Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Arthur C. Clarke Helped to Bring the Benefits of Space and High Technology to the Developing World

October 18, 2021

Last week there was a bit of controversy between William Shatner and Prince William. As the man behind Captain Kirk went with a party of others to the High Frontier aboard Jeff Bezos’ SpaceX, the prince declared that such space tourism was a waste and a threat to the environment. I think here the prince was thinking about the extremely rich and their private jets, and the damage that the carbon emissions from mass aircraft travel are doing to the environment. I respect the prince’s commitment to the environment and the Earthshot prize he launched last night, but believe that on this issue he’s profoundly wrong.

If space tourism was only about letting extremely right people go into space aboard highly polluting spacecraft, as it seems the prince believes, then I’d certainly be inclined to agree with him. But it isn’t. Way back at the beginning of this century I gave a paper at a British Interplanetary Society symposium on the popular commercialisation of space. Many of the papers were about space tourism. The one that real down a real storm, far better than my own, was from a young chap who suggested that space was the ideal venue for sports that would be impossible on Earth. Because of the complete absence of gravity, you could play something like Harry Potter’s Quidditch for real.

The hope with space tourism is that it will help open up the High Frontier to further space commercialisation. This includes lowering launch costs so that eventually they’ll become affordable and people will be able to move into space to live and work, building true communities up there. And with that comes the hope that industry will move there as well, thus relieving some of the environmental pressures down here on Earth. Gerard O’Neill, who put forward concrete plans and designs for these colonies, believed that this would be one of the benefits of space colonisation and industrialisation. For one thing, the industrialisation of space may be able to provide clean, green energy instead of the carbon emitting fossil fuel power stations that we now use. Solar energy is abundant in space, and it has been suggested that this could be collected using vast solar arrays, which would then beam the power to Earth as microwaves.

The late, great SF writer Arthur C. Clarke was a very strong advocate of space colonisation and industrialisation. An optimist about humanity’s future in space and the benefits of high technology, Clarke not only argued for it but also tried to help make it a reality. Space and other forms of high technology offer considerable benefits to the Developing World, which is one of the reasons India has invested relatively large amounts in its space programme. And so has Clarke’s adopted country of Sri Lanka, with the assistance of the Space Prophet himself. I found this passage describing the work of such a centre, named after Clarke, in Sri Lanka in Brian Aldiss’ and David Wingrove’s history of Science Fiction, Trillion Year Spree.

“Clarke is, moreover, actively engaged in bringing about that better world of which he writes. From his base in Colombo, Sri Lanka, he has become directly (and financially) involved in a scheme to transfer modern high-technology to the developing countries of the Third World.

The Arthur C. Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies, sited at the University of Moratuwa, outside Colombo, embraces numerous high-tech disciplines, including computers and alternate energy sources, with plans to expand into the areas of robotics and space technologies. The main emphasis, however, is on developing a cheap communications system tailored to the agricultural needs of the Third World.

Such a project harnesses expensive space technologies in a way which answers those critics who have argued that it is immoral to waste funds on the romantic gesture of spaceflight when problems of poverty, illness and hunger remain in the world. That advanced technology would eventually benefit all of Mankind has always been Clarke’s belief-perhaps naive, but visionaries often function more effectively for a touch of naivety about them. One has to admire this benevolent, aspiring side of Clarke; it is the other side of the coin to L Ron Hubbard.” (P. 402, my emphasis).

It has never been a simple case of space exploration going ahead at the expense of human suffering here on Earth. Space tourism, at present confined to the extremely wealth like Shatner, is part of a wider campaign to open up the High Frontier so that humanity as a whole will benefit.

And the late comedian Bill Hicks also used to look forward to an optimistic future of world peace and the colonisation of space. He used to end his gigs with his own vision. If we spent used the money the world currently spends on arms for peace instead, we could end world hunger. Not one person would starve. And we could colonise the universe, in peace, forever.

It’s an inspiring vision. As another Star Trek captain would say:

Make it so!’

And here’s a bit of fun I found on YouTube. It’s a video of a man in Star Trek costume, playing the theme to the original series on the Theremin. Engage!

Cassetteboi versus Boris Johnson

October 10, 2021

Cassetteboi are a group of merry pranksters, who take clips of politicians, celebrities and other public figures and edit them so that they appear to say something amusingly insane. One of my faves is the video they made taking the mick out The Apprentice. This began with the announcer stating that Alan Sugar was the self-made millionaire who sold Amstrad from the boot of a car for £8 before getting funnier. Boris Johnson has been one of their targets for years, starting when he was mayor of London. Now they’ve released yet another video lampooning him which contains a high dose of their usual satire. Johnsons word’s have a rhythm to which a beat has been added so that it’s a song or a chant. It begins

‘If you live in Britain today/ I feel sorry for you son/ There are 99 problems/ and I can’t fix one.’

It then goes to sing about the way there is no petrol nor goods on the shelf in the supermarket, the rich aren’t paying their way and Boris’ mates in industry are giving him large donations for government contracts. This goes along with the other issues, such as the £20 benefit uplift being taken away along with free school meals, test and trace not working along with Johnson’s utterly incompetent handling of Brexit and the Covid crisis. He didn’t attend the briefings because he was too busy divorcing his wife, and the song notes that despite Johnson trying to pretend the disease isn’t still around, over a hundred people are dying a day.

