Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

Boris Johnson Cynically Tries to Appeal to Gay Community

July 14, 2019

Boris Johnson and supporters.

This weekend and last has been the occasion for gay communities across the world to hold their annual Pride celebrations. Yesterday Bristol’s gays held a march, before going on to hold a pop concert up on Durdham Downs. I think last weekend was Pride Day in America, as it also was in London. According to Points West down here, Bristol Pride was a huge success, with thousands of people enjoying the occasion celebrating diversity. I’ve no doubt this was also the case in America and London. But one person, who was definitely not welcome at the party was Boris Johnson when he tried to use it for a bit of electioneering.

Johnson put out the following Tweet

Salute all those celebrating today. I have fond memories of my pink Stetson march as Mayor! Britain leads the world in LGBT+ equality and I’ll continue to champion the cause if I am lucky enough to become our country’s Prime Minister.

This was grossly hypocritical, as Johnson has been a massive homophobe. As Britain’s gay community and their supporters well knew, and weren’t going to let Johnson forget it.

Chloe tweeted back

you called gay men ‘tank-top wearing bum boys’ and compared same-sex marriage to a person marrying a dog, didn’t attend london pride 2011-2015, allowed gay marriage ban in bermuda, and have a homophobe running your leadership campaign – so fuck your salute and fuck you too.

Amy Ashenden also tweeted

The UK is far from leading the world on LGBT+ equality and YOU are a homophobe! Don’t think we don’t see through your attempt to look pro-LGBT in time for leadership election.

Other tweeters told Johnson precisely where he could stick his salutes. Jack D remarked

So, how about you take this tweet…and shove it so far up your back passage it comes to rest next to all your other ideas. Bigot.

Quite.

Mike remarked in his piece about it that this was far from being an isolated incident, and that Johnson had very many times expressed views that could cause him embarrassment were he to become Prime Minister, stating

And you can bet that, if he becomes PM after July 23, that is exactly what will happen. And with a clown as prime minister, you can be sure the whole world will be laughing at us…

… Even people who are usually afraid of clowns.

Boris Johnson caught out over London Pride – if he becomes PM this could happen daily

Now it’s possible that Johnson could have changed his mind on gay rights. When Tony Blair first introduced civil partnerships and then gay marriage, polls were quoted showing that 75% of the British public were against it. Since then the number of people, who are against gay marriage has apparently fallen to 50% or below. And having grown up in the 1970s and ’80s, I can understand why some people have trouble coming to terms with it. Although homosexuality had been decriminalised by Labour’s then Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, c. 1967, there was still massive hatred against gays. John Hurt risked his career playing Quentin Crisp, the gay rights activist and personality, in the BBC drama The Naked Civil Servant. I can remember listening amazed one lunchtime at school when one of the older lads told us that the previous night’s edition of Whicker’s World had shown a gay wedding in Las Vegas. Attitudes were beginning to change in the 1980s thanks to campaigners like Peter Tatchell and ‘out’ pop stars and celebrities like Boy George, Mark Almond, Jimmy Summerville, and bands like Bronski Beat and the Communards. The ‘8os also saw Labour controlled local councils attacked by the right-wing press and media for funding gay organisations and festivals, along with attempts to tackle other forms of prejudice, like racism. This was when Thatcher tried to pass legislation banning schools from teaching that homosexuality was natural, and there were real fears that this would be just the prelude to the Tories rounding up gays and imprisoning them in concentration camps like the Nazis. And as Thatcher was friends with the Chilean Fascist dictator, General Pinochet, the Union of Conservative Students was supporting apartheid South Africa and demanding the hanging of Nelson Mandela and adoption of racial nationalism and there was a very strong strain of Fascism and intolerance in the party, this was not an unreasonable fear.

It was David Cameron, who tried to change this and modernise the party, the same way Blair had modernised Labour. The Tories were to be thoroughly anti-racist, putting up Black and Asian candidates, cutting links to the Monday Club and expelling those with links to the Far Right. They were also now to be pro-gay. The party started fielding openly gay candidates, whereas in the past it had many closeted gays. Many of these were extremely anti-gay themselves, and there were a number of very high profile resignations when these Tories were outed. I can remember one of the new, openly gay Tory politicos confessing that his favourite band were The Scissor Sisters. As this fellow was very much an aristo, I wondered if the band really were his favourite, or if he had been advised to say they were in order to appear down with the kids. Like various Tories claimed to like the Spice Girls when they were riding high in the charts.

But there seems to be a very strong element of homophobia in the Tory party, just as the racists still exist despite Cameron’s purges. And they’re even stronger in UKIP and Fuhrage’s Brexit Party. The internet author Moggsmates released a number of tweets from Johnson’s and Rees-Mogg’s supporters’ groups revealing just how racist the pair’s respective supporters were. And I don’t doubt that they hold similar horrendous views about gays.

The gay community is very wise to reject Johnson’s cynical attempt to marshal their support. And all Britons, whatever their sexuality, should realise from this just how unprincipled and cynical Johnson is in his electioneering.

