Archive for the ‘Mental Illness’ Category

Lem’s Robots and Marvin the Paranoid Android

February 15, 2017

lem-pic

Polish SF Maestro Stanislaw Lem

Remember Marvin, the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? He was the manically depressed robot with a brain the size of a planet, who also suffered from a terrible pain in the diodes all down his left side. I was reminded of him yesterday when reading one of the short stories in Stanislaw Lem’s Mortal Engines (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2016.

Lem’s a highbrow Polish SF writer, who uses his fiction to explore deep philosophical issues, sometimes stretching and challenging the conventions of the short story form itself. One of his volumes, A Perfect Vacuum, consists of reviews of non-existent books. Another one is blurbs, also for books that don’t exist. As you can see from this, he was strongly influenced by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, after whom he’s been hailed as the ‘Borges of Science Fiction’. But he could also write straightforward stories, some of which could be hilariously funny.

Two of his works are collected short stories about robots, The Cyberiad and Mortal Engines. The stories in the Cyberiad, and several in Mortal Engines, are literally technological fairytales, in which electroknights sally forth to battle robotic dragons. Or mad robotic inventors compete with each other to create the most impressive machines, machines which usually go disastrously wrong. One of the stories in Mortal Engines, ‘The Sanatorium of Dr Vliperdius’, is about a journalist who goes to visit a mental hospital for robots. At the end of his visit, just as he is going out, the journo encounters yet another troubled cybernetic soul.

On my way back with the young assistant I met in the corridor a patient who was pulling behind him a heavily laden cart. This individual presented a singular sight, in that he was tied all around with bits of string.

‘You don’t by any chance have a hammer?’ he asked.
‘No’.
‘A shame. My head hurts.’

I engaged him in conversation. He was a robot-hypochondriac. On his squeaking cart he carried a complete set of spare parts. After ten minutes I learned that he got shooting pains in the back during storms, pins and needles all over while watching television, and spots before his eyes when anyone stroked a cat nearby. It grew monotonous, so I left him quickly and headed for the director’s office. (P. 131).

There’s a serious philosophical issue here, apart from Lem’s literary exploration of the kind of delusions mentally ill robots could suffer from, such as the robot earlier in the story, who believes that he’s really organic, but that somebody has stolen his human body and replaced it with the machine he inhabits. If humanity ever creates genuinely sentient machines, which are able to think and reason like humans – and that’s a big ‘if’, despite the assertions of some robotics engineers – then presumably there will come a point when these machines suffer psychological problems, just as humans do.

Mortal Engines was first published in America by Seabury Press in 1977, roughly at the same time Hitch-Hiker came out on radio over here. Hitch-Hiker is full of references to philosophical problems, such as the debate about the existence of God, so clearly both he and Lem saw the same potential for using robots to explore spiritual malaise, and the psychological implication of genuine Artificial Intelligence.

The US Intelligence Agencies’ Plans for Mind-Control Implants for the Public

January 28, 2017

Magonia was a small, sceptical UFO magazine running from about the 1970s to the first years of the present century. It took the psychosocial view of UFOs- that they were, in the phrase of Carl G. Jung, ‘a modern myth of things scene in the sky’. They were misperceived objects, and the reported encounters with aliens were internal events produced by poorly understood psychological processes whose imagery was taken from the culture around them. It followed John Keel and Jacques Vallee in considering that in previous ages, the mechanism responsible for producing UFO sightings had used the imagery of gods and faeries. Now that society has become industrial and technological, and the supernatural at least ostensibly given way to scientific rationalism, the beings reported by those experiencing these sightings are spacecraft and aliens as the new, psychological symbol for the cosmic Other.

It has published some of the most interesting and intelligent articles on UFOs, and other visionary experiences in contemporary urban culture. Like many small mags, it’s been overtaken by the internet and is no longer published in hardcopy. There is, however, a Magonia blog, reviewing books on the weird and paranormal at http://pelicanist.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/the-nature-of-catastrophe.html. Also on-line are archives of the magazine and its predecessor, MUFOB, as well as notices of forthcoming books on the subjects it covers.

magonia-58-cover

Way back in issue 58 in January 1997, it published an article by Mark Pilkington, ‘What’s On Your Mind’, examining the belief reported by many schizophrenics that their minds are being controlled through tiny electronic implants. Similar delusions that others are controlling their minds and their thoughts through machinery have afflicted the mentally ill down the centuries. I have a feeling that there was a book reviewed by the Fortean Times about a decade or so ago about the first such recorded case. This was in the late 18th or early 19th century. The sufferers in this instance was a gentleman, who believed his mind was being controlled by a group of Jacobins determined to overthrow the government, using a machine he called ‘the air loom’.

