Archive for the ‘Popular Music’ Category

Video of Original Star Trek Theme Played on the Theremin

January 31, 2021

Here’s a link to a very fun video on YouTube. It’s from Katica Illenyi’s channel on YouTube, and is of her and the Animae Musicae Chamber Orchestra playing the theme tune of the Classic Star Trek series, with Illenyi herself on Theremin. That’s the weird instrument that operates through subtle changes in a magnetic field produced by the position of the player’s hands, so that you play it without touching it. It’s a strange, fascinating instrument with a very weird sound, and so has featured in the music for a number of SF and horror movies, as well as Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’. I like the Next Generation Star Trek theme, which was taken from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but for me the real Star Trek theme is still the original. I hope other Star Trek fans enjoy this as much as I did.

KATICA ILLÉNYI – STAR TREK (theremin) – YouTube

BLM Activist Calls for Dictionary to Redefine Racism

January 13, 2021

Here’s something far more controversial after some of the posts I’ve put up recently. A few days ago, the writer and Youtuber Simon Webb put up on his channel, History Debunked, a piece about a worrying attempt by a young Black American woman, Kennedy Mitchum to change the definition of racism in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Webb states that most people would say that racism means racial prejudice, or that there are more profound differences between racial groups than their skin colour and physical appearance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary currently defines racism as

  1. A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.
  2. A doctrine or political programme based on racism and designed to execute its policies.
  3. Racial prejudice or discrimination.

This wasn’t good enough for Mitchum. Three days after the death of George Floyd, with riots breaking out across America, she emailed the publisher calling for the definition to be changed in accordance with Critical Race Theory. This holds that racism is due to the imbalance of power in society, and implemented by the dominant racial group. Instead of telling Mitchum where to stick her suggestion, as Webb himself would have done, the publishers responded to her, telling her that this issue needed to be addressed sooner rather than later and that a revision would be made. Peter Sokolofsky, one of the dictionary’s editors, stated that the second definition would be expanded to be even more explicit in its next edition, and would include systemic oppression as well as sample sentence, and would be formulated in consultation with academics in Black Studies.

Webb points out that if this is done, then it would redefine racism as something that only Whites do, and absolve people of colour of any responsibility for it on their part, or indeed see them as being racist at all, because Whites are the dominant race in Britain and America. This is, he claims, the attitude of many liberals and leftists, who believe that all White people are racist. It would also mean that Blacks, who hated Jews or Indians, would not be viewed as racist. He has personally seen such racism in the Caribbean street robbers of Hackney. They hated Orthodox Jews and used to go to Stamford Bridge to prey on the Jewish community there. He ends the video by stating that such a redefinition of racism would mean that all Whites in Britain and America are defined as racist but no other ethnic groups.

Changing the dictionary definition of racism – YouTube

There certainly is an attitude amongst some anti-racist activists that only White people can be racist and are never the victims. Way back in October 2019 Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP, put up a post commenting on a report in the Guardian about complaints about an EHRC investigation into racism at Britain’s universities by a group of Black and Asian academics and students. The group, which included Heidi Mirza, the visiting professor of race, faith and culture and Goldsmiths College, University of London, Fope Olaleye, the NUS’ Black students’ officer, Gargi Bhattacharyya, professor of sociology at the University of East London, and Zubaida Haque, the deputy director of the racial equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, were outraged at the Commission because it dared to include anti-White, anti-English racism. This, they seemed to believe, detracted from the Commission’s true purpose, which was to combat White racism against Blacks and Asians.

Students of Colour Furious that Anti-White Prejudice is Considered to be Racism – YouTube

I’ve posted a number of pieces criticising the lack of attention and action against anti-White racism. At the moment the attitude that racism is something that only Whites are guilty of racism seems extremely prevalent. In fact, the situation regarding racial prejudice, abuse and violence is far more complex. About 20 years ago, before 9/11 and the subsequent massive rise in Islamophobia, Whites briefly formed the largest number of victims of racial abuse and violence. There are also tensions and conflict between different non-White minorities. In the 1980s or ’90s there was a riot in Birmingham, not between Blacks and Whites, but between Blacks and Asians. I’ve also heard that in one of the schools in Bristol in one of the very racially mixed areas, most of the playground fights were between different groups of Asians. Some people were aware that different ethnic groups also had their racial prejudices. Boy George mentioned it when he appeared on Max Headroom’s chat show on British TV in the 1980s, for which he was praised for his brave outspokenness by the world’s first computer generated video jockey.

There is, however, a real reluctance to tackle ethnic minority racism. A couple of years ago an Asian man told Diane Abbott that there should be more action on the racism members of ethnic minorities experienced at the hands of other non-Whites. Abbott told him she wasn’t going to do anything about it, because the Tories would use it to divide and rule. Like Kennedy Mitchum and the Critical Race Theorists, as well as the critics of the EHRC, she was solely focussed on tackling White racism.

