Archive for the ‘Languages’ Category

18th Century Automaton that Writes and Draws

April 19, 2023

Here’s another short video from the Met YouTube channel from the Metropolitan Museum of Art about automatons. This one is housed in the Franklin Institute, and is able to draw four pictures and write three poems, two in French and one in English. The machine’s movements are smooth, unlike the stereotypically jerky movements supposedly characteristic of robots and machines. The automaton has the largest mechanical memory of such machines, reading its movements off from brass discs contained in its mechanism. The blurb for the video runs:

‘Androids capable of writing and drawing, which embodied Enlightenment ideas about links between mechanical and human action, continue to inspire poets, artists, and engineers to this day. This creation became the basis for Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007), which Martin Scorsese adapted into the award-winning film Hugo (2011). Long a mystery, the android’s maker was revealed during restoration in the twentieth century; when the clockwork motor is set in motion, the figure signs his drawing “the automaton of Maillardet.” Maillardet hid the mechanics of his lifelike Draughtsman-Writer, a seamless blend of art and science, in a cabinet rather than in the figure. This allowed for larger machinery and greater memory than in earlier efforts: an unprecedented three poems and four drawings are translated by the action of the figure, through a technology that foretold the computer.

Featured Artwork: Henry Maillardet (Swiss, born 1745). The Draughtsman-Writer, ca. 1800. Brass, steel, wood, fiber. Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’

One of the continental inventors of such machines, it may have been Vaucanson or Droz, also produced one that wrote. However, the discs could be taken out and rearranged to change what it wrote. This made the automaton a truly programmable robot.

The ingenuity in such devices truly amazes me, and I do wonder what their inventors would have been capable of if they had our technology.

Kenyan TV Interview with the High School Drop-Outs Developing Hi-Tech Prosthetic Limbs

April 11, 2023

This is awesome! It’s a video from Citizen TV Kenya’s channel on YouTube. It’s an interview with a pair of Kenyan tech pioneers, David Gathu and Moses Kiuna. who have formed their own company, Afrogenesys. They’re working on creating artificial limbs and systems that will enable disabled Kenyans live a normal life. This includes a robotic head, Geoff, that asks people what they want done, whether they want the TV on, if it’s too hot and so on. Sort of like Alexa with a robotic face. They’ve also created an artificial arm operated by sensors picking up never signals from the brain through a cap worn on the head. The video also begins with a computer screen booting up to welcome the viewer to Afrogenesys.

The pair seem to be working in a what is little more than a hut, cluttered with books, spare parts and inspirations posters of Einstein and Elon Musk. The technology itself looks rough and ready. The basis structure for the artificial limb and the Geoff robot is wood, rather than steel. But then, we are dealing with a developing country and these boys definitely don’t have the money of western universities and robotics labs. Nevertheless, what this pair have been able to do is little less than astonishing, especially as the pair are apparently form 4 drop outs. The only problem with the video is that the dialogue is only half in English. At one point I think communicating in English gets a bit too much, and they start speaking in their native tongue.

The video clearly shows the immense intellectual potential in Africa, and I wish these guys every success in their projects. I hope this becomes a proper tech company on a par with some of the others. I think it has the potential. I also wonder if it would be a good idea to have these guys visit some of the Black schools in the west, to inspire some of the children there and show them that they can have a great career in technology and science.

Wishing My Readers A Very Happy Easter

April 7, 2023

Good Friday is the day when Christians commemorate the suffering and death of Our Lord on the cross, and look forward to His resurrection on Easter Sunday. St Paul calls Him ‘the firstborn of the dead’, and just as God raised Christ to life, so will humanity as a whole at the general resurrection at the End of Time.

It’s also thirty years or so since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Northern Ireland, bringing a fragile peace to Ulster.

Regardless of your religious views or lack thereof, I wish all my readers a very happy Easter weekend. I hope you enjoy the Bank Holiday with your friends and family.

Peace – Shalom – Salaam.

Video on the Holocaust Artist, Felix Nussbaum

March 30, 2023

Bit of art history. I found this video on Blind Dweller’s channel on YouTube. It’s about Felix Nussbaum, a Jewish artist who fled Nazi Germany only to be caught during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, and deported to a concentration camp in France. It was there that he painted many of the disturbing, surreal paintings of Jewish in incarceration, misery and despair. He managed to escape back to Belgium, where he was sheltered by friends, who provided him with painting materials and a studio. But he knew that it was only a matter of time before the Nazis caught up with him and he was sent to the Death camps. He continued painting, and some of his works have an apocalyptic edge. I am not remotely surprised. I can remember reading a description of the Nazi massacre of eastern European Jews, in which the dead and dying were piled up, and it struck me then that it was like the end of world with the forces of evil spewing violence and death. Eventually the Nazis did catch him, and he was deported to Auschwitz along with other members of his family, including his parents and brother, where they were murdered.

