Archive for the ‘LIterature’ Category

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

August 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Private Eye’s Demolition of Fraudulent New Labour Pro-NHS Privatisation Paper

August 5, 2020

This is another piece I found in an old issue of Private Eye, for 15th-28th October 2004. New Labour was as keen as the Tories to privatise the NHS, all in the name of introducing into it the supposedly greater efficiency and management skills of private enterprise. They were heavily influenced by the American private healthcare company, Kaiser Permanente, which was used as a model for their NHS reforms. But the report comparing the supposedly greater performance of Kaiser Permanente to the NHS was biased and fraudulent, as Private Eye’s article ‘NHS Privatisation – Kaiser bill’ revealed in that issue’s ‘In the Back’ section. The article runs

LAST WEEK’s NHS modernisation Agency conference on the much-hyped treatment centre programme – the mix of private and NHS one-stop units springing up around the country to offer quick and relatively easy diagnosis and surgery – struck a self-congratulatory note.

But a study published this summer suggests there is no evidence that bringing private companies into the NHS is increasing efficiency or reducing costs. Quite the opposite in fact.

This news will not please the government, which has always promoted health secretary John Reid’s favourite private US healthcare providers, Kaiser Permanente, citing a seven-page research paper in the British Medical Journal in 2002 which purported to show that Kaiser offered “better performance at roughly the same costs as the NHS”.

This conclusion, extolling the benefits of competition, was manna from heaven for health minister who had been criticised for closing 10,000 NHS beds since Labour came to power. But it seems it was all nonsense.

For a start, two of the report’s three authors,used to work for Kaiser; and their paper triggered a storm of protest in the US and from the medical and scientific community here, highlighting its flawed analysis and conclusions. It emerged that Kaiser’s costs were deflated while NHS costs were inflated; Kaiser patients were the “working well” but NHS patients included the poor, elderly and chronically ill; and individual Kaiser charges for visits and treatment were ignored.

Nevertheless, the protests were ignored and the paper – described by one leading academic as “not worthy of a first year student” – went on to form British government policy, featuring in the 2002 review of NHS funding by Derek Wanless and the subsequent white paper on how to deliver the NHS plan. The department of health even joined forces with Kaiser in “learning from Kaiser Permanente” projects managing chronic conditions and care.

In the summer, however, the scientific record was finally put straight with a paper in the British Journal of General Practice which comprehensively exposed that the Kaiser paper was propaganda masked as science. It detailed the way in which authors used counting tricks including a curious foreign exchange currency conversion which had the effect of almost doubling NHS costs. Despite this evidence the Kaiser paper has still not been officially withdrawn. Instead it is still promoted on health department websites.

Allyson Pollock, professor of health policy at University College London and one of the authors of the critical BJGP paper, said: “There is no evidence that introducing private companies increases efficiency or quality or reduces costs. Indeed all the evidence goes the other way. Markets – even those underwritten by the state – do not deliver comprehensive universal healthcare. Research in the US has shown how private health providers select the profitable patients, treatments and conditions and at a greater cost than public providers.”

Professor Pollock is a very long-time opponent of NHS privatisation. I think I put up another article from Private Eye from nearly 20 years or so ago, in which she led a campaign against the New Labour closure of a hospital in Wyre Forest. She’s also one of the contributors to Jacky Davis’ and Raymond Tallis’ book attacking the privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS.

But New Labour continued in their piecemeal privatisation of the NHS, and this has been followed by the Tories. Boris Johnson wants to include it in a trade deal with the US, but has kept it and the rest of the deal secret. Jeremy Corbyn revealed what the Tories were doing, and our mendacious, scumbag media howled that he was lying. But it’s the Tories who were.

Corbyn promised to renationalise and revitalise the NHS. That was one of the reasons the right-wing political and media establishment hated and reviled him and his supporters: he threatened to return the Labour party to its working class, socialist roots, empowering ordinary people and restoring the welfare state. And dismantling the zombie economics of Thatcherism. And that really couldn’t be tolerated. Hence the smears of him as a Communist, Trotskyite and anti-Semite.

Now we have Keir Starmer instead, another Blairite, who seems determined to restore the power of the Thatcherites in the Labour party. And carry on with their failed, destructive policy of NHS privatisation.

‘I’ Article on ‘Bardcore’ – Postmodern Fusion of Medieval Music and Modern Pop

August 5, 2020

I’m a fan of early music, which is the name that’s been given to music from the ancient period through medieval to baroque. It partly comes from having studied medieval history at ‘A’ level, and then being in a medieval re-enactment group for several years. Bardcore is, as this article explains, a strange fusion of modern pop and rock with medieval music, played on medieval instruments and with a medieval vocal arrangement. I’ve been finding a good deal of it on my YouTube page at the moment, which means that there are a good many people out there listening to it. On Monday the I’s Gillian Fisher published a piece about this strange new genre of pop music, ‘Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1199’, with the subtitle ‘Bardcare reimagines modern pop with a medieval slant. Hark, says Gillian Fisher’. The article ran

“Hadst thou need to stoop so low? To send a wagon for thy minstrel and refuse my letters, I need no longer write them though. Now thou art somebody whom I used to know.”

If you can’t quite place this verse, let me help – it’s the chorus from the 2011 number one Somebody That I Used to Know, by Gotye. It might seem different to how you remember it, which is no surprise – this is the 2020 Bardcore version. Sometimes known as Tavernwave, Bardcore gives modern hits a medieval makeover with crumhorns a plenty and lashings of lute. Sometimes lyrics are also rejigged as per Hildegard von Blingin’s offering above.

Algal (41-year-old Alvaro Galan) has been creating medieval covers since 2016, a notable example being his 2017 version of System of a Down’s Toxicity. Largely overlooked at the time, the video now boasts over 4.4 million views. Full-time musician Alvaro explains that “making the right song at the right moment” is key, and believes that Bardcore offers absolute escapism.

Alvaro says: “What I enjoy most about Bardcore is that I can close my eyes and imagine being in a medieval tavern playing for a drunk public waiting to dance! But from a more realistic perspective , I love to investigate the sounds of the past.”

In these precarious times, switching off Zoom calls and apocalyptic headlines to kick back with a flagon of mead offers a break from the shambles of 2020. Looking back on simpler times during periods of unrest is a common coping mechanism, as Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at New York’ Le Moyne College explained in her paper on nostalgia: “Nostalgic yearning for the past is especially likely to occur during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Dislocation or alienation can also elicit nostalgia.”

