Archive for the ‘Popular Music’ Category

Reviewing the ‘I’s’ Review of Ian McEwan’s ‘Machines Like Me’

April 21, 2019

George Barr’s cover illo for Lloyd Biggle’s The Metallic Muse. From David Kyle, the Illustrated Book of Science Fiction Ideas & Dreams (London: Hamlyn 1977).

The book’s pages of last Friday’s I , for 19th April 2019, carried a review by Jude Cook of Ian McEwan’s latest literary offering, a tale of a love triangle between a man, the male robot he has purchased, and his wife, a plot summed up in the review’s title, ‘Boy meets robot, robot falls for girl’. I’d already written a piece in anticipation of its publication on Thursday, based on a little snippet in Private Eye’s literary column that McEwan, Jeanette Winterson and Kazuo Ishiguro were all now turning to robots and AI for their subject matter, and the Eye expected other literary authors, like Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie, to follow. My objection to this is that it appeared to be another instance of the literary elite taking their ideas from Science Fiction, while looking down on the genre and its writers. The literary establishment has moved on considerably, but I can still remember the late, and very talented Terry Pratchett complaining at the Cheltenham Literary Festival that the organisers had looked at him as if he was about to talk to all his waiting fans crammed into the room about motorcycle maintenance.

Cook’s review gave an outline of the plot and some of the philosophical issues discussed in the novel. Like the Eye’s piece, it also noted the plot’s similarity to that of the Channel 4 series, Humans. The book is set in an alternative 1982 in which the Beatles are still around and recording, Tony Benn is Prime Minister, but Britain has lost the Falklands War. It’s a world where Alan Turing is still alive, and has perfected machine consciousness. The book’s hero, Charlie, purchases one of the only 25 androids that have been manufactured, Adam. This is not a sex robot, but described as ‘capable of sex’, and which has an affair with the hero’s wife, Miranda. Adam is an increasing threat to Charlie, refusing to all his master to power him down. There’s also a subplot about a criminal coming forward to avenge the rape Miranda has suffered in the past, and a four year old boy about to be placed in the care system.

Cook states that McEwan discusses the philosophical issue of the Cartesian duality between mind and brain when Charlie makes contact with Turing, and that Charlie has to decide whether Adam is too dangerous to be allowed to continue among his flesh and blood counterparts, because

A Manichean machine-mind that can’t distinguish between a white lie and a harmful lie, or understand that revenge can sometimes be justified, is potentially lethal.

Cook declares that while this passage threatens to turn the book into a dry cerebral exercise, its engagement with the big questions is its strength, concluding

The novel’s presiding Prospero is Turing himself, who observes that AI is fatally flawed because life is “an open system… full of tricks and feints and ambiguities”. His great hope is that by its existence “we might be shocked in doing something about ourselves.”

Robots and the Edisonade

It’s an interesting review, but what it does not do is mention the vast amount of genre Science Fiction that has used robots to explore the human condition, the limits or otherwise of machine intelligence and the relationship between such machines and their creators, since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. There clearly seems to be a nod to Shelley with the name of this android, as the monster in her work, I think, is also called Adam. But Eando Binder – the nom de plume of the brothers Earl and Otto Binder, also wrote a series of stories in the 1930s and ’40s about a robot, Adam Link, one of which was entitled I, Robot, which was later used as the title of one of Asimov’s stories. And although the term ‘robot’ was first used of such machines by the Czech writer Karel Capek in his 1920s play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots, they first appeared in the 19th century. One of these was Villier de l’Isle-Adam, L’Eve Futur of 1884. This was about a robot woman invented by Thomas Edison. As one of the 19th centuries foremost inventors, Edison was the subject of a series of proto-SF novels, the Edisonades, in which his genius allowed him to create all manner of advanced machines. In another such tale, Edison invents a spaceship and weapons that allow humanity to travel to the planets and conquer Mars. McEwan’s book with its inclusion of Alan Turing is basically a modern Edisonade, but with the great computer pioneer rather than the 19th century electrician as its presiding scientific genius. Possibly later generations will have novels set in an alternative late 20th century where Stephen Hawking has invented warp drive, time travel or a device to take us into alternative realities via artificial Black Holes.

Robot Romances

As I said in my original article, there are any number of SF books about humans having affairs with robots, like Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, Lester del Rey’s Helen O’Loy and Asimov’s Satisfaction Guaranteed. The genre literature has also explored the moral and philosophical issues raised by the creation of intelligent machines. In much of this literature, robots are a threat, eventually turning on their masters, from Capek’s R.U.R. through to The Terminator and beyond. But some writers, like Asimov, have had a more optimistic view. In his 1950 I, Robot, a robot psychologist, Dr. Susan Calvin, describes them in a news interview as ‘a cleaner, better breed than we are’.

Lem’s Robots and Descartes

As for the philosophical issues, the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem, explored them in some of his novels and short stories. One of these deals with the old problem, also dating back to Descartes, about whether we can truly know that there is an external world. The story’s hero, the space pilot Pirx, visits a leading cybernetician in his laboratory. This scientist has developed a series of computer minds. These exist, however, without robot bodies, but the minds themselves are being fed programmes which make them believe that they are real, embodied people living in the real world. One of these minds is of a beautiful woman with a scar on her shoulder from a previous love affair. Sometimes the recorded programmes jump a groove, creating instances of precognition or deja vu. But ultimately, all these minds are, no matter how human or how how real they believe themselves to be, are brains in vats. Just like Descartes speculated that a demon could stop people from believing in a real world by casting the illusion of a completely false one on the person they’ve possessed.