The song concludes:

‘If you live in Britain today/ I feel sorry for you son/ There are 99 problems/ And I’m number one!’

History Debunked on Bristol University’s Statue to Henrietta Lacks

October 8, 2021

There was news yesterday that Bristol University had put up a statue of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman outside its medical buildings. This was accompanied with rather grandiose statements hailing her as the mother of modern medicine. This surprises me, as you would expect from such a description that Lacks herself was a doctor, surgeon or biologist of some kind. As Webb’s video shows, she was actually none of these. She was an ordinary Black American woman, who died of cervical cancer. What makes her different is that cells were taken from her body, cultured so that the line has carried on, and were studied by doctors and biologists. This has led to a number of cures and treatments for diseases like the Polio vaccine. Some of this research was done at the university. Hence the statue. I think the decision to put one up to her may well have been influenced by a book that was published about her a few years ago, The Case of Henrietta Lacks.

Webb considers that the statue is part of a general campaign to pull down monuments to White men and put up statues instead to Black women, even if their contribution to British history and culture is actually quite minor. He talks about a monument put up in Wales to honour a Black headmistress. He feels that while the woman would hardly warrant a statue if she were White, at least she did something more worthwhile than Smiley Culture. He was a pop star in the 1980s who was promoted yesterday as a hero of Black British history in an article in the Metro by Alicia Adjoa. But Culture’s end was rather less than heroic. He committed suicide after being caught importing a massive amount of cocaine. Bristol, in his view, is trying to put up a statue to a Black person to replace the one of Edward Colston, pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters.

There is indeed pressure to put up statues of great Black British figures. The argument is that there are too few monuments to Black people and that this doesn’t represent to the diversity of contemporary British society. The problem is that while Blacks have been present in Bristol since the 16th century, they’ve only been here in large numbers since the Empire Windrush. And the majority of Black Britons led largely humble, unspectacular lives. Hence the fact that many of these statues honour people, whose achievements, while worthy, are relatively small.

I also think the statue has been erected for reasons quite specific to Bristol University. The University has considerably benefited from donations from the Colston charities. This, not surprisingly, is resented by Black activists, and so the University responded a few years ago by appointing a Black woman to be its first professor of the history of slavery. As far as I can make out, her job is really to work out what to do with the money from the Colston charities in the way of anti-racism and pro-Black policies.

The University was also in the local news this week for having set up a bursary solely for Black students. BBC Points West announced that the current Black population on campus is only less than 3 per cent of the total. This seems to me to be a response to another accusation. Bristol has a large Black population. I don’t know what the situation is now, but London, Birmingham and Bristol were the cities with largest Black populations in the UK. But the number of Black students at the university was small. The problem with this criticism is that Bristol, as one of the country’s leading universities, has, or used to have, very high entrance standards. Blacks perform less well academically than the other races, and so consequently have less opportunity to enter further education without the benefit of such affirmative action programmes. Also, when I was at school back in the 1980s you were actively discouraged from applying to the university in your home town. Thus it wouldn’t have mattered how large Bristol’s Black population were, they would have been advised by their teachers at that time to apply to universities and colleges elsewhere. Of course, this has changed somewhat with the ending of the student grant and the introduction of tuition fees. More students are applying to local universities through the sheer necessity of keeping costs down by staying in their home town.

Now the statue of Lacks is all very well, but I feel that if statues are going to be put up, it should be to people with some connection to the city. If we’re talking medicine, perhaps the first Black nurse to serve in one of the city’s hospitals. Or the person or people who started St. Paul’s carnival, if there isn’t one already. My mother also remembers there being a Black Bristolian boxer of her parents’ generation. A statue could have been put up of him as a local sporting hero. You could even go back to the depictions of Black Bristolians published in the 19th century.

While these people wouldn’t have been great scientists, they would at least have had a genuine connection to the city.

Zelo Street Mugs Mad Nads Dorries with Reality over Liverpool Council and Beeb

October 5, 2021

Great piece today by Tim Fenton, the sage of Crewe, demolishing some of the massive untruths told by Nadine Dorries, our new Culture Secretary. He starts off by reminding us all the Nads is no stranger to telling porkies. In 2006 she wrote a piece for Conservative Home containing the remarkable fact that every member of Liverpool council in 1955 was Tory. Did I say fact just then? Well, it was in the sense of Donald Trumps ‘alternative facts’. The real composition of Liverpool council at that year’s elections was 53 Tories to 65 Labour. She also said that there were eight MPs for the city at the time, all of whom were Tory. This is another falsehood. Liverpool had nine MPs, three of whom were Labour.

Now she is telling falsehoods about the BBC. The Corporation, she insists, must take action over breaches of impartiality. But former Groan editor Alan Rusbridger points out that Ofcom have found zero breaches of impartiality. He then says he has too much respect for her to accuse her of lying, and hopes she will produce some hard evidence to back up her assertions.

Steve Barnett of the University of Westminster also put the correct figures for the proportion of Beeb staff who went to private school. Nads has said that it’s 50 per cent. The actual figure is 11.5 per cent of all staff, and 17.5 per cent of the leadership

Zelo Street also quotes Peter Walker, again of the Groan, who said that Nads complained that those criticising her appointment as culture secretary were mainly people who benefited from nepotism. She also believes that the ‘groupthink’ at the Beeb excludes northerners and people from the working class. As the Street points out, this is a bit rich coming from the woman who employed two of her daughters at taxpayers’ expense. He also compares the Tory cabinet with the backgrounds of two of the Beeb’s favourite personalities:

“Meanwhile, the Tory cabinet is two-thirds privately educated, the BBC’s leading news anchor (Huw Edwards) was state-educated and his parents weren’t employed by the Corporation, and its leading sports presenter (Gary Lineker) began his working life helping his late Dad Barry – who ran a fruit and veg stall on Leicester Market.”