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Tracy Ann Oberman Smears Ash Sarkar and Guardian/ Private Eye Journo as Anti-Semites

July 7, 2019

Oh dear! It appears that Tracy Ann Oberman,(above) an actress and friend of the equally litigious Rachel Riley, might just have bitten off more than she can chew in her attacks on Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. Oberman and Riley believe that Corbyn really is a raging anti-Semite, as are his supporters. They therefore attack and smear them as Jew-haters over social media. If the victim replies with a few sharp observations about them in turn, they immediately respond by threatening them with a libel writ from their lawyers. They did this to Mike and many other people, simply because they reblogged an article describing how Princess Countdown and Cyberman bullied a sixteen year-old schoolgirl with anxiety, because she was a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, and thus, in their eyes, an anti-Semite.

This week she decided to attack Ash Sarkar of Novara Media, and then Solomon Hughes, a journalist for the Guardian and Private Eye, when he dared to stand up and defend Sarkar. Oberman started off by sneering at Sarkar, claiming that she wasn’t a serious political debater. Sarkar made a few sharp remarks about Oberman and her appearance on Eastenders. The spat went back and forth, with Oberman making the following highly defamatory comments among others.

Don’t play the race card with me @AyoCaesar you have stirred up more antisemitism than nearly any woman on here you personally and Novarra [sic] have lied libelled and trolled many Jewish people. You’re a hypocrite. But enough attention your way”.

“Doubt after today’s view thy Ash doesn’t care about Jews who were murdered. Maybe she concurs with the tweeter who said ‘every member of your family deserved to die in the Holocaust to atone for One Palestinian’”.

Sarkar wasn’t impressed, and replied with

Tracy, you’re going to have to find some evidence of me personally libelling and lying about Jewish people. Or I’ll have to contact those libel lawyers that you’re so keen on”.

Oberman seemed to look forward to the prospect of getting a writ, and said so

Bring it on. Many would love the opportunity of putting Novarra [sic] in the dock to answer some pertinent questions. My team are waiting”.

But in his coverage of the, er, frank exchange of views, the Sage of Crewe remarked that, as of 22.00 the previous night there didn’t seem to be much evidence that Oberman had her lawyers waiting.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/tracy-ann-oberman-crosses-line.html

Solomon Hughes tweeted in defence of Sarkar

No doubt people can be all kinds of horrible on Social Media about Palestine/Israel, & don’t use this as a prompt to be horrible to Tracy [Ann] Oberman, but the claim Ash Sarkar ‘stirred up antisemitism’ is both untrue and ridiculous.( As is the mention of ‘The Race Card’)”.

As you can see, this is a fairly measured response. Hughes recognises that there is poisonous stuff posted online about the Palestine/Israel conflict, and appeals to people not to abuse Oberman as her corrects her about Sarkar not being an anti-Semite. But this was too much for Tracy, who demanded that he explain it, rather than use it for clickbait. Which was a ridiculous suggestion, as his following on Twitter was a tenth of hers.

Hughes then stated again that the accusation that Sarkar was an anti-Semite was ridiculous. Oberman then accused him of trying to incite a pile-on. She then posted

I personally do believe that Ash / Novarra [sic] has stirred up race tension. I think not supporting the IHRA is racist. Saying that Palestinians should define Jewish Racism is igniting  upset. You may disagree but to incite a pile on isn’t very Guardian or Buzzfeed?

Zelo Street commented that this contrasts with her original statement about Sarkar, which is presented as fact. By then stating it is opinion, she has just undercut any defence she might have of the original statement as she has effectively admitted that it is just opinion and she has no evidence to back it up. Zelo Street commented

These are opinions, and no more.

We know this as she adds “You may disagree”. If Ms Sarkar did contact her lawyers, they will be all over this: it is effectively an admission that Ms Oberman cannot stand up her claims. 

He also said that Private Eye might also take an interested, as it looks like Oberman was going to accuse him of anti-Semitism or other unprofessional conduct to his Groaniad editor, Kath Viner. Oberman said she was going to drop Viner a line immediately after the conversation.

Zelo Street concludes

Tracy Ann Oberman just dug herself in deeper with Ash Sarkar. Then she invited the Eye to investigate her. This campaign may progress not necessarily to her advantage.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/tracy-ann-oberman-one-in-eye.html

It’ll be very interesting indeed if Private Eye do get involved and cover this accusation of anti-Semitism against one of their own reporters. The Eye has followed the rest of the lamestream media in promoting the anti-Semitism smears and the Labour party and Corbyn viciously anti-Semitic. This baseless attack on Hughes therefore presents them with a problem. If they defend Hughes, as they should, then they risk at least hinting that may be the rest of the anti-Semitism smears they have published and supported over the last few years are also baseless, and that the victims of the majority of them are decent, innocent people, who have been grossly libeled. As Private Eye hasn’t spoken to any of the victims, allowing them to explain how they have been smeared, defending Hughes would represent a change of editorial direction by Ian Hislop on this matter. The only thing I’ve seen published by the satirical magazine in defence of the Labour party on this issue have been letters to the magazine, followed by others from readers claiming the opposite. Except for an editorial reply, citing Jon Lansman, the head of Momentum, that there was a problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This is despite testimony from many of the party’s Jewish members, stating that they have never, or only very rarely encountered it, testimony that has definitely not been published by the Eye. The Eye has never published an article casting doubt on the witch hunt, or pointing out that at least some of its victims are innocent.