Unfortunately, such devices have for many decades most certainly not been merely the fantasies of the psychologically ill, or of writers of spy and science fiction. Mark Pilkington’s article also briefly traced the notorious experiments carried out by the American intelligence agencies into mind control from the early 1950s under a series of covert projects such as Artichoke, Bluebird, Pandora, Mkdelta, Mksearch and Mkultra. The projects researched a variety of different methods, including drugs, hypnosis and electro-shock treatment in a variety of grossly unethical experiments. And one the avenues they explored was electronic manipulation of the brain. This resulted in the creation of the ‘stimoceiver’, a type of electrode which could be inserted into the brain to control or modify a creatures’ behaviour. Its inventor, Jose Delgado supposedly demonstrated the effectiveness of his invention by using it to stop a charging bull. Research into the electronic control of the brain was taken still further by Bryan Robinson, of the Yerkes Primate Research Laboratory, and Dr Robert Heath.

Mark Pilkington writes:

Dr Robert Heath, a neurosurgeon at Tulane University, claimed a world record after implanting 125 electrodes into a subject’s body and brain, and subsequently spent hours stimulating the man’s pleasure centres. Both scientists concluded that ESB [Electronic Stimulation of the Brain] could control memory, impulses, feelings, invoke hallucinations, fear and pleasure. Heath, and many of his colleagues, considered ESB a potential ‘cure’ for homosexuals and other ‘socially troublesome persons’; this could, of course, be you…Joseph A. Meyer, of the National Security Agency, America’s most secretive defence group, has proposed implanting electronic tags into all those arrested, for any crime, in order to monitor their behaviour at all times. He uses New York’s Harlem district as the model in his proposal. (p.4).

He then goes to discuss further refinements of the technology, and the possibility that the whole abduction phenomenon, or at least part of it, was a screen for the military testing of such technology for their possible use in warfare.

I’ve no doubt that the vast majority of the poor souls, who believe their minds are being controlled by electronic implants, whether put there by the terrestrial intelligence agencies, aliens or whoever, are simply mentally ill. Just as I similarly don’t believe that anyone has ever been physically abducted and taken aboard an alien spacecraft to be examined and abused.

But the technology to control people’s minds and brains artificially certainly does exist, and its use was promoted by senior members of the intelligence community, whose views represent a very clear and present danger to the personal freedom of just about everyone. Starting, of course, with the fringe and marginalised – like criminals, Blacks and gays, before getting to anyone else they consider socially deviant and needing necessary mental correction.

Unfortunately, the threat posed by this kind of technology is taken seriously largely by extreme right-wing paranoiacs like the infamous conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, on Infowars, with his bizarre fantasies about demonic entities, alien invasions and the coming one world superstate. And Jones is a Libertarian, who has given his vocal support to Donald Trump, who represents the very same, predatory, exploitative corporate elite Americans and the world’s citizens need protection from.

Which goes to bear out the old phrase: ‘Even paranoiacs have enemies. They just don’t know who they are.’

It also shows that organisations like the CIA and the NSA are also actively threats to human rights and personal freedoms, quite apart from the Agency’s role in overthrowing democratic regimes and installing subservient Fascist regimes across the world since the end of the Second World War.

Chief of Charity Mind to Head Government Mental Health Review with Chief of HBOS

January 14, 2017

Mike has also posted up today another story, reporting that Paul Farmer, the head of the mental health charity, MIND, has caused further anger among mental health workers and activists by agreeing to head a government review of mental health in the workplace. This review would also be headed by Lord Dennis Stevenson, the head of the banking conglomerate HBOS. May has stated that this is part of her government’s decision to looking into the ‘burning injustice’ of mental health. Among the issues it will examine is that of discrimination for jobs.

Farmer upset mental health activists at the end of October, when he claimed that his charity had no contracts with the government. A disgruntled employee then leaked documents showing that despite his denial that it would ever do so, the charity was in fact joining a government framework which would allow it to later obtain them.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/14/fresh-anger-over-minds-government-links-as-farmer-heads-new-review/

This, sadly, won’t come as a surprise to many left-wing bloggers. Johnny Void in particular has covered case after nauseating case where the very charities, who should be protecting the poor, the sick, the homeless and the vulnerable, have instead decided to throw in their lot with the government and become part of the nexus of private firms and non-profit organisations now doing the job of state welfare agencies. And in the cases Mr Void has examined, one after another of the heads of these charities also decide that the punitive legislation inflicted on those unable to work is badly needed to encourage them to get back on their feet. The most notorious of these are the private firms and initiatives seeking to profit from exploiting the unemployed under the workfare schemes. This is also pointed out by Florence, in her comment to Mike’s article above.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical here, but I predict that the review will conclude, following the pseudoscientific bilge spouted by the welfare to work industry, that work is good for those with mental health problems. They will then argue that existing legislation needs to be relaxed, and those with depression, anxiety and other disorders need to get off their rear ends and be forced into work through the workfare schemes.

I can even remember the head of one of these charities running an advert promoting this line. This showed a drawing of a young woman in bed, and the quotes ‘I didn’t get up for work today. I don’t think I’ll get up for work tomorrow’. This was supposed to be an example of the negative attitude that prevents people with mental illness getting jobs, which the charity was determined to combat.