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2021/10/nadine-dorries-bbc-and-reality.html

In actual fact, I think the Beeb is biased. The Kushners pointed out in their great book, Who Needs the Cuts?, that the Beeb uncritically assumed that Austerity was justified and gave ample space to those economists and politicians who supported it. Dissenting voices, especially from the trade unions and other groups, were excluded or, if they did appear, shouted down. Analysis from the media monitoring groups at Edinburgh and Glasgow unis found that Conservative ministers and figures from industry and the City were far more likely to appear on the news than Labour politicos and trade unionists. And the Beeb showed massive bias in its treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, in which it supported the actions of the Thatcherite plotters and staunchly pushed the lie that the party was institutionally anti-Semitic. As, of course, did the rest of the media. If Ofcom didn’t find any breaches of impartiality there, then it probably doesn’t say much about the organisation’s own lack of bias. But whatever, the watchdog hasn’t found any bias against the Tories.

These figures also undermine mad right-wing YouTuber Alex Belfield’s own attacks on the Beeb. Belfield claims he was forced out of the Beeb through a mixture of jealousy – certain star broadcasters were envious he got more listeners than they did – and contempt for his background. Belfield says he’s a working class lad from a pit village. As opposed to his former colleagues at the Beeb, who were all middle class and university educated. Well, they may have been. Not having gone to private school doesn’t necessarily mean that you are working class. Many of the peeps who are state educated are lower middle class. And possessing a university education doesn’t necessarily exclude members of the working class. Way back in the early 80s the student grant was still around to support students from poorer backgrounds. That’s been ended, but higher education has been massively expanded to include 45 per cent plus of the population. Which must surely include members of the working class.

But since before the days of David Cameron the Tories have been trying to pose as the real representatives of the working class, as against the university educated, left-wing elites. Tweezer opened her first cabinet meeting by saying that none of them were members of the elite. In fact, damn near every single one of them was a millionaire. As for attacks on university education, there’s a massive streak of anti-intellectualism amidst the parties of the right. The attacks on university education are there to inspire prejudice against anything a university group might say criticising Tory policy. But it ain’t just universities that the Tories hate. Some of us also remember the remark of a Tory MP about opera: ‘What’s opera? A fat Italian, singing in Italian, dressed as a woman.’ Well yes, a fair number of the great operas were written by Italians in Italian. But not all are exclusively sung by Italians of a certain weight, despite Pavarotti. And I don’t think all of them involve crossdressing. But it shows the prejudice of a certain type of Tory towards high art.

But once again, the Tories have been caught lying again. And unfortunately, once again it’s no surprise. It’s a pity Keef Stalin is trying to copy them in his leadership of Labour.

History Debunked on the Genocidal Brutality of the Hero of ‘Hotel Rwanda’

October 1, 2021

Simon Webb, the main man of the History Debunked channel on YouTube, has today put up a very revealing video exposing the horrific reality behind the hero of the 1990s film, Hotel Rwanda. Set during the Rwandan genocide, the film told the story of how its hero, Paul Rusavajena, a Hutu, saved the lived of a thousand Tutsis by providing them sanctuary in the hotel he managed. He claimed he did this on his own, but the fact is that the hotel was occupied by UN peacekeeping forces, who were the real protectors of the Tutsis. Survivors have alleged that instead Rusavajeni extorted money from them and gave room numbers to Hutu murder gangs. Despite this a film was made of the events with Rusavajena’s collaboration, which made him into a hero. And he did very well from the film. It was very popular with what Webb describes as White liberals. Rusavajeni became rich and bought two houses, one in Texas and the other in Belgium. However, after the war in Rwanda ended, Rusavajeni was actively involved in the terrorist group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which particularly targets women and children in its attacks, and founded his own terrorist group, the FLM. He has been exposed however and arrested. Last week he was tried for his crimes and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

Webb tells this unedifying story in order to attack the double standards he believes White liberals have towards Blacks. If a White man commits and assault, he is punished with the full force of the law. If a Black man commits a similar offence during a robbery he is committing, White liberals will attempt to excuse him by saying that he was desperate because he was unable to get a job through racism. And while Webb claims that he believes that all peoples and politicians, whether White, Black or Asian, can be just as greedy, brutal, prejudiced and xenophobic, White liberals believe non-Whites to be somehow far nobler. Thus, if a famine occurs in Africa, Webb wonders whether it is due to the local leader stealing aid money and spending it on guns or hiding it in a Swiss bank account. White liberals, however, will blame it on the international banking system and colonialism. And if Black Africans turn on each other and fight terrible genocidal wars, like Europeans did in World War II and the Holocaust, this should be offset by finding a Black hero, who shows the essential nobility of his people by standing against it. This all shows the low standards White middle class liberals apply to Blacks, and consequently their low and patronising view of them.