I therefore wait to see what the forthcoming Eye, published this week, will have to say about all this. If anything at all.

 

 

Fake Labour Margaret Hodge Reveals Real Reasons for Attacking Corbyn: Thatcherism

July 1, 2019

Nearly three weeks ago Margaret Hodge, the Blairite MP for Barking, opened her mouth and let the cat out the bag, revealing the real reasons she and the rest of the Thatcherite entryists in the party want their leader gone. And it has zilch to do with anti-Semitism. The real reason she and the other Blairites loathe and detest him and his supporters is because, like the rest of the political and media establishment, they’re neoliberals. They believe utterly that socialism is dead, that there is no point challenging the right-wing media, and that there has to be more privatisation, because private enterprise is always superior to state-run industries, even when, in the case of the railways, the utilities and the NHS, it very obviously isn’t.

They also despise the working people, whom they claim to represent. Blair, Mandelson, Brown and the rest of the shabby bunch concentrated on winning over swing voters, who could also vote Tory. Hence they stole the Tories’ policies, got Murdoch and sections of the right-wing media to back them, and even tried ingratiating themselves with the Daily Heil. They believed, like the Tories, that the unions were an obstacle that had to be crushed, and that a large proportion of those claiming benefit were malingerers and scroungers. And so they inflicted the Work Capability Tests on the disabled, and continued to make signing on for unemployment benefit, or Jobseeker’s Allowance, as it’s become, as hard and humiliating as possible.

And all the while they continued to suck up to the rich, offering businessmen and senior executives places in government, in return for donations to the party.

This was, according to Blair and the rest of the establishment, a post-ideological age. By which they mean post-socialist. Thatcher’s policies had to be introduced into the Labour party for it to compete with the Tories. Because, as Thatcher herself said ad nauseam, ‘There Is No Alternative’.

And Hodge revealed she believed this nonsense absolutely when she claimed that Corbyn pledges to nationalise the railways, water and part of the electricity grid, end the privatisation of the NHS, restore the unions, and give working people greater rights at work, job security, proper wages and a strong welfare state, was simply offering them bribes. She said

“I want to lay the party that brings honesty into our politics. What we’ve got, if we do have anything, is a whole range of unrealistic promises, whether it’s on reversing all the cuts of the last decade, whether it’s on promising that we’ll do away with tuition fees, those are promises that will not be fulfilled. And that unrealism, those sorts of bribes, actually in my view, in an era of scepticism, simply against policies or politics is not the way to win election”.

In his post about this revealing outburst from Hodge, Zelo Street commented

There you have it: in Hodge world, you’re only going to get elected by shrugging your shoulders and leaving all the homeless out on the streets, leaving Universal Credit in place, leaving the NHS in an increasingly parlous state, and yes, leaving millions of poor people to their fate.

Absolutely. And it’s not just Hodge, who to my mind looks like an alien from Dr. Who with one of the bizarre hairdos Mrs. Slocombe used to sport in the classic Beeb comedy, Are You Being Served?. What she’s articulated is what passes for realism amongst the Blairites. Because Thatcher said so.

Margaret Hodge                                                  Alien

Zelo Street also mentioned that she demonstrated last year that the attacks on Corbyn had precious little to do with anti-Semitism, when the Groan reported that she “has signalled that Labour MPs critical of Jeremy Corbyn are digging in for a long struggle against his leadership as she suggested that the antisemitism row would only end if he stood aside”.

Needless to say, real Labour activists and supporters weren’t remotely impressed. The Sage of Crewe gave examples of their reaction to Hodge’s repugnant views on Twitter. Matt Turner’s comment, apparently, was typical.

“Can anyone, in all honesty, tell me why the hell Margaret Hodge is in the labour party? Sitting on her £70+k a year plus expenses and having the audacity to say reversing austerity is somehow a bribe? She’s not the one dying on the street struggling to feed her children”

And Eric the Socialist asked the reasonable question how she could still be in the Labour party campaigning on a platform in which she didn’t believe.

“Margaret Hodge has left labour. Right? Surely she can’t say her own party are trying to bribe the electorate with unrealistic policies AND still be in the Labour party?”

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/06/margaret-hodge-its-not-bribe.html

I am therefore not remotely surprised that she was one of the 118 Labour MPs, who shamefully demanded Chris Williamson’s re-suspension as an ‘anti-Semite’. This has absolutely nothing to do with real anti-Semitism, and everything to do with attacking a key Corbyn ally. Someone who actually wants to return the party to its socialist and working class roots, and do something for the people she and the rest of the Blairites despise.

And as for Hodge’s opposition to anti-Semitism, she did so little to combat the BNP in her constituency, that when they seven seats on Tower Hamlet’s council, I believe they actually sent her a bouquet of flowers.

Margaret Hodge: BNP Approved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scots Tory Davidson Warns Boris Willing to Destroy UK for Brexit

June 28, 2019

On the 18th of this month, Mike at Vox Political wrote a piece noting a YouGov poll that found that the majority of Tory members are hellbent on getting Brexit, even if it means the break-up of the United Kingdom, significant damage to its economy and even the destruction of the Tory party itself.