I’ve got news for them. They really obviously don’t know what they’re talking about. One of the things I’ve learned from my own experience after a nervous breakdown years ago from talking to others like myself is that those with mental illness do not just arbitrarily decide they don’t really feel like working. It’s the opposite. They cannot face work and its stresses. And accompanying the depression itself, is further feelings of depression and guilt over the fact that they have not been able to ‘pull themselves together’. Many of them may even have been working for several weeks or months before it all becomes far too much.

And quite often, they may have been driven to their depression by the job itself, through pressure of work, vindictive or poor management, or simply mind-numbing, soul-destroying boredom.

And you can see how this review is going to be slanted by the appointment of Lord Stevens. Is he a mental health professional, say, a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse, or neurologist? No, he’s a banker. I dare say his appointment will be defended on the grounds that he understands the needs of business, but the reality is that he’s there to make sure that anything done in the name of the mentally ill will benefit private business. So you can bet that both he and Farmer will recommend that some part of the welfare state that actually protects and defends the mentally ill should be sold off or abolished on some spurious pretext.

Theresa May has no interest in removing or combating the ‘burning injustice’ of mental illness, as her party’s policies have created so much of it. She is merely interested in seeming to do something, and by allowing the further exploitation of her party’s victims.

Website Discussing the Pyschopathology of Donald Trump

January 8, 2017

A few days ago I put up a piece from Sam Seder’s Minority Report about a letter by three American professors of psychiatry to the Surgeon General expressing concern about Donald Trump’s health. The writers believed that Trump showed signs of severe personality defects that could exclude him from being medically fit to fulfil his post as the next American president. They therefore requested that the Surgeon General should order a psychological examination of The Donald to assess his mental fitness.

I received this comment from Twoifbycharm, who said:

This is dead on. I have done some writing on this topic, and several doctors have weighed in favorably on it. Trump exhibits the characteristics of a narcissistic sociopath. Please take a look at my report and decide for yourself. This is a dangerous situation. https://twoifbycharmwordpress.wordpress.com/ B. Ashley.

Twoifbycharm says in the introduction to his site

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, we have seen numerous examples of Donald Trump’s behavior fitting neatly into the blueprint presented in this blog. The “black heart” and “lack of empathy” Mr. Khan so eloquently spoke of falls within the framework of a dangerous personality disorder according to experts. Some call it Narcissistic Personality Disorder, while other experts describe this behavior as sociopathic, or psychopathic.

The purpose of the original posting below (link to WordPress article dated 07.14.16 is posted here) is to call attention to an apparent mental health issue as it appears to relate to Trump. It is to provoke thought and incite a broad discussion around Donald Trump’s apparent dangerous personality disorder, and provides a reliable and consistent profile of Trump’s behavior.

Based on Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Martha Stout’s highly-touted book, The Sociopath Next Door, Trump seems to fit the bill of a sociopath, and that is why I speculated that he is a sociopath in the original posting. A reasonable person must admit that Trump’s behavior does align with the description in her introductory chapter.

I don’t know whether there is something clinically wrong with Trump, or if he simply just another racist, misogynist moron with an immense, and immensely fragile ego and an overwhelming urge to power. Though if you put it that way, there probably is. If you’re interested in this issue, you may wish to go to Twoifbycharm’s website and make your own decision, based on what they have to say.

American Psychiatrists Fear Trump Mentally Ill, Unsuited for Presidency

December 29, 2016

They aren’t the only one, and this is serious.

In this video from The Young Turks, The Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins reports that three professors of psychiatry, one from Harvard, the other two from the University of California San Francisco, have written a letter to Barack Obama requesting that he step in and force Trump to take a psychiatric examination. They are concerned that he suffers from psychological defects that render him not just unsuitable, but actually too dangerous to be given the job of president. They believe that Trump’s grandiosity, his impetuousness, the way he takes offence and responds aggressive at even the mildest criticism point to mental illness. He may just suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, perhaps something rather more serious than that, or perhaps even be a full-blown sociopath. Cousins states that it could just be affluenza. Trump comes from an extremely wealthy background, and has been given everything he wanted, including now the presidency. But it looks more serious than this.

This makes Trump extremely dangerous. He cannot be trusted with the nuclear codes, nor control of the drone programme, which he could use to strike down his opponents. Cousins states that the US constitution provides for presidents to be removed or impeached if they are unfit for their office. And mental illness would certainly come under those conditions disqualifying a president from taking office on fitness grounds. Cousins believes it is unfortunately too early at this stage to use this to prevent Trump gaining office. But he recommends that letter should be saved and stored, and that once Trump is in the White House, it should be taken out and acted upon.