Much of the poverty in Africa and elsewhere in the Developing World is due to the West in one way or another. It has been hampered by crippling debts with international banks with resulted in the nations of the Third World making huge interest payments which were far larger than the initial sums borrowed. Africa and other nations like it are kept poor through the neo-colonial agreements made with their former imperial masters during decolonisation. These agreements forced the newly independent nations to concentrate on producing raw materials, such as agricultural products and minerals and prevented them from industrialising. There are a large number of such nations producing the same goods and because competition is great, prices can be kept low. The strictures against industrialisation prevents them from developing industries producing finished products, such as, say, cars, for which they could charge more and diversify their economies.

However, much of the poverty in the Developing World really is through the corruption and brutality of the region’s rulers. Way back in the 1990s the Financial Times stated that the corruption in many African nations was so great that they were kleptocracies, who were only called states by the grace of their western partners. Just how nasty this corruption is was described by a visitor our local church hosted last year from Africa. This gentleman had had a very hard childhood, and was several times at death’s door from starvation. His family had had some property to support themselves at one point, but this was stolen from them. As for xenophobia and racism, many African countries were created by amalgamating territory from different tribes, many of which were historical enemies. Nigel Barley in his book, The Innocent Anthropologist, describes how some Cameroonians would angrily denounce western racism, while sneering and reviling their own country’s Dowayo people whom Barley was researching. They did not, however, regard this as racism. And famine and the looting of western aid money have been used as an instrument of genocide by the continent’s dictators.

Some of you will remember Band Aid, the charity record produced by various western pop stars, and the Live Aid global concert in 1985, organised by Bob Geldof to raise money to help the victims of a terrible famine in Ethiopia. But it’s been revealed since then that precious little money or food actually reached the victims. It was stolen by the Communist military dictatorship to prevent it reaching the victims of the famine, who were part of a tribal rebellion.

As for middle class White liberals viewing Blacks and other non-Whites as somehow nobler, I’m afraid there’s something to this too. This ultimately comes from the myth of the Noble Savage which emerged in the 17th century. This viewed the First Nations of America as somehow more noble than Europeans as they were uncorrupted by civilisation. Diderot and the philosophes of the French Enlightenment produced a similar myth of the people of Tahiti when they were encountered by western explorers in the 18th century. To European intellectuals like Diderot, the people of Tahiti lived a freer, more natural life untouched by the artificiality of European culture. In the 1960s and ’70s one of the currents among western left-wing intellectuals was Third Worldism. Impressed by the experiments in socialism by some Third World governments and the apparent lack of materialism amongst their traditional societies, these intellectuals similarly believed that these peoples were somehow more nobler than those of the west. They looked to them to start the socialist transformation they hoped would soon spread throughout the world

As for the left excusing Black criminality and violence through appeals to poverty and deprivation due to racism, that has also occurred. One of the right-wing YouTube channels last week posted a video showing how the supposedly left-wing American media had provided such excuses when covering the case of a Black man responsible for a racial assault.

Against this is the far more obvious obvious, and far better known negative view of Blacks and other non-Whites, which has resulted in their abuse and exploitation and which still supports continuing discrimination against them in the west. One result of this is that not only may Blacks and some other ethnic groups have a higher unemployment rate and experience greater poverty than Whites, but they may also receive tougher sentences for crimes they have committed.

Rusavajeni isn’t the only supposed hero who has been exposed as a much darker figure than portrayed in film. Oscar Schindler, whose rescue of his Jewish employees from the horrors of the Third Reich was depicted in the 90’s film, Schindler’s List, has similarly been alleged to have been an extremely exploitative employer. And it’s fair to say that many of the great heroes of history are far darker and more morally ambivalent, especially when viewed by modern standards.

Blacks and other ethnic groups aren’t any more or less virtuous than Whites, and should deserve the same treatment. Just as they shouldn’t be demonised, monsters like Rusavajeni shouldn’t be idealised either because of the colour of their skin.

Belfield Attacks Gemma Collins for Guzzling £700 Gold-Wrapped Steak

September 29, 2021

I’ve put up several pieces on this blog commenting on, and occasionally reblogging, videos from mad right-wing YouTuber Alex Belfield. I don’t share his right-wing political opinions, but he’s interesting for what he says about the attitudes of a certain type of working class Conservative. And occasionally he does say something worthwhile that people across the political spectrum can agree on. This morning he put up a video attacking Gemma Collins for eating a £700 steak in a very expensive London restaurant. Belfield states that the steak itself couldn’t have cost more than £50, and quotes the prices of steak available from your average supermarket that are much, much lower at about a tenth of that. He finds this kind of very ostentatious, massively expensive consumption on overpriced luxuries obscene when large numbers of Brits can only get their meals at food banks and those that aren’t are worried about how they’re going to pay for their next meal.

He also describes another similar obscene display of wealth when a group of Japanese businessmen came in to a restaurant and ordered £1,000 bottles of wine. Of which they only drank one glass before leaving. The restauranteur was not impressed by what Belfield describes, rather vulgarly, as ‘willy-waggling’ and so gathered he staff and treated them to the expensive steaks and wine the Japanese had left behind untouched.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m particularly surprised by these crass, offensive displays of wealth. I read a book on Japan years ago by a former Times journalist, who remarked that as many Japanese had become millionaires, they’d overtaken the Americans for vulgar displays of wealth. One example of this is a Japanese department store which served, for the equivalent of $100, tea containing gold flakes. This could be drunk in a special room set aside where the drinker could contemplate a print of Van Gogh’s ‘The Sunflowers.’ Then there’s the brand of Swizz vodka, Goldberg, which also contains gold flakes. In the case of the Japanese tea, I suspect there’s an influence there from Chinese alchemy. This differed from the western type in being focused on the quest for immortality. Chinese alchemists believed that this could be achieved by replacing the perishables materials of the human body with imperishable matter, and so slowly poisoned their clients by getting them to eat gold, pearls and so on. On the other hand, it could just be a display of tasteless vulgarity.