Morality and Tragedy in The ABC Warriors 

Some of these complex moral and personal issues have also been explored by comics, until recently viewed as one of the lowest forms of literature. In a 1980s ‘ABC Warriors’ story in 2000AD, Hammerstein, the leader of a band of heroic robot soldiers, remembers his earliest days. He was the third prototype of a series of robot soldiers. The first was an efficient killer, patriotically killing Communists, but exceeded its function. It couldn’t tell civilians from combatants, and so committed war crimes. The next was programmed with a set of morals, which causes it to become a pacifist. It is killed trying to persuade the enemy – the Volgans – to lay down their arms. Hammerstein is its successor. He has been given morals, but not to the depth that they impinge on his ability to kill. For example, enemy soldiers are ‘terrorists’. But those on our side are ‘freedom fighters’. When the enemy murders civilians, it’s an atrocity. When we kill civilians, it’s unavoidable casualties. As you can see, the writer and creator of the strip, Pat Mills, has very strong left-wing opinions.

Hammerstein’s programming is in conflict, so his female programmer takes him to a male robot psychiatrist, a man who definitely has romantic intentions towards her. They try to get Hammerstein to come out of his catatonic reverie by trying to provoke a genuine emotional reaction. So he’s exposed to all manner of stimuli, including great works of classical music, a documentary about Belsen, and the novels of Barbara Cartland. But the breakthrough finally comes when the psychiatrist tries to kiss his programmer. This provokes Hammerstein into a frenzied attack, in which he accidentally kills both. Trying to repair the damage he’s done, Hammerstein says plaintively ‘I tried to replace his head, but it wouldn’t screw back on.’

It’s a genuinely adult tale within the overall, action-oriented story in which the robots are sent to prevent a demon from Earth’s far future from destroying the Galaxy by destabilising the artificial Black and White Holes at the centre of Earth’s underground civilisation, which have been constructed as express routes to the stars. It’s an example of how the comics culture of the time was becoming more adult, and tackling rather more sophisticated themes.

Conclusion: Give Genre Authors Their Place at Literary Fiction Awards

It might seem a bit mean-spirited to compare McEwan’s latest book to its genre predecessors. After all, in most reviews of fiction all that is required is a brief description of the plot and the reviewer’s own feelings about the work, whether it’s done well or badly. But there is a point to this. As I’ve said, McEwan, Winterson, Ishiguro and the others, who may well follow their lead, are literary authors, whose work regularly wins the big literary prizes. They’re not genre authors, and the type of novels they write are arguably seen by the literary establishment as superior to that of genre Science Fiction. But here they’re taking over proper Science Fiction subjects – robots and parallel worlds – whose authors have extensively explored their moral and philosophical implications. This is a literature that can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed as trash, as Stanislaw Lem has done, and which the judges and critics of mainstream literary fiction still seem to do. McEwan’s work deserves to be put into the context of genre Science Fiction. The literary community may feel that it’s somehow superior, but it is very much of the same type as its genre predecessors, who did the themes first and, in my opinion, better.

There is absolutely no reason, given the quality of much SF literature, why this tale by McEwan should be entered for a literary award or reviewed by the kind of literary journals that wouldn’t touch genre science fiction with a barge pole, while genre SF writers are excluded. It’s high time that highbrow literary culture recognised and accepted works and writers of genre SF as equally worthy of respect and inclusion.

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Song Spoofing Nigel Farage: ‘I’m Gonna Tell 500 Lies’

April 15, 2019

Here’s another piece of highly political pop from YouTube, this time courtesy of the Joe channel. It’s a Cassetteboi style piece in which various clips of Nigel Farage have been carefully edited and spliced together to make him look stupid. Very stupid. In this instance, it’s to make it appear that he’s singing about all the lies he’s told people about Brexit and immigration now that he’s founded yet another anti-EU party, the Brexit Party.

The song’s a version of the Proclaimer’s ‘500 Miles’, called ‘(I’m Gonna Tell) 500 Lies’, and begins with a shot of parliament, full of Nigel Farage, where one of them holds up a piece of paper saying ‘He’s lying to you’ with an arrow pointing to another Nigel Farage. The lyrics run

When you wake up, well you know I’m gonna be, I’m gonna be the man who sold a lie to you. And when we go out,well you know I’m gonna be the man who acts as Putin’s fool. When you’re suffering, well you’ll know I’ll never be the man who’s suffering with you. And if you’re Muslim, or a Syrian refugee, then you’re not welcome in my outright UKIP coup. ‘Cos I would tell 500 lies and I would tell 500 more just to stoke up hate and xenophobic bile until we’re out the door. And if you’re working, well you know there’s gonna be, there’s gonna be all sorts of low-paid work for you. Because the migrant, who does the work that you won’t do has been deported and they’re back in the EU. If you’re a patient, with medication overdue remember I’m the reason why it can’t get through. Then when you’re hospitalised, no-one’s there to care for you ‘cos half the nursing staff have been deported too. So chew on that because there’ll be no f***ing food.

Then as the music carries on without any further vocals, there are captions explaining that Farage has stood for election to the House of Commons seven times since 1994, and has never been successful. He was first voted as leader of UKIP in 2006 and has campaigned for Brexit ever since. And it still hasn’t happened.

Which shows that he’s a failure as well as racist bigot.

Unfortunately, the song is correct about the terrible results we can expect from Brexit. There is a shortage of nursing and other medical staff thanks to Brexit, and it is predicted that there will be problems obtaining supplies of medicine and food. Indeed, the press reported that Tweezer was setting up a special government committee to tackle this. And Brexit has stoked up massive racial prejudice against Muslims and Syrian asylum seekers as well as migrant workers from the EU.

I very much doubt that the Brexit party will get anywhere electorally, but Brexit and the parties promoting it – UKIP and the Eurosceptic wing of the Tories – are badly damaging Britain, harming its economy, the health service and the welfare of non-White citizens and migrant workers.

They have to be voted out, and a proper anti-racist government put instead. A government headed by Jeremy Corbyn, who, despite the lies, is one of the most anti-racist politicos in Britain’s parliament.

