Archive for the ‘Medicine’ Category

Spice Girls Call on People to Support May in Brexit Negotiations

November 13, 2018

Here’s another story from the I, simply reporting a piece that was in another newspaper. Yesterday, the I was repeating a piece from the Sunday Times that David Miliband might come back to England to lead the new ‘centrist’ Blairite party that’s been debated for months now. Today, 13th November 2018, the I ran a piece about an article in the Scum, in which the Spice Girls called upon the people of Britain to support Tweezer in her Brexit negotiations with Brussels.

The article on page 7 of newspaper ran

The Spice Girls have called on Britons to back up Theresa May in her Brexit negotiations.

The band were known for their girl power message during the 1990s, but Emma Bunton, aka Baby Spice, told The Sun of a change in message more than 20 years on. She said, “It’s people power. We’re about equality and bringing everyone together.”

Bandmate Geri Horner also backed Mrs May, saying the Prime Minister did not have an “easy position”.

She said: “We don’t have to agree on politics, it’s bigger than that. You can just support a woman doing the best she can and that’s it.”

Er, no, you don’t have to support May. She might be doing the best she can, but she’s the head of a party that has single-handedly done its absolute and level best to reduce ordinary working people, the sick, the disabled and the unemployed to grinding poverty. While at the same time depriving them of employment rights, privatizing the health service and stripping back the welfare state to make benefits as difficult and as humiliating to obtain as possible. As a result, something like 14 million are in poverty, a quarter of a million at least are using food banks, and homelessness has shot up. And there is an ongoing genocide of the disabled which is largely ignored by the mass media. Her predecessor, David Cameron, by calling the referendum did more to split the UK than Sinn Fein and the Scots Nats, because everyone in Northern Ireland and Scotland wishes to remain in Europe. It’s only we English, who swallowed the xenophobic rubbish and outright lies of the Leave campaign.

And whatever Tweezer says, any deal she makes will not benefit the vast majority of this country’s people. Despite her party’s rhetoric, there have no interest in doing anything to improve conditions for the rest of us. Quite the opposite. The Tory party is the party of the rich and affluent, the aristocracy and the business classes. Thanks to austerity, their wealth has massively increased while Britain’s working people have become much poorer. Any deal May will want to make with Brussels will be intended to benefit them, not us.

The best thing in the circumstances will be for Tweezer’s negotiations to fail, an election called and the Tories kicked out and replaced with a proper, Labour government that can actually do the job of rebuilding our economy, welfare state, NHS and relationship with Europe.

As for the Spice Girls themselves, I don’t hate them, but I was never a fan. They always struck me as Conservatives, and a number of my friends didn’t think much of them, regarding them as a manufactured band. As for their slogan ‘Girl Power’, the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror film website, Moria, in its review of their film, Spice World, said it was meaningless. It was a kind of ‘post-feminist feminism’, and so was essentially as meaningless and empty as their music. The video for ‘Spice Up Your Life’, in which the girls fly through a dark, twilight city of towering skyscrapers, drenched in rain and given occasional illumination by a distant searchlight on high-tech surf boards seems so much based on Los Angeles of the SF film Blade Runner that I’m surprised Ridley Scott didn’t sue them for copyright. Blade Runner is one of the great classics of SF cinema, not least for its striking cityscape and Vangelis’ synthesizer score. It’s a downbeat, depressing movie, in sharp contrast to ‘Spice Up Your Life’, which is just a piece of inconsequential fun. But the movie had something deep to say about humanity and our assumptions of moral superiority over the biological machines we may create to serve us. Plus the fact that it had that awesome speech by Rutger Hauer as the Replicant leader, Roy Batty, to Harrison Ford’s Rik Deckard at the end: ‘Now you know what it’s like to be a slave. To live in fear. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, seen ships on fire off the shores of Orion…’ etc. Seeing the Spice Girls’ video of ‘Spice Up Your Life’ the other day on YouTube reminded of just how great a piece of cinematic art Blade Runner was.

As for ‘people power’ and the rhetoric about equality and bringing everyone together, that’s very rich coming from the Scum. The Scum’s the mouthpiece of the Tory party, which has done everything it can since it was founded by Murdoch to divide Britain, not least through its strident, persistent racism. It’s thanks to the Tory party and their imitators, New Labour, that there is now a yawning chasm between rich and poor, while the Tories have exacerbated and created further racial divisions by whipping up hatred and fear against immigrants and asylum seekers. Quite apart from the general hatred and fear the Tory press incites against the unemployed and disabled, whom they despise and denigrate as ‘scroungers’.