That focus, in my opinion, explains why the Black comedian and anti-racist activist, Sophie Duker, felt she could get away with a joke about killing Whitey on Frankie Boyle’s podcast. Boyle had assembled a panel of mainly Black and Asian activists, to discuss the topic of how ethnic minorities were coming together to kill Whitey. Duker had made comments about racism being the product of an ideology of Whiteness, which was harming Blacks and Whites. She then said that they didn’t want to kill Whitey, before adding ‘we do really’. She was clearly joking, but her comment resulted in the corporation receiving 200 complaints. According to right-wing internet radio host and Youtuber, Alex Belfield, the Beeb is now being investigated by the Greater Manchester Police for what is described as a ‘hate incident’. His attitude is that while Duker’s comment was a joke, it should be unacceptable, just as making jokes about killing Blacks is unacceptable. See, for example, his piece ‘Reply BBC ‘Whitey’ Joker STAGGERING From Unapologetic Hate Lady Comedian’, which he put up on Youtube on the 8th January 2021. No, I’m not going to link to it. Even I have standards! I think one of the reasons she felt she could make the joke is because she and the other activists concentrate exclusively on White racism. Anti-White racism simply isn’t an issue with them. But anti-White racism, abuse and violence does occur, hence the angry complaints.

We really do need a study of anti-White racism and racism amongst ethnic minorities. Sir Alan Burns, a British colonial civil servant and former governor of the Gold Coast, now Ghana, discusses Black prejudice against Whites and other racial groups in his book, Colour Prejudice, published in 1948. Nigel Barley also discusses the blind spot Cameroonians had towards their own racism, as well as that of a Black American ethnologist in his The Innocent Anthropologist. The Black American was very racially aware. An idealist, he was inspired by notions of Black brotherhood and wished to live and be treated by the local people the same as one of them. He was shocked when they continued to regard him as they would White westerners, and failed to see how the Fulani traders rigged the local markets to exclude those from other tribes. As for the Camerounians generally, they commonly believed that only Whites were racist. Barley describes how they excused the massacre of French nuns in the Congo by the claim that the nuns were themselves racists. But they refused to recognise that their own hatred and contempt of the people he was studying, the Dowayo, was also racist.

Some Asian nations also have a reputation for racism. Back in the 1990s I found a book on Chinese xenophobia on sale in Waterstones in Bath. I’ve also read various books on Japan, which have also described how racist Japanese society is. I don’t know if it is still true, but one could only qualify as a Japanese citizen if both parents were Japanese. This meant that there was a sizable Korean community, who had lived in the country for generations, which had no civil rights under the law. In schools there was a strong suspicion of outsiders, so it has been claimed, which resulted in foreign students being segregated in separate classes. This is on the grounds that their Japanese language skills may not be good enough for inclusion with the rest of the pupils, but it is applied even to children who are fluent in the language. Outside Japan, expatriate or visiting Japanese will stick almost exclusively to themselves. Back in the 1990s there was a controversy in Australia, I believe, over the construction of a luxury resort there by the Japanese, because it was exclusively for Japanese and no-one else. I don’t mean by this to claim that all Japanese are racist. I’ve met people, who lived in Japan, who admire them and who told me that in their experience they were a very kind people. The travel writer and historian William Dalrymple also describes the anti-Black racism he encountered in India in his book, In Xanadu. Arriving at a railway station with a friend, a Black American soldier, he approached a group of Indian porters, only to see them turn away, sneering at the Black American simply for being Black. Again, I don’t wish to imply that all Indians are racist either.

Racism and racial prejudice exists amongst all peoples and ethnic groups to a greater or lesser degree, even in this country. It is about time that there were proper academic studies of it amongst non-White ethnic groups and anti-White racism in this country. At the moment there is a feeling amongst Whites that only White on Black racism is taken seriously, and that prejudice against Whites is not only acceptable, but being fostered by supposed anti-racist activists.

If the authorities are serious about tackling racism, and all forms of it, that needs to change.

The 1920s’ View of the Future

January 10, 2021

I found this fascinating video on the ‘1920s Channel’ on YouTube. It’s about the decades view of the future, taken from the pulp magazine, Science and Invention, founded and edited by Hugo Gernsbach. Gernsbach is one of the major figures in 20th century SF. An immigrant to America from Luxembourg, he was passionately enthusiastic about science and technology and founded the first the first SF pulp magazines. He also wrote an SF novel, Ralph 124C41 + A Romance of the Year 2660, and coined the term ‘scientifiction’ to describe the new genre. This was shortened and altered by his successors and rivals to become the modern term.

The channel’s main man says he’s interested in 1920s futurism because it falls between the ‘Steam Punk’ predictions of the Victorians and the ‘Atom Punk’ of the 1950s and 1960s, although it also has some elements of the ‘Diesel Punk’ of the 1940s. He states that the 1920s and the 1950s were similar decades, in that both followed major wars but were periods of optimism. Most of the illustrations were by Frank R. Paul, Gernsbach’s artist, who is now justly respected as one of the foremost pioneers of SF art. Among the inventions and developments the magazine predicted are massive, skyscraper cities now a staple of SF in such classic films as Metropolis and Blade Runner. But the magazine also predicted underground cities, as well as improved scientific instruments like astronomical telescopes, devices for signalling Mars, bizarre machines for taking care of one’s health, like the ‘sun shower’ and health meter. There are new entertainment media, like television and a cinema with four screens, as well as new musical instruments like the Theremin. This last creates sound through the alteration of a magnetic field by the player’s hands. It’s one of the many instruments played by the hugely talented Bill Bailey. The magazine also looked at the vehicles of the future. These included moving walkways, cars and railways. Cars wouldn’t be confined to the road, but would fly, and the magazine also showed the new aircraft of the future. Humanity would master anti-gravity and fly beyond Earth into space. At the same time, new ships and flying boats would cross the oceans, while people would venture underneath the seas in diving suits that somewhat resemble the metallic suits created to withstand the crushing pressures of the ocean depths. And the magazine also predicted that SF staple, the robot. One of these was to be a ‘police automaton’, like Robocop.