 

Video of Indigenous Australian Pop Band Yothu Yindi

April 15, 2019

This is another interesting piece of global pop I found on YouTube. It’s of the indigenous Australian pop Yothu Yindi, performing their track ‘Treaty’. It’s a a sharp criticism of the failure of Australia’s mainstream politicians way back in 1988 to formulate a treaty with the continent’s indigenous peoples despite promises to give them a better deal and goodwill visits to indigenous communities. At least, that’s how it appears to me from the lyrics and the clips of White Ozzies visiting indigenous communities and participating in displays of indigenous culture.

I  can remember reading about the emergence of indigenous Australian pop bands way back in the 1980s in one of the Sunday supplements. This mentioned a punk, or a punk-influenced band, but this song appears more or less straight pop-rock, so it may not have been Yothu Yindi. The article said that the bands had the support of young White pop-pickers, and campaigned for indigenous rights. Part of this was tribal sovereignty over their lands, so that people, who weren’t indigenous Australians, had to obtain the proper passports before entering their communities, which were closed off to the outside world.

I really don’t know much about the political situation in Australia regarding the indigenous peoples, except that there’s still much prejudice against them, and that they still suffer from massive poverty, cultural dislocation, alcoholism and unemployment, as well as the continuing effects of White Australia Policy and the mixed-race children, who were stolen from their indigenous parents to give to Whites.

The video’s clearly a protest song about the poverty, injustice and broken promises indigenous Australians face. Here it is.

You Kipper – UKIP’s Mosleyite YouTube Fan

March 29, 2019

And now, even more racism and Fascism, this time courtesy of UKIP, or rather, one of their fans. Yesterday the anti-racism, anti-religious extremism organisation and website Hope Not Hate put up a piece about You Kipper, a content creator on YouTube, who puts up videos celebrating Oswald Mosley and encouraging people to join UKIP.

You Kipper has been posting since 2015, and already he has 28,500 subscribers and had seven million views. He produces videos promoting UKIP, as his name suggests, and described the party as ‘our guys’ the video of a discussion between himself and Alt Right activist Colin Robertson, who also posts himself on YouTube as Millennial Woes. You Kipper’s association with Robertson should itself indicate just how far Kipper’s political views are. Robertson is notorious for his videos, largely consisting of himself in a bathroom sat in a darkened room ranting about the West is declining because of non-White immigration and feminism. He also gave a speech in America at an Alt Right gathering in which he told Richard Spencer’s assembled stormtroopers how shocked he was when he found out a young bloke he talked to on a train, who seemed to be intelligent, accepted the conventional narrative about the Holocaust.

You Kipper also describes himself as a ‘Mosleyite’. One of his videos has the title ‘A New Machine – Sir Oswald Mosley’, featuring the speeches of Britain’s would-be fuehrer. This was one of couple of videos shared on Facebook by the fanatic, who then gunned down 50 innocent Muslims in New Zealand. Hope Not Hate point out in their piece that the gunman describe Mosley as the man with the closest views to his own.

The second video from You Kipper that the Australian Nazi shared had the title, ‘There’s No England Now’, a line from the Kinks. This showed Muslims praying, left-wing and pro-EU activists, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and the Manchester bombings, accompanied by the Kink’s ‘Living on a Thin Line’, which was where You Kipper took the title of this wretched piece.

You Kipper has also produced a video on British ethnonationalism, which used to be ‘racial nationalism’ back when I was a lad, and which refers to the NF/BNP doctrine that only Whites can ever really be British. This featured dialogue from the British Fascist John Bowden. Another video on British Nationalism is just a straight speech by John Tyndall, the former fuehrer of the National Front and BNP. And two days after the Christchurch terror attack, You Kipper posted a video ‘(Why You Should) Join UKIP’ consisting of uberkipperfuehrer Gerard Batten’s speech at the Day For Freedom rally last year. The video’s soundtrack was Fashwave music from the British musician, Xurious. For those of us not aux fait with the latest trends in Nazi tunes, Fashwave stands for ‘Fascist Wave’, and is a form of electronic music popular with the Alt Right. Which makes it sound like Nazi rave music.

UKIP is returning You Kipper’s compliments with some branches sharing his wretched videos. The Bury branch shared his video ‘Working Class Uprising: Why We Voted ‘Leave”, which includes clips of a devastated town in County Durham. The only clip underneath it stated that the town was ready for a ‘muzrat’ invasion.

Hope Not Hate connects You Kipper’s support for the party with Batten’s change of direction to appeal to the anti-Muslim and Far Right, including on-line extreme right-wing personalities like Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, Mark Meechan, otherwise known of Count Dankula of Nazi pug infamy, and the Sage of Swindon, Carl Benjamin, also known as Sargon of Akkad. Benjamin considers to be a civic rather than ethnic nationalist, but he shares some of the same extreme attitudes as the others. As a ‘classical liberal’ he also stands for the unfettered free market, limited government and despises feminism. There’s also a streak of racism there, as he told a group of fellow right-wingers with whom he was in a discussion that they were ‘behaving like a bunch of n***ers’ when they started to squabble among themselves. Other videos of his apparently show him snorting campaign and looking at the addresses of massage parlours in Swindon. As you do, if you’re a Lockean civic nationalist in Swindon. He’s been selected as UKIP’s candidate for the European elections, should we still be in the EU when they’re due to be held. This has given much amusement to Benjamin’s nemesis, the male feminist and anti-Nazi Kevin Logan. Last weekend Logan and Kristi Winters put up a long video, in which Logan described at length how difficult Sargon would find real politics. The press would tear him to pieces, and he wouldn’t be able to shout down and insult people on their own doorsteps, as he has done debating various political issues at atheist conventions in America. Unfortunately, despite the fact that parts of the Kipper apparat really didn’t want him in, Sargon’s videos for the party in which he attacks, amongst other issues, trans rights, have made the Kipper channel the most popular political channel on YouTube.