The fact that Bardcore is also pretty funny also offers light relief. The juxtaposition of ancient sound with 21st-century sentiment is epitomised in Stantough’s medieval oeuvre, such as his cover of Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. Originally from Singapore, Stantough (Stanley Yong), 35 says: “I really like the fact we don’t really take it very seriously. We’re all aware what we’re making isn’t really medieval but the idea of modern songs being “medievalised” is just too funny.”

One of Bardcore’s greatest hits, is Astronomia by Cornelius Link, which features trilling flutes and archaic vocal by Hildegard. It’s a tune that has been enjoyed by 5.3 million listeners. Silver-tongued Hildegard presides over the Bardcore realm, with her cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance clocking up 5 million views. Canadian illustrator Hildegard, 28, fits Bardcore around work and describes herself as “an absolute beginner” with the Celtic harp and “enthusiastically mediocre” with the recorder. Her lyric adaptations have produced some humdingers such as “All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots which she sings in rich, resonant tones.

HIldegard, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the Bardcore boom can be “chalked up to luck, boredom and a collective desire to connect and laugh.”

In three months, the Bardcore trend has evolved with some minstrels covering Disney anthems, while others croon Nirvana hits in classical Latin. While slightly absurd, this fusion genre has ostensibly provided a sense of unity and catharsis.

The humming harps and rhythmic tabor beats evoke a sense of connection with our feudal ancestors and their own grim experience of battening down the hatches against the latest outbreak. Alongside appealing to the global sense of pandemic ennui, connecting to our forbears through music is predicated upon the fact that they survived their darkest hours. And so shall we.

While Bardcore’s a recent phenomenon, I think it’s been drawing on trends in pop music that have happening for quite long time. For example, I noticed in the 1990s when I went to a performance of the early music vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, when they performed at Brandon Hill in Bristol that the audience also included a number of Goths. And long-haired hippy types also formed part of the audience for Benjamin Bagley when he gave his performance of what the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf probably sounded like on Anglo-Saxon lyre at the Barbican centre in the same decade.

Bardcore also seems connected to other forms of postmodern music. There’s the group the Postmodern Jukebox, whose tunes can also be found on YouTube, who specialise in different 20th century arrangements of modern pop songs. Like doing a rock anthem as a piece of New Orleans Jazz, for example. And then there’s Orkestra Obsolete, who’ve arranged New Order’s Blue Monday using the instruments of the early 20th century, including musical saws and Theremin. There’s definitely a sense of fun with all these musical experiments, and behind the postmodern laughter it is good music. An as this article points out, we need this in these grim times.

Here’s an example of the type of music we’re talking about: It’s Samuel Kim’s medieval arrangement of Star Wars’ Imperial March from his channel on YouTube.

And here’s Orkestra Obsolete’s Blue Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Demand for the Abolition of the House of Lords

August 4, 2020

This weekend, our murderous, clown Prime Minister Boris Johnson added more weight to the argument for the House of Lords. At the moment the membership of the upper house is something like 800+. It has more members than the supreme soviet, the governing assembly of assembly of China, which rules a country of well over a billion people. Contemporary discussions are about reducing the size of this bloated monster, many of whose members do zilch except turn up in the morning in order to collect their attendance before zipping off to what they really want to do. Since Blair, it’s become a byword for corruption and cronyism, as successive prime ministers have used it to reward their collaborators, allies and corporate donors. The Tories were outraged when Blair did this during his administration, but this didn’t stop David Cameron following suit, and now Boris Alexander DeFeffel Johnson. Johnson has appointed no less than 36 of his friends and collaborators. These include his brother, who appears to be there simply because he is Johnson’s sibling, Alexander Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and son of a KGB spy, who owns the Metro and the Independent,  which is a particular insult following the concerns about Russian political meddling and the Tories’ connections to Putin; the Blairite smear-merchants and intriguers, who conspired against Jeremy Corbyn to give the Tories an election victory, and Claire Fox.

Fox has managed to provoke outrage all on her own, simply because of her disgusting views on Northern Irish terrorism. Now a member of the Brexit Party, she was a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party which fully endorsed the IRA’s terrorism campaign and the Warrington bombing that killed two children. She has never apologised or retracted her views, although she says she no longer believes in the necessity of such tactics. But rewarding a woman, who has absolutely no problem with the political killing of children has left a nasty taste in very many people’s mouths. It shows very clearly the double standards Johnson and the Tories do have about real terrorist supporters. They tried smearing Corbyn as one, despite the fact that he was even-handed in his dealings with the various parties in northern Ireland and was a determined supporter of peace. Ulster Unionists have come forward to state that he also good relations with them and was most definitely not a supporter of terrorism. The Tories, however, have shown that they have absolutely no qualms about rewarding a real terrorist sympathiser. But even this isn’t enough for Johnson. He’s outraged and demanding an inquiry, because he was prevented from putting his corporate donors from the financial sector in the House of Lords.

Demands for reform or the abolition of the second chamber have been around for a very long time. I remember back c. 1987 that the Labour party was proposing ideas for its reform. And then under Blair there were suggestions that it be transformed into an elected senate like America’s. And way back in the first decades of the twentieth century there were demands for its abolition altogether. I’ve been reading Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s A Constitution of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, which was first published in the 1920s. It’s a fascinating book. The Webbs were staunch advocates of democracy but were fiercely critical of parliament and its ability to deal with the amount of legislation created by the expansion of the British state into industry and welfare provision, just as they were bitterly critical of its secrecy and capitalism. They proposed dividing parliament into two: a political and a social parliament. The political parliament would deal with the traditional 19th-century conceptions of the scope of parliament. This would be foreign relations, including with the Empire, the self-governing colonies and India, and law and order. The social parliament would deal with the economy, the nationalised industries and in general the whole of British culture and society, including the arts, literature and science. They make some very interesting, trenchant criticisms of existing political institutions, some of which will be very familiar to viewers of that great British TV comedy, Yes, Minister. And one of these is the House of Lords, which they state very clearly should be abolished because of its elitist, undemocratic character. They write