The Spice Girls are planning a comeback, and if people like their music, that’s fine. They gave people a lot of pleasure back in the 1990s. But this time, their message in the Scum is definitely best ignored.

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An Argument for a Mixed Economy Supporting Welfare Services from Martian SF

November 6, 2018

Yesterday I blogged about a passage in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Blue Mars, in which one of the future colonists of the Red Planet at a constitutional congress advocates the transformation of businesses into worker owned co-operatives against a supporter of free enterprise capitalism. The Martians have also been supplementing standard capitalist economics with a gift economy similar to that used by some indigenous cultures today. One of the other delegates at the congress objects to part of the character’s proposals on the grounds that they would be moving away from this part of their economy as well. Vlad Taneev, the character advocating the co-operatives, responds thus.

Vlad shook his head impatiently. ‘I believe in the underground economy, I assure you, but it has always been a mixed economy. Pure gift exchange co-existed with a monetary exchange, in which neoclassical market rationality, that is to say the profit mechanism, was bracketed and contained by society to direct it to serve higher values, such as justice and freedom. Economic rationality is simply not the highest value. It is a tool to calculate costs and benefits, only one part of large equation concerning human welfare. The larger equation is called a mixed economy, and that is what we are constructing here. We are proposing a complex system, with public and private spheres of economic activity. It may be that we ask people to give, throughout their lives, about a year of their work to the public good, as in Switzerland’s national service. That labour pool, plus taxes on private co-ops for use of the land and its resources, will enable us to guarantee the so-called social rights we have been discussing – housing, health care, food, education – things that should not be at the mercy of market rationality. Because la salute no si paga, as the Italian workers used to say. Health is not for sale!’ (p. 149).

To the objection that this will leave nothing to the market, Vlad replies

‘No no no,’ Vlad said, waving at Antar more irritably than ever. ‘The market will always exist. It is the mechanism by which things and services are exchanged. Competition to provide the best product at the best price, this is inevitable and healthy. But on Mars it will be directed by society in a more active way. There will be not-for-profit status to vital life support matters, and then the freest part of the market will be directed away from the basics of existence towards non-essentials, where venture enterprises can be undertaken by worker-owned co-ops, who will be free to try what they like. When the basics are secured and when the workers own their own businesses, why not? It is the process of creation we are talking about.’ (pp. 149-50).

A few paragraphs later the character also urges the creation of strong environmental courts, perhaps as part of the constitutional court, which would estimate the costs to the environment of economic activities, and help to co-ordinate plans impacting the environment. This is based on a clause in the Dorsa Brevia document, the initial constitutional agreement on which the Martians draw in their attempts to formulate a full constitution. This clause states that the land, air and water of Mars belong to no-one, and they are merely its stewards for later generations. (p. 150).

As I said in my previous piece about the fictional economics of this future Mars, it’s refreshing to see an SF writer proposing a form of socialist economics, when so many other SF writers advocated those of libertarian capitalism, like Robert A. Heinlein.

Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t promised complete industrial democracy, but he does intend to give a measure of it to workers in firms with over a certain number of employees, as well as restoring union and other workers’ rights.

As for combining competition with socialism, the 19th century socialist, Louis Blanc, who believed that the state should combat unemployment by setting up state-funded worker’s co-ops, which would then use their profits to buy up the rest of industry, said that it was like combining eunuchs with hermaphrodites. But as it is set out here, it could work.

And we definitely need for housing and health care to be taken out of free market economics. The sale of council houses to private landlords and management corporations, and the Tories’ ban on any more being built, has contributed immensely to the homelessness crisis now afflicting Britain. For all that the building companies are supposed to build a certain number of ‘affordable housing’, in very many cases the majority of homes built are for the top end of the market with only the minimum number of homes for people on modest incomes being built.

And the privatization of the health service has created a massive crisis in healthcare in this country. And it is done with the deliberate, but very carefully unstated intention of forcing people to take out private healthcare insurance as part of the process towards full privatization.

It’s time this was halted, utterly and forever. And only Corbyn can be trusted to do this, as New Labour were as keen on the idea as the Tories.