The poll found that, when asked the question whether they would be willing to avert Brexit if it meant Scotland or Northern Ireland leaving Britain, 63% and 59% of Tories would be quite happy to see those nations leave Britain. 61% said they would also be prepared to accept significant damage to Britain’s economy if we left the EU. 54% also said that they would be happy to see the Tory party destroyed for Brexit. Only 36% put their party’s survival before Brexit.

See: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/06/18/most-conservative-members-would-see-party-destroye

Commenting on this, Mike predicted in his article that Scottish SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would mention it in her speech marking 20 years of devolution.

The Tory death wish: They’ll have Brexit even if it destroys the UK

And now, according to the front page of today’s I, 28th June 2019, the leaders of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson, has warned that Boris’ determination to achieve Brexit whatever the cost – ‘do or die’ – risks breaking up the UK. She was therefore backing Jeremy Hunt instead. Davidson said

‘I want to see him [Johnson] make assurances that it’s not Brexit do or die, it’s the Union do or die. That’s exactly what we’ve seen from the other candidate in the race and that’s why he’s going to get my vote.’

The newspaper also reports that

Polling has suggested that if the former foreign secretary becomes prime minister it could boost support for Scottish independence. (p.6).

Mike reported that the only thing that would stop the Tories from demanding Brexit at the first opportunity is the likelihood that this would lead to Corbyn taking up the reigns of government. But, he concluded

such a government is more likely if they choose a leader committed to Brexit at any cost.

And at the moment, Boris Johnson is the the leading candidate in the Tory leadership contest, despite his determination to force through Brexit whatever the cost. The I has also reported that he’s said that those Tories opposed to a no-deal Brexit will not get posts in his government.

And I’m not at all surprised that the Tories are willing to risk the break-up of the EU. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve heard rumours that the Tories were on the verge of collapse during Blair’s tenure of office. So much so that they were considering changing their name to the ‘English Nationalists’. And I do remember reading an opinion piece in the Heil, which considered that the departure of Scotland from the Union would not significantly harm Conservatism. This claimed that it was only recently that the Tories in Scotland had called themselves Conservatives. Before then they were called the Unionist party. But this still goes back to the period after the early 18th century union with Scotland. What would be the point of having a unionist party, if there was no union, and no real likelihood of ever reviving it?

It just confirms that Brexit is very much an English demand, and the Tory Brexiteers are bitter English nationalists, neither more nor less.

And it flies in the face of the way the Tories under Thatcher appropriated Britishness, its symbols and history. I can remember one headline in the Sunday Telegraph, unsurprisingly about how wonder Thatcher was, had the headline ‘Don’t Call Them Boojwah, Call Them British!’ I think it was a quote from Maggie herself. But the Conservatism she promoted was deeply bourgeois and nationalistic to its core. They seemed to waste no opportunity to drape themselves in Union Flags, like Tim Brooke-Taylor in his Union flag waistcoat on the Goodies, but without the comic trio’s irony. In one programme about Thatcher and the Tory party, her husband, Dennis, declared that his favourite song was Rule Britannia. Which he then tried to sing, only to realise he didn’t know the words. And then there was their infamous 1987 election film, which seemed to show that they had singlehandedly won the Battle of Britain. This showed old wartime footage of Spitfires chasing about the skies, while an excited voice declared ‘Man was born free. It’s our fundamental right.’ Really? I thought the complete quote, from the first sentence or so of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract was ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.’ Which effectively describes the condition of everyone, who isn’t massively rich, under the Tories. The sadly departed Alan Coren commented drily about it on the News Quiz, calling it the Royal Conservative Airforce, and saying what a pity it all was for the Tories that after the War the servicemen all came back and voted Labour. Quite. But it does show how the Tories appropriated British patriotism.

And it also shows the reverse: how the Tories demonised anyone who didn’t share their chauvinism and racism – who wasn’t, as Thatcher put it, ‘one of us’ – was really an evil subversive intent on destroying Britain. Left-wing members of the Labour party, who supported the ‘troops out’ movement, like Tony Benn, land who made the reasonable point that to stop the violence we had to talk to Sinn Fein, were vilified as supporters of the IRA. And the same people, who wanted to thaw relations with the USSR instead of ramping up tensions like Reagan and Thatcher, because of the very real danger of nuclear Armageddon were also vilified as Communists by the Tories, the Tory press, and the press secret state.

Oh yes, and if Labour got in power under someone like Benn, Foote, Livingstone or even Neil Kinnock, when he actually believed in traditional Labour values, would destroy the economy.

But it isn’t Labour threatening to destroy the UK. Corbyn and his supporters aren’t telling the world that they’re content to break up the EU or consciously wreak the British economy, provided they get a disastrous policy through. It’s the Tories.

They’re the real subversives and destroyers of this nation. Which is why they have to make up bogus stories about the Labour party being full of anti-Semites, Trotskyites and Stalinists.

If you want to see a genuinely prosperous, united Britain, that’s fair to working people of every nation in this great country, vote Labour.

Because the Tories are happy to see it destroyed and impoverished.