The illustrations are taken from worldradiohistory.com, where they’re available for free, and the video is accompanied by some of the music of the period, so be warned!

Futurism Of The 1920s – YouTube

It’s interesting watching the video to see how much of modern SF was formed in the decade, and to compare its predictions with reality. Most of these predictions haven’t actually become reality. Flying cars are still waiting to happen, we don’t have zeppelin aircraft carriers and skyscraper cities haven’t quite become the dominant urban form. Nor do we have truly intelligent machines and robots. On the other hand, I think the ideas and devices Gernsbach and Paul discussed and portrayed in the magazine still have the power to inspire, and think that they would make a great source of ideas for future, aspiring SF writers.

Boston Dynamics’ Dancing Robots

January 1, 2021

The American robotics company Boston Dynamics posted this video on YouTube a few days to wish everyone a happy New Year. It shows some of their various robots dancing to Gordon Berry and the Contours’ ‘Do You Love Me’. The robots include the bipedal, anthropomorphic Atlas robot, as well as a four-legged machine and one with two legs ending in wheels. The machines do an uncannily good display of human dancing. Some of the commenters on the video naturally felt that if robots can do all this, it won’t be long before they take over. Others suggest that the machines haven’t done any of it. It’s been done by human actors using green screen. I think this is probably right, following the video of a combat robot in action. This also looked unnervingly real, until the producers put up a video showing how they had made it. And it was all done by a human actor, whose image was replaced by that of a robot using CGI. If the dancing robots are similarly the product of computer graphics, then at one level it’s a disappointment and at another a profound relief that just yet they don’t quite have those abilities.

But regardless of how it was produced, it is hugely entertaining! Please watch and enjoy!

Do You Love Me? – YouTube

Video of Me Playing the ‘Rights of Man’ Hornpipe

December 16, 2020

Here’s a bit of British folk music from the radical tradition. I’ve just put up on my YouTube channel a short, six minute video of myself playing, or trying to play, an 18th century hornpipe celebrating The Rights of Man, one of the books of the great 18th century English radical democrat, Tom Paine. He was born the son of a Thetford staymaker, and a supporter of the American Revolution. His pamphlet, Common Sense, was written to defend it, and attacks the institutions of the British monarchy and aristocracy. He was initially a supporter of the French Revolution, but turned against that as a perversion of his principles. The Rights of Man was written as a defence of republicanism. Although it was massively popular with a print run of 200,000 copies, it was denounced by the upper classes up and down Britain and burned on village greens before being finally banned by royal decree. Not surprisingly it still had a huge underground circulation in Scotland and Ireland. Paine eventually emigrated to America where he died. I think he was too radical for the Americans, although The Rights of Man was praised and regarded as highly influential by several American presidents. Unfortunately, his remains weren’t allowed to rest quietly. A fan, John Cobbett, dug them up and brought them back to Blighty. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt and the skeleton was seized as an asset, before it was ruled that it wasn’t. The skeleton disappeared and no-one knows what has happened to it.

I found the sheet music to this, as well as a brief description of Paine’s life and career, which I read out in the video, in Robin Williamson’s English, Welsh, Scottish & Irish Fiddle Tunes (New York: Oak Publications 1976). I play it on a keyboard, but with the setting on violin so that it sounds as it was originally intended to be played. Or as close I can manage it. The arrangement printed in the book is Scots.

Rights of Man Hornpipe – YouTube

BBC Fifth Most Trusted News Broadcasters

November 30, 2020

Or should that be ‘fifth most distrusted’ for news. Mike today has put up a piece commenting on the finding by Ofcom that that the Beeb is behind Sky News, Channel 4, ITV and Channel 5 in poll of audience trust and belief in their impartiality. He contrasts this finding, which shows that of these five broadcasters, the Beeb is considered to be the least trustworthy and impartial and Sky News the most, with Andrew Marr’s comments about possible competition from GB News and Murdoch’s planned TV news service. Marr was upbeat, believing that audiences would prefer BBC impartiality to overtly opinionated broadcasters like Fox News. He also claimed that the Beeb didn’t have a left-wing bias with remarks about the Director-General Hugh Carleton Green. He claimed Green had a far more anti-hierarchical, anti-Conservative bias than today.

The right-wing internet broadcaster Alex Bellfield was ranting about Ofcom’s findings yesterday. He’s an ex-employee of the Beeb and hates them with a passion. He regularly denounces them as a source of ‘woke’ bias for its continuing anti-sexism anti-racism and pro-LGBT stance. So he was highly delighted with this bit of news.

The Beeb has come under strong attack for its supposed anti-Conservative stance, partly because the Tories themselves want it privatised and its place in broadcasting filled by right-wing commercial broadcasters like their backer, Rupert Murdoch. I don’t doubt that the lack of trust the British public has for the Beeb largely comes from the regular attacks in the right-wing press.