And the Italian workers’ slogan is excellent: La salute non si paga – ‘Health is not for sale’. This should be our slogan too, printed on leaflets, on placards and T-Shirts and made very clear, every time we protest against the Tories and their privatization of modern Britain’s greatest achievement.

RT Video of Interfaith March for Religious Peace

November 6, 2018

This is another short video from RT UK, of an interfaith march held on Sunday to promote peace between the different religions in the UK. Most of the marchers appear to be Muslims. The women wear the chador, and the marchers hold banners with Islamic slogans written in Latin and Arabic script. Some of these are addressed to Ali, Mohammed’s son-in-law, who is the fourth caliph for Sunni Muslims and revered by Shi’a as the first imam. There are also placards from Muslims Against Terrorism, and others proclaiming ‘They shall not divide us’ and ‘Love will win, Terror will lose’. They also have prayer mats, and some are shown praying.

At the beginning of the video, one young man says

What we’ve seen a lot of now is the voices of hate, the voices of extremism, whether that be from the right wing, from people who call themselves certain religious groups, and try to bring themselves up within the media. They’re getting a larger voice than they should, perhaps. What we want to do is trying to say is the majority of people do not believe in this. The majority of people have not got this kind of belief in their mind, of hatred between each other and causing friction.

He’s followed by a rabbi, surrounded by a group of clergy from the different faiths, including Christians and Muslims. The rabbi says

Today we are standing here, looking at the background of grassroots Muslims expressing a clear message of peace and harmony with all segments of the community. This is very important to dispel the myth about all Muslims being negative towards society. Here they are announcing, and they are declaring that the way forward that they desire is peace and harmony.

Amen to that. The bigots and fanatics are getting too much attention. And unfortunately the media recently has allowed a platform to Tommy Robinson and those like him, which are threatening to normalize Islamophobia. Muslims across the world have denounced terrorism. A year or so ago, India’s biggest Muslim organization issued their declaration against terrorism. But the Islamophobes continue to ask, completely spuriously, why Muslims haven’t denounced terrorism.

I have a feeling that the invocations to Ali probably mean that the marchers, or at least those shown, were Shi’a, which is the majority religion of Iran. The march is therefore extremely timely, as Trump seems to be whipping up war fever in America ready to invade them. As if too many countries already haven’t been turned into a bloodbath thanks to western military actions and invasions. Iran is an oppressive theocracy, which viciously persecutes political dissidents, trade unionists and those of its people who convert to Christianity. However, change, if it comes, has to come from the Iranian people themselves. Western action will only allow the mullahs there to claim that the various opposition movements are simply tools of the west to subvert the country and reimpose western domination.

And if Trump invades, it won’t be to liberate the country. He’ll simply be following the Neocon agenda of invading middle eastern and Islamic states, that have blocked American and Israeli interests. Like Iraq and Libya. They’d also like to invade Syria and Somalia as well. Well, the Iraq invasion left behind a bitterly divided society, in which the mercenaries the Americans used alongside regular troops ran riot, organized prostitution rings and shot ordinary Iraqis simply for the hell of it, while the American military authorities ran death squads. The country’s oil fields and industry was seized for the benefit of western multinationals, as were major state enterprises. As with Libya, a relatively secular society in which women were safe to enjoy careers outside the home, and whose citizens had the benefit of free healthcare and education was destroyed. The economy and infrastructure was wrecked, and at least in the case of Iraq, the removal of all the trade tariffs protecting the country’s own businesses were torn down, so that everyone dumped their goods on them. The native businesses were driven into bankruptcy, and unemployment shot up to something like 60 per cent.

And this will happen again in Iran if Trump launches yet another invasion.

It’s time to stop this warmongering and aggression. Jeremy Corbyn’s right: there should be no more interventionist wars. Everyone needs to unite about this, whether they are religious or not. We did before, when two million of us in this country marched against Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq.

Corbyn Criticizes the Tory Budget

October 30, 2018

The main news story today is Philip Hammond’s budget. Details of it were released a few days, and it’s been discussed ever since. In it, Hammond, dubbed by some ‘Phil the Bleak’, is trying to convince the voting public that austerity is coming to an end, and more money is going to be pumped into welfare services like mental health and the NHS, and town centre shopping in the high street will be revitalized as business rates for the shops in those areas will be dropped.