 

The Tories and the War on Drugs

June 16, 2019

There’s been some amusement to be had this past week with various leading Tories coming out and admitting to having used drugs. Michael Gove confessed to having snorted cocaine, and Rory Stewart admitted that he’d smoked opium once, 20 odd years ago, when he was backpacking around Iran. It was at a wedding. He claimed that it couldn’t have affected him much, as he was walking 25 – 30 miles a day. My guess is that in reality he’d have been stoned out of his tiny patrician brain. It’s generally the lean, fit people, who are most affected by intoxicants, as you can see by all the tales about champion marathon runners and other athletes, who become massively drunk when they celebrate with half a pint of booze afterwards. Then there’s Paul Staines of the Guido Fawkes blog. He hasn’t come out of the stoner closet, but he was notorious as a Libertarian for taking and advocating DMT as a mind-expanding drug. My guess is that he’d need it. As a member of an organisation that was so right-wing, it invited the leader of one of Rios Montt’s death squads from El Salvador to be their guest of honour at their annual dinner, Staines would need some powerful hallucinogenics to convince himself he was a decent human being.

Boris is also widely suspected of having done drugs, and it’s almost certain that the allegations are true, and of continuing to use them. But he hasn’t confessed to it. When asked whether he had at a press conference about his candidacy for the Tory leadership, he brushed the question aside by claiming that he thought the British public were more interested in what he intended to do as politician than whether he took illegal substances. He might be right for some people. We’re so used to public figures, like actors, rock stars and other media celebrities, coming forward to admit that they took drugs some time in their lives, that it almost seems unremarkable. In some parts of the entertainment industry, it’s even to be expected, as with tales of pop musicians, which have become part of the general pattern of rock excess. However, Boris’ own political career isn’t any recommendation for him as Prime Ministerial material either. He’s been so egotistical and massively incompetent that many people would have to take large amounts of illegal chemicals to be persuaded otherwise.

Author’s impression of Theresa May with potential voter.

There’s more than a little fun to be had out of all this furore. Some wag with a better grasp of video editing than yours truly could provide us all with a laugh by cutting their speeches with bits from notorious films about drugs from the past. Like the 1950s anti-cannabis film, Reefer Madness, or David Cronenberg’s ’90s flick, The Naked Lunch, based on the notorious book by William S. Burroughs. This latter film is roughly based on Burrough’s own life, and is about a pest exterminator, who gets high on the ketamine he’s using to kill the insects. As the drug takes effect, he hallucinates that he’s some kind of SF spy, and has to make his report to Interzone before flying to Morocco after accidentally shooting his wife while they were playing William Tell. The hallucinations include the hero seeing everyone in a bar as mugwumps – humanoid lizards – and a gay talking typewriter-beetle. You could have some fun showing Boris sitting down to type his statement for the leadership election, but showing the hands of Cronenberg’s hero typing away at the beetle creature. Though as the beetle-typewriter then goes on to declare how wonderful homosexuality is, this scene might not be appropriate. The Tories have declared themselves at ease with the gay community, and no-one could ever accuse Boris of it. Another excellent film candidate for mixing with the Tory leadership speeches would be Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. Which also has a bar full of hallucinatory lizards, bats coming down out of the desert sky, and Richard Nixon erupting out of a TV set, amongst other bizarre visions.

But there’s also a very serious side to all this. The great commenters on Mike’s blog, when he covered this story, made some very good points about these people’s hypocrisy. They’ve all done drugs, and got away scot-free, in contrast to more ordinary users, who’d been to jail. One commenter told how he had a friend, who now suffers from PTSD because of what he’d experienced in prison after being convicted of a drugs offence. And the whole affair also seems to me to be a replay of a similar scandal back in 2004, when a number of other Tories confessed to having used cannabis.

The furore was started when Anne Widdecombe announced that she wanted harsher sentences for drugs, quite at variance with the party stance on the issue at the time. A number of Tories then came forward to announce that they’d taken it. Matthew Parris then gave his view about it all in an article he wrote for the Spectator. One Tory revealed that he had smoked cannabis at Oxford. This didn’t shock Parris, who was far more outraged by the way the august gentleman had consumed it. Parris declared that he could have been smoking cowpats for all he cared. What offended him was that the pretentious so and so had put it in his pipe. He smoked a pipe! It’s something you can imagine Rees-Mogg, the MP for the 18th century, doing. If he were inclined towards the substances used by Thomas De Quincy and Coleridge, of course.

This came at the time the government was considering changing its policy towards drug abuse. Much had been in the news about the success the Scandinavian countries, Portugal and Switzerland had achieved in their battle with illegal drugs, in contrast with Britain’s failure to combat or contain its growing drugs problem. These nations had a softer approach to tackling drug abuse. Addicts were treated not as criminals, but as sick people, who needed to be helped. But this was too namby-pamby for Widdecombe and those like her. Parris wrote that this had also been the policy in Britain, and had been giving positive results. But it all changed with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wanted a war on drugs, and as American’s ally and the Special Relationship, we had to follow suit. The result was harsher sentences for drug offences, which actually had a negative effect on what they were trying to achieve. Treating drug addiction as a sickness makes sense, as no-one wants to be sick so they seek help. Criminalizing it, however, gives it a kind of glamour. You ain’t sick, you’re gangsta! Public enemy No. 1. And so far from deterring people from using drugs, the policy actually helps to promote it.