The video gives a full biography of his life, or as full as it can in so many minutes. Nussbaum was born in Osnabruck, and he and his parents at one time travelled to Italy to escape Nazi persecution. While he moved to Belgium, they returned to Germany, where I think they were victims of the Nazi persecution. Since his death, he has become celebrated for his works and there is a dedicated museum to him in his home town. The thumbnail below shows one of his paintings. The subject of the painting, holding up his passport stamped with the French and Flemish word for ‘Jew’, is believed to be a self-portrait. There are other characters in his painting which are also believed to be depictions of Nussbaum himself. In one, painted in the French concentration camp, he is one of a number of Jews, dressed in the prayer shawl, worshipping at a makeshift shrine the inmates had made themselves.

I am absolutely amazed that Nusbaum was able to paint during the horrors as I thought the oppressive conditions would have prevented him. I also admire his Belgian friends for hiding him. I don’t know about Belgium, but Nazi Germany passed laws punishing those sheltering Jews not only with death for those actually hiding them, but also for their entire families. Under these circumstances, it took real courage to do so, and the Jews that were hidden by gentile friends and sympathisers appreciated how much those that did so risked.

Nussbaum is a fascinating artist, whose talent graphically lays bare the reality for Jews of this most horrific period in European history. In my opinion, he deserves to be better known and appreciated.

Rafe Heydel-Mankoos Arguments Against Slavery Reparations

March 23, 2023

Rafe Heydel-Mankoo is one of the inmates of the IEA’s New Culture Forum. I heartily despise the IEA, but I do find myself agreeing with some of what the New Culture Forums says. This video is taken from a Cambridge Union debate over whether reparations should be paid for slavery. Heydel-Mankoo was one of the speakers against the motion that it should. He states at the outset that he has a particular interest in this as a child of empire. The Mankoo part of his double-barrelled surname suggests to me that he’s part Indian, as do his features. He also confesses that if this was 1807 or 1834, the dates when first the slave trade and then slavery itself was abolished in the British empire, he may well have crossed the floor and agreed wholeheartedly that damages should be paid for the horrendous suffering enslaved people had endured. But it is not 1807, 1907 or 2007. Six or seven generations have elapsed between the present Black generation and the time their ancestors were enslaved. Reparations are a matter of tort, and while damages should be paid to people who have genuinely suffered, the present generation of Blacks are immeasurably better off than their ancestors in Africa. Ethically, should they profit from the suffering of their ancestors? Is it right that people should be held accountable for the crimes of their ancestors? The advocates of reparations want it to be paid by the British taxpayer. There were also only 3,000 slaveowners in Britain. The major of people lived and worked in grinding poverty in conditions near serfdom. Is it ethically right that they descendants of poor workers should be asked to pay reparations? There are also demands for the payment of reparations from countries like Barbados. Sixteen per cent of this country, however, are foreign born. Is it right that they should be required to pay reparations for something they had nothing to do with? And what about Africa? They supplied the slaves to Europeans, and so shouldn’t the be required also to pay reparations? What about the Arabs and Muslims who enslaved Africans centuries before Europeans and continued to do so before the British and French put a stop to it? And what about slavery in Africa today? The International Labour Organisation estimates that seven out of every thousand Africans is a slave: 10 million people. In 2017 CNN reported hundreds of slaves are sold every week in Libya. He would have far more sympathy for the claim for reparations if the people making it showed equal concern for the plight of today’s slaves. Where are the protests outside the Nigerian high commission, the embassies of Niger, which has a hundred thousand slaves today? What about Mali and Chad and Sudan and Cameroon. It’s almost as though there’s an ulterior motive to ask for reparations exclusively from Britain.

He also asks how far this should be taken. Should Britain demand reparations for the attacks of the Barbary pirates? At the same time as enslaved Africans were crossing the Atlantic, one million Europeans were enslaved by the Ottoman slave states of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. And this carried on after the abolition of the slave trade by the British. But Britain should not demand reparations from north Africa. It’s time to move on, and so should we.