But it also reflects the lack of trust those on the left also have with the broadcaster. When it comes to politics and international affairs, I have very, very little trust in the Beeb. The Corporation was part of the general media frenzy pushing the bogus anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, and are still doing so. Last Friday an alleged comedian on Have I Got News For You, Fin Taylor, joked about bombing Jeremy Corbyn supporters at Glastonbury. There’s been wide criticism of the joke, but the Beeb has naturally defended it. I’ve covered this in a previous blog post, where I mistakenly referred to Taylor as Torbin or Toibin/Tobin. I’m absolutely sure Taylor was invited on to the show because he was anti-Corbyn, and could be counted on to make some kind of dig at him. The Beeb just didn’t expect how much outrage it would provoke.

I’m also extremely sceptical about its foreign news. For example, it has consistently claimed that the 2012 Maidan Revolution in the Ukraine was democratic, despite the fact that it was carefully staged by Victoria Nuland of the US state department and the National Endowment for Democracy, the autonomous body to whom the American state has delegated its policy of regime change since taking it away from the CIA and their ‘Health Alteration Squad’. Putin is an autocratic thug, but in this instance the Russians are the wronged party. But you won’t hear that from the Beeb.

Just as you won’t hear news that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were about anything other than giving these countries freedom and democracy, when the reality is that they were attacked and occupied for their oil or strategic importance to the oil industry, and for western multinationals to seize their state industries in the case of Iraq.

The Beeb in many areas simply isn’t a trustworthy broadcaster. Far from being objective, it simply pushes establishment propaganda. Which I don’t doubt its hacks and management, coming as they seem to do from very middle class, very Tory backgrounds and living in the London metropolitan bubble, believe is genuinely objective news and analysis.

Now the Beeb’s under threat from Murdoch and the other private broadcasters. Once upon a time it could have counted on the support of people on the left. But it has alienated them with its overt Conservative bias and its repeated demonisation and vilification of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semites and Jew-haters.

Which means that both left and right distrust the Beeb. Neither of whom believe it is impartial, whatever Marr says or chooses to believe.

BBC is named as least objective news provider – which we all knew already | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

Unfunny Comedian Jokes about Killing Corbyn Supporters on Have I Got News For You

November 24, 2020

I didn’t watch Have I Got News For You last Friday. I’ve gone off the programme. It’s definitely past it’s sell-by date, in my opinion. Not only is it not as funny as it was when it first appeared in 1990 or thereabouts, I’ve got sick and tired of its right-wing bias.

Right-wing, when the Tories have also moaned about the Beeb being full of ‘woke’ lefties? Yes. A few years ago it was denouncing Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, despite the fact that the Maidan Revolution was a very carefully planned piece of regime change by the Americans using the National Endowment for Democracy. The regime they had installed was definitely pro-western, and supported by real Nazis, who were goose-stepping around in uniforms taken from SS auxiliary units in the Second World War. And it seemed to me that the Russian and Russian-speaking Ukrainian population were being victimised, so under international law Putin, thug though he is, had every right to invade to aid them. But you didn’t hear this from the Beeb, and especially not on Have I Got News For You. Just more propaganda from the American and British establishments.

Ditto with the programme’s attitude to Corbyn. I stopped watching it because week after week, all you heard from Have I Got News For You was them pushing the anti-Semitism smears. Corbyn was an evil anti-Semite, and the Labour party was a foul, seething cauldron of anti-Jewish hatred. It was the standard media line, and shows the groupthink of the lamestream media. And it was the same on Friday, I gather.

According to a video put up yesterday by right-wing Youtuber and radio host, Alex Bellfield, the programme had included a comedian, Fintan Torbin/Toibin/Tobin, oh, whoever. Torbin was definitely a supporter of Starmer, and said that just when Labour looked like becoming a serious opposition, back came Corbyn. He then compared his supporters to fans of Bob Dylan, whom he considered to be just as infuriating. He said that they should all be killed by bombing Glastonbury. I’ve got a feeling this might be a reference to an incident at the festival a few years ago when the Labour leader appeared on stage, and was roundly greeted by the audience. That’s clearly rankled Blairites like Torbin for a very long time. It also makes you wonder about his hatred of Dylan. I can’t say I’m a fan of him, and some of his stuff is undoubtedly overrated, I’m sure. But it’s a bit much to talk about killing his fans.

Torbin’s joke is a clear example of Beeb anti-left wing bias. But not to Bellfield, who has a bitter hatred of the corporation. He has some kind of personal vendetta against them too, and so makes videos claiming that it’s full of ‘woke’, Guardian-reading lefties. pushing minority identity politics and gender confusion on the young. Now I think he’s right in that the Beeb does back, or wishes to be seen to back, anti-racist, feminist and pro-gay and trans policies. But when it comes to working class politics as a whole, the opposite is the case. It is very solidly pro-Tory, anti-Labour and anti-trade union, and has tireless and relentlessly pushed austerity, as the Kushner brothers have pointed out in their excellent book, Who Needs the Cuts?

Torbin’s unfunny joke obviously provoked outrage from the viewing audience. Bellfield considers this hypocritical, considering that Jo Brand was allowed to get away with a joke about stabbing Nigel Farage. Well, the arch-Blairite Labour MP Rachel Reed also made a comment about stabbing Corbyn in the front, but I don’t see Bellfield getting upset about that. Which shows just how partisan he is. He claimed that the outrage at Tobin’s joke was another example of the hypocrisy of the Beeb against right-wingers. He’s wrong. I think the Beeb, or at least the host, Victoria Coren-Mitchell, may have been genuinely surprised at the strength of the reaction against it. It seems to me that, considering their long record of pushing the anti-Corbyn line, the Beeb invited Torbin on because they knew he hated Corbyn and would make a suitable joke or comment about him. They just didn’t expect that a large, vocal part of the audience would take issue with it.