The House of Lords, with its five hundred or so peers by inheritance, forty-four representatives of the peerages of Scotland and Ireland, a hundred and fifty newly created peers, twenty-six bishops, and half a dozen Law Lords, stands in a more critical position. No party in the State defends this institution; and every leading statesman proposes to either to end or to amend it. It is indeed an extreme case of misfit. Historically, the House of Lords is not a Second Chamber, charged with suspensory and revising functions, but an Estate of the Realm – or rather, by its inclusion of the bishops – two Estates of the Realm, just as much entitled as the Commons to express their own judgement on all matters of legislation, and to give or withhold their own assent to all measures of taxation. The trouble is that no one  in the kingdom is prepared to allow them these rights, and for ninety years at least the House of Lords has survived only on the assumption that, misfit as it palpably is, it nevertheless fulfils fairly well the quite different functions of a Second Chamber. Unfortunately, its members cannot wholly rid themselves of the feeling that they are not a Second Chamber, having only the duties of technical revision of what the House of Commons enacts, and of temporary suspension of any legislation that it too hastily adopts, but an Estate of the Realm, a coordinate legislative organ entitled to have an opinion of its own on the substance and the merits of any enactment of the House of Commons. The not inconsiderable section of peers and bishops which from time to time breaks out in this way, to the scandal of democrats, can of course claim to be historically and technically justified in thus acting as independent legislators, but constitutionally they are out of date; and each of their periodical outbursts, which occasionally cause serious public inconvenience, brings the nation nearer to their summary abolition. Perhaps of greater import than the periodical petulance of the House of Lords is its steady failure to act efficiently  as revising and suspensory Second Chamber. Its decisions are vitiated by its composition  it is the worst representative assembly ever created in that it contains absolutely no members of the manual working class; none of the great classes of shopkeepers, clerks and teachers; none of the half of all the citizens who are of the female sex; and practically none of religious nonconformity, or art, science or literature. Accordingly it cannot be relied on to revise or suspend, and scarcely even to criticise, anything brought forward by a Conservative Cabinet, whilst obstructing and often defeating everything proposed by Radical Cabinet.

Yet discontent with the House of Commons and its executive – the Cabinet – is to-day  a more active ferment than resentment at the House of Lords. The Upper Chamber may from time to time delay and obstruct; but it cannot make or unmake governments; and it cannot, in the long run, defy the House of Commons whenever that assembly is determined. To clear away this archaic structure will only make more manifest and indisputable the failure of the House of Commons to meet the present requirements. (Pp. 62-4).

When they come to their proposals for a thorough reform of the constitution, they write of the House of Lords

There is, of course, n the Socialist Commonwealth, no place for a House of Lords, which will simply cease to exist as a part of the legislature. Whether the little group of “Law Lords”, who are now made peers in order that they may form the Supreme Court of Appeal , should or should not continue, for this purely judicial purpose, to sit under the title, and with the archaic dignity of the House of Lords, does not seem material. (p.110)

I used to have some respect for the House of Lords because of the way they did try to keep Thatcher in check during her occupation of 10 Downing Street. They genuinely acted as a constitutional check and wasn’t impressed by the proposals for their reform. I simply didn’t see that it was necessary. When Blair was debating reforming the Upper House, the Tories bitterly attacked him as a new Cromwell, following the Lord Protector’s abolition of the House of Lords during the British Civil War. Of course, Blair did nothing of the sort, and partly reformed it, replacing some of the peers with his own nominees. Pretty much as Cromwell also packed parliament.

The arguments so far used against reforming the House of Lord are that it’s cheaper than an elected second chamber, and that there really isn’t much popular enthusiasm for the latter. Private Eye said that it would just be full of second-rate politicos traipsing about vainly trying to attract votes. That was over twenty years ago.

But now that the House of Lords is showing itself increasingly inefficient and expensive because of the sheer number of political has-beens, PM’s cronies and peers, who owe their seat only because of ancestral privilege, it seems to me that the arguments for its reform are now unanswerable.

Especially when the gift of appointing them is in the hands of such a corrupt premier as Boris Johnson.

Egyptians Issue Polite Invitation to Musk to See that Aliens Didn’t Built the Pyramids

August 4, 2020

Here’s a rather lighter story from yesterday’s I, for 3rd August 2020. Elon Musk, the billionaire industrialist and space entrepreneur, has managed to cause a bit of controversy with Egyptian archaeologists. He’s a brilliant businessman, no doubt, but he appears to believe in the ancient astronaut theory that alien space travellers built the pyramids. He issued a tweet about it, and so the head of the Egyptian ministry for international cooperation  has sent him a very polite invitation to come to their beautiful and historic country and see for himself that this is very obviously not the case. The report, ‘Musk invited to debunk alien pyramid theory’, by Laurie Havelock, runs

An Egyptian official has invited Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX tycoon, to visit the country and see for himself that its famous pyramids were not built by aliens.

Mr Musk appeared to publicly state his support for a popular conspiracy theory that imagines aliens were involved in the construction of the ancient monuments.

But Egypt’s international co-operation minister corrected him, and said that laying eyes on the tombs of the pyramid builders would be proof enough.

Tombs discovered inside the structures during the 1990s are definitive evidence, experts say, that the structures were indeed built by ancient Egyptians. On Friday, Mr Musk tweeted: “Aliens built the pyramids obv”. which was retweeted more than 84,000 times. It prompoted Egypt’s minister of international co-operation Rania al-Mashat to respond: “I follow your work with a lot of admiration. I invite you & SpaceX to explore the writings about how the pyramids were built and also check out the tombs of the pyramid builders. Mr Musk, we are waiting for you.”

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass also responded in a short video in Arabic, posted on social media, saying Mr Musk’s argument was a “complete hallucination”.

Hawass used to be head of their ministry of antiquities, and a very senior archaeologist. He was on TV regularly in the 1990s whenever there was a programme about ancient Egypt. And he doesn’t have much truck with bizarre theories about how or why the pyramids were built. ‘Pyramidiots – that what I call them!’ he once declared passionately on screen.

The idea that the ancient Egyptians couldn’t have built the pyramids because it was all somehow beyond them has been around for some time, as have similar ideas about a lost civilisation being responsible for the construction of other ancient monuments around the world, like Stonehenge, the Nazca lines and great civilisations of South America, Easter Island and so on. Once upon a time it was Atlantis. I think in certain quarters it still is. And then with the advent of UFOs it became ancient astronauts and aliens. One of the illustrations Chris Foss painted for a book cover from the 1970s shows, I think, alien spacecraft hovering around the pyramids.