Of course, there are other ways in which the people Private Eye once described as the ‘futile rich’ flaunt their wealth in front of the poor. Grossly overpriced clothes has always been one favourite, like the £7,000 leather trousers Tweezer sported when she had her rear end in 10 Downing Street. And modern celebrity culture, unfortunately, is characterised by a very materialist attitude in which actors, sportsmen and pop stars frequently engage in tasteless demonstrations of their wealth. You think of all the jewellery sported by a certain type of pop star with the dollar sign, for example.

Gemma Collins and a number of other celebs is a frequent target of Belfield’s, along with Carol Vorderman, Katie Price and Marcus Rashford, amongst others. Some of these attacks seem based on little more than personal dislike. Others, such as his attacks on Diane Abbott, seem rather more for political reasons. But there’s a serious point behind his video on Collins and the gold-wrapped steak. Such displays of very conspicuous wealth are obscene and offensive when people are poor and starving, and always have been. It’s how revolutions start. The guzzling of such food and drink recalls Marie Antoinette’s inflammatory comment during the French Revolution. When told the starving masses had no bread, she supposedly said, ‘Let them eat cake’. The result of this contempt for the poor was the overthrow of the monarchy and the massacre of the aristocracy as enemies of the people.

Despite the right’s attempt to monopolise politics and discredit the left, some writers and academics are very much afraid that the increasing gulf between rich and poor will provoke an uprising. Watch out! When people are starving and desperate, eating £700 steaks is the kind of behaviour that will have the peasants picking up their pitchforks and the tumbrils once again rolling down the streets on the way to the guillotine.

Brexit Britain’s Collapse also Reveals Failure of Free Market Capitalism

September 26, 2021

I wonder sometimes if the Communists and Trotskyites didn’t throw in the towel too soon. They were always looking for the collapse of capitalism, and while that didn’t happen and probably won’t, they would have realised that Thatcherism, at least, isn’t working and made real efforts to make the British public realise it. Communism collapsed with the velvet revolution in eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the countries of the former Soviet bloc threw off their chains and embraced democracy and free market capitalism. Francis Fukuyama declared that it was ‘the end of history’. Liberalism in the broad sense of the mixture of liberal democracy and capitalism, had seen off its rivals and would now reign supreme and unchallenged as the global ideology bringing peace, freedom – both political and economic – and prosperity to everyone.

But it hasn’t worked out like that.

Thatcher’s privatisation of the public utilities here in Britain haven’t brought the necessary investment these sectors needed. As Ken Loach’s superb documentary, The Spirit of 45, makes very clear, the power, water and railway industries are natural monopolies that need national planning and support. This has been particularly shown time and again in the management of the railways. Major’s privatisation of British Rail in the 1990s and its breakup into separate companies resulted in a spate of horrendous train crashes. Insult was added to injury by the rail companies passing the buck and accusing each other of responsibility for the disasters. As a result, the company owning the railway network itself, Railtrack, had to be renationalised in 2002. Privatisation did not work. And it has continued to fail with the private railways companies. Several have had to be taken back into state administration after providing poor service. However, this has always been excused as a temporary measure and the government has insisted on finding some other private company to run those services afterwards. After a series of such failures, this strategy now looks more than a little desperate. It’s an attempt to fend off the obvious: that private enterprise isn’t providing a proper, decent rail service and the only way to run it properly is to renationalise it.

It is very much the same with the government’s part-privatisation of Britain’s schools. Declining standards in state schools led Thatcher to experiment with privately-run schools outside the control of Local Education Authorities. These were then called ‘city academies’. They were another failure, and her education secretary, Norman Fowler, was forced to wind them up quietly. Unfortunately, Tony Blair thought it was a wizard idea and it became a major part of New Labour education policy. Simply called ‘academies’, these schools would be run by private companies. Some of these would specialise in particularly subjects, such as Maths and science. Expertise from private industry would ensure that standards would be high, and they would provide a powerful incentive through their competition for the remaining state schools to improve their performance. Except that didn’t happen either. The academies don’t perform any better than ordinary state schools once the massive difference in funding is taken into account. An academy may receive tens of millions of funding compared to a fraction of million that the Local Education Authority receives to spend on all the schools it runs. Furthermore, many of the academies have only been able to maintain their high standards through being highly selective about their intakes. Pupils that may not reach the marks demanded by the schools, including those with behavioural problems or who come from poorer families, are often excluded and expelled. Educational performance and standards in many academies has been so abysmal that the chains managing them have collapsed and the schools once again taken into public administration. But private enterprise under the Tories cannot be allowed to fail, and so we had the grim spectacle a few years ago of Nicky Morgan, the Tory education secretary, repeatedly not answering the questions on the Andrew Marr show why the government was pushing ahead with turning schools into academies when just a little while ago 25 academies had had to be taken over by the government again.