He then turns from slavery to colonialism, and asks what damage it has done to those now living in the Caribbean. Most of the countries of the Caribbean are successful middle-income countries. The GDP per head of the Bahamas is higher than Portugal and comparable to Spain or Italy. Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis and other former British slave colonies have higher rankings on the UN development index than many other South American countries such as Brazil and Mexico. It is not clear to him how the British empire has disadvantaged the Caribbean nations. Comparing the modern Caribbean with the West Africa, the homelands of West Indian slaves. The GDP per capita in Benin is $1,430. The GDP per capita in Barbados is $17,000. Life expectancy in Benin is 62. In Barbados it is 79. Rather than write cheques to well-off parts of the world, why not send money to countries that actually require aid? Financial aid, not attempts to cleanse one’s soul. While slavery was abhorrent to those enslaves, had they remained in Africa the lives of their descendants would have been markedly worse..

What is Britain being asked to pay reparations for? Because Britain wasn’t the first empire to practise slavery in Africa, in India, in America. But it was the most benign and the benefits from it far exceed those of Islamic and Indian empire, that carved up India, of the Ashanti empire, of the Dahomey Kingdom, or the hundreds of thousands of slaves that were ritually sacrificed every year in Benin. The Benin Bronzes, that have been mentioned, commemorate those who owned slaves. Why is there a celebration of these?

Why are we apologising for Britain? Are we apologising for introducing new food storage polices, which led to a decline in the subcontinents processes of famine? Every forty years in India there was a famine. The population of India soared from 170 million to 400 million over the course of the Raj.It was because medicine and health and food standards and storage were better than they had been that the population surged.

Let’s not forget what Britain did for women’s rights. It was through the British empire that we have had the progression of women in Africa and India. India’s history is one of female oppression. It was the British who abolished suttee, the burning of widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. It was the British who stopped the infanticide of young girls and it was the British who allowed Hindu widows to remarry. Facts are facts. Universities were brought into Africa and India by the British. There would be no system of democratic legislatures in these regions without the empire. He quotes Steven Pinker as saying that before the British empire, these states were more violent than even the most modern states. While many wrongs were committed in the 19th and 20th centuries, the success of Britain’s colonies in the 21st century is due in large part to their colonial inheritance The English language and law enabled them to become global players. Their police, military, the civil service, the judiciary, parliament, the universities in every region of the world you go to, the British colonies are those most likely to be the healthiest and most democratic.

He ends by quoting the great Black civil rights activist and socialist Bayard Rustin, a friend of Martin Luther King, who received King’s posthumous congressional medal of freedom from Barack Obama: ‘If my great-grandfather, who picked cotton for fifty years and who made some money. He’s dead and gone, and nobody owes me anything.’

It’s a powerful speech, and from the way they fidget and pull faces the students behind him simply don’t want to hear what he says. But these are arguments that definitely need to be heard.

Peter Hitchens on Tony Blair’s Stupidity

January 16, 2023

Yeah, I know this ad hominem, but it is funny. Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani interviewed Tory iconoclast Peter Hitchens the other day. The two don’t really have much in common, but Bastani justified the interview saying that if you want to be certain in your political views, you should test them by talking to people who hold the opposite. Hitchen’s is very much a man of the right, and some of his views are odd, if not barking. He believes, for example, that we shouldn’t have gone to war with Germany as it was not in our interests. Perhaps it wasn’t, but we had signed the defence pacts with France and Poland, And if we hadn’t gone to war, I think we would have still lost the empire sooner or later. Plus we would have been excluded from a continent under Nazi domination. And this is not to mention the carnage that would have been perpetrated by the Nazis, with the Jews and Gypsies becoming extinct in Europe, followed by the Czechs and the Slav populations enslaved as peasant farmers supplying produce to their German overlords.

On the other hand, Hitchens has said that he never supported Thatcher’s sale of the council houses or the privatisation of the prison system, because justice, as a principle, should be in the hands of the state. He also states in one of his books that he was shocked into an awareness of how fragile civilisation was after visiting one of the failed African countries as a journalist in the 1980s. The country had descended into vicious gang violence, but walking through its capital Hitchens saw everywhere grand architecture and all the signs of modern corporate development. I think this gives an insight into the basis of his own Tory views. I remember reading in the Spectator years ago that the right-wing philosopher Roger Scruton abandoned the left when he witnessed the rioting in Paris during the 1968 student and workers’ protests. He was alarmed by their ‘anti-civilisational rage’.

Back to the interview, Hitchens described Blair’s spin doctor, Alistair Campbell, as being frightening intelligent. He mentioned people, who really thought for the first few months of Blair’s regime that it was Campbell running the country. He joked that it was probably because of Campbell’s mighty intellect that he was kept away from voters, as he would probably frighten them all away.

But Blair, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly bright and Hitchens doubted that he could have run the country without Campbell. To illustrate his point, he told the story of how he briefly met Blair just before the 1997 election. Blair was in Oxford, travelling in his motorcade. Hitchens was following him by bike, but as the traffic was bad, he got to Blair’s destination before him. After Blair had arrived, he was immediately surrounded by a crowd taking pictures. Hitchens wanted to talk to Blair, and so, after the crowd had finished and dispersed, he walked up to the future Prime Minister. He decided to open the conversation by asking who the crowd were. Blair replied, ‘They’re Brazilians. I’m very popular down there.’