There’s actually little doubt that humans, not aliens, built all these monuments, and that the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids for which their country’s famous. Archaeologists have even uncovered an entire village, Deir el-Medina, inhabited by the craftsmen who worked on them. This has revealed immensely detailed records and descriptions of their daily lives as well as their working environment. One of the documents that has survived from these times records requests from the craftsmen to their supervisors to have a few days off. One was brewing beer – a staple part of the ordinary Egyptians diet – while another had his mother-in-law coming round. I also distinctly remember that one of the programmes about ancient Egypt in the 1990s also proudly showed a tomb painting that at least depicted the system of ramps the workers are believed to have used to haul the vast stones into place. And the great ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, in his Histories, states very clearly that the pyramids were built by human workers. He includes many tall tales, no doubt told him by tour guides keen to make a quick buck and not to worried about telling the strict truth to an inquisitive foreigner. Some of these are about the spice and rich perfumes traded by the Arab civilisations further west. He includes far-fetched stories about how these exotic and very expensive products were collected by giant ants and other fabulous creatures. But no-one tried telling him that it wasn’t people, who built the pyramids.

On the other hand, the possibility that aliens may have visited Earth and the other planets in the solar system isn’t a daft idea at all. Anton ‘Wonderful Person’ Petrov, a Russian YouTuber specialising in real space and science, put up a video a few weeks ago stating that it’s been estimated that another star passes through the solar system once every 50,000 years. A similar paper was published by a Russian space scientist in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society back in the 1990s, although he limited the estimated to a star coming within a light-year of Earth. That’s an incredibly small distance, and if there have been other, spacefaring civilisations in our Galaxy, they could easily jump off their solar system to visit or explore ours. We can almost do it ourselves now, as shown by projects that have been drawn up to send light-weight probes by solar sail to Alpha Centauri. In addition to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence using radio telescopes to comb the skies for a suitable signal, there is also planetary SETI. This advocates looking for the remains of alien spacecraft or visitors elsewhere in our solar system. It’s advocates are serious scientists, though it suffered a major blow to its credibility with the furore over the ‘Face on Mars’. Which turned out not to be a face at all, but a rock formation as its critics had maintained.

Aliens may well have visited the solar system in the deep past, but it was definitely very human ancient Egyptians, who built the pyramids. Because, as Gene Roddenberry once said about such theories, ‘humans are clever and they work hard.’ Wise words from the man who gave us Star Trek.

Let’s go out in space to seek out new life and new civilisations by all means, but also keep in mind what we humans are also capable of achieving on our own down here.

Old ‘Financial Times’ Review by Caryl Phillips of Books on Afrocentrism and Black Identity

August 1, 2020

This is another very old clipping from my scrapbooks. Titled ‘Burdened by white men’s perceptions’, its a review by the Black British writer Caryl Phillips of the books Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes by Stephen Howe, and Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination by Adam Lively. Its from the Financial Times’ edition for August 15th/16th 1998, and so nearly a quarter of a century old. Nevertheless, these are issues that are still present and which are still strongly influencing contemporary racial politics and motivating activist movements like Black Lives Matter.

Phillips begins his review with the book on Afrocentrism. This is a Black historical view that sees ancient Egypt as a Black African civilisation and the true source of the western cultural and intellectual tradition, which was appropriated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. He then moves on to the second book, which is about the issue of Black identity in majority White culture and the effects of White perceptions. Phillips writes

Stephen Howe’s candid book goes right to the heart of one of the most vexing of contemporary America’s problems: the question of “Afrocentrism”, and its legitimacy as an alternative system of thought to the “white racism” which has dominated American intellectual, social and political life. Howe (who is white) quotes the African-American professor, Manning Marable, who defines Afrocentrism as a system of thought which “looks to a romantic, mythical reconstruction of yesterday to find some understanding of the cultural basis of today’s racial and class challenges.” Howe agrees with Marable that Afrocentrism is not only romantic and mythical, but he sees it as ultimately dangerous.

His book is divided into three parts. In the first section Howe looks at the “roots” of Afrocentrism, rightly identifying the writings o the 19th-century writer Edward Wilmot Blyden as being perhaps at the head of this tradition. In 1866 Blyden travelled to Egypt, determined to see evidence of great Black achievements. He was overwhelmed by a sense of racial pride on first seeing the Pyramids: “This, thought I, was the work of my African progenitors … Feelings came over me far different from those I have ever felt when looking at the mighty works of European genius. I felt that I had a peculiar heritage in the Great Pyramid built … by the enterprising sons of Ham, from which I am descended …”

In the second part of his book, Howe focuses largely upon the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-86), identifying him as the originator of many of the ideas that form the basis of modern Afrocentrism. Diop believed that the biological origin of humanity took place in Africa, and that Egypt was the cradle of a Black civilisation that was appropriated by the Ancient Greeks. His writings and scholarship all speak to a need for those of Africa to see beyond the obfuscation created by European racism and colonialism,  and reclaim their glorious past.

The final part of Howe’s book looks at the current manifestations of Afrocentric thought, particularly in American academic life. He rightly castigates the anti-Semitism of Afrocentric “scholars”  such as Leonard Jeffries and Tony Martin, and is tough but even-handed in his case against Molefi Asante (whom Howe calls the “Godfather of Afrocentrism”). The pseudo-scientific racism, the homophobia, and the lack of any serious scholarship which underpins the work of modern-day Afrocentrism is laid bare in a devastating, and at times humorous manner.

This book performs a great service for all who are interested in the intellectual study of race and racism in the US. Howe builds his case upon facts, which most Afrocentric “scholars” seem incapable of doing. However, what Howe does not do is to ask the pressing question which arises out of his book: why is it that so many African Americans both leaders and followers, are prepared to invest in such an ahistorical sense of their world and their history?

The first half of Adam Lively’s book provides some kind of an answer, castigating as it does the European attempts to place Africa and people of African origin at the bottom of the evolutionary chain. Lively traces what he terms “the invention of race” in the modern world, and looks at racial theories in 18th and 19th-century Britain, examined how they clashed with Christianity, and Darwinism.

