re biological constructs produced artificially through the processes of industrial manufacturing. Capek’s play has been produced many times, and its theme of a robot rebellion against humanity has been one of the dominant themes in Science Fiction. It’s most famous treatment has been in the Terminator films, in which a virus infects the Skynet computer system, causing it to revolt against humanity, unleashing an army of killer drones and humanoid robotic soldiers.

I found this short video on YouTube. It’s about a production of R.U.R. staged last year, 2015, at the Czech republic’s national gallery in Prague by Café Neu Romance, and directed by Christian Gjorret. Gjorret is a member of the group, Vive Les Robots, which has been set up to get the public interested in robots and robotics. The theatre company took the unusual step of performing the play entirely with robots, made out of the commercially available lego kits available in toy shops.

It’s an interesting approach, even if it means that the physical scale of the performance is rather small. I think there’s an opportunity to stage the play on a much grander scale, using life-size animatronic robots. There is, after all, a robot band called Compressorhead, which plays cover versions of various Rock and Heavy Metal tracks. The ABC Warrior, which appeared in the 1995 Judge Dredd film was also genuinely robotic. It also looked to me very much like a real robot was used to show C3PO’s mechanical nature, when R2D2’s metal mate made his first appearance being built by Anakin Skywalker in the first of the Star Wars prequels, The Phantom Menace. The problem with staging such a production would be the immense cost. Animatronics aren’t cheap. The operators of the Ry’gel puppet in the SF series Farscape said in an interview that the portable version of the character cost as much as a car, while the studio version was even more expense, and cost the equivalent of a house. Nevertheless, I think if it could be staged, it would be a fascinating and genuinely thought-provoking experiment. If nothing else, it would show how near we are to creating some of these machines, and how pressing and prescient some of the SF stories dealing with the issues of Artificial Intelligence, freedom, and the survival of humanity faced with machines, which may be its superior, are.

Here’s the video:

West World and the Original Robots of R.U.R.

October 23, 2016

A few weeks ago H.B.O. launched the latest SF blockbuster show, West World. It’s a TV series based on the 1970s film of the same name, written by Michael Crichton. Like Crichton’s Jurassic Park nearly twenty years or so later, West World is about a fantasy amusement, presided over by a sinister inventor played by Anthony Hopkins, the man who scared audiences witless as the cannibalistic murderer Hannibal Lecter in the Silence of the Lambs and its sequel, Hannibal. While Jurassic Park was about scientific attempts to recreate the dinosaurs for popular amusement, in West World the amusement park was a resort which attempted to recreate past eras for fun. This included the Middle Ages, and a section devoted to the old West. Like Jurassic Park, things go disastrously wrong. A computer malfunction makes the robots break the inbuilt restrictions on their behaviour, so that they gain autonomy and independence. In the medieval part of the resort, a man, who is used to getting his way with the female androids has his advances rebuffed with the curt answer, ‘Methinks Sir forgets himself’. But the real action of the story is the attempts by the movie’s hero over in the West World part of the resort to overcome the black-garbed, robot gunfighter, played by Yul Brynner. Like Schwarzenegger in the Terminator films, the gunslinger is an implacable, unstoppable killing machine, and the hero has to destroy it before it kills him, just like it gunned down his friend.

The TV series has adapted and altered the story. The gunman is now human, rather than robotic, and the focus seems to have shifted more to the robots than the humans. They are the victims of the humans enjoying the resort, who come to act out terrible fantasies of rape and killing that they would never dare consider doing in the real world to other human beings. The robot hosts they use – and abuse – are repaired and have their memories wiped ready for the next set of visitors to do the same, all over again. But attempts to give the machines consciousness have had an effect. The machines are beginning to remember. The press releases to the series state that its premise is not about machines developing consciousness and intelligence, but what they will make of us when they do.

The artificial humans in West World are less robots in the sense of mechanical people, than artificial humans. The titles show artificial tendons and muscles being placed on synthetic skeletons by robotic arms in a more developed version of 3D printing.