The Hope Not Hate article cites a piece in the Guardian that the mass departure of UKIP’s older members and the influx of younger, more extreme activists, has also coincided with the rise of extreme-right wing internet sites like Politicalite and Unity News. These sites also support Batten’s far right politics. The article concludes

UKIP has changed, and has become a participant in the online culture war as much as a political threat. Sharing an article from the Guardian which reported that UKIP’s surge in membership is shifting the party to the far right, You Kipper tweeted: “when I said UKIP are a cultural as well as political force this is what I meant: we’re helping to shift the political climate”.  

https://www.hopenothate.org.uk/2019/03/28/you-kipper-the-fascist-youtuber-promoted-by-the-nz-shooter-and-ukip/

That’s the danger. UKIP has turned to the Far Right because it’s desperate for new members and to make itself relevant. It was a single issue party that became redundant after the ‘Leave’ campaign won the 2016 referendum. And hopefully the party will collapse further as the country moves away from Leave as it becomes clear how exiting the European Union will damage our economy and society.

But it is dangerous in that You Kipper, Sargon, Dankula, Watson and co are shifting the Overton window towards the Far Right, and helping to legitimate islamophobia, misogyny and racism.

 

‘I’ Newspaper Smears Corbyn’s Labour as Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theorists: Part 3

March 10, 2019

The next anti-Semitic conspiracy theory Verber claims is held by people in the Labour party is ‘Twisting or denying the facts of the holocaust’. The example he gives of this is ‘Chris Williamson’s series of unfortunate events’. He writes of this conspiracy theory

Wander into any coffee shop in Tel Aviv and you will hear all manner of Israelis criticising the government of the day. But none of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic policies are remotely similar to any passed by Israel. The Nazis set out to murder every Jew in Europe and then – had they got their way – across the globe.

Each innocent Palestinian life that has been lost in the conflict with Israel is a tragedy, as it every Israeli life. But Gaza is not Auschwitz. Comparing the two is a lie, a low blow deliberately calculated to cause hurt and pain to a community still in trauma.

Other versions of this conspiracy theory include attempts to play down the Holocaust’s significance or event to question its existence.

Now look what’s being done here. It’s a classic example of ‘bait and switch’. For most people, ‘twisting or denying the facts of the Holocaust’ would mean straight out Holocaust denial, or the noxious variants of it that minimise the numbers murdered. But that’s not what concern Verber. He’s upset because, gasp, some people are comparing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazis. His statement that none of Israel’s policies are comparable to the Nazis is a flat-out lie. Firstly, Israel is an apartheid state. Only Jews can be citizens. This is identical to the Nazis’ policy that only ethnic Germans could be German citizens. The country’s indigenous Arabs also live under separate laws and may only use specific roads. Many municipalities in Israel have passed legislation forbidding property to be let to non-Jews. Furthermore, the country was born partly through a series of massacres against the Arabs. Those making the claim that Israel resembles Nazi Germany, like Tony Greenstein, qualify that statement by saying that it is like Nazi Germany before the launch of the Holocaust in 1942. Gaza is not Auschwitz, as Verber says. But I don’t think anyone has said it was. It has, however, been described as an open-air ghetto.

As for comparisons to Nazi Germany being hurtful to a community still in trauma, this is massively hypocritical. Israelis accuse their politicians of being Nazis all the time. There was even a cartoon in one newspaper of Netanyahu in Nazi uniform.

Now we come to what Verber calls ‘Chris Williamson’s series of unfortunate events’. This begins with Williamson signing a petition against Islington Council’s banning of Jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, a Holocaust denier. Verber notes that he later claimed that he didn’t know about Atzmon’s views. It’s possible. Atzmon considers himself to be a supporter of the Palestinians, although the mainstream Palestinian solidarity movement doesn’t want to have anything to do with him because of his toxic views about Jews. But Atzmon is hardly a household name, and if the petition claimed that he was being banned because of his support for the Palestinians, then it’s quite possible that Williamson signed it in all innocence.

But there is more half-truths and malign insinuations that follow. He states that Williamson has several times shared a platform with Jackie, who has been suspended for falsely accusing Jews of financing the slave trade and playing down the importance of the Holocaust, and defended Ken Livingstone, who said that Hitler supported Zionism. I’ve dealt with the accusations against Walker and Livingstone ad nauseam. Neither of the two are racist, and especially not Walker, who is a Black Jew, believes in Judaism as a religion, sends her daughter to a Jewish school, and has a Jewish partner. The quote the CAA used to claim that she believes Jews financed the slave trade was lifted out of context from a personal discussion with three friends, where it was understood that she was talking about how some Jews financed and profited from the slave trade. Which is true, as she cites the literature and authorities to back up her comment. As for downplaying the importance of the Holocaust, she did no such thing. She was secretly recorded by the Jewish Labour Movement at their Holocaust Memorial Day workshop questioning the exclusive focus on Jews at the expense of other ethnicities, that have also suffered Holocausts. She also asked them to give her a definition of anti-Semitism she could work with. When Marc Wadsworth asked the same question at his tribunal, when he was smeared as an anti-Semite, the tribunal called for an adjournment. When they returned, it was accompanied with four lawyers, all arguing. Walker was singled out because she did not accept the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, because it is used to suppress criticism of Israel. As for Leninspart, he was right about Hitler and Zionism. Before the Final Solution was introduced, the Nazis were keen to find anyway of getting rid of Germany’s Jews. And this meant sending them to Israel through the short-lived Ha’avara Agreement. Which is historical fact.

Verber also goes on to say that Williamson has warned of ‘certain dark forces ‘ using their contacts in the media and power to undermine Corbyn. But as we’ve seen, there is abundant evidence to show that these fears are not unfounded, not least as regards Israel.

Verber concludes this section with the words

Outright Holocaust denial has been moved to the fringes even of the world occupied by conspiracy theorists. Given the vacuum, new and more subtle ways of trivialising and attacking the Holocaust have had to be created.

Well I dare say, but this doesn’t apply to criticism of Israel for ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians or the smears against Walker and Livingstone. The last two haven’t denied or played down the Holocaust at all, and neither has Williamson. This is just more lies and smears from him, to try to make them seem anti-Semitic monsters.