The second half of the book turns to the US. Lively announces his shift of locale and time, by stating that in the earlier period “If the African answered back, the European didn’t hear. In America by contrast … the American Negro could and did answer back to the White man.” This is not strictly true. Olaudah Equiano’s autobiographical narrative published in 1789 went into eight British editions, and was also published in German, Dutch and Russian. Equiano was but one of a host of contemporary Black writers who were undoubtedly heard by Europeans.

The American half of Lively’s book is largely composed of readings in 20th century American literature which support his central thesis that the contemporary imagination has great difficulty coping with a blackness that has been so deeply demonised by theories which originated in earlier centuries. However, whereas the first half of his book is underpinned by solid research, the second half becomes more speculative.

The book concludes with a short epilogue entitled “Beyond Race?” Unfortunately, here the text collapses into the infuriating academic doublespeak that the author has so eloquently avoided. “The idea of postethnicity accords with the modern tendency to see ethnicity as performative than essentialist. Blackness becomes a cultural style, a signifier that has floated free of its moorings in pigmentation. Stripped of any deterministic associations, its gift is the freedom (or, negatively, the alienation) of the mask.”

Blackness is not, and never will be, simply “a cultural style”. Being Black in the western world still means that one is burdened by White people’s perceptions of  one as either an object of taboo or one of sentiment. To scamper off into an imagined past of Afrocentric “achievement” is as foolish as the attempt to construct an imagined present of redemptive cultural equality based around baggy jeans and rap music. Lively ends his book with the following sentence: “The racial past cannot be erased, but it can be rendered impotent.” Neither Lively’s faith in postmodernism nor the Afrocentric’s “fake” history, will produce any viable solution to a problem that will dog us far into the next millennium.

I hope this prediction is far too pessimistic, and that this millennium won’t be as burdened with issues of race and racism as the previous. Regarding Afrocentrism, there is a serious point behind the romanticism. Egypt is geographically part of Africa, and the ancient Egyptians certainly portrayed themselves as darker skinned than the European peoples to the north. They traded extensively in the Mediterranean, including as far west as Spain, and did influence Greek and Roman culture. The White Afrocentrist historian, Basil Davidson, states that he believes that the Romans took their intellectual culture from Egypt because the Romans themselves said they did. On the other hand, it appears that the ancient Greeks took their mathematical knowledge from the ancient Near East, particularly Phrygia, rather than Egypt.

My problem with Afrocentrism is that, at its extreme, it just becomes a form of anti-White racism, the mirror image of White racist views of Black and African history. In the view of Afrocentric writers like Garakai Chengu, ancient Egypt was a superior Black civilisation that bestowed culture and learning on the backward White tribes of Europe. The Moors of Islamic Spain were ‘obviously Black’, and through their conquest brought backward, superstitious White Europeans enlightened philosophy and science. This isn’t history so much as a Black racist fantasy of imperialism and benign colonialism projected into the past. Chengu has apparently taught at Harvard, but when Counterpunch saw fit to publish a piece by him on their website the standard of scholarship was so poor that I really wondered how he got the job.

Ancient Egypt and the other great civilisations of Africa are awesome, inspiring and worth studying along with all the world’s great cultures. But this needs to be done without the grotesque distortions of racism, whether by Whites or Blacks.

‘Financial Times’ Review of Book on Real, Modern Slavery

August 1, 2020

This is another old clipping I’ve kept in my scrapbooks from the Financial Times, from May 29/30th 1999. It’s a review by their columnist, Ben Rogers, ‘Forced into human bondage’, of Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global  Economy. This is another book that the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol had in its library. It’s an excellent book, but obviously very, very grim reading in its truly harrowing accounts of the brutality meted out to real, enslaved people across the world. I’m posting the review here because, while Britain and America are re-evaluating the legacy of slavery following the Black Lives Matter protests, real slavery and its horrors still exist around the world and I am afraid that this is being overshadowed by the debates over historic European slavery.

Rogers begins his review with the subtitled ‘Slavery today may be illegal, but it is still rife’. The review then goes on

It is tempting to think of slavery as a thing of the past. Its legacy lives on, disfiguring relations between Black and Whites everywhere, but surely the practice itself has gone?

This sober, well-researched, pioneering study shows that this, alas, is far from the case. Bales, an American social scientist who teaches in London at the Roehampton Institute, is careful to distinguish slavery from other forms of exploitation: the Pakistani child labourer, the Burmese agricultural worker, although paid a subsistence wage, are not necessarily slaves. Nevertheless, he argues that there are still, on a conservative estimate, perhaps 27m slaves in the world today – a population greater than that of Canada.

Most are located in the Indian subcontinent where they work as bonded labourers, but they exist in almost every country in the world. Paris harbours as many as 3,000 household slaves, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states many more. In the Dominican Republic, enslaved Haitians harvest the sugar that we eat. In Brazil, child prostitutes are forced to service the miners of the metals we use.

Of course, modern slavery is different from the old variety practised in ancient Athens or the American South. But in certain respects, Bales persuasively argues, the new variety is worse. In the traditional version, slave holders owned their slaves, who were almost always of a different race or religion from their masters; slaves were relatively expensive “capital” goods and usually kept up for life. Nowadays legal ownership is outlawed in every country of the world (Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all, states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude”), so modern slavery is disguised and “ownership” is replaced by manipulative debt bondage or fictive long-term “contracts”. Modern slaves tend to be taken from the same ethnic group as their holders and, because they are cheap, they are often used for only months or a few years before being discarded. Another difference is the size of the profit slaves produce. Agricultural bonded labourers in India generate not 5 per cent, as did slaves in the American South, but over 50 per cent profit per year for the slave holder; a Thai brothel owner can make 800 per cent on a new teenage girl.

To illustrate the nature of the new slavery, Bales has travelled around the world to investigate five cases in detail (often at some risk to himself): that of an enslaved prostitute in Ubon Ratchitani, Thailand; a water carrier in Mauritania; charcoal burners in the camps in Matto Grosso do Sul, Brazil; brickmakers in the Punjab, Pakistan; and bonded agricultural labourers in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The cases varied in significant ways. Ironically the one that most resembles old-style slavery – that of the water carrier from Mauritania – proves perhaps to be the least vicious. Slavery in Mauritania represents a lightly disguised continuation of a centuries-old practice; there slaves are kept for life and many slave families have been working for the same masters for generations. The cruellest example, by contrast, is provided by “Siri” the Thai prostitute, who was sold into slavery by her parents aged 14. Her debts to her owners are manipulate to ensure that she will continue to work until she is too tired or ill to be profitable.