Pro-NHS Political Comment in Paul McAuley’s ‘Something Coming Through’

December 27, 2016

something-coming-pic

One of the books I’ve been reading this Christmas is Paul McAuley’s Something Coming Through (London: Gollancz 2015). McAuley’s a former scientist as well as an SF writer. Apart from novels, he also reviewed books and contributed short stories to the veteran British SF magazine, Interzone. He was one of the writers who created the gene punk genre, sometimes also called ‘ribofunk’. This was the genetic engineering counterpart to Cyberpunk, where, instead of using computers, individuals, criminals and corporations used genetic engineering to redesign new forms of life, or spread invasive memes throughout the population to control the way people thought. Back in the 1990s he was one of the guests on the BBC Radio 3 series, Grave New Worlds, in which computer scientists, writers and artists talked about the transhuman condition. This was back when everyone was talking about cyborgisation, and the potential of contemporary technology to produce new varieties of humanity. Apart from McAuley, the guests also included J.G. Ballard and the performance artist Stelarc, who has personally explored the implications of cybernetics for the human body in a series of performances. In one of these he had a mechanical third arm, operated through electrical signals picked up through the stomach muscles. He also gave a modern music performance, in which he was wired up to the internet via galvanic stimulators. A search engine then went about finding images of body parts on the Net. When it found one, that part of the body was electronically stimulated so that it moved. There were also booths in three cities around the world, where participants could also press buttons to move Stelarc via electric impulses. Apart from Kevin Warwick, the professor of robotics at Warwick university, is the person who’s come the closest to being Star Trek’s Borg.

McAuley’s Something Coming Through and its sequel, Into Everywhere, follow the fictional universe he created in a series of magazine short stories about the alien Jackaroo and their impact on humanity. Following a short period of warfare, including the destruction of part of London with a nuclear bomb by terrorists, the Jackaroo turned up and declared that they wish to help. These aliens bring with them 15 artificial wormholes, which act as gateways to 15 worlds, which the Jackaroo give to humanity. Humanity isn’t the only race that the aliens have helped, and the worlds they give to humanity are covered with the ruins and artefacts of previous alien civilisations, now vanished. The Jackaroo themselves are never seen. They interact with humanity through avatars, artificial beings that look like human men. These have golden skin and features modelled on a number of contemporary celebrities. They’re also bald, wear shades, and dress in black track suits. Their motives for helping humanity are unclear. They claim they just want to help, and that it is up to humanity themselves how they use the worlds they have given them. But they are widely suspected of having their own agenda, and despite the protestations of non-interference they are suspected of subtly manipulating humanity.

Accompanying the Jackaroo are the !cho, another alien race, who are equally mysterious. They move about the world in opaque tanks supported on three skeletal legs. Nobody has ever managed to open one up, or scan the tanks using X-rays or ultrasound. It is, however, widely believed that the !cho are sentient colonies of shrimp. Their motives, and their relationship with the Jackaroo, are also unknown.

Something Coming Through follows the adventures of Chloe Millar, a researcher for a company, Disruption Theory, in London, and Vic Gayle, a cop on Mangala, one of the Jackaroo gift worlds. The objects and ruins left from the Jackaroo’s previous client civilisations can be highly dangerous. Some of them are still active, despite the many thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of years of abandonment and decay. These can infect humans with memes, algorithms that alter psychology and behaviour. The strongest, most intact of these become eidolons, artificial entities that can take possession of their human hosts. Disruption Theory is a company specialising in researching the effects of these memes as they break out to infect people in Britain. This often takes the form of small sects, whose leaders speak in tongues, uttering nonsense as they try to put in human terms the alien concepts running their consciousness. Millar, the heroine, is investigating a couple of orphaned Pakistani children, who have apparently been infected by an eidolon from one of the gift worlds. Out on Mangala, Vic Gayle is also investigating the murder of a man, who has recently arrived aboard one of the Jackaroo’s shuttles.

Unlike much SF, the book doesn’t indicate how far in the future the story’s set. This is, however, very much a world not too far from the early 21st century of the present. The political structures are much the same, with the exception that the gift worlds are under the control of the UN. People still work in recognisable jobs, and shop and purchase the same brands of clothing. Complicating relations with the Jackaroo is a British politician, Robin Mountjoy and the Human Decency League. The League objects to contact with the Jackaroo as a danger to the dignity of the human race. Their leader, Robin Mountjoy, is described as being ‘in his mid-fifties, a burly man with thinning blond hair and a florid complexion, dressed in an off-the-peg suit. Although he was a multimillionaire, having made his fortune constructing and servicing displaced-persons camps, his PR painted him as a bluff, no-nonsense man of the people whose common sense cut through the incestuous old boys’ networks of the Westminster village’. (p. 51). The League isn’t strong enough to form a government of its own, and so has gone into a coalition with the Conservatives. While Mountjoy is clearly fictional, he does seem to be inspired by Nigel Farage and UKIP, with Britain attempting to gain independence from smooth talking mysterious aliens rather than the EU.

One of the other characters is Adam Nevers, a cop with the Technology Control Unit. This is the branch of the British police tasked with protecting the country from dangerous alien technology. Nevers is described as coming from the entitled upper ranks of society, who go straight from university into high ranking jobs. Which looks to me very much like a comment on the privileged upbringing and expectations of absolute deference and entitlement from certain members of the British upper classes.