Now, thanks to a mixture of Brexit and global problems elsewhere, the gas industry is in crisis. There are shortages of gas, a number of the smaller companies have already collapsed and customers are being faced with sharp price rises. Novara Media have even said that the government has admitted that if there are severe problems with the major gas suppliers, then they will have to be nationalised.

Gas, like electricity, should never have been privatised in the first place. When it was initially privatised, the company was not split up into separate, competing companies and so it was able to dominate the market as a private monopoly. Now some of those companies are suffering because they are unable to cope with free market conditions. This says to me very much that Jeremy Corbyn was right – that the public utilities need to be publicly owned and rationally managed as part of an integrated system. This is another point that Ken Loach’s documentary makes very well.

And Brexit has created further problems. The establishment of a customs border with Eire overturns one of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and so threatens to return Northern Ireland to sectarian violence and chaos. There is a shortage of CO2 as a result of which some foods and other goods may suffer shortages. And there may be further shortages, including petrol and other fuels, because Brexit has also resulted in fewer haulage drivers. Some are even now predicting a new ‘Winter of Discontent’, like that in 1979 that resulted in the defeat of the-then Labour government and the election of Maggie Thatcher.

I remember the petrol crisis of the ’70s, when OPEC suddenly raised oil prices and there were queues at petrol pumps. Just as I remember how Ted Heath’s dispute with the coal miners resulted their strike, the three-day week and power cuts. It got to the point that by the middle of the decade the right were expecting a Communist takeover and the end of civilisation as we know it. There were supposedly private militias being formed by bonkers right-wingers while parts of the establishment wanted to overthrow the minority Labour government in a coup to be replaced by a kind of coalition government composed of representatives from all the parties. Well, that was what the Times discussed in its articles. The security services, however, were forming plans to round up trade unionists and left-wing politicians and activists and intern them on a Scottish island somewhere. The editor of the Mirror went to Sandhurst to interest them in overthrowing the government but was met with a no doubt polite refusal. I think he, or one of the other plotters, even went as far as Paris to see if that old Fascist, Oswald Mosley, would be interested in leading the new government.

All that has been used in the Tory myth that socialism doesn’t work, and only creates the economic and political chaos that helped bring Britain to its knees. Chaos that was only ended by the glorious reign of Maggie.

Except that these problems look like they’re coming back, and this time the fault is Brexit and the free market.

I think Boris will be able to find temporary solutions to alleviate, but not cure, some of these problems. He has, for example, introduced new legislation to encourage lorry drivers from the continent to come over here. But the underlying structural problems remain. The only way to solve them is through nationalisation.

The Labour party is in an excellent position to drive this home, at least in the case of gas. Even if it doesn’t go that far, it should still be landing hard blows on Johnson and the Tories because of Brexit’s massive failures. But Starmer isn’t doing that. Instead, as Zelo Street pointed out in a piece published a day or so ago, the Labour leader is more intent instead on destroying democracy in his party as part of his war on the left.

Which is why I’m almost nostalgic for the old Socialist Workers’ Party. They’re still around, rebranded as ‘the Socialist Party’, but they’re nowhere near as active as they were. Whenever there was any kind of crisis or major issue you could count on them turning up with their megaphones and copies of their newspaper to harangue the masses and demand further action against the problem. Unfortunately, in many cases the Socialist Workers’ Party were the problem. They colonised left-wing issues in an attempt to turn protest groups into front organisations, which they could then use to produce further discontent. Rock Against Racism collapsed when the SWP took over the leadership of that organisation, formed to protest against the rise of Fascism. They were also busy infiltrating the Labour party and other left-wing parties here and abroad with the intention of radicalising them. I think the eventual hope was to create some kind of mass revolutionary movement. It didn’t work, and has only resulted in purges, such as that of Militant Tendency by Kinnock in the 1980s. In fact, the policy has helped strengthen the right in the Labour party, as they smeared Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as Trotskyite infiltrators as the pretext for their continue purge.

The Trotskyites lived, however, in the firm belief that capitalism would eventually fail. Well, it isn’t doing that now, but it should be abundantly clear that Thatcherite free market capitalism isn’t working. The SWP would have realised that and tried to get the message across. The Labour left, which isn’t remotely Trotskyite, realises too that Thatcherism isn’t working. Their solution is simply a return to the mixed economy of the social democratic consensus. This wasn’t perfect, but it operated far better than the free market shambles we have now. And no, mixed economies are not ‘Communist’, ‘Trotskyist’ or ‘far left’. The real Communists and Trotskyists hated it as a form of capitalism, just as they hated reformist socialist parties like Labour.

But Starmer’s leadership is pledged to propping up the same wretched free market capitalism. Which is why I really feel there should be a mass movement driving home the point, again and again, that Thatcherism is ideologically and economically bankrupt. It is doing nothing but producing chaos in the economy and industry, and poverty and starvation to Britain’s working people. And this poverty will get worse. This is why I’m almost nostalgic for the wretched SWP, as they would have been determined to drive this home. And who knows? Perhaps if they behaved like a reasonable party, they might have gained further support and forced the Labour party to rediscover its socialist heritage in order to head off a challenge from real Communists.