Despite the differences, however, two continuities run through all the cases Bales so  graphically describes. In every case the worker is tricked or forced into bondage; in every case he or she is provided with the barest means of subsistence and sometimes not even that. In the charcoal camps of Brazil the men are often denied medication and left to die – on the principle that it is cheaper to acquire a new worker than repair an old one.

The western world has been slow to recognise the problem of the new slavery – in part because it is carefully disguised. The slave holders hide it from their government, governments hide it from the international community. The result is that, unlike, say, torture or censorship, slavery has yet to become a major human rights issue. The main international organisation dedicated to the abolition of slavery, Anti-Slavery International, has only 6,000 members. And without grass roots pressure, the World Bank, IMF and national governments are not inclined to show much concern.

“What country,” as Bales asks, “has been sanctioned by the UN for slavery? Where are the UN inspection teams charged with searching out slave labour? Who speaks for the slaves in the International Court of Justice? Governments and business are more likely to suffer international penalties today for counterfeiting a Michael Jackson CD than for using slaves.”

Modern slaves face the same conditions as the poor of the third world – they are the victims of industrialisation, population explosion and government corruption. Where labour is abundant, wages low, bribery rife, workers often face a stark choice between enslavement and starvation. Slavery, however, calls for its own particular solutions. Bales shows how strict enforcement of existing laws combined with programmes aimed at enabling slaves to set up on their own, have had some effect in diminishing debt bondage in northern India – although, as he reminds us, unless steps are taken slavery is set to grow.

Incredibly, Bales’ study is about the first to explore slavery in its modern international guise. The picture it offers remains patchy, given the limited resources at Bales’ disposal. He makes much of the west’s role in aiding and abetting slavery, yet most of the cases he studies belongs to local economies. This remains, however, a convincing and moving book. One can only hope that it will draw some attention to the terrible phenomenon it describes.

Although this was written 21 years ago, I’ve no doubt that it’s still acutely relevant and the situation has got worse. Since then there have been a series of scandals involving the enslavement of migrant workers in Britain and eastern European women trafficked into sex slavery. And, as the book Falling Off the Edge, shows very clearly, poverty around the world and the consequent exploitation of the poor has got much worse due to neoliberalism and globalisation. One of the programmes due to be shown on the Beeb – but I can’t remember whether it’s on TV or radio – is an examination of global terrorism. One of the groups looked at are Maoist terrorists in India. They’re a horrifically violent outfit, but they’re the result, according to Falling Off the Edge, of the horrific poverty and exploitation foisted upon the agricultural workers of central India.

And then there’s the increasing poverty and mounting debts of the British poor, thanks to Thatcherite welfare cuts, wage freezes and the replacement of loans for welfare payments and services. I wonder how long before this morphs into something very much like debt bondage over here.

Private Eye Shows Blatant Pro-Starmer Bias in Review of Ernest Bevin Biography

July 30, 2020

I’ve blogged many times about the vicious anti-Corbyn bias Private Eye shares with the rest of the media. Like the rest of the country’s corrupt and mendacious press and broadcasting establishment, Private Eye has consistently pushed the smears and lies against the former Labour leader. It has vilified him as an anti-Semite and, some kind of Commie or Trotskyite infiltrator. Even now that Corbyn is no longer head of the party, the attacks continue. This fortnight’s edition, for 31st July – 13th August 2020 contains an article rejoicing over the threats to sue Corbyn and the party by the Blairite intriguers and anti-Semitism smear merchants for libel. The anti-Semitism smears always were politically motivated. They were mobilised by the Zionist Jewish establishment – the chief rabbinate, Board of Deputies of British Jews and the various Friends of Israel parliamentary organisations in order to rebut criticism of the Israeli state’s 70 + years of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The wider British political establishment used them in order to protect Israel as an outpost of British and western power in the Middle East. And the Blairites used them from a mixture of political expediency and genuine political conviction. Blair, Mandelson and the rest were strong supporters of Israel anyway, and Blair had obtained his financial independence from the unions he despised through donations from pro-Israel Jewish businessmen through Lord Levy. And the anti-Semitism allegations were another way of discrediting Corbyn after he and the traditional Labour moderates gained control of the party.

Well, Starmer is now head of the party, and is continuing the campaign to maintain Blairite control through purging the party Left, all under the pretext that he is just clearing out the anti-Semites. This is while real, anti-Black racists are allowed to thrive and fester in the party as many of them appear to be the Blairite intriguers, who conspired to undermine the party’s election campaign.

But there is also an ideological as well as a tactical campaign being fought by the Blairites in their attempts to win control. According to Private Eye’s literary column, this includes a new biography of Ernest Bevin by New Labour’s Andrew Adonis, Ernest Bevin: Labour’s Churchill. This is reviewed in the magazine’s recent issue as ‘Ernest toil’.

Bevin is a major figures in Bristol and Somerset labour history. He was a Somerset agricultural worker, who was instrumental in forming the union for this part of the rural workforce. He then moved to Bristol, where he became a major figure in trade union and Labour party politics, helping to found the Transport and General Workers’ Union. During World War II he served Churchill as Minister of Labour, and then under Clement Attlee as Commonwealth Minister.

The Eye’s review of Adonis’ biography is deeply critical. It notes that there are already several excellent works on the great man, on whom Adonis’ own work is very strongly based. Adonis has conducted no deeper research into Bevin – the book draws very heavily on the previous biographies. Adonis doesn’t bring any fresh insight to his subject either, and the book is stylistically marred by the use of contemporary management-speak and 21st century jargon. So why has it been written?

For the Eye, the answer is that Adonis is attempting to use Bevin as an ideological bolster for the Starmerite faction in the Labour party. Adonis is impressed by Bevin’s embrace of Keynsian economics and proclaims that the stood for a ‘liberal socialism’ apart from nationalisation and the unregulated free market. This is the position of Starmer and his faction, whom the Eye gives absolutely no doubt should have the leadership of the party. Their anonymous reviewer writes

So what is Adonis up to? Well, like the Imperialist burghers of late-Victorian Bristol busily erecting statues to Edward Colston a century after his death, Gordon Brown’s former transport secretary is keen to harness the past to the somewhat shaky equipage of the present. According to this assessment, Bevin is worth reading about now not only for the startling achievements of his ascent through life – he was an orphan boy from the West Country sent out to work in the fields at the age of 11 – but for what he has to tell us about the politics of 2020.