‘Oh, you should learn Portuguese then,’ replied Hitch.

‘What?’

It turned out that Blair thought they spoke Brazilian in Brazil. Hitchens concluded that what Blair really wanted to be was a pop star, and you didn’t need to ascribe any deep ideological motives to him.

There was, nevertheless, an ideological basis to his policies. He was a product of BAP, the British-American Project for the Successor Generation, which was set up by Reagan to influence the rising generation of British politicians from both the Conservatives and Labour. Blair had started out as a supporter of nuclear disarmament, but after going on a BAP-sponsored trip to America and hearing the views of various right-wing think tanks, he came back as an opponent. He was fervently Thatcherite, believing in the superiority of private industry and strongly influenced by the American political system. Private Eye ran several pieces about the American private healthcare and prison companies lining up to donate to New Labour in the hope of getting some of that nationalised action. He took over advisers and staff from private healthcare companies as well as other businesses, and pushed the privatisation of the NHS further than the Tories would have dared. As stupid as he may have been, he set the course for right-wing Labour, and Starmer shows every indication of returning to it.

GB News’ Mark Steyn Coming Very Close to Pushing Fascist Conspiracy Theories about Covid Vaccine

January 5, 2023

GB News, the self-proclaimed alternative to the ‘wet, woke BBC’, is in this fortnight’s Private Eye. The broadcaster apparently has overtaken Sky News in ratings, and has taken to pushing stupid, and potentially dangerous conspiracy theories. These include myths that the vaccine doesn’t work, or is responsible for deaths, and that there’s no need for the lockdown. Pretty much staples of the wider right-wing anti-vaxxer fringe. But one of these conspiracy theories comes very close to fascism. Mark Steyn has apparently told his viewers that the coronavirus vaccine is the cause of the falling birthrate in the west of the ‘Aryans’, who built civilisation. Firstly, as the 19th century linguist, who used the term ‘Aryan’ for what are now termed the Indo-European languages, George Muller, it’s a linguist not racial term. A dark-skinned Indian, who speaks Hini or one of the other languages descended from Sanskrit, or an Urdu-speaking Pakistani can both be fairly described as Aryans, because their languages are derived from that introduced by the Aryans, who invaded Indian c. 3000 BC. But both would be targeted by the Nazis over here because of their race. Muller stated quite clearly that conflating Aryan with race was dangerous, and it’s a pity more people didn’t listen to him otherwise the carnage of the Third Reich might have been avoided.

He’s right that the birthrates in the developed west are falling along with the sperm count of western men. This is alarming, as there have been predictions by respectable magazines and newspapers that if it continues, by 2050 half of western men will be considered clinically infertile. No-one really knows the cause of this, but it’s been suggested since the 1990s that a type of plastic, phthallates, may be responsible. Other causes are probably the industrial pollution responsible for the reproductive deformities in amphibians, which Alex Jones notoriously declared were ‘turning the frickin’ frogs gay’. These chemicals are believed to mimic female hormones, hence their damage to those animals. I’ve also seen claims that it’s all due to female hormones from the reproductive pill getting into the biosphere, but I haven’t seen any scientist make this claim. In my opinion, it comes from that part of the right which is anti-feminist and so pro-life as to condemn contraception as well as abortion. I also got the impression that all western men were affected, including Blacks and Asians, and not just Whites.

Steyn’s claims resemble the conspiracy theories that were going around the Black communities in America and possibly apartheid South Africa back in the 90s. These claimed that the government was putting chemicals in Coca-Cola to sterilise young Black men. That was totally wrong, though it was understandable given the persecution of Blacks in both those countries. Steyn’s is a first-world, White version of this. It comes very close to all the stupid and murderous conspiracy theories about the machinations of the Jews to enslave and destroy the White race, although as far as I know Steyn isn’t an anti-Semite.

He is, however, an Islamophobe. About a decade ago he was a partner with late Reaganite bloviator Rush Limbaugh and his radio station out in New Hampshire. Much of the content Steyn put out on his blogs and columns on the internet were attacks on Islam, including some of the weirder rulings made by Iran’s late Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini. He was one of those pushing the ‘Eurabia’ fear. This holds that Muslim birthrates are outstripping those of indigenous European Whites to such an extent that they will become the dominant race and religion and impose sharia law. A friend of mine told me he did some calculations, and that’s simply not going to happen. I don’t doubt that the Muslim population will expand immensely in the next decades, and this will present serious problems if the radicals and Islamists extend their influence over these communities, but it won’t lead to their population overtaking everyone else’s.