This conception of artificial humans shows the influence of Blade Runner. Based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film changed Dick’s androids to ‘replicants’, artificial men and women created through sophisticated genetic engineering for use as slave soldiers and sex workers. Produced by the Tyrell Corporation under the slogan ‘More Human Than Human’, these genetic constructs have a desire for freedom and longevity. In order to stop them overthrowing humanity, they only have a lifespan of six years or so. They are also becoming increasingly sophisticated psychologically and emotionally. In the book and film, they can only be distinguished from natural people through the Voight-Comp Test. This is a complex psychological test in which the subjects have to answer a series of questions. Part of this is to measure their capacity for empathy. Replicants generally are unable to sympathise or understand others’ suffering. The test asks those undergoing its questions to imagine their in a desert. They see a tortoise lying on its back, dying in the hot sun. The animal is clearly in pain and dying, but they don’t help it. Why not? At the end of the movie, Deckard, the film’s hero, a Blade Runner – the special policemen charged with catching and ‘retiring’ replicants that have made it down to Earth, is in serious danger. In his battle with Roy Batty, the replicants’ leader and now their only survivor after he has tracked them all down, Deckard has failed to make a jump across two of the buried skyscrapers underneath the sprawling future LA. He is hanging from a girder, about to fall to his death. Until Batty, before his own programmed obsolescence kills him, pulls him to safety. Batty has developed genuine sympathy for another stricken creature. He has triumphantly passed the Voight-Comp test, and shown more humanity than the humans who made him and who enslave his kind.

It’s a very old theme, which goes all the way back to one of the very first Science Fiction plays, if not the very first SF play, to deal with a robot revolt, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robots. Written by the Czech playwright Karel Capek, this was the play that introduced the word ‘robot’ into the English language. The word comes from the Czech for ‘serf’ or ‘slave’. It’s set in a company producing these artificial people, which are used for everything from factory workers to domestic servants. They have also been stripped of complex emotional responses to make them suitable servants. But as with the synthetic hosts of West World, this is breaking down. Instead of simply performing their tasks, the robots are increasingly stopping and refusing to work. They simply stand there, grinding their teeth. Eventually their growing dissatisfaction turns from simple recalcitrance to outright revolt. The machines rebel, exterminating humanity and leaving the company’s accountant, Alquist, as the only survivor.

Like Blade Runner’s replicants and the synthetic hosts of West World, Capek’s robots were not machine so much as creatures produced through a kind of artificial biology. In the first act, the company’s general manager, Domain, explains the origins of the robots in the biological researches of the biologist, Rossum, to Helena Glory, the daughter of an Oxbridge prof.

‘It was in the year 1922’, informs Domain, ‘that old Rossum the great physiologist, who was then quite a young scientist, betook himself to this distant island for the purpose of studying the ocean fauna, full stop. On this occasion he attempted by chemical synthesis to imitate the living matter known as protoplasm, until he suddenly discovered a substance which behaved exactly like living matter, although its chemical composition was different; that was in the year 1932, exactly four hundred years after the discovery of America, whew!’ (The Brothers Capek, R.U.R. and The Insect Play(Oxford: OUP 1961) p. 5). Later Domain tells Helena a little about the industrial processes in which the robots are manufactured:

Domain: … Midday. The Robots don’t know when to stop work. In two hours I’ll show you the kneading-trough.

Helena: What kneading-trough?

Domain. [Dryly] The pestles and mortar as it were for beating up the paste. In each one we mix the ingredients for a thousand Robots at one operation. Then there are the vats for the preparation of liver, brains, and so on. They you’ll see the bone factory. After that I’ll show you the spinning-mill.

Helena: What spinning-mill?

Domain: For weaving nerves and veins. Miles and miles of digestive tubes pass through it at a stretch. Then there’s the fitting shed, where all the parts are put together, like motor-cars. Next comes the drying-kiln and the warehouse in which the new products work. (p. 15).

Like Blade Runner, the robots of R.U.R. end by becoming human emotionally. Just as the replicants in Blade Runner have a severely limited lifetime, so Capek’s Robots, as beings created purely for work, are sterile. After their victory, they approach Alquist requesting that more of them be created as their numbers of falling. Despite their entreaties, Alquist can’t. He is not a scientist, and the last of the company’s management destroyed the manuscript describing how they were made before they themselves were killed. Radius, the leader of the robots, requests Alquist to find out by dissecting living robots. When Primus, one of the male robots, and Helena, a female robot, each defend the other, refusing to let Alquist take them for experimentation, the old accountant realises that the mystery of their reproduction has been solved. The play ends with him reciting the text of Genesis describing God’s creation of Man. The last lines are him reciting the Nunc Dimissit : ‘Now, Lord, lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy will, for mine eye have seen Thy salvation.’