It’s strange how all these promises were suddenly made just when the Tory party is seriously challenged by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, and is being widely attacked for its colossal ineptitude and massive divisions over Brexit, and the immense hardship it is causing with Universal Credit. I don’t doubt that the Tory press will hail – or in the case of the Daily Mail, heil, the budget as a genuine boost to the economy, which should be enthusiastically embraced by all right-thinking Brits. Just like I can remember the Sun’s headline screaming the benefits of Norman Lamont’s budget back in the late ’80s or first years of the ’90s: ‘The Lager of Lamont’. Which pretty much shows the level the Scum is aimed at – drunken yobs. And for ordinary people, you have to be drunk to think there’s any substance or real benefit in the budget.

Mike’s extensively critiqued it on his blog over the past few days. Yesterday he put up a piece showing that it was all a tissue of lies. Despite his claim that austerity is over, public sector pay is not going to rise, nor are benefits, the bedroom tax ain’t going to be repealed and there aren’t going to be 20,000 more police on our streets.

Furthermore, the tax cuts he’s promising will only really benefit the rich. As Mike points out, this is another swindle to decrease the amount the state takes in tax, which is then redistributed as benefits to the poor, or spent on public services.

But the Tories are still going to introduce 7 billion pounds’ worth of cuts. Hammond also said that

Brexit would not affect spending plans because he had assumed an “average-type free trade deal” between the UK and EU after Brexit, and had £4.2 billion in reserve in the case of a no-deal scenario.

Mike ends his piece by stating that this is also a piece of deception, saying

But you can bet that this will not be enough to deal with the consequences of a Tory Brexit. They want harmful effects because they will then be able to justify harsh cuts to your rights and living standards.

About the only welcome announcement in the whole sorry mess was the decision to stop using hugely-wasteful Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes.

One of Mike’s many excellent commenters, Barry Davies, points out that the PF1 and PF2 deals would simply become PPP, so there’s really no change there.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/10/29/its-phil-the-bleaks-fantasy-budget-would-you-buy-anything-hes-offering-before-brexit/

Actually, I think all Hammond’s promises are worthless for the same reason Mike does: their provisional. They only have force until Brexit occurs in March, when I full expect Hammond to announce that the terrible deal forced upon Britain by the European Union will mean that they’ll have to reverse their policies and start cutting benefits, public services and again reverse their spending on the NHS.

It’s all lies, from a government of liars, who lie and lie again without qualm of conscience.

Jeremy Corbyn has already responded. This little video from RT UK, posted yesterday shows him denouncing it as ‘a broken budget’. He says

The Prime Minister says austerity is over. This, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is a broken promise budget. What we’ve heard today are half measures and quick fixes while austerity grinds on and far from people’s hard work and sacrifices having paid off as the Chancellor claims, this government has frittered it away in ideological tax cuts to the richest in our society. This budget won’t undo the damage done by 8 years of austerity and doesn’t begin to measure up to the scale of the job that needs to be done to rebuild Britain. The government claims austerity has worked, so now they can end it, but that is absolutely the opposite of the truth, austerity needs to end because it has failed.

Corbyn’s right: austerity has failed. It’s failed working people, the poor, the disabled, the long-term sick, and the unemployed. But it’s done wonders for the rich, who’ve benefited massively from the Tories’ tax cuts, and privatization of public services, including the NHS. And, of course, the provision of cheap labour through the welfare to work industry, pay freezes and the removal of workers’ rights. Reforms all intended to make workers easy to hire and discard, and create a cowed workforce in constant fear of the sack and starvation, which will accept any work, no matter how precarious or poorly paid.

And as you can see from the video, when Corbyn laid into the budget, he was greeted with the usual Tory sneers and laughter, especially from Hammond and the Maybot, who jerked and spasmed as if she was suffering a short-circuit. Well, the Tories always find working class poverty a great laugh. You just have to remember how Cameron and IDS had a right good guffaw in parliament when one woman’s suffering due to the benefit cuts was read out.

Well, let’s cut their cackling short, and vote them out at the earliest opportunity.

Private Eye on ‘Big Brother’ Surveillance Software

October 27, 2018

Private Eye has also published a couple of articles on the use of surveillance software to scan the internet compiling information for use by private corporations, medical authorities and the government. These present a serious threat to privacy, democracy and human freedom.