Alexander Bogdanov, Soviet SF Writer and Originator of Fully Automated Luxury Communism

September 18, 2021

One of my friends gave me a copy of A.M. Gittlitz’s I Want to Believe: Posadism, UFOs and Apocalypse Communism, for which I’m really grateful. It’s fascinating! Posadism is a weird Trotskyite sect, founded by Posadas, the nom-de-guerre of Homero Cristalli, an Argentinian Marxist. They were hardline Marxists, joining other Communist and Trotskyite guerrillas fighting a war against capitalism and Fascist oppression across Latin America and Cuba. From what I remember from an article about them in the Fortean Times, they also looked forward to an apocalyptic nuclear war that would destroy the capitalist nations and allow the workers of the world to seize power. This is frightening, as any such war would have destroyed the planet or at least killed countless billions and sent the survivors hurtling back into the Stone Age. Unfortunately, it was also shared by Chairman Mao, who really couldn’t believe why Khrushchev hadn’t launched a nuclear attack on America during the Cuban missile crisis. Khrushchev was certainly no angel. During Stalin’s reign he was responsible for organising purges of dissidents in Ukraine and when in power led a brutal crackdown on religion that sent thousands of people of faith, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, shamanists to the gulags. He was also responsible for creating the system of curtained shops which served only members of the Communist party. But in refusing to start a nuclear war, Khrushchev helped save the world and showed himself a far better man than Mao.

But Posadas also had some other, rather more eccentric views. He believed in establishing contact with intelligent aliens and also believed dolphins were another intelligent species with whom we should establish real, meaningful contact and understanding. A college friend of mine told me that they wanted to make contact with aliens because of their belief in the inevitable victory of Marxism. If there were alien civilisations, they reasoned, they would have achieved true, Marxist socialism and could therefore help us do the same. It sound completely bonkers, but they took their views on dolphin intelligence from the scientist and psychologist John Lilley. Many others shared their views. I have a feeling that dolphins feature in several of Larry Niven’s novels as intelligent creatures with whom humans have a relationship as equal species. To help them interact with us, they have been given artificial arms and mobile pods containing the water they need to support them.

There was a brief resurgence of Posadism on the Net in 2016, and the book contains amongst its illustrations a number of memes posted by them. One contrasts the despair and defeatism of capitalism and the mainstream socialist parties with Posadism. It features a grey alien looking on accompanied with slogans like ‘Solidarity with the space comrades’ – not ‘space brothers’, note, like the old-fashioned UFO contactees talked about, but Marxist aliens determined to overthrow capitalism. Other slogans included ‘It’s Communism, Jim, but not a we know it’, clearly a parody of the famous line from Star Trek, ‘It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it’. And there’s also a parody of one of the famous sayings of the Space Prophet himself, Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Posadist meme reworked this as ‘Dialectical Materialism so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic.’ They are also in favour of fully automated luxury communism. This is the doctrine, embraced by Yannis Varoufakis amongst others, that mechanisation will make most workers redundant. To prevent the immense harm this will do, the only choice will be for the state to take over industry and run it so that everyone has free access to goods and services. This got reworked in one of the Posadist memes as ‘Fully automated luxury gay communism.’ I have to say this sounds distinctly unappealing. Not because I’m opposed to gay rights, but because it sounds like only gays will be allowed into the new utopia. I hope if it comes, it will benefit everyone, whatever their sexuality.

In fact the idea of fully automated luxury communism and alien contact goes back a long way in Marxist history. Alexander Bogdanov, an early rival to Marx, wrote an SF novel, Red Star. Inspired by Tsiolkovsky, the Russian rocket pioneer, and H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, this was about a revolutionary from the 1905 anti-Tsarist uprising, who is abducted to Mars. Martian society is advanced both technologically and socially. All the factories are automated, so that goods are plentiful and money is obsolete, as everyone has access to all the goods and services they need or want. As a result, Martians share their possessions. What work remains is entirely voluntary, but done idealistically for the good of society. This includes young Martians donating blood to increase the lives of the elderly. (see page 5 of the above book).

As the Bard says in The Tempest ‘Oh brave new world that hath such people in it!’

Posadas was an eccentric with some extremely dangerous views, but some of his ideas aren’t so daft. If mechanisation proceeds, then I feel that fully automated luxury communism, or something very like it, will have to come into existence. It’s the only humane alternative to the grind mass poverty and despair depicted in dystopian SF stories like 2000 AD’s ‘Judge Dredd’, where 95 per cent of the population of Megacity 1 is unemployed and films like Elysium, where the world’s masses live in shanty towns, workers are exploited and disposable, and the rich live in luxury orbital colonies.

And serious scientists are still looking for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, following American astronomer Frank Drake and scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan. Interestingly, the book states that Sagan, a Humanist and left-wing activist, denied being a Marxist. But he and his wife Anne Druyan smuggled copies of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, so that Soviet citizens could read its real, suppressed history. I think most SETI scientists believe that real aliens would probably be so different from us that their political and institutions may well be inapplicable to us. Nevertheless advocates of SETI believe that aliens may nevertheless be able to give us vital scientific information, including the cure of disease and how to extend our lifespan. It probably won’t be Marxism, but if the aliens do have something like it or Fascism, then these ideologies will become popular on Earth after contact.

Communist aliens sounds like a ridiculous idea, but until we make contact, we won’t know if there are or aren’t any.