And then there’s the racism of the War on Drugs. Hillary Clinton deliberately played on White American fears of Black criminality when she announced Clinton’s new, tougher policies on drugs back in the 1990s. She talked about ‘superpredators’ – at the time, a term that was only used about Black men. The laws were also framed so that it targeted Blacks rather than Whites. Although studies have shown that Whites are just as likely to use drugs as Blacks, the majority of those arrested and convicted are Black. And I suspect that the situation is similar over here. Certainly it’s been clear to me from talking to Black friends that they believe that Blacks suffer disproportionately harsher punishment than White drug abusers. I know many Blacks, who won’t touch the stuff, and they make the point very clear to Whites trying to encourage them to do so.

It seems very clear to me that we need a return to a saner, more effective drugs policy. One that discourages it as it helps the victims by treating it as a disease, rather than giving it a spurious glamour it doesn’t deserve by criminalizing it. A policy that punishes and cures White and Black equally, instead of playing to White fears and racism.

But for me, the most toxic drug not mentioned in the Tory leadership contest is Conservatism. This has destroyed whole communities, and comprehensive wrecked Britain, creating poor healthcare, unemployment, despair, depression and general poor mental health, all while fostering racism, bigotry and bitter resentment against the poor, disabled and marginalised. It has done this while creating illusions of prosperity and national greatness. It’s time it was stopped. The pushers of this vile drug – Johnson, Gove, Leadsom and the rest of them – should be properly punished by losing any and every election they take part in. And the literature that encourages this vile drug – the Times, Torygraph, Mail, Sun and Express, should be binned at once and readers should turn to proper news outlets.

Only then can we look forward to a saner society, less afflicted by drugs.

Radio 4 Series Challenging Stereotype that Religion and Science Are at War

June 12, 2019

According to next week’s Radio Times there’s a new, three-part series beginning on Radio 4 next Friday, 21st June, at 11.00 am, Science and Religion about the relationship between the two disciplines. From the pieces about in the magazine, it attacks the idea that science and religion are at war. The blurb for the programme’s first part, ‘The Nature of the Beast’, on page 131, says

Nick Spencer examines the history of science and religion and the extent to which they have been in conflict with each other. Drawing on the expertise of various academics, he begins by exploring what the relationship says about what it means to be human.

The paragraph about the programme on the preceding page, 130, by Sue Robinson, runs

Are science and religion at war? In the first in a three-part series, Nick Spencer (of Goldsmith’s, London, and Christian think-tank Theos) takes a look back wt what he terms the “simplistic warfare narrative” of these supposedly feuding disciplines. From the libraries of the Islamic world to the work of 13th-century bishop Robert Grosseteste in maths and natural sciences, Spencer draws on the expertise of a variety of academics to argue that there has long been an interdependence between the two. I felt one or two moments of consternation (“there are probably more flat-earthers [believing the earth to be flat] around today than there were back then…”) and with so many characters in the unfolding 1,000-year narrative, some may wish for a biographical dictionary at their elbow… I certainly did. Yet somehow Spencer produces an interesting and informative treatise from all the detail. 

We’ve waited a long time for a series like this. I set up this blog partly to argue against the claim made by extremely intolerant atheists like Richard Dawkins that science and religion are and always have been at war. In fact no serious historian of science believes this. It’s a stereotype that comes from three 19th century writers, one of whom was reacting against the religious ethos of Harvard at the time. And some of the incidents that have been used to argue that science was suppressed by the religious authorities were simply invented. Like the story that Christopher Columbus was threatened by the Inquisition for believing that the world war round. Er no, he wasn’t. That was all made up by 19th century author Washington Irvine. European Christians had known and accepted that the world was round by the 9th century. It’s what the orb represents in the Crown Jewels. The story that Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, in his debate on evolution with Charles Darwin, asked the great biologist whether he was descended from an ape on his mother’s or father’s side of the family is also an invention. It was written years after the debate by Darwin’s Bulldog, T.H. Huxley. A few years ago historians looked at the accounts of the debate written at the time by the students and other men of science who were there. They don’t mention any such incident. What they do mention is Wilberforce opening the debate by saying that such questions like evolution needed to be carefully examined, and that if they are true, they have to be accepted, no matter how objectionable they may be. Wilberforce himself was an extremely proficient amateur scientist himself as well as a member of the clergy. Yes, there was opposition from many Christians to Darwin’s idea, but after about 20 years or so most of the mainstream denominations fully accepted evolution. The term ‘fundamentalism’ comes from a book defending and promoting Christianity published as The Fundamentals of Christianity published in the first years of the 20th century. The book includes evolution, which it accepts.