Just as the sheer strength of support for the Labour leader is causing problems for Starmer and the Blairites, who clearly hadn’t expected such opposition to their attacks on Corbyn and attempts to purge his supporters.

Starmer Throwing Out Corbyn’s Policies to Gain Support of Business

November 6, 2020

Mike and many other left-wing bloggers have put up a number of articles showing that, despite his promises at the Labour leadership elections, Starmer is getting rid of Corbyn’s policies which were included in the party’s manifesto. Starmer’s a Blairite, and so it was to be expected that he’d try to remove Corbyn’s policies, just as he is doing his best to purge or push out members of the Labour left from the shadow cabinet and the party generally. He’s taking the party back towards Thatcherism, replacing traditional Labour policies of a strong welfare state and trade unions, workers’ rights, a fully nationalised NHS and mixed economy, with the welfare state’s dismantlement, privatisation, including that of the NHS, and the further destruction of employment rights designed to make workers easy and cheap to hire and fire. This is all being done to win over Tory swing voters and the right-wing political and media establishment.

A few weeks ago Starmer showed exactly where his priorities lay when he announced that Labour was now perfectly willing to accept donations and funding from industry. This was a sharp break with Corbyn, who had restored the party’s finances through subscriptions from the party’s membership. A membership that had expanded massively because, after Blair, Brown and Ed Miliband, there was a Labour leader at last who genuinely wished to do something for the working class and represented and promoted traditional Labour values and policies.

Starmer’s turn instead to corporate funding is a return to Blair’s policies, in which the Labour leader sought support from business. Under Blair, the party lost members despite its electoral success. The only reason it won elections was because the Tories were far less popular. And in return for corporate donations, Blair gave the chairmen and senior management of big companies places in government, and passed legislation that would benefit them, but very definitely not Britain’s working people nor the self-employed and small businesspeople.

Further proof that Starmer’s going down this path was provided a few days ago on Tuesday. According to an article in that day’s I by Hugo Gye, ‘Starmer courts business leaders’, for the edition of 3rd November 2020, Starmer announced at a meeting of the CBI that he was going to drop some of Corbyn’s policies to make the party more acceptable to industry. The article runs

Sir Keir Starmer has distanced himself from the Jeremy Corbyn era, suggesting he will drop some of his predecessor’s most radical policies as he positions Labour as the party of business.

Speaking to the annual conference of the CBI business group, Sir Keir said he wanted to lead “an active, pro-business government”. He added: “When a business is failing it is often because the management is failing. The Labour party is now under new management. We recognise that businesses with high standards are the only way to create a good economy.” Asked if he would keep left-wing policies Sir Keir replied: “In 2019 we suffered a devastating loss in the election.

“It’s important you don’t look at the electorate and ask: ‘What on earth were you doing?’ you ask: ‘What on earth were we doing?”‘ He has previously said he would seek to return to the 2017 manifesto rather than the more radical offering at last year’s general election. He also took aim at Rishi Sunak. He said: “The impact on business and jobs will be severe. The Chancellor’s name is all over this.”

This is twaddle. Labour’s policies weren’t unpopular. Indeed, quite the opposite. That’s one of the reasons the Labour right, the Tories and the media spent so many years and so much energy trying to smear Corbyn as a Communist and then anti-Semite. And the pro-business policies Starmer wants to replace Corbyn’s with won’t do anything for the country. It’s been said many times that business actually does better under Labour than under the Tories. And economists like Ha-Joon Chang have pointed out that privatisation hasn’t worked. It hasn’t provided the necessary and expected investment in the utilities. A traditional, social democratic mixed economy would therefore be far better. Thatcherism is, in the words of an Australian economist, Zombie economics. It’s dead, but still stumbling about.

As for asking what Labour did wrong, the answer is that Starmer himself was partly responsible for Labour’s defeat. He and the Labour right demanded that Labour should commit itself to a second referendum on Brexit, when the majority of the public – admittedly a slim majority – were all in favour of it. Corbyn’s initial position of respecting the Brexit vote, and only going back to hold a second referendum if they were unable to get an acceptable deal from Europe, was actually popular. But this popularity began to evaporate when Starmer and his colleagues demanded this should be changed.

Starmer’s leadership of the Labour party so far has been disastrous. He’s been using the anti-Semitism smears to purge the party of left-wingers and supporters of Corbyn, the party is losing Black membership and support thanks to his refusal to take BLM seriously, and many members generally are leaving the party because of return to Blair’s hoary, Tory policies, to paraphrase an old ’80s song.

Starmer isn’t leading the party to victory, but defeat. HIs policies won’t benefit working people, but as they are intended to enrich big business leaders, the British political establishment, of which he’s a part, aren’t going to be worried about that.