Apart from the social and psychological disruption caused by alien contact, this is also a world wear the NHS has finally been privatised. McAuley shows the practical impact this has people’s lives. Without the safety net of state healthcare, people are dependent on their employers to help pay their medical bills, or borrowing money from friends. In his acknowledgements, as well as the many other people who helped him with the book, McAuley also thanks ‘the NHS for life support’. (p. 375). Which suggests that he’s also suffered a period of illness, and is very much aware how much he and everyone else in the country needs the NHS.

I liked the book for its convincing portrayal of the world after sort-of personal contact with an alien civilisation, and the frontier societies that have emerged as Mangala and the other gift worlds have been settled and colonised. I was also fascinated by McAuley’s description of the alien life-forms, and the archaeological exploration of the remains of the planets’ previous civilisations for the technological advances these artifacts offer. I was also drawn to it as it offered a different take on the old SF trope of alien contact. The appearance of the Jackaroo is described as an ‘invasion’, but it’s not really that. The aliens have a ‘hands off’ approach. They haven’t conquered the Earth militarily, and political power is still exercised through traditional human institutions and parties, like the UN and the Tories. Nor are they more or less at our technological level, like many of the alien races in Star Trek, for example. We don’t form an interplanetary federation with them, as they are clearly extremely far in advance of humanity, which is very much the junior partner in this relationship.

It’s not really a political book, and really doesn’t make any overt party political statements. With the exception that rightwing xenophobes would probably form a party like UKIP to join the Conservatives against pernicious alien influence, just like the Kippers under Farage came very much from the right wing, Eurosceptic section of the Tories. But its comments on the class nature of British society does bring a wry smile, and its advocacy of the NHS is very welcome. It doesn’t preach, but simply shows the fear the characters have of sickness or injury in its absence.

And with all too real terrestrial morons like Daniel Hannan, Jeremy Hunt, Dave Cameron, Theresa May, Tony Blair, Alan Milburn and the rest of the right-wing politicos, who have done and still are doing their best to undermine the health service, such comments are badly needed throughout the British media.

Neve Gordon on the Double Standards of British Government’s Anti-Semitism Legislation

December 18, 2016

Last week, the British government used its new definition of anti-Semitism to ban National Action, a vile neo-Nazi ‘youth organisation’, whose members have openly called for another Holocaust in Britain against the Jews. Hope Not Hate, one of the anti-Fascist, anti-religious extremism organisations, cautiously welcomed the ban, but said they could not understand why it could not have been done much earlier using existing legislation.

I wondered when it was introduced whether it could be a first attempt by the government to legitimise a piece of problematic legislation by using it to ban a group, about whom there is little controversy, before using it to ban more problematic organisations. I said in my blog post that there seemed to be nothing controversial about the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the British government, but was suspicious about how the legislation would be used.

It now seems I was right to do so.

Neve Gordon, an Israeli activist, who fights for the rights of the Palestinians to civil rights and their own independent state, has written a short piece in this weekend’s Counterpunch criticising the legislation. She begins by stating that anti-Semitism is on the rise globally and needs to be tackled. But she states clearly that the working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the British government is hypocritical and dangerous, as

says that anyone who subjects Israel to ‘double standards by requiring of it behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation’ is an anti-Semite.

She then goes on show how the British government uses double standards all the time when criticising human rights abuses by China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. These could be used to show that the British government was Islamophobic, and, in the case of Sudan, guilty of ‘another type of racism’. She concludes

The definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the British government is itself a manifestation of a double standard, since it treats Israel differently from every other country in the world rather than as a nation among nations.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/16/anti-semitism-double-standards/

From this it appears to me that the purpose of the anti-Semitism legislation to criminalise criticism of the state of Israel, under the guise of tackling ant-Semitism. This was, after all, the reason behind the anti-Semitism allegations in the Labour party in the summer. Those slandered of anti-Semites were not. They were in most cases principled men and women, with proud personal histories of campaigning against racism, including anti-Semitism. What they were guilty of was standing up for the rights of the Palestinians against decades of horror by the Zionist state. They were also terribly guilty of being historically well informed. Jackie Walker, who is half Black and half-Jewish, with a Jewish partner and daughter, was condemned as an anti-Semite because she dared to state that the Holocaust, horrific as it was, was not a unique event and was comparable to other cases of ethnic cleansing and persecution, such as the slave trade in the case of Black Africans. She also discussed the way many Jews were also active in the slave trade, while recognising that the overall responsibility for it lay with White Christian nations. And Ken Livingstone was attacked and suspended because he was entirely accurate about the way the Zionist settlers had co-operated with the Nazis in the colonisation of Israel before the implementation of Hitler’s revolting Final Solution.