Steyn also tried to warn or scare people with the example of Feyenoord in the Netherlands. This is a majority Muslim town where some decades ago the Muslim dominated city council publicly invited the non-Muslim population to convert. I don’t know, but I think their attitude would be unremarkable, perhaps even ordinary in very pious, hardline Muslim countries like Pakistan, where non-Muslims can come under very intense pressure to convert. But obviously in the context of the non-Muslim, secular west, where religion is considered a matter for the individual’s private conscience, it’s totally unacceptable. The problem is, I don’t know how common such political moves by Muslim-controlled local authorities are. As far as I know, it only happened in Feyenoord, although I’m sure that non-Muslims living in solidly Muslim areas are under pressure to conform to their standards of behaviour.

Away from Steyn, the article describes how GB News, like Fox over in the US, threw in their lot with Donald Trump, talking him as US president until it became the ‘MAGA channel’. Their predictions of Trump’s eminent suitability for the Oval Office was definitely born out by the Orange Buffoons massive greed, incompetence and disastrous policies towards blue collar workers – more attacks on their rights, further decimation of their welfare provisions to enrich Trump’s friends and donors, and more outsourcing. As well as attempts to muzzle federal climate and environmental scientists for the benefit of the oil industry. And I could go on.

As for GB News’ attitudes over here, it’s solidly behind Farage and Brexit and resolutely against the welfare state and the NHS. If you’re a member of the working class, GB News is not your friend. But the stupid conspiracy theories about the coronavirus vaccine threaten to do real harm. We’ve already seen instances where people have refused the vaccine, then caught the virus and died. And Steyn’s story about birthrates and ‘Aryans’ threatens to encourage real Nazis and Fascists, who’ll target not just Muslims but Jews.

Video on Archaeology’s Challenge to Enlightenment Accounts of Origins of States and Inequality

December 8, 2022

This is a fascinating video I found on Novara Media’s channel the other day. In it, host Aaron Bastani talks to archaeologist David Wengrow about the origins of the state and the development of social inequality. Wengrow argues that the evidence from archaeology challenges assumptions that prehistoric and preliterate peoples were incapable of rationally deciding for themselves what kind of societies they wished to live in. He gives examples from prehistoric Europe and North and South America to show that ancient and indigenous peoples not only did decide on the kind of societies they wanted, but were perfectly capable of reversing trends in their societies towards authoritarianism. One of the examples of this, which I found truly jaw-dropping, was one of the city states the conquistador Hernan Cortes made alliance with against the Aztecs. Unlike the Aztec empire, that state city was a democratic republic. He also talks about the influence on Enlightenment critiques of western society of a Huron Indian chief in Canada, who was an intelligent conversationalist able to hold his own in conversations about the nature of society to such an extent that French, British and Dutch colonial authorities invited him to dinner to talk this matter over.

Wengrow starts off by stating that modern political theory about the origins of society, as taught in politics courses, is completely divorced from archaeological accounts. The theory is based on the speculations of foundational Enlightenment thinkers like Hobbes and Rousseau, who admitted that they were speculating. But these accounts are now taught as fact. Archaeological research, however, is overturning previous ideas about the origins of urban society. For example, it was believed that agriculture and urbanisation were linked and appeared together as part of the Neolithic Revolution. But this is not the case. Excavations of the ancient city of Catalhuyuk in Turkey show that while it was an urban centre, although Wengrow hesitates to call it a city, show that its people were still hunter-gatherers, living by foraging rather than agriculture. And the same is true of the settlement at Amesbury at the time Stonehenge was being built. The people then had given up agriculture, although they retained animal husbandry. It appears they had tried growing crops and then rejected it in favour of foraging.

He then goes on to talk about the Huron Amerindian chief. He inspired a colonist from New France, who had been expelled from the colony, to write a book based on the chief and his dinner conversation when the colonist was penniless in Amsterdam. This became a massive Enlightenment bestseller, and inspired other books by Voltaire and others in which Chinese, Tahitians and other outsiders criticise European society. Wengrow states that the Indian societies surprise western Europeans because they were much less hierarchical than they were, and contact with these societies and the indigenous critics of western civilisation did influence European political philosophy. We easily accept that Europe took over many material products from these nations, but are much less ready to accept the idea that they influenced our ideas, even though the Enlightenment philosophers said that they had.