Item one on Adonis’ list is Bevin’s friendship with John Maynard Keynes and his enthusiasm for the latter’s plan to borrow money to fund better public services. Item two is the touting of something called “liberal socialism”, in which, quoting Keynes, “the solution lies neither with nationalisation nor with unregulated private competition; it lies in a variety of experiments, of attempts to get the best of both worlds.” Item three, naturally, is Bevin’s lifelong quarrel with the Left, exemplified by his wiping th floor with the Labour party’s pacifist leader George Lansbury at the party conference of 1935.

Bevin, you see, was not only a visionary politician (although this being 2020, Adonis has to take up several paragraphs apologising for his unreconstructed ideas about “Empire”), he was also an old-style Labour bruiser able to stitch up the right-wing trade union vote in the service of the parliamentary front bench. Clearly, what we need right now is a sensible, moderate Labour party with a raft of policies that will encourage social justice without scaring off big business and the middle classes while doing to the Jeremy Corbyn’s o this world what Bevin did to Lansbury.

“Britain needed Bevin once,” Adonis signs off. “Now we need his kind again.” If this isn’t a piece of semaphoring in the direction of Sir Keir Starmer, I don’t know what is. Will Lord Adonis play a part in making sense of our post-coronavirus world an emergency by the way, “of a kind Bevin relished”). We can only hope and pray. (My emphasis)

I’ve got a biography of Ernest Bevin on one of the bookshelves here, because of his importance to national history and that of Bristol’s working class. But the policies Starmer supports and wishes to impose seem just to be standard ‘Third Way’ Blairism. It’s just more Thatcherism and neoliberalism. We’ve seen again and again that the privatisation of the public services, the utilities and the NHS, have been an absolute failure. They haven’t improved performance. Far from it – they’ve made it worse. And thanks to the piecemeal privatisation of the NHS pushed through by Blair and Brown as well as the Tories, there is a real danger that this country will get a private healthcare system as disastrous and malign as America’s, and run by much the same firms. We desperately need to renationalise gas, electricity, water and the NHS. While the Tories, Blairites and the media succeeded in turning the public against Corbyn, these policies were still immensely popular with the public. My guess is that they still are, and would put Starmer and the party in an excellent place for power if he bothered to promote them. But Starmer won’t, because as a Blairite he believes absolutely in the primacy and success of private industry, even when its failure is obvious to anybody else.

Contrary to the rubbish put out by the right-wing political establishment, Corbyn really was never a radical. His programme for the renationalisation of the NHS and the utilities is simply a return of the old social democratic consensus that gave Britain growth and prosperity from 1948 to Thatcher’s miserable election victory in 1979. By traditional Labour standards, Corbyn’s actually a centrist. But after 40 years of free market Thatcherism, even this moderate position is viewed as dangerously radical by the self-appointed guardians of political orthodoxy.

And that orthodoxy is shared uncritically by Private Eye, even though the magazine has consistently revealed its failure, particularly in the Private Finance Initiative. But it’s the ideology adopted by what passes as the left-wing media set. It’s been pushed by the Groaniad, for example, whose hacks are now in a screaming rage that the left-wingers they’ve been sneering at and gaslighting all these years are abandoning their wretched rag. Sales of the Groan are disastrous and massive job cuts on the way. And the magazine has only itself to blame.

My guess is that Private Eye shares some of the same assumptions as the hacks at the Groan, or at least the left-wing members of the magazine’s staff. Britain’s newspaper hacks, with certain exceptions, seem to come from the same class and my guess is that much of Private Eye may also come from the same journos in the rest of the press, published anonymously.

And so we have the spectacle of the Eye openly revealing its own partisan bias in support of Starmer. Which confirms just how fake the anti-Semitism smears were. The real issue was always the Blairite’s fear of a genuine socialist Labour party that would genuinely empower the working class. The Eye’s anonymous reviewer, through their hopes and prayers for Starmer’s leadership, as just made that very clear.

 

Private Eye on Successful Campaign against Blairite Hospital Privatisation by Pro-NHS Group

July 24, 2020

One of the political developments prompted by New Labour’s wholesale adoption of the Tory programme of the destruction of the welfare state and privatisation, including that of the NHS, is that opposition to these policies moved away from the party to popular organisations set up by concerned professionals, activists and members of the public. This was particularly true of organised opposition to the privatisation of the NHS, which led to the formation of the NHS Action Party. In the same issue of Private Eye which revealed how Blair and his cronies in private industry wished to force through even more privatisation, 15-28 June 2001) the very first article was about how a New Labour politico had suffered a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of opponents of plans for the closure of beds at Kidderminster Hospital and the transfer of services to a new, PFI-funded hospital at Worcester. The article, ‘Wyre, Oh Wyre’, ran

The best election result by far was at Wyre Forest, where the ambitious junior minister at the lord chancellor’s department, barrister David Lock (10,857 votes) was hammered out of sight by the Health Concern candidate, Richard Taylor (28,487 votes).

The Eye was one of the first to appreciate the challenge from Health Concern. Under the heading Wyres Crossed way back in June last year, we traced the the circuitous record of David Lock over the key local issue of the proposed closure of all acute services at Kidderminster Hospital (Eye 1007). Lock was against the proposals when he stood for the seat and won it unexpectedly in 1997. But his enthusiasm for the campaign against closure waned as he climbed into the government.

His ire was directed against those who opposed plans for the new hospital, especially professor Allyson Pollock of the University College of London’s school of public policy. Mr Lock complained not to Prof Pollock herself but to the chairman of the University College council, Lord Young of Graffham.

The Eye article drew a mocking reply from the MP who proclaimed himself a regular Eye reader and bitterly attacked Prof Pollock, who, he wrote, “didn’t bother to check her facts with the health authority before going to print”. This letter drew a furious and devastating response from Richard Taylor, a retired consultant, whose letter (Eye 1007) exposed Mr Lock as, well, having been economical with the truth.