‘I’ Obituary for Stage Magician and Sceptic James Randi

October 26, 2020

Last Tuesday, 20th October 2020, the stage magician and sceptic James Randi passed away at the age of 92. Randy was a controversial. After starting out as a stage magician, Randi turned to exposing fake psychics. He was a prominent member of the Sceptics’ organisation CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, along with scientist and broadcaster Carl Sagan and the mathematician Martin Gardner. CSICOP’s founders were alarmed at the growth of interest in the occult. Sagan, a Humanist, published his attack on the supernatural in the Demon Haunted World. He seemed to be frightened that we were entering a new Dark Age of superstition, where science and rationality would be forgotten, and in which people would begin their day by poring over their horoscopes.

The I published this obituary of Randi in their weekend edition for 24th-25th October 2020, reprinted from the Washington Post. It runs

James Randi, who has died aged 92, was an internationally acclaimed magician and escape artist who spent much of his career debunking all things paranormal – from spoon bending and water dowsing to spirit channelling and faith healing.

Randall James Ham Hamilton Zwinge was born in Toronto in 1928. A child prodigy, he was shy and often lonely. Bored by rote classroom learning, he sought refuge in the library. At a young age, he developed an interest in magic, and at 17 he dropped out of high school, turned down several college scholarships and joined a travelling carnival as junior magician.

He overcame a stammer and fear of speaking in public, affected a turban and goatee, and honed his illusionist skills under a series of stage names, including Zo-Ran, Prince Iblis, Telepath and the Great Randall.

After a stint at faking clairvoyance, in which many took his prophecies seriously – he correctly predicted the winner of baseball’s World Series in 1949, for example – he said he was unable to persuade believerss that his powers were strictly terrestrial. He said he “couldn’t live that kind of lie” and returned to conventional magic as The Amazing Randi.

He also became an escape artist and held Guinness world records for surviving the longest time inside a block of ice (55 minutes) and for being sealed the longest in an underwater coffin (one hour and 44 minutes), breaking a record set by Harry Houdini.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Randi’s many appearances on television made him a fixture of prime time entertainment. In 1973 he toured with heavy metal rock star Alice Cooper as an executioner simulating the beheading of the singer at each performance.

Randi cheerfully described himself as a “liar” and “cheat” in mock recognition of his magician’s skills at duping people into thinking they had seen something inexplicable when it was, in fact, the result of simple physical deception. He was equally dismissive of psychics, seers and soothsayers. “The difference between them and me,” Randi told The New York Times in 1981, “is that I admit that I’m a charlatan. They don’t. I don’t have time for things that go bump in the night.”

Randi and the research organisation he helped found in 1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, offered payouts ranging up to $1m (£77,000) to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal phenomenon under controlled conditions. While he had many takers, he said, none of them earned a cent.

In 2010, at the age of 81, Randi publicly announced he was gay. He married a Venezuelan artist, Deyvi Pena in 2013. The following year, film-maker Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein released An Honest Liar, a documentary of Randi’s life.

I first became aware of Randi in the early 1980s, when he appeared in the pages of the Absurder attacking Doris Stokes. Stokes was a medium, who was then in news, much like Derek Acorah and other celebrity psychics a few years ago. Randi showed that much of her comments and remarks when she was supposedly getting in touch with the dead were ‘bunkum statements’. They sounded true and unique to the reader or listener, but they were actually vague and described the way most people felt. Her descriptions of the deceased and the questions she asked her audience were also so vague that they would apply to someone there, who would then become convinced that Stokes was genuinely in contact with a dead friend or relative.

Several times Randi’s own outspoken comment about those he judged to be frauds landed him in legal. In one case, he was sued for libel by a man he claimed was called by the police ‘the shopping mall molester’. Er, not quite. The target of Randi’s wrath had been arrested for sexually assaulting a 12 or 13 year old girl in a shopping centre. But he hadn’t been charged with the offence, as it was dropped due to plea bargaining. And because he hadn’t been charged with it, Randi’s comments were technically libel.

He also got into similar trouble with Uri Geller. He called him a fraud, at which Geller sued him in every country in the world. This resulted in Randi settling out of court with the notorious spoon-bender.

Actually, I think Randi is probably right here. Geller’s most famous trick of bending spoons has been around since at least in the 18th century. It’s mentioned in a book of such amusements from that time, Rational Recreations. Geller was also successfully sued in the 1970s or so by an Israeli engineering student for misleading advertising. Geller’s publicity claimed his act presented overwhelming proof of the paranormal. The student went to see it and wasn’t impressed. He sued, claiming that all he’d seen was standard stage magic. The beak concurred, and judged in his favour.

There was also a scandal a few years ago when it turned out that Randi’s partner was actually an illegal immigrant, who was living in the US under an identity he’d stolen.

Randi was a colourful figure, but I was never a fan of his. While I agree that fake psychics and mediums certainly exist, and should be exposed because of the way they exploit the grieving and vulnerable, I don’t share his dismissal of the supernatural. I think it’s genuine, but that its very nature makes scientific verification extremely difficult, if not impossible. CSICOP also came off as arrogant, smug and vindictive in their attacks on the paranormal and its believers and practitioners. So much so that they were seen as a kind of scientific witch hunt by their victims. A few years ago the organisation changed its name to CSI, which stands for the Committee for Scientific Investigation. And not Crime Scene Investigation. The name change was not occasioned because there was a cop drama with that acronym as its title playing at the time.

So RIP James Randi. He was a colourful character, who entertained millions, particularly in his bust-up with Geller. Gray Barker, the former Ufologist who began the Men In Black myth with his book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, took great pleasure in Randi’s antics, calling him ‘the Amusing Randi’. But I leave to the reader to decide for themselves whether the paranormal exists. And not everybody who believes in it deserves sneers and ridicule.