This last marks the major difference between R.U.R. and modern treatments of the rise of robots and their possible replacement of humanity: R.U.R. is explicitly Christian in its underlying tone. It’s stated very clearly that Rossum was a militant atheist, who wanted to play God in order to show that God is unnecessary for the emergence of life. The ending, however, is ambiguous. Rossum was an anti-theist, but his artificial creations, which are based on a chemistry not found in nature, clearly work, and in turn become genuine, self-perpetuating, authentic men and women with intelligence, emotions and morality.

Some critics have said that R.U.R. really isn’t SF so much as a technological parable about the threat of Communism. It was written in 1920, a few years after the Russian Revolution and similar outbreaks of working class militancy across Europe, including Germany, Austria and Hungary. But other works, that are undoubtedly considered Science Fiction, are also veiled comments on events and issues of the time. Much of the SF of the former Soviet Union, like that of the Strugatsky brothers, who wrote the classic Stalker, was written in the ‘Aesopian Mode’. They were intended as parables to say in veiled form truths and comments that could not be overtly made under Soviet censorship.

And the conception of robots as a form of genuine artificial life does seem to be based on some of the scientific speculation of the time. Russian scientists, such as Oparin, were acutely interested in the emergence of life on the prehistoric Earth, and devised several experiments to suggest how the chemicals necessary for life may have been formed. And the Communists, as militant atheists, were keen supporters of Darwinian evolution, though I think they viewed it as proceeding through a form of dialectal materialism, and so bearing that theory out, rather than some of the more sophisticated, non-Marxist conceptions that have occurred later. Russian Cosmists, like the Transhumanists today, wished to develop scientific methods of resurrecting the dead and then colonising space as a suitable habitat for the new, perfected humanity.

Furthermore, some experiments and speculation in robotics has moved away from simple, mechanical processes. Human muscles operate biochemically. Messages from nerves changes the shape of the molecules composing muscles, which in turn makes those same muscles contract or expand, moving the organism’s limbs. Some scientists have therefore worked on trying to mimic this process of movement using artificial substances, rather than existing electrical or petrol-driven motors. This brings the construction of robots very close the type of 3D printing shown in West World’s titles.

My own feeling is that it will be a very long time, if ever, before humanity produces anything like the sentient robots of SF. As I mentioned in my previous article, one of the scientists interviewed by the science magazine, Frontiers, in 1998 stated that he didn’t think we’d see genuinely conscious, intelligent robots in his lifetime. Anthony Hopkins in an interview in this week’s Radio Times makes the same point, stating that we haven’t created anything as simply as a single cell. This does not mean that humanity won’t, or detract from stories about robots as entertainment, or as the means by which philosophical issues about creation, the nature of life and humanity, consciousness and intelligence, can be explored. West World in this sense is part of a trend in recent screen SF attempting to explore these issues intelligently, such as Automata and The Machine. These new treatments are far more secular, but as philosophical treatments of the underlying issues, rather than simple stories about warfare between humanity and its creations, like the Terminator, they also follow in a long line that goes all the way back to Capek.

Video of Mass Meeting of Orthodox Jews against Israel in New York 2013

October 9, 2016

I’ve also mentioned several times in my blog posts about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the anti-Semitism smears, that some Orthodox Jews strongly reject Zionism and the state of Israel from religious reasons. As Sam Seder explained in a clip from the Majority Report I put up about a week ago, and a young Jewish woman, who was brutalised for heckling Binyamin Netanyahu when he addressed Congress, traditional Jewish theology considers it a sin to try to establish a Jewish state in Palestine before the coming of the Messiah.

I found this clip on YouTube of a mass meeting of 10,000 plus Orthodox Jews in New York in 2013 to condemn the state of Israel, and in particular a law by the Knesset that would force Yeshiva students – that it is, students at the Jewish religious schools and seminaries – to join the army. The speakers not only make it plain that they see the state of Israel as a blasphemy, they also bitterly resent what they see as the Israeli military’s attempt to make their young men complicit in the military’s crimes. One speaker denounces the Israel government for trying to turn Jews, a traditionally peaceful people, into a militaristic and aggressive nation – ‘the hands of Esau’.

The clip is also interesting as they quote a former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Sonnenfeld, who refused Zionist aid for his people during a terrible famine in the 1920s. Despite the fact that his people were dying of starvation, Rabbi Sonnenfeld refused the money, as he felt it was an attempt by the Zionists to buy influence in his community. As pious, Orthodox Jews, they also pray for God to return to His people quickly, and come to dwell with them in the Holy City of Zion, as prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament.

The speeches are in Yiddish, but there is a English voiceover and subtitles.