He also talks about Cahokia, a great pyramid and city state in the Mississippi valley in America. This appears to be another example of a society, in which people rebelled or simply walked away from authority and hierarchy. It was also another indigenous monument that was ascribed to everyone else but the native peoples when it was first discovered, and is now disrespected by having a road driven through it. When it was constructed, the local society seems to have been hierarchical. At the top of the mound is a structure from which all of the city could be viewed. But sometime after its heyday it was abandoned. The traditional reasons are that the climate changed, but Wengrow finds that unconvincing. What seems to have happened instead is that people simply got tired of living in such a society and walked away.

Tenochtitlan, one of the great cities in ancient Mexico, is another example of a strongly hierarchical society that underwent profound social change and became more democratic. Wengrow states that it’s a massive state, and they owe a debt to the French scholar who produced detailed maps of it. When it first emerged, it was hierarchical but then the nature of society changed. People started living in high-quality, single-floor homes. These were so good they were originally thought to be palaces, but now it appears they were villas occupied by ordinary citizens. At some point, the people of Tenochtitlan decided that they wanted a more equal society, to the extent that some scholars believe that there was a revolution.

Then there is the case of the democratic city state Cortes encountered. This really was democratic, as there are accounts of the debates in its assembly. This astonished the conquistadors, as there was very little like it in Europe at the time, except some of the Florentine republics. This all challenges the notion that once society develops to a certain extent and becomes complex, inequality also emerges and is very difficult to challenge or remove. These cases show that indigenous peoples could and did. He also argues that the same may have been true of slavery. The only successful slave revolt that we know of is Toussant L’Ouverture in Haiti. But Wengrow suggests there could have been thousands of other successful slave revolts in prehistory of which we are unaware. Slavery came about, he argues, from the expense of laying out offerings for the dead. In order to leave food and drink for the dead, the bereaved had to have access to the foods themselves and so they became indebted and dependent on the people who owned those resources.

He also talks about the problems in describing some of these urban centres as cities. There are huge sites in the Ukraine, but archaeologists are hesitant about calling them cities with some preferring other terms such as ‘mega-sites’ because they aren’t centralised.

Bastani asks him at one point about the problem of pseudo-archaeology. I think this came up because Graham Hancock is currently fronting a series on Netflix claiming that way back in prehistory there was an advanced society, but that it was destroyed in a global cataclysm. Wengrow states that quite often pseudo-archaeology is based on old and discarded idea, such as Atlantis. The people involved tend not to be anyone who’s ever been on an archaeological dig, and view archaeologists as spending their lives trying to hide some momentous secret from everyone. But it can act as an entry for some people to archaeology, and he doesn’t really like the sneering attitude of some archaeologists towards it.

Wengrow himself is an interesting character. He didn’t want to be an archaeologist originally, but came to it from acting. He also worked in the BBC Arabic service. He decided at one point he wanted to get a degree, applied to the best university he could, Oxford, and sent reams of applications to its various colleges. They turned him down. Then he was told that he should apply for a place on a course that was just being set up. One of the colleges was just setting up an archaeology course, so he did. When it came to the interview, he told the interviewer that he had always wanted to be an archaeologist. At which point she held up all the previous letters he’d written. But they admitted him, and he has now had a career teaching and excavating in places like Egypt.

He states that sometimes the pseudoarchaeology about a period or culture misses the point about what’s really interesting about it. He talks about the idea that the Sphinx was constructed before the pyramids, and admits that it’s actually a reasonable question. But if you go back to the predynastic period a thousand years before the pyramids were built, you come to the burial sites of one of Egypt’s first kings. This is fascinating, although you wouldn’t know it from the dry way it has been discussed in conferences and museums like the Petrie Museum. Excellent though these are, they talk about highly specialised subjects like pot typography which is excruciatingly dull if you want to know the wider picture. The early king’s tomb is composed of room after room of the bodies of the people and occasionally the animals that were slaughtered to accompany the king into the afterlife.

The interview is based on a book Wengrow wrote with a colleague, The Dawn of Everything. Sadly, after spending a decade writing it, the co-author died just a few weeks after its completion. The book has been widely praised, and has even inspired artistic pieces. He talks about a French woman, who composed a piece of music based on it. He regrets he was unable to attend its performance thanks to jet lag coming back from somewhere, but later met the lady when she came to Britain.

I know a little about some of what he’s talking about to have no doubt that he’s absolutely right. One of the seminars in the archaeology department at Bristol, which I attended, was about how cities like Catalhuyuk were established before the appearance of agriculture. One of the huge Neolithic sites in the Ukraine is discussed in the La Rousse Encyclopedia of Archaeology. The great mound of Cahokia is also discussed in a book I bought years ago on North American Indian archaeology. I wasn’t aware that the people of Stonehenge had given up growing crops, nor of the democratic city states in South America and Mexico. This is fascinating stuff.