As for the Martian society of Red Star, the absence of a money economy, the abolition of scarcity and work as a purely voluntary activity sound very much like the Federation in Star Trek. Thanks to contact with the Vulcans and other aliens, humans had overcome racism, poverty and starvation. People didn’t need to work, but they did so in order to better themselves. It should be said, though, that the series never openly advocated socialism. It simply said that ‘the economics of the future are different’ and implied that both capitalism and socialism had been transcended. Nevertheless, the parallels are so close that the far right, like Sargon of Gasbag and his fellow Lotus Eaters, have been moaning that Star Trek’s communist. I doubt it, not least because the actress who plays Seven Of Nine is married to a Republican politico. I think Star Trek is broadly liberal and presents an inspiring utopian society. One of the complaints about Star Trek: Picard is that it has now abandoned this utopian optimism in favour of portraying the Federation as a standard SF dystopia and that it’s liberal slant has become too shrill and intolerant at the expense of good stories, plots and characterisation. Utopias are unattainable, but we need them to inspire us, to show us that ‘another world is possible’ and that, in the words of The Style Council, ‘you don’t have to take this crap/ You don’t have to sit back and relax’. Or work yourselves to death to increase the profits of already bloated big business elites.

Apart from this, the book is also a fascinating look at the history of Marxism in Argentina and Latin America, and I intend to review on this blog when I finish it.

As for aliens, well, I’d rather we made contact with benign Space Comrades than the little Grey buggers that haunt our nightmares of UFOs, abductions and malign conspiracies at the moment.

And yes, the title very definitely is taken from the poster of a UFO hanging in Fox Mulder’s office in the X-Files.

Congratulations! Mike Is Asked to Speak at a Workshop on ‘Resisting Lawfare’

September 18, 2021

Kudos and respect to Mike on Vox Political. Nottingham is hosting a ‘Festival of Resistance’ on October 16th and 17th, and Mike has been invited to speak at a workshop on ‘Resisting Lawfare’. Lawfare is the term used to describe the use of the law by political organisations to penalise and silence their opponents. The Israel lobby is currently using this tactic to criminalise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement in America. Various states and other areas have passed legislation outlawing the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, with Zionist groups pushing for the prosecution of people and organisations that adopt and promote it. The BDS movement, in my view, is very far from anti-Semitic, though I can well see how its opponents believe and make the claim that it is. Real anti-Semites have organised boycotts against Jewish firms, the most infamous being the Nazis’ though they weren’t remotely alone. Right-wing Polish nationalists demanding independence from the Russian empire also saw Jews as their enemy and organised boycotts against them. But the BDS movement isn’t against the Jews, or even Israel as a whole. It is just against trading with Israeli businesses in the occupied territories. It is not anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, but pro-Palestinian. And it is backed by a number of Jewish Americans, who despise the Israeli government’s persecution of the indigenous Arabs.

Rachel Riley has risibly accused Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters of anti-Semitism, even going so far as compare the band at the Durham Miners’ Gala to the SS because they dared to play ‘Hava Nagila’ at their annual gala as they do every year. It’s a ridiculous, deeply insulting claim particularly as it was the trade unions and the Communists who joined their Jewish brothers and sisters and resisted real Fascists in the shape of Oswald Mosley and his storm troopers when they came goose-stepping down the East End. Riley has also threatened anyone who dares to contradict her with legal action, and her prosecution of Mike for libel may, I feel, be reasonably seen as lawfare.

Mike, I can state with utter honesty, is very firmly anti-racist and definitely far from an anti-Semite. Genuine Jew-haters and Holocaust-deniers will get short shrift from him, as will other bigots and racists. Mike will not be giving details of the Riley case, but he does intend to talk about what it feels like to be on the end of such SLAPP suits. He makes the point that the bullies behind them are trying to make their victims feel helpless, but that hasn’t been the case with him because of the donations he has received from his supporters. He is very grateful, but asks people to continue giving. He also hope some of the people, who have supported him against Riley, will come to the Festival as he’d really like to meet them.

I think it’s great that Nottingham is hosting such as Festival, as we need to resist the Tories even more now as they pursue their policies of attacking the welfare state, privatising the NHS and driving more and more working people into poverty while promoting racism and bigotry. The Labour left has organised Zoom rallies for such resistance as part of the Arise festival of left-wing ideas. I’m pleased that Mike has joined what I’ve no doubt are a number of other great people to speak. I regret, however, that at the moment my illness prevents me from travelling anywhere outside Bristol, and so I shan’t be able to go and see him and the others. I hope some of his supporters will be able to go and meet him, as they’re great people doing a great job.

And solidarity to our left-wing brothers and sisters in Nottingham and to every socialist and critic of Israel who has or is being threatened with prosecution or expulsion from the Labour party simply for criticising Israel and its barbarous ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

As the late Bobby Ball, of comedy double act Cannon and Ball, used to say, ‘Rock on!’

Lookalikes: Boris Johnson and Simian Double

September 5, 2021

Okay, I know it’s rather ad hominem, but it’s too good not to use. Private Eye have carried column for years entitled ‘Lookalikes’ which shows picture of various public figures, politicians, actors, sportsmen and women and pop stars, next to things that look like them for comic effect. I found a picture of Snowball the albino gorilla in an illustrated dictionary we’ve had since the 1970s, I was struck by the uncanny similarity to the simian creature now occupying No. 10.

Way back in the ’70s and ’80s there was nasty racist joke going round. It was a picture of Black man and a gorilla, and asked what the difference was. I’m not going to go further, because it is offensive, but you could ask the same about Boris and Snowball. What’s the difference between them? The gorilla is gentler, more intelligent, and doesn’t make the poor even poorer for the benefit of the rich.