In their edition for 5th – 18th October 2018, the magazine carried the following story about how the Canadian government was using such software to collect information on cannabis users and those sympathetic to dope use. It ran

Someone, somewhere is always listening to you online. In Canada, that someone is set to be the government.

A recently published tender is seeking a technology partner to “examine Canadian social media sentiment toward Canabis legalization, with emphasis on public safety issues, such as driving after using cannabis”. In practice, this means that technology such as software and machine learning will beused to analyse social media posts to determine who thinks what about weed,, “the frequency with which the identified attitudes and behaviours are reported and the co-occurrence of different attitudes and behaviours.” And, “where able, the contractor must also explore the demographic (and other available) correlates of the attitudes and behaviours identified in the analyses.”

The Canadian government won’t say whether the data collected, and the social media profiles of those tracked, will be shared with law enforcers, but it’s fair to assume this is exactly what will happen in the future. (p. 16).

And in their issue for the previous fortnight, 21st September to 4th October 2018, they carried this story about how MIT had developed surveillance software to help medical professionals discover who, online, may suffer depression.

Researcher at MIT have been working on software that can be used to predict the likelihood that a person has, or is likely to suffer from, depression, based on machine analysis of answers to a battery of questions. The software was said to be 77 percent accurate in its predictions.

This has obvious practical applications in healthcare. As the paper notes, “To treat depressed individuals, they must first be diagnosed. To obtain a diagnosis, depressed individuals must actively reach out to mental health professionals. In reality, it can be difficult for the depressed to attain professional attention due to constraints of mobility, cost, and motivation. Passive automated monitoring of human communication may address these constraints and provide better screening for depression.”

As the tech website thenextweb.com observed, “passive automated monitoring of human communication” means, er, eavesdropping – meaning that a likely outcome of this software is a machine listening to your phone calls or reading your emails and using that data to decide whether or not you’re likely to be depressed, without you knowing it’s happening or possibly even knowing why, say, your insurance premiums have gone up or you didn’t get that promotion.

I’ve no problems with developing techniques to better diagnose depression and its treatment. But as the article says, this allows insurance companies and employers to snoop on people without their awareness or consent, and which may have serious harmful consequences for themselves or their careers.

It’s the stuff that Privacy International have been warning about since the mid-90s. And they also warn of the dangers of function creep. Once one part of the government starts using such techniques, others join in and the scope of the surveillance expands.

RT: Corbyn Challenges Government Claim Austerity’s Over as ‘Great Big Con’

October 12, 2018

Tweezer at the Tory conference last week announced that austerity is over. However, as Mike reported over at Vox Political, this doesn’t mean that the government is going to reverse their policy of cutting benefits and services. From from it. Further cuts are on their way.

In this video from RT of Prime Minister’s Question Time, Jeremy Corbyn asks if Tweezer’s announcement isn’t ‘one great big con’.

He says

Eight years of painful austerity, poverty is up, homelessness and deaths on our streets is up, living standards down, public services slashed and a million elderly are not getting the care they need, wages have been eroded, and all the while, Mr. Speaker, all the while billions were found for tax giveaways for big corporations and the super rich. The Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister declared she is ending austerity but unless the budged halts the cuts, increases funding to public services, gives our public servants a decent pay rise then isn’t the claim that austerity’s over a great big Conservative con?

He’s absolutely right. And as Mike has also pointed out, we’ve heard these lies before. They were said a few years ago, when the Tories were also in trouble. It’s just another version of the tactic every Tory government makes when an election’s coming: they immediate claim they’re going to cut taxes, or do something else to make it seem that ordinary people will be less poor. Then, once they’ve been re-elected, all this is reversed and its back to taxing and cutting services for ordinary working people for the benefit of the rich.

As for austerity, when it comes to this government the word is a misnomer. Austerity is what our parents and grandparents went through in order to pay for the NHS. It meant rationing continued long after the end of the War, but it was ultimately worth it. The NHS has proved its worth millions of times over in the countless lives it has saved, as well as the ordinary process of saving limbs and organs and preventing and curing ordinary disease. And everybody has benefited from it.

This austerity, however, was brought about because the banks over the other side of the Atlantic crashed due to colossal mismanagement. Brown bailed them out in order to stop a global collapse of finance capitalism. All this was partly due not only to the banks themselves, but to the insistence of consequetive neoliberal governments from Reagan onwards, including Bill Clinton’s, that the banks should be regulated with a ‘light touch’. That meant repealing the legislation protecting the country and its investors from the antics that caused the crash. And Brown was fully behind the same policy over here, which resulted in the failure of the Bank of Scotland.