No Flesh Is Spared in Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft Adaptation.

October 20, 2020

Well, almost none. There is one survivor. Warning: Contains spoilers.

Color out of Space, directed by Richard Stanley, script by Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris. Starring

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

This is a welcome return to big screen cinema of South African director Richard Stanley. Stanley was responsible for the cult SF cyberpunk flick, Hardware, about a killer war robot going running amok in an apartment block in a future devastated by nuclear war and industrial pollution. It’s a great film, but its striking similarities to a story in 2000AD resulted in him being successfully sued by the comic for plagiarism. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a major film for the cinema since he was sacked as director during the filming of the ’90s adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Th film came close to collapse and was eventually completed by John Frankenheimer. A large part of the chaos was due to the bizarre, irresponsible and completely unprofessional behaviour of the two main stars, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

Stanley’s been a fan of Lovecraft ever since he was a child when his mother read him the short stories. There have been many attempts to translate old Howard Phillips’ tales of cosmic horror to the big screen, but few have been successful. The notable exceptions include Brian Yuzna’s Reanimator, From Beyond and Dagon. Reanimator and From Beyond were ’80s pieces of gleeful splatter, based very roughly – and that is very roughly – on the short stories Herbert West – Reanimator and From Beyond the Walls of Sleep. These eschewed the atmosphere of eerie, unnatural terror of the original stories for over the top special effects, with zombies and predatory creatures from other realities running out of control. Dagon came out in the early years of this century. It was a more straightforward adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, transplanted to Spain. It generally followed the plot of the original short story, though at the climax there was a piece of nudity and gore that certainly wasn’t in Lovecraft.

Plot

Color out of Space is based on the short story of the same name. It takes some liberties, as do most movie adaptations, but tries to preserve the genuinely eerie atmosphere of otherworldly horror of the original, as well as include some of the other quintessential elements of Lovecraft’s horror from his other works. The original short story is told by a surveyor, come to that part of the American backwoods in preparation for the construction of a new reservoir. The land is blasted and blighted, poisoned by meteorite that came down years before. The surveyor recounted what he has been told about this by Ammi Pierce, an old man. The meteorite landed on the farm of Nahum Gardner and his family, slowly poisoning them and twisting their minds and bodies, as it poisons and twists the land around them.

In Stanley’s film, the surveyor is Ward, a Black hydrologist from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. He also investigates the meteorite, which in the story is done by three scientists from the university. The movie begins with shots of the deep American forest accompanied by a soliloquy by Ward, which is a direct quote from the story’s beginning. It ends with a similar soliloquy, which is largely the invention of the scriptwriters, but which also contains a quote from the story’s ending about the meteorite coming from unknown realms. Lovecraft was, if not the creator of cosmic horror, then certainly its foremost practitioner. Lovecraftian horror is centred around the horrifying idea that humanity is an insignificant, transient creature in a vast, incomprehensible and utterly uncaring if not actively hostile cosmos. Lovecraft was also something of an enthusiast for the history of New England, and the opening shots of the terrible grandeur of the American wilderness puts him in the tradition of America’s Puritan settlers. These saw themselves as Godly exiles, like the Old Testament Israelites, in a wilderness of supernatural threat.

The film centres on the gradual destruction of Nathan Gardner and his family – his wife, Theresa, daughter Lavinia, and sons Benny and Jack – as their minds and bodies are poisoned and mutated by the strange meteorite and its otherworldly inhabitant, the mysterious Color of the title. Which is a kind of fuchsia. Its rich colour recalls the deep reds Stanley uses to paint the poisoned landscape of Hardware. Credit is due to the director of photography, Steve Annis, as the film and its opening vista of the forest looks beautiful. The film’s eerie, electronic score is composed by Colin Stetson, which also suits the movie’s tone exactly.

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

Color out of Space comes after a number of other SF tales based on the similar idea of an extraterrestrial object or invader that twists and mutates the environment and its human victims. This includes the TV series, The Expanse, in which humanity is confronted by the threat of a protomolecule sent into the solar system by unknown aliens. Then there was the film Annihilation, about a group of women soldiers sent into the zone of mutated beauty and terrible danger created by an unknown object that has crashed to Earth and now threatens to overwhelm it. It also recalls John Carpenter’s cult horror movie, The Thing, in the twisting mutations and fusing of animal and human bodies. In the original story, Gardner and his family are reduced to emaciated, ashen creatures. It could be a straightforward description of radiation poisoning, and it indeed that is how some of the mutated animal victims of the Color are described in the film. But the film’s mutation and amalgamation of the Color’s victims is much more like that of Carpenter’s Thing as it infects its victims. The scene in which Gardner discovers the fused mass of his alpacas out in the barn recalls the scene in Carpenter’s earlier flick where the members of an American Antarctic base discover their infected dogs in the kennel. In another moment of terror, the Color blasts Theresa as she clutches Jack, fusing them together. It’s a piece of body horror like the split-faced corpse in Carpenter’s The Thing, the merged mother and daughter in Yuzna’s Society, and the fused humans in The Thing’s 2012 prequel. But it’s made Lovecraftian by the whimpering and gibbering noises the fused couple make, noises that appear in much Lovecraftian fiction.