Moshe Machover, Israeli Anti-Zionist, Speaking at Labour Against the Witchhunt Meeting

March 2, 2019

This is another excellent video from the public meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt on the 29th January last year, 2019. LAW was founded to stand up for people, who had been unfairly targeted by the right in the Labour party for expulsion, chiefly, but not exclusively, on bogus charges of anti-Semitism. Although one young woman was suspended or expelled because – gasp! Shock! Horror! – She was a fan of the Foo Fighters! LAW’s chair is Jackie Walker, a Black, Jewish anti-racist activist, who was falsely accused of anti-Semitism. Here she introduces Professor Moshe Machover, a very well respected Israeli mathematician and a staunch critic of Zionism. Here he tells the story of how he was also smeared, expelled and re-admitted for ‘supporting another party/not supporting another party’.

Walker states that many people were uplifted when the NEC were forced to go back on their knee-jerk response and reinstate him. This happened because they were at the Labour party conference and the offending article that many have spoken about that Moshe wrote, which touched on some of the issues that Ken [Loach?] spoke about, was in a paper on the side. And Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, came out, took a photo of them, smiled, and said something like ‘Well, we’ll have you now.’ Within hours Machover had been fingered. What is extraordinary is that in two years, 18 months, more people have been suspended and still do not know what the allegations against them are. It is extraordinary that at times, given that, Labour’s disciplinary unit can respond so quickly. She then hands over the Mike to Prof Machover.

Machover’s rather elderly, so he apologises for speaking from a sitting position. He states he wants to make a few technical points. It is not only about false allegations of anti-Semitism. There are two things that are combined, and in his case they were combined. The allegations of anti-Semitism are the most despicable, they are a form of character assassination. But they can only suspend you for it. They did not use that allegation to expel him. There is a more draconian rule that was used him against him and many other people, which has zilch to do with allegations of anti-Semitism. It is the infamous Rule 2.14.4b in the Labour party rule book. This allows the bureaucrats not to suspend, but to expel automatically. The procedure shares with the allegation of anti-Semitism the absence of natural justice. There is no due process. This is about who the accuser, the prosecution and the judge are. They are the same people: the committee that is expelling you or adjudicating in your suspension. They are the judges and the prosecution. You cannot cross-examine the witnesses. You cannot know who is accusing you. This applies to both cases. The draconian rule that allows automatic expulsion, or prevent you joining the party. Some of this would be just, if it was accompanied by due procedure, natural justice. For example, if you demand people vote for a rival candidate to a Labour candidate in an election. That would be a just case for expulsion. If someone is caught with a bloody knife over a corpse, they still have a trial. They’re not sent to prison automatically. Unlike this rule.

And some of the ground for automatic expulsion are absolutely absurd, a bureaucrat’s dream. This is membership or support for a political organisation not affiliated to the Labour party. But they do not define what a political organisation is. It could be Refuge. It could be Momentum [which was not at the time affiliated to the Labour party]. it could be anything. And what does ‘support’ mean? In Machover’s case, it was comical. Membership is a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ thing. But what does ‘support’ mean? They accused him of supporting a rival organisation. Why did they pick on this organisation? They did not call for voting against Labour. On the contrary, they encouraged people to vote for Labour candidates. What does support me? It’s not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ issue. He supports some things, but not others. He says he did not respond to that part of the question when the bureaucrats wrote to him about it, because he didn’t really give him any definition of what support meant. When he was expelled, the evidence against him was the article he had published in the weekly journal of the CPGB [Communist Party of Great Britain]. This is something a lot of people do. Jeremy Corbyn has published many articles in the Morning Star, a lot of Labour leaders have published articles in journals inimical to the Labour Party. When they grudgingly reinstated him they said that they construed his reply as evidence that he did not support this organisation. He did not admit or deny support, but they arbitrarily decided that first he did, then he didn’t. That shows the arbitrariness of the whole procedure.

Coming to the accusations of anti-Semitism, it is true, as Walker said, that the accusations started when Corbyn became a candidate. That was a shift of gear in a campaign that started a few years previously, which had little to do with the Labour party, Britain, or specifically Jeremy Corbyn. It is a campaign orchestrated by the Israeli government, specifically by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs led by the cabinet minister Gilad Erdan. This was a response to Israeli’s declining reputation and falling support internationally,  among the left but also among liberal opinion, and particularly among the young, including young Jewish people. And so they decided to fight against it by accusing people who were against Israel and its crimes, and against the Zionist project of colonisation, branding them as anti-Semites. And the bastards fight dirty. You don’t need to go further than look at the al-Jazeera expose. He recommends that if you haven’t watched the four part series, you should, as he found it personally entertaining in a macabre way, but also import to see how the whole thing works.  He then goes to make the following points:

The campaign against Corbyn by the right, including the Labour right, which still holds very important bureaucratic positions, latched onto it and used it as a cudgel against Corbyn. This was a confluence of those who believed in Israel almost like a religion, who were prepared to eat alive anyone who dared to make even the most justified criticism of Israel. This coincided with the people on the right, both inside and outside the Labour party, who care zilch about Israel, Palestinians and anti-Semitism. They just want to use anti-Semitism as a weapon against Jeremy Corbyn personally. This is combined with a characteristic of the elite, not just in this country, but generally in the international community, in what used to be called ‘the free world’. This is led by the United States, which is led by, you know who. And Israel is playing a very important role for the US, not only as their regional watchdog, but as their supplier globally of the hardware and software of mass repression, such as the drones used not just for reconaissance but also assassination. Israel is the United State’s rottweiler, which is at the head of the international community. And so if that rottweiler pisses on your shoe, you don’t kick it, but say ‘Good dog! Good dog!’