He’s right about archaeology contradicting the ideas of Enlightenment philosophers about the origins of society, though I’m not sure how much of a problem this is. The philosophers he discusses – Hobbes and Rousseau – were Social Contract theorists. Social Contract theory is the idea that the state and society were set up when men came together to select an authority under whom they would live, so that their lives and property would be protected. Thus the first kings. These princes are the representatives of the people, and so from the 17th century onwards the idea developed that sovereignty lay with the people, who could revoke the power they had delegated to the prince. This was the view of John Locke. However, subsequent philosophers showed that this was just conjecture, and that it could have happened like that as the people at the time were using concepts that only subsequently developed after the foundation of states and kingdoms. I thought Social Contract theory was dead, and he closest it had to a modern advocate was John Rawls in his Theory of Justice. Rawls argued that if people were just disembodied entities wishing to chose the kind of society in which they would care to live, they would choose one that had the maximum freedom and justice for everyone, as that would also include them. Away from centrist politics, the anarchists have been keenly interested in anthropology and those indigenous societies where there is no central authority.

I’m not sure how well some of this would go down with Sargon of Akkad and the Lotus Eaters. They’ve developed an interest in archaeology, recently posting a video discussing Homo Erectus, along with the Norman Conquest and ancient Rome. But Sargon is a huge fan of John Locke and describes himself as a classical liberal. I don’t know whether archaeology’s findings about the origin of early states would contradict his ideas or not.

Sketch of Businessman and Comic Actor and Host Kenneth Horne

December 5, 2022

Here’s another sketch of one of my favourite comedy figures from the past, Kenneth Horne. Horne’s Wikipedia entry is rather long, but the potted biography with which it begins runs

Charles Kenneth Horne, generally known as Kenneth Horne, (27 February 1907 – 14 February 1969) was an English comedian and businessman. He is perhaps best remembered for his work on three BBC Radio series: Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh (1944–54), Beyond Our Ken (1958–64) and Round the Horne (1965–68).

The son of a clergyman who was also a politician, Horne had a burgeoning business career with Triplex Safety Glass, which was interrupted by service with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. While serving in a barrage balloon unit, he was asked to broadcast as a quizmaster on the BBC radio show Ack-Ack, Beer-Beer. The experience brought him into contact with the more established entertainer Richard Murdoch, and the two wrote and starred in the comedy series Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. After demobilisation Horne returned to his business career and kept his broadcasting as a sideline. His career in industry flourished, and he later became the chairman and managing director of toy manufacturers Chad Valley.

In 1958 Horne suffered a stroke and gave up his business dealings to focus on his entertainment work. He was the anchor figure in Beyond Our Ken, which also featured Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee. When the programme came to an end in 1964, the same cast recorded four series of the comedy Round the Horne.

Before the planned fifth series of Round the Horne began recording, Horne died of a heart attack while hosting the annual Guild of Television Producers’ and Directors’ Awards; Round the Horne could not continue without him and was withdrawn. The series has been regularly re-broadcast since his death. A 2002 BBC radio survey to find listeners’ favourite British comedian placed Horne third, behind Tony Hancock and Spike Milligan.’

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Horne

I came across Beyond Our Ken and Round the Horne when the Beeb repeated them on the Sunday midday slot, Smash of the Day, in the early 1980s, and it’s been one of my favourite radio shows since. It had a bizarre cast of characters, such as the folk singer Ramblin’ Sid Rumpo and his ganderbag, J. Peasemold Gruntfuttock, a breathy bloke who was supposedly always writing into the programme. Gruntfuttock had strange delusions, at one point declaring himself ‘Dictator Gruntfuttock of Peasemoldia’, which was his house. Other characters included a deranged, demi-literate American film director, Daryl F. Claphanger, who had missed out on making blockbusters by producing films like Nanook of the South. The show also spoofed contemporary radio, television and films. There was the ‘Kenneth Horne Theatre of Mystery and Suspense’ while the Fu Manchu films were sent up in the tales of the crazy plots of Dr Chu-En Ginsberg, M.A., (failed). But most memorable of all was the ‘Trends’ feature with Julian and Sandy, who ran ‘Bona – ‘ whatever the subject was that day. The two were extremely camp and spoke in Polari, a language used by the gay community. Each edition, Horne would go to their new shop or business venture to inquire about their business. They’d greet him in raptures with cries of ‘Oh, Mr Horne! How bona it is to barda your dolly old eke again! Bona! Bona!’ Which, translated means, ‘How good it is to see your old face again.’ Polari wasn’t just used by gay men. It was also the language of actors and carnival showmen, according to Partridge’s Dictionary of Historical Slang. It’s used as such by an alien showman, who attempts to speak to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in it, in the Dr Who serial ‘Carnival of Monsters’. You could, therefore, see them as just two resting actors being very ‘theatrical’. In fact, it was very clear they were gay, and at times the programme almost told you, if you understand Polari. Ramblin’ Sid in the preface to one of his songs said that its hero was ‘an omee palone’. Omee means man, palone, woman. Omee palone, ‘man woman’, meant gay man. This must have been quite edgy humour for the time, as when the shows were broadcast homosexuality was still illegal. On one TV show looking back at the comedy shows of the past, one of the talking heads said that the older generation were always suspicious of it, and especially of what was being said in Polari. And no doubt with good reason. Previously the BBC had forbidden jokes about the religion, the monarchy, disability, the colour question and effeminacy in men. Times were changing in the 1960s and so all these prohibitions were eventually discarded.