This was followed the following issue (1008) by a letter from Allyson Pollock pointing out that her facts about the hospital were quite correct. The cost of new PFI facility at Worcester replacing the services at Kidderminster had risen from £49m to £108m, all to provide 44 percent fewer acute beds for more patients.

So besieged was Mr Lock by the campaigner for the hospital that he resorted to his lawyers. Eye 1023 reported that he had threatened to sue Frank Baillie, a vice-chairman of Health Concern, for telling the left-wing weekly Tribune that Lock “had gone for promotion instead of standing side by side with the people of Wyre Forest”. Lawyers for the local authority (where Health Concern was and is the largest party) told Mr Baillie that they would not meet the costs of a libel action, and Baillie was forced to issue a grovelling and humiliating apology to Lock for saying something that was demonstrably true.

Mr Lock had not finished yet and his next assault on his critics won him the much-coveted spot of Man In The Eye (1026). He had rung a small publisher of a local magazine called For You who had had the nerve to reprint the Eye’s reports of the above events and as usual threatened them with a libel writ and demanded and an apology and substantial damages. He objected in particular to the observation: “It is a racing certainty that an Independent MP who will truly represent the wishes of the people will be elected.” Somehow the litigious MP did not get his apology or his damages before the election, when the magazine’s prediction came so handsomely true.

There is talk up in Kidderminster of a amss phone-in to the former MP demanding an apology and even substantial damages for contest the now rather obvious fact that enormous majority of his constituents did not agree with him.

Professor Pollock is the author of a series of works attacking the privatisation of the NHS, and I think she’s also a contributor to Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis superb NHS -SOS, which minutely describes and exposes it. I think Health Concerns victory at Wyre Forest may be exceptional, because of the difficulties in getting a small, independent party or organisation off the ground and gathering enough votes to challenge the big parties.

But unfortunately, as Starmer shows himself keen to push through the Blairite agenda of the early 21st century, this may be the only tactic available to people who really want to preserve the NHS, and the health, prosperity and welfare of their fellow citizens.

 

From 1996: Downsizing Guru Realises It Doesn’t Work

July 23, 2020

Remember the downsizing craze of the 1980s and 1990s, when Thatcherite economists all demanded that big firms should slim down through mass lay-offs and sackings? Firms were overstaffed, and it was all flab that needed to be cut out to make them ‘lean and mean’ in the marketplace.

Looking back through my scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, I found this article by the Daily Mail’s industrial correspondent, David Norris, ‘Guru of the job cutters admits downsizing has its down side’ in that paper’s edition for Monday, May 13, 1996. The article runs

‘An international economic guru who advocated massive job-shedding to make big business lean and fit has admitted he got it all wrong.

American Stephen S. Roach coined the word ‘downsizing’ in the early Eighties to sum up his philosophy that ruthless workforce pruning was needed to boost profits and productivity.

It was seized on around the world – not least in Britain, where hundreds of thousands of full-time jobs have disappeared over the last ten years.

His astonishing turnaround is certain to provoke more outrage against ‘fat-cat’ bosses, who have often used huge payroll savings to justify big salary rises for themselves.

‘Downsizing’ became a boardroom buzzword, with directors proudly telling shareholders that they were able to  pay higher dividends through redundancy-related cost-savings. The slick  term was more acceptable than talking of throwing people out of work.

Middle England has been worst hit, with thousands of white-collar jobs axed. High street banks have between them got rid of 90,000 staff since 1989. Downsizing has created a climate of insecurity which many blame for the still sluggish economic recovery. And the Government has lost millions of pounds in tax from workers axed from previously labour-intensive industries.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Roach, chief economist at the investment bank Morgan Stanley on Wall Street, announced his conversion in a memo to his firm’s clients.

He confessed he had now concluded that relentless cost-cutting was bad for business. ‘If you compete by building, you have a future. If you compete by cutting, you don’t’,’ the contrite guru said.

‘For years I have extolled the virtues of America’s productivity-led recovery. While I think it’s safe to say that such a scenario has become the new mantra for U.S. businesses in the 1990s, I must confess that I’m now having second thoughts.”

And he warned of a worker backlash ‘not on the shopfloor, but in the polling booths’.

That forecast was echoed by TUC boss John Monks yesterday.

He said: ‘Downsizing has done more than any other single business strategy to create the deep insecurity felt in Britain.

‘I hope this will herald a re-think in Britain’s boardrooms. Long-term success comes from steady investment and skilled, motivated staff.”

Around 38 per cent of Britain’s workforce – nearly ten million people – are now not in full-time permanent jobs. They are either in part-time or temporary work, or self-employed.

The main full-time job creation thrust has come from small firms, employing 20 staff or fewer. They have taken on 2.5 million extra workers in ten years.

Big retail chains have also taken on more workers. Tesco recently announced it was recruiting 4,500 to pack bags and generally assist shoppers. Last month it revealed record profits.

Late payment is still a problem for 45 percent of small and medium businesses.

The average time taken to be paid has risen from 52.8 days in 1994 to 53.2 this year, according to a survey by the Confederation of British Industry and accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand.’

Ha-Joon Chang describes in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, how downsizing has literally driven firms bankrupt. They cut back their staff and plant so much in order to boost management pay and shareholder dividends beyond the point where they were economically viable. He argues that the most durable firms tend to be those where the state also has a stake in the firm, and so in maintaining it, or where the workers are also strongly involved in its management. Chang’s not anti-capitalist, but he states that shareholders are fickle – the moment they think a firm is no longer as profitable as another company, or is in trouble, they’ll sell their shares and go elsewhere.

Despite this attack on downsizing’s credibility and the loss of government revenue it has created, job insecurity has increased massively to the point where it is normal. Blair and Gordon Brown are as responsible for this as the Tories, as they accepted the neoliberal, Thatcherite dogma that the labour market had to be fluid and flexible. Which means that firms should find it easy to lay off staff and their should always be a supply of cheap workers waiting to be taken on.

Thatcherism has been a disaster. This clipping from a quarter of a century ago shows one of its central doctrines was recognised as such by the man who invented it even them. But it’s kept the rich richer, and the poor poorer, and so despite articles like this, it’s still being pushed.

And the result is a Britain of despair and poverty where working families, never mind the unemployed and disabled, are dying of starvation or forced to use food banks.