The Israel lobby vehemently attacks any criticism, no matter how warranty, with accusations of anti-Semitism. The definition of anti-Semitism enunciated by Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly links it to anti-Zionism. Critics of Israel are also smeared as anti-Semites by the allegation that they are especially critical of Israel, more so than any other nation. Mike, over at Vox Political, had just this accusation thrown at him by a commenter to one of his blog posts about Israel and the anti-Semitism accusations. This commenter claimed that Mike was hypocritical in attacking Israel for human rights violations, while tolerating the behaviour of the Turkish government in Cyprus. Mike responded by pointing out that he didn’t agree with that, either. Now it seems Theresa May has passed legislation that would allow her to smear and prosecute people like Mike using the new legislation by making the same allegations, no matter how demonstrably false and risible they are.

While there are Nazis and anti-Semites, who do use anti-Zionism as a cover for their real Jew hatred, the reason why left-wing critics of Israel, including many Jews and Israelis, like Neve Gordon, is because Israel is a western country. And its persecution of the indigenous inhabitants, the Palestinians, is exactly like the way other western nations, like Britain, treated the indigenous peoples of the countries they colonies. Such as the genocide of the Native Americans, the Aboriginal Australians, slavery, segregation in America and apartheid in South Africa, and the Nazi Holocaust and extermination of other groups, such as the mentally handicapped and ill, Gypsies, and Poles and Russians. And I have absolutely no doubt that very many of the same people are also concerned about human rights violations in the rest of the world, like Communist China and its treatment of Tibet, dissidents and people of faith, the rise of Hindu extremism and the persecution of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Hindu dissidents and moderates by Modi and his wretched BJP. Nor are they complacent about the brutality and thuggery committed by the various African kleptocrats and despots.

They criticise Israel and its brutal treatment of the Palestinians, because Israel has not been subject to the same criticism and isolation as many of these other nations.

It also seems to me that the new legislation follows similar laws passed in America, which are designed to prevent the American state or local authorities from supporting the BDS movement. This is the movement that encourages people to boycott and divest from Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank. So far 30 per cent of the companies located there have been forced to move out. It is dangerously successful, and many, especially younger, American Jews are becoming increasingly indifferent or critical of Israel and its brutality towards its indigenous people.

Hence this malign piece of legislation, which is intended to protect a vicious, intolerant regime while claiming to protect Jews from vicious intolerance.

It also show the mendacity of the British press and media. The piece of the legislation that was cited in the I newspaper made no mention of criminalising criticism of Israel. It just followed the standard definition of anti-Semitism as hatred of Jews for being Jews. There was no mention of Israel. Now it may be that Neve Gordon is wrong, but I honestly don’t believe this. This government has lied again and yet again, without any qualms. And when it has not lied, it has attempted to defend itself by withholding information and official documents. And the media has also shown itself consistently mendacious about the anti-Semitism smears in the Labour party, endlessly recycling the lie that those smeared were anti-Semites when the opposite was true. The silence on this part of the legislation shows how little the British media really values free speech and journalistic independence.

Neve Gordon is right. Anti-Semitism is on the rise globally. You can see amongst the Alt-Right Nazi goons that turned up a few weekends ago at the Ronald Reagan room to scream ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ It’s there in the Jobbik party in Hungary, and other viciously racist parties across eastern Europe. And its there in Britain, with Jack Renshaw and the other junior storm troopers of National Action. They’ve been banned. But the purpose of the legislation wasn’t to criminalise them. It was to close down free speech. Their ban was simply to make it all seem respectable.

DPAC Demonstration Outside Bromley Jobcentre Yesterday

September 24, 2016

I found this short video on YouTube of the demonstration held by DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) outside Bromley Jobcentre yester, the 23rd September 2016. The speakers talked about the rise in the numbers of homeless in London – about 200 children – due to the government’s welfare reforms and closure of crisis centres. They denounced the sanctions system as against human rights, and pointed out that people with disabilities and learning difficulties were being denied benefits and the means to live due to these. They also pointed out that able-bodied people in employment, but on low wages, would also be subject to the sanctions system when they are placed on Universal Credit. They will then be required to raise their income through finding another job or getting more hours. If they can’t, they’ll lose their benefits. There is also a man talking about the deaths resulting from the Canadian government’s cuts to its social assistance programmes and aid for the homeless. This has led to people dying of cold in the streets because of the extreme arctic climate, or else have been crammed, shorn of their dignity, in warming centres. The man states that he has joined the campaign, as OPAC has strong links with DPAC, and this needs to be a movement of working class people across borders.

As well as the people speaking, other demonstrators are seen holding up a long banner displaying the number of people – 7,524 or thereabouts – who have been sanctioned by the Jobcentre.

DPAC have been protesting up and down the country against the cuts, and they are very clear, including in this video, about the suffering and deaths from despair and starvation the benefit cuts have caused. Their demos have also regularly received the support they deserve from local trade unions. This demonstration is no exception. One of the speakers is a young woman from the local trades council.