Back to the Middle Ages, the idea that this was a period when the church suppressed scientific investigation, which only revived with the Humanists of the Renaissance, has now been utterly discredited. Instead it was a period of invention and scientific discovery. Robert Grosseteste, the 13th century bishop of Lincoln, wrote papers arguing that the Moon was responsible for the tides and that the rainbow was produced through light from the sun being split into various colours by water droplets in the atmosphere. He also wrote an account of the six days of creation, the Hexaemeron, which in many ways anticipates the ‘Big Bang’ theory. He believed that the universe was created with a burst of light, which in turn created ‘extension’ – the dimensions of the cosmos, length, width and breadth, and that this light was then formed into the material and immaterial universe. Medieval theologians were also often highly critical of stories of demons and ghosts. The 12th century French bishop, William of Auxerre, believed that nightmares were caused, not by demons, but by indigestion. If you had too big a meal before falling asleep, the weight of the food in the stomach pressed down on the nerves, preventing the proper flow of vital fluids.

The Christian scholars of this period drew extensively on the writings of Muslim philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who had inherited more of the intellectual legacy of ancient Greece and Rome, along with that of the other civilisations they had conquered, like Persia and India. Scholars like al-Haytham explored optics while the Bani Musa brothers created fascinating machines. And Omar Khayyam, the Sufi mystic and author of the Rubaiyyat, one of the classics of world literature, was himself a brilliant mathematician. Indeed, many scientific and mathematical terms are taken from Arabic. Like alcohol, and algorithm, which comes from the Muslim scholar al-Khwarismi, as well as algebra.

There have been periods of tension between religion and particular scientific doctrines, like the adoption of the Copernican system and Darwin’s theory of evolution by Natural Selection, but the relationship between science and religion is rich, complex and has never been as simple as all out war. This should be a fascinating series and is a very necessary corrective to the simplistic stereotype we’ve all grown up with.

Examining Jeanette Winterson’s Ideas on AI and Literature

June 4, 2019

Last Saturday’s I for 1-2 June 2019 carried an interview in its ‘Culture’ section with the literary novelist, Jeanette Winterson, about her latest work, Frankissstein. This is another take on Frankenstein, with one strand of the book set in the contemporary world and exploring AI, the downloading of the human mind into computers and literature. Winterson’s the second literary novelist, following Ian McEwan, to turn to the world of robotics for their subject matter. I’ve critiqued both of them, based on reviews in the papers, because this comes across to me very much of another instance of ‘literary’ novelists appropriating Science Fiction subjects and issues, while disdaining and ignoring the genre itself.

Winterson’s interview with Max Liu was also very interesting in other respects, and worth reading. While I am not remotely inclined to read her book, and have real objections to some of her statements on philosophical grounds, I also found that there was much that she said, which I agreed with. Particularly about the exploitation of British communities under Brexit.

The Interview

The article, on page 49, was prefaced with the statement Jeanette Winterson talks to Max Liu about AI and why the novel could die if it doesn’t reinvent itself’. It ran

Jeanette Winterson would like to upload her brain to a computer. “It were possibl, I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to find out what it’s like to live without a body,” she says when we meet to discuss Frankissstein, her new novel about artificial intelligence. “I had a very religious upbringing, so to me, the idea that the body is just a house is normal.”

The 59-year-old wrote about her Pentecostal childhood in her semi-autobiographical debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), and her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). For the past couple of years, she has been reading about AI and robotics at the same time as thinking about Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein. In her latest novel, the young Shelley appears as a character.

“I started writing about Mary in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century then worked my way to the present,” says Winterson. “There was no point setting a novel about AI in the future, because I wanted readers to realise the future is here. We don’t know how far big money has gone in developing AI, but I suspect it’s much further than we think.”

Winterson believes “we’re living in an ahistorical world where people don’t know how we got here”, the pace of change since the Industrial Revolution leaving us bewildered. “By its nature, reading slows us down,” she says,”so I’m pushing against the acceleration of modern life, creating imaginative space for readers to inhabit. Anybody who can imagine something is in control.”

Her new novel’s present-day characters include Ry, a transgender doctor, and Winterson says: “One of my godchildren identifies as transgender and I’ve been reading a lot about that because I thought I needed to understand. The idea of identity being provisional fed into this novel. Much Western thought rests upon the idea that there is a core self that we can know and perfect, but probably there isn’t.

Ray falls in love with Ron, who is trying to make his fortune by designing sex dolls. Ron plans to exploit post-Brexit tax breaks by opening a factory in Wales. “I hate to see how my class has been manipulated by people who have no thought and no care for them,” says Winterson. “I’m ashamed of my country for turning its back on a European project and choosing nationalism.”

Were she to live for another 100 years, Winterson says she would retrain as a scientist. Does this mean she doesn’t see a future for the novel?

“The novel is only on its way out if it doesn’t change,” she says. “In the 80s, it was too middle-class and too male. Then Angela Carter came along and was so fresh, but she had a terrible time initially. The example of English literature’s conservatism that kills me is when Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac won the Booker in 1984 and Carter’s Nights at the Circus wasn’t even shortlisted. It was the year before I published Oranges and I just thought: “This is so dull.”

In Frankissstein, one character says the urge to write comes from vanity, but Mary counters that it’s about hope. Which is it from Winterson? “My writing is a message in a bottle. I won’t be here long enough to get my brain uploaded, so I’m chucking this message overboard in the hope it will move the conversation on.”