He then ends his talk with a remark about Momentum. Many branches of Momentum mobilised to pass resolutions in his defence and in the defence of other victims. But where are Momentum’s national leaders? John Lansman, Momentum’s leader, is on record as saying ‘You mustn’t mention Zionism.’ But you can’t open an Israeli paper without Zionism being discussed – ‘Is it consonant with Zionism, is it not consonant with Zionism?’ Zionism is the ideology of Israel. It is not possible to mention Israel without mentioning Zionism, like Communism was the ideology of the old Soviet Union. What stops the central leadership of Momentum from saying a word about this. He thinks they should raise this question.

Jackie Walker Speaking at Labour Against the Witchhunt Public Meeting

March 2, 2019

This is a video I found on YouTube of the superb Black Jewish anti-racist activist, Jackie Walker, speaking at a public meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt on the 29th January 2018. Labour Against the Witchhunt is a group founded to protest against the anti-Semitic smears and expulsions of decent party members and activists. Among its founders and leaders are Tony Greenstein, a long-time Jewish enemy of racism and Zionism as well as Walker herself. Also present on the panel with her is the Israeli mathematician and anti-Zionist intellectual, Moshe Machover, and Marc Wadsworth, the Black anti-racist activist, who was smeared by Ruth Smeeth.

It begins with Walker introducing herself and stating that she is the chair of Labour Against the Witchhunt. She has not only been suspended, but processed by Labour’s NEC and she is still waiting to hear when she will have a hearing by the NCC, the highest court in Labour. The explains that she is mentioning this because the structures of the Labour party have a lot to do with the reason they were meeting that evening. They don’t just want to see individuals like Moshe Machover being let off, but also a revision of the disciplinary process. Two or three years ago, before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party there was no link between the Left and anti-Semitism. There was no link between the left and abuse, and if you had said that at the time people’s mouths would have fallen open. But the smears started when Corbyn became a candidate. And suddenly things began to appear in the press and the media – stories about abuse, misogyny and anti-Semitism. She says its extraordinary, and it was an extraordinary learning curve for her about how the media in this country works.

At LAW they don’t want to see the end of all disciplinary processes, because every organisation needs them. What they want to see are proper disciplinary processes that are appropriate for a party that has a proud record of defending the oppressed, in terms of being the party that wants justice and transparency. She notes that many people there were trade unionists, and says that as trade unionists they would be appalled if they had to defend people in tribunals with processes like Labour’s. For example, you may not know all the charges against you until you actually arrive on the day. You may not be able to pay for representation, as the party insists you have to have an acting solicitor who speaks for you. You cannot just take a friend, who will represent you. You cannot know who you accusers are. She says that in fact your accusers are protected more than you are. She says that as someone who has had her personal data not just sent to the papers, but to all the news media. And she had it tweeted out from what must have been a closed session of the NEC. They want to see the kind of processes that are right and apt for the type of organisation they have.

They are also not rejecting the fact that racism exists in the Labour party. The Labour party is a reflection of society as a whole. Except usually it’s better than society as a whole. Racism exists. Anti-Semitism exists. But it exists at a level a lot lower than in the Tory party. How dare the Tory party with Boris Johnson point his finger at us as racists with his attitudes towards people of colour and others. She says that proudly as a picaninny with even more than a watermelon smile.

Very soon after the smears against Corbyn started he was being called a terrorist. They got that footage and they did what they did to all Labour activists – they cut it how they wanted and took it out of context. I’m sure Ken [Loach] could make any of us look saints and sinners using his skills, and they made Corbyn out to be a terrorist sympathiser. This is the MP that has probably had the reputation in the last 20 or 30 years of being the person who stands out the most for civil rights and anti-racism. The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has had over a hundred articles suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite. You could say that they are just another bunch of trolls, except that the disciplinary unit are using material from them against people like herself, Greenstein, and Wadsworth. What is happening in an organisation that is falling over itself to discredit its own leader?

She says that she thinks the LAW was established, it has been hugely successful. And one of the reasons is that they are not just interested in people, who have been hauled up with false allegations of anti-Semitism. This is important, as in the last leadership election a woman was suspended because she liked the Foo Fighters. The Foo Fighters are a pop group, and Walker says she thinks somebody in the NEC didn’t know who they were or read the charge properly. They suspended hundreds of Corbyn supporters at that time, and one of the accusations made against Walker and some of the others is that they have said that there is a witchhunt against the Left. The irony is that if you say that there is a witchhunt against the left, you are guilty of being anti-Semitic, or abusive, or something. It’s quite, quite a laugh.

Since the LAW was established they’ve held very successful public meetings, they’ve had a really good lobby of the NEC, which she hopes people will continue to support. That lobby was followed by the media, and they even had excerpts on TV, which is extraordinary, as many of those, who have been suspended, have found it impossible to get their voices out into the media.

So what is the way forward? Walker suggests that one way is to insist that the party implement the findings of the Chakrabarti Commission. She would like Chakrabarti to go further. Here is a party that commissioned the report, the report disappears from its website, to reappear after inquiries, but it still waits to be implemented. And those of the party, who have not appeared yet before the NEC and NCC should not be processed until the Chakrabarti recommendations have actually been put through. Labour stands for justice, for justice for the small people against power, and this is what Labour Against the Witchhunt is about, and she hopes that the audience will encourage people join and attend their events.

Netanyahu Rages as Eire Passes Pro-BDS Legislation

February 10, 2019

Last week the Israel lobby was on the warpath again. We had the Blairites and Likud sycophants in the Labour demanding that Jenny Formby show them what’s being done to root out all the anti-Semites they claim are in the party, the Jewish Labour Movement, formerly Paole Zion, and the recidivist liars and Fascist shills the Jewish Chronicle hysterically proclaiming that there was a culture of anti-Semitism within Labour. And Rachel Riley, Frances Barber and their army of trolls tried attacking Mike and Owen Jones as anti-Semites, and got their rear ends royally handed to them. And Wes Streeting decided that he could combat Jew hatred by falsely accusing a 70-year old woman of it and doxing her.

This video below from the Middle East Monitor might explain why some of that rage and fear suddenly erupted. The Dail – the Irish parliament – a fortnight ago passed legislation banning Israeli exports from the Occupied Territories. And predictably Netanyahu was not amused, and accused the Emerald Isle of anti-Semitism.