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

In the film, Nathan Gardner is a painter, who has taken his family back to live on his father’s farm. This is a trope from other Lovecraft short stories, in which the hero goes back to his ancestral home, such as the narrator of The Rats in the Walls. The other characters are also updated to give a modern, or postmodern twist. Gardner’s wife, Theresa, is a high-powered financial advisor, speaking to her clients from the farm over the internet. The daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch of the Wiccan variety. She is entirely benign, however, casting spells to save her mother from cancer, and get her away from the family. In Lovecraft, magic and its practitioners are an active threat, using their occult powers to summon the ancient and immeasurably evil gods they worship, the Great Old Ones. This is a positive twist for the New Age/ Goth generations.

There’s a similar, positive view of the local squatter. In Lovecraft, the squatters are barely human White trash heading slowly back down the evolutionary ladder through poverty and inbreeding. The film’s squatter, Ezra, is a tech-savvy former electrician using solar power to live off-grid. But there’s another touch here which recalls another of Lovecraft’s classic stories. Investigating what may have become of Ezra, Ward and Pierce discover him motionless, possessed by the Color. However, he is speaking to them about the Color and the threat it presents from a tape recorder. This is similar to the voices of the disembodied human brains preserved in jars by the Fungi from Yuggoth, speaking through electronic apparatus in Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. Visiting Ezra earlier in the film, Ward finds him listening intently to the aliens from the meteorite that now have taken up residence under the Earth. This also seems to be a touch taken from Lovecraft’s fiction, which means mysterious noises and cracking sounds from under the ground. Near the climax Ward catches a glimpse through an enraptured Lavinia of the alien, malign beauty of the Color’s homeworld, This follows the logic of the story, but also seems to hark back to the alien vistas glimpsed by the narrator in The Music of Erich Zann. And of course it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft movie without the appearance of the abhorred Necronomicon. It is not, however, the Olaus Wormius edition, but a modern paperback, used by Lavinia as she desperately invokes the supernatural for protection.

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

Other elements in the movie seem to come from other literary sources. The Color takes up residence in the farm’s well, from which it speaks to the younger son, Jack. Later, Benny, the elder son tries to climb down it in an attempt to rescue their dog, Sam, during which he is also blasted by the Color. When Ward asks Gardner what has happened to them all, he is simply told that they’re all present, except Benny, who lives in the well now. This episode is similar to the creepy atmosphere of children’s fairy tales, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare’s poems, which feature ghostly entities tied to specific locales.

Oh yes, and there’s also a reference to Stanley’s own classic film, Hardware. When they enter Benny’s room, glimpsed on his wall is the phrase ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This is a quote from Mark’s Gospel, which was used as the opening text and slogan in the earlier movie.

The film is notable for its relatively slow start, taking care to introduce the characters and build up atmosphere. This is in stark contrast to the frenzied action in other, recent SF flicks, such as the J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboots and Michael Bay’s Transformers. The Color first begins having its malign effects by driving the family slowly mad. Theresa accidentally cuts off the ends of her fingers slicing vegetables in the kitchen as she falls into a trance. Later on, Lavinia starts cutting herself as she performs her desperate ritual calling for protection. And Jack and later Gardner sit enraptured looking at the television, vacant except for snow behind which is just the hint of something. That seems to go back to Spielberg’s movie, Poltergeist, but it’s also somewhat like the hallucinatory scenes when the robot attacks the hero from behind a television, which shows fractal graphics, in Hardware.

Finally, the Color destroys the farm and its environs completely, blasting it and its human victims to ash. The film ends with Ward contemplating the new reservoir, hoping the waters will bury it all very deep. But even then, he will not drink its water.

Lovecraft and Racism

I really enjoyed the movie. I think it does an excellent job of preserving the tone and some of the characteristic motifs of Lovecraft’s work, while updating them for a modern audience. Despite his immense popularity, Lovecraft is a controversial figure because of his racism. There were objections last year or so to him being given an award at the Hugo’s by the very ostentatiously, sanctimoniously anti-racist. And a games company announced that they were going to release a series of games based on his Cthulhu mythos, but not drawing on any of his characters or stories because of this racism. Now the character of an artist does not necessarily invalidate their work, in the same way that the second best bed Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife doesn’t make Hamlet any the less a towering piece of English literature. But while Lovecraft was racist, he also had black friends and writing partners. His wife was Jewish, and at the end of his life he bitterly regretted his earlier racism. Also, when Lovecraft was writing in from the 1920s to the 1940s, American and western society in general was much more racist. This was the era of segregation and Jim Crow. It may be that Lovecraft actually wasn’t any more racist than any others. He was just more open about it. And it hasn’t stopped one of the internet movie companies producing Lovecraft Country, about a Black hero and his family during segregation encountering eldritch horrors from beyond.

I don’t know if Stanley’s adaptation will be to everyone’s taste, though the film does credit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society among the organisations and individuals who have rendered their assistance. If you’re interested, I recommend that you give it a look. I wanted to see it at the cinema, but this has been impossible due to the lockdown. It is, however, out on DVD released by Studio Canal. Stanley has also said that if this is a success, he intends to make an adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. I hope the film is, despite present circumstances, and we can look forward to that piece of classic horror coming to our screens. But this might be too much to expect, given the current crisis and the difficulties of filming while social distancing.