The austerity Cameron embarked upon is unnecessary, as Barry and Savile Kushner have shown in ther book, Who Needs the Cuts. If you invest in the economy so that it expands, tax receipts will increase as well. But the establishment in industry, politics and the media all heartily support cutting benefits and the welfare state. Those that dare to challenge this consensus, like poverty campaigners and trade unions, are ignored. If they appear on radio or TV, they will be shouted down.

And despite Cameron’s lie that ‘We’re all in it together’, it’s the poor that are most affected. People are being pushed further into poverty, spiralling debt and starvation. Nearly half a million people are now only able to keep body and soul together thanks to food banks. The Tories are going ahead with their privatisation of the NHS.

And while the poor are being forced further into misery and despair, Cameron, Tweezer and the rest are making the rich even richer through massive tax cuts.

Austerity is indeed a massive lie, and it’s high time the Tories – the party of liars – suffered for it at the polling station.

Branson’s Spaceplane and Kubrick’s 2001: The Legacy of a Vision

October 11, 2018

Today’s I also carried a picture of Richard Branson hanging out of the portholes of one his spaceplanes, waving a model of the craft he claims will shortly take paying passengers for a trip into space.

This follows his announcement yesterday that, after over a decade of delays, one of his spacecraft will launch sometime in the next few weeks. And then, a few months after that, Branson himself would take a journey into the High Frontier. There’s supposed to be a race on between Branson, Bezos and Musk over which will be the first private company to send people into space.

I’ve got my doubts that it will be Branson. He’s been telling the world that his Virgin Galactic spacecraft will be taking people up there in a year’s time since the late ’90s. For a moment, it did look as though he might actually do it, until one of the spaceships crashed due to a design fault, killing one of the co-pilots. Moreover, investors and those worried about the state of the NHS should look very carefully at what else is going on in Branson’s empire when he makes these announcements. There was a story in Private Eye a few months ago about how Branson uses them to direct attention away from other projects, which might be controversial. He was quoted as saying that he made one announcement, that his planes were ready to fly, to distract people from the fact that his private healthcare division, Virgin Health, had just one a whole slew of NHS contracts and was ready to open several clinics around the country.

And several times in the past Virgin has had problems with its finances to the tune of hundreds of millions or so. Private Eye was threatened several times with a libel action from Branson, claiming it was all false. The Eye later ran a story about this, quoting Branson himself as saying that he tried to silence the satirical paper because it was true, but he didn’t want the public, investors or the banks knowing because it would stop him getting more money from the banks.

Now that he’s declaring that they’re nearly all set and raring to go, we’re entitled to ask whether this is really the case, or is it just another distraction from him eating up more of our precious NHS, or the possible collapse of one of his other companies.

As for the spacecraft itself, I was struck by the similarity between it and the Orion spaceplane of Kubrick’s SF masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As you can see from the cover for the DVD version of Kubrick’s epic, the two look very similar.

And I’m not surprised, as this shows the very thorough research Kubrick did to get the look of the space vehicles just right. Clarke’s a Hard SF writer, which means that his fictions are based in scientific fact, although often with more than a little extrapolation and fantasy. There are, after all, no real black alien monoliths in the solar system, which form stargates to alien realities. Kubrick also wanted to make the greatest SF movie ever, and so he turned from relying on artists to real space scientists and engineers to design the spacecraft.

Which is why the spacecraft in 2001 – the spaceplane, orbital space station, Moon shuttle and the Discovery spacecraft itself – look utterly convincing as well as cool. The film was shot in Britain, and as well as using experts from NASA and American aerospace companies, he also used British firms, especially for the one-person space pods.

I think if Branson really wanted to get into space, he would have been better off ringing Kubrick up for a few hints about spacecraft design. He’d also have been in the enviable position of being in charge of the first company whose promotional film would have won and academy award.

Branson may be set to go into space, but Kubrick and Clarke got their first. And it was awesome.

And here’s a video from YouTube showing a bit of the spaceplane from 2001.