The video’s just under two minutes long, and begins with footage from the Irish parliament of Fianna Fail senator Niall Collins saying, ‘We need to do the right thing here and that is what that legislation simply sets out to do. The video explains that the Irish parliament has passed a bill banning the import of Israeli settlement goods. Senator Collins asks, ‘Why should we turn a blind eye to blatant and flagrant breaches and abuses of international law?’ This video goes to say that the legislation

‘would make Ireland the first EU country to take such a bold action against the Israeli occupation despite attempts by the US and Israel to thwart it. The bill was backed by all of Ireland’s opposition parties and was voted in with an overwhelming majority of 78-45.’

The video then shows Frances Black, an Independent senator, explaining that ‘The Occupied Territories bill is a modest piece of legislation that stands up for basic human rights and international law.’ It then moves to Senator Collins, who says, “It simply isn’t good enough condemning the ongoing expansion of settlements across the West Bank’.

It then goes back to scenes inside the Dail, and explains that ‘after the vote Israel reprimanded the Irish ambassador, and quotes the office of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu. Which ranted

‘Israel is outraged over the legislation against it in the Irish parliament, which is indicative of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.’

It then goes back to a speech by Senator Collins, in which he very effectively rebuts these accusations by Netanyahu’s minions. He says,

‘This outrage and offence which has been built up by Israel that we’re somehow anti-Semitic. We’re not! We recognize the state of Israel and we will trade with them but they are on the off-side line in terms of the Occupied Territories.’

The video goes on to say that ‘the move is seen as a great victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.’ It quotes a tweet from Senator Black, who said ‘Ireland will always stand for international law + human rights, & we’re one step closer to making history, Onwards!’ The backdrop to the tweet shows a group of Irish and Palestinian adults and children, a Palestinian man wearing the distinctive keffiyeh, while the kids have the tricolor on the cheeks in facepaint.

The law very obviously isn’t anti-Semitic. It’s not against Jews nor Israel as a whole. It’s only against Israeli goods produced in occupied Palestine. Now I’m sure there are anti-Semites along with other varieties of racist in Ireland, and the country, like just about every other western nation including America and the nascent Jewish colony in Palestine also had a Fascist movement. This was Owen O’Duffy and his Blue Shirts. They fought in the Spanish Civil War but seem to have vanished after that. I’ve certainly not heard of them surviving into the Second World War. I doubt most people in Ireland and elsewhere have even heard of them. They’re only claim to fame is that the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, was briefly a member c. 1919 before giving up on them. Most people when they think of Irish nationalism are far more likely to think of the various Irish independence movements and associated militant groups, like the Fenians and later the IRA and other Republican terrorist organisations in Ulster. They one thing the majority of folk won’t associate with Irish nationalism or national identity is Nazism and anti-Semitism.

However, the Irish, it seems to me, do take state terrorism and Fascism in other nations very seriously. Way back in the early ’80s, when Reagan was backing the Contras in Nicaragua and other Fascist butchers in Latin America, there were mass protests when he decided to pay a state visit to Ireland. I think it was during his birthday, as the news showed footage of him being given a present by someone in full Irish patriotic dress, who told him that it came from Irish-Americans everywhere. Well, I wonder, as I always under that Irish-Americans in New York were traditionally the backbone of the Democrats. And Reagan was definitely not welcomed by a large part of the Irish population. There were boycotts and demonstrations at the airport and at Trinity College in Dublin, as I recall. The explanation the Beeb gave was that Ireland was closely involved with the Roman Catholic charities working in Latin America. And therefore they weren’t going to be impressed by Reagan and these Fascist regimes’ death squads torturing and murdering the very people they were trying to help. I got the impression from reading some of the pieces written by Irish contributors to the radical American magazine and website, Counterpunch, that left-wing Irish people see themselves and their country as anti-imperialist, and this piece of BDS legislation strikes me very firmly as within that tradition.

Economically, I’m not sure how much damage this will do. Ireland’s a small country with a small population. I think it might be around 4-6 million. But culturally the country is a very big hitter. There’s a large Irish diaspora spread across the globe, particularly in Australia and America, where it’s very politically important. Irish music and literature are enjoyed everywhere. Classic Irish bands include the Dubliners, Planxty, Clannad and the Chieftains, and you can’t get away from the Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’, which is played every year at Christmas along with Slade’s ‘So Here It Is, Merry Christmas’. The Dail’s vote to pass this legislation could be immensely influential simply because of the country’s immense cultural cachet.

And that’s what Netanyahu and his thugs are afraid of. Because once one EU country passes legislation banning goods from Occupied Palestine, others may follow suit. It’s why the Israeli state and its minions over here have been trying their level best to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites, simply because he supports the Palestinians and genuinely condemns further Zionist expansion and human rights abuses.

The Israeli state is running scared. Thanks to the BDS movement, 1/3 of Israeli businesses in the West Bank have been forced to close. Young Jewish Americans are increasingly turning away from Israel. Many are repulsed by its treatment of the Palestinians. Others simply think that it’s ridiculous for them to be expected automatically to support a country they were not born in and have no intention of moving to, when the indigenous inhabitants of that country are being forced out. It’s why the Likudniks are increasingly looking to Evangelical Christian Zionists for support in America instead of the country’s Jews.

Now that Ireland has banned Israeli goods from occupied Palestine, it’ll be interesting to see how many other countries start to debate doing the same. And you can bet the angry smears of Corbyn and his supporters will get even louder and more shrill over here on this side of the Irish Sea, as the Israel lobby fears that under him, Britain will be next.

Xelasoma on his Favourite Artists of the Fantastic

February 3, 2019

And now, as Monty Python once said, for something completely different. At least from politics. I found these two videos from the artist Xelasoma on YouTube, in which he discusses six masters of fantasy art and how they have influenced him. They are Roger Dean, Patrick Woodroffe, and Rodney Matthews in video 1, and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Philippe Druillet and Ian Miller in video 2.