Julian and Sandy, played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, were immensely popular. If you go on YouTube, you’ll find a number of videos of them, and they made two records, Round the Horne: The Complete Julian and Sandy, and The Bona World of Julian and Sandy. Long after the series had been originally broadcast, the two characters, played by Williams and Paddick, appeared on Terry Wogan in the 1980s. I did wonder if the two were now hated by the gay community as malign stereotypes, in the same way that John Inman’s Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served? was bitterly resented by American gays when that show was broadcast in San Francisco in the 1970s. But it seems it isn’t. A year or so ago London Transport or the London Underground celebrated gay pride by putting up posters of the Polari greeting around the city.

Horne himself was a genial host, who was himself the butt of the programme’s jokes. One such ran, ‘And now the question of the week is: what was I doing naked in Trafalgar fountain at such and such a time last weekend? Answers to my lawyers please.’ Williams had aspirations to perform in better or my highbrow material than the parts he got, but always respected Horne even if he was withering in his views of the programme itself.

The series also came from a time when it was still possible to write solely for the radio, or to start off on radio and move to television. Such writers have lamented that due to the rise of television and other media, this is no longer possible. Round the Horne and Beyond Our Ken are, as far as I know, all on CD, and there are a number of episodes on YouTube. In 2003 there was a play about the show, Round the Horne, Revisited, which is also on YouTube.

Yiddish Workers’ Song

November 25, 2022

This is a real piece of forgotten Jewish working-class culture. I’ve put up a number of Socialist Jewish songs and anthems in Yiddish and Hebrew, including the Communist Internationale and the anthem of the Russian/Polish Bund. The Bund were the mass Jewish socialist party in Poland, fighting for the rights of Polish Jews who strongly rejected Zionism and wished to live in peace and equality in their native country with their gentile Polish compatriots. This song, Dem Arbeters Lid, ‘The Workers’ Song’, from Jane Peppler’s channel on YouTube, is characteristically Jewish but also strongly internationalist It says at one point that ‘race and nationality mean nothing to you’. It comes from the Jewish Labor Movement, which I would imagine is the American Jewish socialist movement, as shown by the thumbnail of a picket line of lady tailors on strike. It’s composer, Louis Gilrod, used as the tune the American song ‘The Mother of the Girl I Love’. It’s in Waltz time and reminds me very strongly of Edwardian British parlour songs.

It opens by describing the exhausted, penniless, ‘self-enslaved’ Jewish workers toiling as tailors. Their children are naked and their wives sick and weak. But they will bring about a new social order in which they will be free and there will be no rich and poor. These are sentiments that would no doubt leave the British Jewish Labour Movement, now a part of the Labour party, screaming in fury along with some of the other Blairites. Because somehow, some of them have got it into their tiny minds that socialism is anti-Semitic because it’s against capitalism. Presumably the Blairite moron who said this Radio 4 didn’t realise that by equating capitalism with Jewry she had just expressed the same views as Hitler and other grotty fascists, such as our own wretched Oswald Mosley. The picture of the squalor and poverty of the workers in the garment industry is absolutely accurate. Many, perhaps most of the Jewish immigrants to America were Yiddish-speaking Romanian fleeing persecution in that country. They were dirt poor, living in poorly furnished, overcrowded tenements, sometimes even just occupying stairwells. Many of the women were poorly paid workers in the garment industry. One of the most horrific disasters that hit the New York Jewish community in this period was a fire that broke out in one of the upper stories of one of the clothing factories. This resulted in tens, perhaps over a hundred dead. some of the women were killed because there were no adequate exits, and so leapt to their deaths. As for the myth of Jews sticking together against gentiles, the factories’ owners were also Jews who lived in the affluent districts uptown with their gentile neighbours.