The campaign against austerity is indeed truly international. I’ve blogged here about how anarchists have launched opposition strategies against the cuts to get badly needed help to the poor and homeless, based on similar campaigns in Canada. In Germany too there have also been campaigns against similar sanctions systems imposed in some German laender. The movement against austerity is international, and its growing.

Vox Political: Owen Smith Insults Voters with Mental Health Problems

August 24, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also put up a couple of stories today on the outrage Smudger has caused with a tweet sneering at the mentally ill. Smiff tweeted that with him ‘you won’t have some lunatic in charge of the Labour party’. Mike states that as someone, who has known many people with mental health problems and has blogged about the considerable obstacles they face, he cannot find words to describe his opinion of Smudger.

Many others weren’t shy of showing their feelings towards Smiff for this insult. Mike gives a few of their comments in his article. They state that such comments about the mentally ill should be unacceptable. Several of them are by people, who suffer from mental illness, and who therefore feel personally insulted by Smith.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/23/owen-smith-has-just-banged-the-final-nail-in-his-campaigns-coffin/

Smudger has realised the offence he’s caused, and tried to explain it away. He appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme, where John Humphries asked him if that made him unsuitable for the Labour leadership. Smudger told Humphries that he was talking about himself, not Jeremy Corbyn, and that it did not make him any the less suited for the leadership of the Labour party. He was sorry for any offence, and would have to be a bit less colourful about his language in future.

Mike comments drily that it’s too late.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/08/24/owen-smith-says-he-was-the-lunatic-does-that-make-it-any-better/

I think it’s very clear that Smudger wasn’t talking about himself when he used the term ‘lunatic’. The tweet was ‘With me, you won’t get a lunatic as head of the Labour party’. He is stating very clearly that he isn’t a ‘lunatic’, so the epithet must refer to someone else. It could, of course, refer to no-one in particular, but considering the insults heaped about Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as ‘Trots’, ‘rabble’, ‘dogs’ and so on by the Blairites, it’s reasonable to assume he was referring to Jeremy Corbyn, or someone from the Left like him.

As for the outrage it’s generated, I’m not surprised. Depression and anxiety are on the rise, caused by austerity. The situation has become much worse for those with mental health issues through the stress of the Work Capability Test introduced by Tony Blair. The professional body representing medical health professionals – doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, have stated that the stress of taking the tests has made their condition worse for 290,000 mentally unwell people, sometimes seriously so. Mental health services are being cut as the NHS services are rationed as part of the government’s privatisation of the NHS. There are extremely long waiting times for those with depression to see a psychiatrist. Students are also at risk of developing mental health problems. It’s been estimated that about 1 in 4 of them will suffer from depression at some point. Again, I can’t say I’m surprised, given the increased pressure to get a good degree, and faced with a mountain of student debt. Again, partly caused by Blair and Mandelson, when they decided to introduce tuition fees.

Faced with a government and Blairite faction in the Labour party that is at best indifferent to the needs of the mentally ill, those with such problems and their carers are bound to be outraged by Smudger’s apparent contempt.

In Defence of Left-Wing Anger

August 17, 2016

I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest for a little while now. One aspect of the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs that really annoys me is the hypocrisy that comes with their constant playing at being the victims of terrible abuse by Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn. Every so often they make pleas for political discourse and exchange to be made kinder or more genteel, while showing precious little of such qualities themselves. Jess Philips, according to the Groan, is having a panic room installed at her constituency office. But Mike’s already stated that she herself is an abrasive character online. This doesn’t justify any threats against her, but it doesn’t make her quite the innocent victim she claims either.

I’ve reblogged a video several times made by a couple in Angela Eagle’s constituency pointing out that Eagle’s story about the brick being thrown by Jeremy Corbyn supporters through her constituency window is a load of hogwash. It begins with footage of Eagle giving her story to the press. She concludes by saying that ‘We need a kinder, gentler style of politics’, before turning smartly on her heel and marching off, surrounded by her aids. This little piece has infuriated me ever since I’ve seen it. Firstly, it seems more than a little imperious. It’s bit of ‘I, the Great One, am speaking. Mortals listen!’ I also object to it on the grounds that it seems to be trying to deny the fact that her critics and opponents just might have entirely justifiable reasons for their anger. She seems to want to have the kind of exchange where everything is calm and mild. Now this is the kind of exchange I prefer. I honestly don’t like abuse and trolling. But on certain issues, if people do become abusive, it can be because the issue they’re discussing has all too real implications and consequences for them.

And many of the policies enacted by the Blairites have had terrible consequences for Britain as a nation, and specifically for the poor and working class. Let’s go through them.

Firstly, Blair took Britain into an illegal war in Iraq. The country had not threatened us, and at the time we invaded, Saddam Hussein was pretty much a joke to the rest of the Middle East. He was a thug, but he was contained. And the country over which he ruled was relatively prosperous, and with an advanced welfare state and educational system, at least for the region.