William Blum on the Anti-Semitism Smears and American Policy Towards Israel

October 10, 2018

William Blum, a veteran critic of US and western imperialism, has some very acute comments about the use of anti-Semitism smears to defend Israeli interests in the latest issue of his Anti-Empire Report. He makes the point that the attitude on the Right is that you can be as anti-Semitic as you please, so long as you support Israel. Thus Republican administrations and politicians have included prominent anti-Semites and met with real Nazis and anti-Semites abroad, without being criticized for it themselves.

He writes

Oh my god, I’ve been called an anti-Semite!

British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and many others in the UK and the US are attacked for being anti-Semitic if they criticize Israel. But John McCain had very friendly meetings, and posed for photos, with prominent neo-Nazis in Ukraine and the Middle East – without being accused of being anti-Semitic. People involved in political activity on the left have to learn to ignore charges of anti-Semitism stemming from their criticism of Israel. These accusations are just thrown out as a tactic to gain political advantage – like with “anti-American” and “conspiracy theorist” – and do not deserve to be taken seriously. Whenever possible, such name-calling should be made fun of.

There’s an unwritten rule in right wing circles: It’s okay to be anti-Semitic as long as you’re pro-Israel. Evangelical preacher Pat Robertson is such an example.

While in the past an “anti-Semite” was someone who hates Jews, nowadays it is the other way around: An anti-Semite is someone the Jews hate.

“God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America’s Middle Eastern policy and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist.” – John LeCarré

George Bush, Sr.’s Secretary of State, James Baker, famously said to a colleague: “Fuck the Jews! They don’t vote for us anyway”. 8

Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser under Jimmy Carter: “An anti-Israel bias is not the same as anti-Semitism. To argue as much is to claim an altogether unique immunity for Israel, untouchable by the kind of criticism that is normally directed at the conduct of states.”

It’s all true, as we’ve seen very much in the abuse handed out to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, including Jews, by the Israel lobby here in Britain.

Other topics covered in Blum’s Report include his correspondence with a Washington Post journo correcting his assertion that America has always tried to improve relations with Moscow; the colossal lack of evidence behind the claims that the Russians interfered with the American elections; how the current immigration crisis is the direct result of NATO’s bombing of Libya to oust Colonel Gaddafy, and how Donald Trump is wrong to believe that getting the other members states of NATO to pay more is not necessarily a good thing from their point of view.

Regarding the bombing of Israel and the resulting rise in migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to the West, Blum quotes the Libyan dictator himself, who predicted that this would be the result.

“Now listen you people of Nato. You’re bombing a wall, which stood in the way of African migration to Europe and in the way of al Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You’re breaking it. You’re idiots, and you will burn in Hell for thousands of migrants from Africa.”

He points out the benefits Gaddafy had brought Libya, like free education, healthcare and other benefits that other African countries did not possess, and the real reason he was toppled: he refused to be American’s obedient fief. As a result the country was bombed almost daily for six months. Blum claims that Hillary was the leading advocate of attacking Libya, but I’ve seen others claim that it was really Blair and Sarkozy. Regardless of whoever pushed for it, the reality is that Libya’s secular welfare state has vanished and the country is in the hands of Islamists. And the weapons amassed by Gaddafy’s regime are now dispersed across North Africa amongst some very unpleasant Islamist groups.

For more information, see: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/160

Radio 4 Programme on the Problems of Private Operations on the NHS

October 2, 2018

Next week, Radio 4’s File on 4 is examining the problems of private medical treatment on the NHS. Entitled ‘Paying the Price: Private Hospitals’, the blurb for it in this week’s Radio Times, for 6-12 October 2018, runs

Being referred for private treatment on the NHS may sound appealing, but is private medicine as good as the NHS? And if things go wrong, how willing is the private sector to admit mistakes? The programme hears from families whose loved ones died following NHS-funded surgery in a private hospital. (p. 133).

The programme is on Tuesday, 9 October 2018 at 8.00 pm.

Actually, the impression I had is that private medicine isn’t any better than the NHS. The doctors and surgeons tend to be the same NHS staff supplementing their incomes with private practice. And when things go wrong, it’s left for the NHS to pick up the pieces and correct their mistakes. I know a couple of people, who spent thousands to have surgery done privately, only for it to go wrong, and have had to go back to the NHS to have it corrected. Which is a drain on the Health Service’s own resources. It’s also deeply unpleasant for the patient to continue suffering after wasting their money on private medicine.

Get the private sector out of the NHS. And when private medical treatment funded by the NHS does go wrong, the NHS should be allowed to reclaim the money from the private healthcare providers and charge them, not the patient, for the corrective surgery.