Roger Dean will be remembered by fans of ’70’s prog rock for his amazing album covers for the bands Yes and Asia. Woodroffe and Matthews are also artists, who’ve produced record covers as well as book illustrations. Moebius and Druillet are two of the geniuses in modern French SF comics. Moebius was one of the ‘Humanoides Associes’ behind the French SF comic, Metal Hurlant. Among his numerous other works was Arzach, a comic, whose hero flew across a strange fantastic landscape atop a strange, pterodactyl creature. As Xelasoma himself points out here, it’s a completely visual strip. There’s no language at all. It was also Moebius who designed the spacesuits for Ridley Scott’s classic Alien. Xelasoma describes how, after he left art school, Moebius spent some time in Mexico with a relative. This was his mother, who’d married a Mexican, and the empty, desert landscape south of the border is a clear influence on the alien environments he drew in his strips. Xelasoma also considers him a master of perspective for the way he frequent draws scenes as viewed looking down from above. And one of the pictures illustrating this is of a figure in an alien planet looking down a cliff at a sculpture of rock legend Jimi Hendricks carved into the opposite cliff face. Druillet, Xelasoma feels, is somewhat like Moebius, but with a harder edge, drawing vast, aggressive machines and armies of fierce alien warriors. He’s also known for his soaring cityscapes of vast tower blocks reaching far up into the sky, which also influenced Ridley Scott’s portrayal of the Los Angeles of 2019 in Blade Runner. The last artist featured, Ian Miller, first encountered in the pages of the British Role-Playing Game magazine, Warhammer. His style is much more angular, deeply hatched and very detailed. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize several of the pictures Xelasoma chooses to represent his work as depictions of some of the weird, sinister gods from the Cthulhu mythos. They include not only Cthulhu himself, but also of the half-human, amphibious, batrachian inhabitants of the decaying port in the short story, The shadow Out of Innsmouth.

What Xelasoma admires about all these artists is that they don’t follow the conventions of modern western art established by the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Renaissance. They alter and distort the human form and that of other objects and creatures. He describes Dean’s landscapes as organic. Patrick Woodroffe and Matthews also create strange, alien creatures and landscapes, and with the creatures Matthews depicts also very different from standard human anatomy. Many of the creatures, machines and spaceships in Matthews’ art are based on insects, and appropriately enough one of the bands whose cover he painted was Tiger Moth. This featured two insects dancing on a leaf. Another picture, The Hop, shows an insect band playing while other bugs trip the light fantastic in the grass, surrounded by items like used cigarettes. His humanoid figures are tall, stick thin, with long, thin, angular faces and immense, slanted eyes. Xelasoma admires the way Matthews can take a train or a deer, and turn them in something uniquely his, as he shows here. He states that he first encountered Dean’s and Woodroffe’s art in the art books his mother had, such as Woodroffe’s Mythopoiekon. He also identifies somewhat with Woodroffe, as neither of them studied at art school. Woodroffe was a French teacher, while for Xelasoma art was far too personal for him to submit to formal training.

Xelasoma points out that these artists were creating their unique visions before the advent of computers using the traditional artist materials of paint and brush, and before courses in SF, Fantasy and concept art were taught at colleges and universities. Nevertheless, he finds their work far more interesting and inspiring than modern SF and Fantasy art, which may be more anatomically accurate, but which, too him, seems very ‘samey’. He complains that it doesn’t make him hallucinate, which the above artists do. Well, I hope he doesn’t mean that literally, as that could be very worrying. But I know what he means in that Dean, Woodroffe, Matthews, Moebius, Druillet and Miller create strange, fantastic worlds that have a striking intensity to them. They seem to be complete worlds, either in the far past or future, or parallel realities altogether, but with their own internal logic drawing you into them.

Discussing their influence on him, he is critical of artists that simply copy the work of others, changing a few details but otherwise keeping to and appropriating the other artists’ own unique visions, some times trying to justify this by saying that their work is a ‘hommage’ to the others. Xelasoma is well aware that his own work is very different to the artists he talks about here, and that many of his viewers won’t be able to see their influence. But he goes on to describe how they have influenced him at the general level of form or composition, while he himself has been careful to develop his own unique style.

Dean, Woodroffe and Matthews have produced books of their work, published by Paper Tiger. Matthews and Miller also have their own websites, for those wishing to see more of their work. Moebius passed away a couple of years ago, but was the subject of a BBC4 documentary. There’s also a documentary about Roger Dean on YouTube, presented by that grumpy old Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman. Xelasoma believes in their fantastic depictions of landscapes and animal and human forms makes them as important and worth inclusion in museums and galleries as Graeco-Roman and Renaissance art. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would maintain that in their way, they are far more significant than many contemporary artists that have been promoted as ‘official’ art. Xelasoma’s documentary really shows only a few pieces from these artists’ works, and the bulk of these videos are about the particular impact they have on him. But nevertheless it’s a good introduction to their work, and explanation why they should be taken seriously as artists beyond their origins in popular culture.

Part I

Part II

No Sun, No Fun in Bristol? Yaaay!

January 26, 2019

This is intriguing. When Dad went down to get a copy of the I this morning, he overheard the harassed newsagent telling perplexed customers that he didn’t have any copies of the Scum or a number of other papers because they weren’t available for the Bristol region for another three hours and were being reprinted. The Mirror was still in stock, though, so that’s one paper that wasn’t affected by whatever was wrong with the others.

It’s all very mysterious! All I can think of is that the Scum and some of the other foul denizens of the right-wing press have made some kind of glaring mistake, or perhaps printed something very libelous, and so have had to be recalled and pulped. But that’s just my view of what’s happened. I wonder if Private Eye will have something to say about this in their next ‘Street of Shame’ column?

Ah, it makes you want to sing the old song

‘So tell me why,
There’s no sun up in the sky,
Stormy weather…’