This has all changed. A quarter of a million Iraqis have died, and the country degenerated into a bloodbath of competing factions. Their economy has been wrecked, and ISIS and related death squads have terrorised its population. Our squaddies have been sent to fight and die, not to keep the world safe, but to produce even greater profits for the oil companies and American multinationals wishing to get their mitts on the country’s appetising state industries. Domestically it reinforced the view of many Muslims that the country was being targeted simply because it was Islamic. So it’s increased more racial and religious friction and intolerance over here. Is the Iraq invasion a good reason for people to get angry. Yes.

Then there’s the privatisation of the NHS. Blair, Brown and the others in New Labour took over the Private Finance Initiative and massively expanded it as official labour policy. They also began to split up the NHS into different commissioning groups, with the intention of creating competition. These commissioning groups were to provide healthcare not only from the NHS, but also from private healthcare companies. Hospitals and doctors surgeries have been taken over by private hospital chains. More than half of all hospital treatment is now commissioned from private healthcare providers. The ‘walk-in’ centres, or polyclinics, that were set up were also intended to be privately run. New Labour took as their care model a private American company, Kaiser Permanente. These policies have been taken over and further extended by the Tories after they won the 2010 election. Now it’s almost set to be totally privatised. Frankly, this makes me absolutely furious.

Let’s take the Work Capability Test. This was adopted by Blair and co. because they uncritically swallowed the Tory rubbish about most disabled people, the long term sick were malingerers and scroungers. They took over a tick-box questionnaire approach to examining people’s health pioneered by Unum, an American health insurance company that was guilty of some of the biggest insurance frauds prosecuted by the American state. The questionnaire used, and its underlying assumptions, are scientific nonsense. The policy is so notorious, that Atos decided to throw in the towel early, and were released from their contract a year before it was due to expire.

But the policy goes on, and it has had terrible real world consequences. Seriously ill people have been thrown off their benefits, and in some cases, have actually starved to death through lack of an income. Those with mental health problems, like anxiety and depression, have become worse, often much worse. As an example of how farcical this is, you consider some of the worst incidents, where people terminally ill in comas have been told they should find a job. Or when an amputee was asked when they expected their limbs to grow back. People are suffering and starving because of this. This isn’t a case of abstract policy, an interesting intellectual puzzle, which has no clear consequences for people’s lives. It makes a different over whether people are actually able to put food on their tables, or have a roof over their head, or can live out their lives with dignity.

It’s the same with the issue of benefit sanctions. Thanks to them, and the flexible employment policies Blair and Brown were so keen to employ, there are about 4.7 million people living in ‘food poverty’ in this country. There are cases where mothers are starving themselves, because it’s the only way they can afford to feed their children. And I can remember an incident I read on one of the other blogs, about how people in one town came to the aid of a young man, after he broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, because they wouldn’t help him. As with the Work Capability Test, this is an issue that all-too real consequences for millions of people. And when nearly five million are going hungry in the fourth richest country in the world, you bet people have a right to be angry.

You can expand this to include the way the treatment of jobseekers has been deliberately made as humiliating and degrading as possible, with the imposition of workfare, capitalist forced labour brought to you by Sainsbury’s and the myriad other firms using it to cut down on labour costs. This was introduced as part of Margaret Thatcher’s return to ‘Victorian values’, which in this case meant the same values on which the workhouse system was established. The DHSS and the Benefits Agency always had an element of danger with them, because claimants naturally got angry with the state bureaucracy that could deny them money. People are left angry, despairing and furious with their treatment by the Jobcentre. But they also have a right to direct this rage at the politicians, who created the system.

And here New Labour have also shown themselves to be despicable. Cameron introduced workfare, but Ed Miliband ordered his cabinet not to oppose it, in case the Labour party should be seen to be soft on ‘benefit scroungers’ by the Tory press. Again, people have a very definite right to be angry.

I also think part of what makes me angry about Eagle’s behaviour, is her manner. It’s as if she seems to be completely insulated from the grim reality of the suffering New Labour have inflicted. She sounds to me like a bureaucrat or manager, completely obsessed with administering the policies that have been set, and getting irritated because somebody, somewhere, has had the temerity to object to it. I’ve remarked before that many of the Blairites seem to come from affluent, privileged, middle class backgrounds. My guess is that they genuinely don’t appreciate the harm they’re doing, because they’ve never experienced it themselves. They’ve only ever seen these policies from the vantage point of people, who’ve taken on the task of carrying them out. And they find it confusing and intensely infuriating when the masses don’t just accept what’s being done is for their good.

I am not saying that people have a right to abuse politicians or Jobcentre staff, or threaten them, let alone attack them or try to damage their property. I am very definitely against all of that. But people do have a right to be enraged at what has been done to them by the Thatcherites, both in the Tories and in New Labour.

And anger, as John Lydon sang, is an energy.

The gaol should now be to use this anger, this resentment against an unfair and deliberately cruel and exploitative system, to argue, research, expose and organise and keep the pressure on relentlessly to overturn these policies.