PressTV Report on Joan Ryan Losing Vote of ‘No Confidence’

September 29, 2018

Joan Ryan is one of the chairs of Labour Friends of Israel, and a week or so ago lost a vote of ‘No Confidence’ brought by her constituency party because of her continual undermining of her party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and attacks and smears on other Labour activists and members.

Such as her utterly baseless and malicious complaint to the party that Jean Fitzpatrick was an anti-Semite. This was simply because Fitzpatrick had come to her stall at the Labour Party Conference last year, and asked her a question Ryan couldn’t answer. She asked her what Labour Friends of Israel were doing to achieve the two-state solution, and how would this be possible with the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. She also said that she believed the LFI had money and influence, because a friend’s son had got a good job at Oxford Union on the basis of having worked for them.

Ryan, of course, couldn’t give a straight answer, was deeply embarrassed, and then decided that instead of talking about Oxford University, Fitzpatrick had claimed that her friend’s son had got a job in the City of London. Which was anti-Semitic, because anti-Semites believe the Jews dominate banking.

It was all rubbish, and even Ryan and her cohorts at the stall didn’t know whether it was really anti-Semitic. But they decided that as it had made them feel uncomfortable – the delicate snowflakes – then it must be.

After she lost the motion, Ryan reacted with her customary grace and conciliatory attitude. Well, no: she ranted about how it was all down to Trotskyites, Communists, Stalinists and the hard left. And the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn responsible for bringing her down were obviously anti-Semitic, ’cause PressTV was in there filming the proceedings.

PressTV is the Iranian state news agency. The Iranian theocracy is a deeply reactionary, oppressive regime. It has reduced its country’s working people to grinding poverty, denied them union rights and in the camps for the oil workers in Khuzestan reduced them to slave workers, like those in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Women are denied many of the basic rights they enjoy in the West. Gays are given the choice between execution and undergoing sex-change surgery. And the regime is extremely hostile to Israel, and expresses this in deeply unpleasant, genocidal rhetoric. However, Iran’s remaining domestic Jewish population, like the Zoroastrians, are actually treated well.

Below is the PressTV video on the vote by Roshan Muhammed Salih. And unless I’ve missed something, it’s actually reasonably impartial and well balanced. It begins by describing the vote as another incident in the battle for the soul of the Labour party, and states quite rightly that it was brought by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn against her.

It quotes Ryan as saying ‘I love Enfield and the people who live there. There is nowhere else I’d rather live and work’. It also says that she is chair of Labour Friends of Israel, and that before the vote was taken there were speeches both for and against.

Salih stated that one of the speakers on behalf of the motion was a local Jewish woman, who said that all the media had been attacking Corbyn, and she didn’t think it had anything to do with anti-Semitism. She added that Corbyn is critical of Israel oppressing the Palestinians, and that was what Benjamin Netanyahu is scared of: that if a Labour government comes to power, this might force peace on Israel. He goes on to say that another pro-Corbyn speaker spoke against Ryan personally. He asked what had really been sowing division in the party, and concluded that it was Joan Ryan.

He reports that Ryan herself spoke in her own defence, trying to rally support by declaring that Nelson Mandela was a strong influence on her when she was growing up, and quoted him as saying that it was possible to change the world with your own hands. However, this didn’t save her, and there were cheers when the results started coming in. He notes that this meant much to pro-Corbyn members. Her future now hangs in the balance, although she says she won’t resign. The video homes in on her tweet stating that she is ‘Labour through and through’ and stands for ‘Labour values’. He ends by saying that the battle for Labour’s heart is far from over.

In this snippet at least, there’s no loud denunciations of Jews, no anti-Semitism. It quotes the Jewish lady stating that the anti-Semitism accusations against Corbyn are all about Israel and not about anti-Semitism. Which is correct, though a view which is angrily denied and shouted down, again with cries of ‘anti-Semitism!’ from the Israel lobby. But that shows the Israel lobby’s vicious prejudices and biases, not those of the people they accuse.

So while the Iranian regime is deeply unpleasant and hostile to Israel, their coverage of the ‘No Confidence’ vote looks very much like proper, impartial journalism. It’s the kind of journalism that is conspicuous lacking in the lamestream media, and which we could do with more of. Despite the howls of outrage and anger by Ryan and those like her.