Moravec, Transhumanism and Max Headroom

It would be interesting to find out what Winterson had been reading as her research for her book. My guess it would almost certainly include Hans Moravec and the downloaders and transhumanists. They aim to upload their minds into machines. A little while ago they held a party at which they avowed their intention to meet each other on the other side of the Galaxy in a million years’ time. Which is some ambition. I think Moravec himself believes that by this middle of this century the technology should have been perfected that will allow a human brain to be read in such minute detail that its functions can be reproduced on computer. This was the premise behind the Max Headroom pilot, 20 Minutes into the Future. In this tale, broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s, Headroom, a computer-generated TV personality, is created when his human original, an investigative journalist in a dystopian future London, knocks himself unconscious going through a crash barrier to escape the villains. The journo’s body is retrieved, and used by a teenage computer whizzkid, Brice, who seems to spend his whole life in the bath, to create Headroom as an experiment. The character takes his name from the last thing his original sees before he goes through the barrier: a sign saying ‘Max Headroom’.

Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect

I also wonder if she read any of the SF literature about downloading and cyberspace, including one of the first novels to tackle the subject, John Sladek’s The Muller-Fokker Effect, published in 1970. This is about Bob Shairp, a man reduced to date and stored on computer tape. I haven’t read it, but according to Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove in their history of Science Fiction, The Trillion Year Spree,

it is a deeply satirical book, homing in on the US Army, evangelism, newspapers and the like for its target, with an overall sense of fun reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and Sheckley. (p. 307).

Future Shock and the Global Rate of Change

Winterson’s comment that it was useless to set the book in the future, as the future is already here, is very similar to the remarks I heard about two decades ago by William Gibson, one of the founders of the Cyberpunk SF genre. Speaking at the Cheltenham Festival of literature, Gibson said that the future was already here, it was just wasn’t spread out the same everywhere, so there were parts of the world, such as the developing countries, where it wasn’t present to the same extent as the more advanced West. As for her comments about living in an ahistorical age, where people don’t know how we got here, and the pace of change is accelerating, this sounds very close to Alvin Toffler and his idea of future shock, where societal change is now so advanced and rapid that it is profoundly disorienting. But it is possible to exaggerate the speed of such changes. I can remember reading an article a few years ago, that argued that the impact of modern technology is vastly overestimated. The internet, for example, it was claimed, isn’t half as revolutionary as it is made out as it is only a development of earlier technologies, like the telegram. It’s a contentious claim, but in many ways the most rapid technological, social and economic changes were in the century following Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1937. That was when Britain was transformed from an agricultural, almost feudal country into a modern, industrial society. Britain’s empire expanded massively, communications improved allowed the rapid movement of information, goods and people across the globe. It was the period when new transport technologies like the railway, the automobile, the electric tram, dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and the rocket were created, along with inventions like the X-Ray, electric light, the telegram, telephone, radio and the first experiments in television, and, of course, sound recording and the cinema. Contemporary technological advances can be seen as refinements or improvements on these, rather than completely new inventions.

Transgender People and the Question of Core Personality

I also have objections to her comments about whether or not there is a core, human personality. I’ve no doubt that one argument against it is that many people would be very different if they had had a different upbringing. If they’d been born into a different class, or allowed to study a particular subject at school or university, or if they’d decided to pursue a different career. And, obviously, if they’d been born a different gender. But twin studies suggest that people do have some aspects of their character determined by their biology rather than their upbringing. And I don’t think she makes her argument by pointing to transpeople. As I understand it, many transpeople believe very strongly that they have a core personality or nature. It’s just that this is at opposition to their biological gender. Hence their desire to change. It isn’t simply that they simply decide at some point that they want to change their sex, which would be the case if it was simply the case that they had no core personality. But perhaps Winterson’s godchild is different.

Computers and the Existence of Self 

I’m also suspicious of the idea, as it sounds rather close to the ideas of Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmoore that consciousness is an illusion and that the brain is simply a meat machine for running memes, discrete units of culture like genes are discrete units of biological information. On the other hand, when she says that existing as a disembodied entity on a computer doesn’t seem strange to her because of her religious background, she’s in agreement with Paul Davies. In his book, God and the New Physics, he stated that he’s prepared to accept that life can exist outside the body because of the way computers could be used to simulate human personalities. I can remember reading that the wife of one of the leading downloaders was a Methodist minister. He commented about this apparent contradiction between their two disciplines by saying that they were both trying to do the same thing, but by different methods.

The Manipulation of the Working Class

I do agree wholeheartedly, however, with Winterson’s comments about how her class is being manipulated by people, who give them no thought and no care for them. The idea that the creation of tax breaks for businesses after Brexit would allow an amoral entrepreneur to build a factor for sex robots in Wales is all too credible. Just as I agree with her about Britain turning it’s back on the EU, though I also have strong criticisms of the European Union. But Brexit has been and is being used by the Tory extreme right and its related movements, like UKIP and Farage’s noxious Brexit people, to manipulate the working class and exploit them. If you look at what Boris Johnson and Farage want, the privatisation of the NHS to American private healthcare firms is very much on the table.

Conservatism, Sexism, Literature and Literary Snobbishness

She was also right about the conservatism and sexism of the literary world in the 1980s. Private Eye’s literary column attacked Hotel du Lac for its snobbishness at the time. And the Orange Prize for literature was set up because it was felt that women were being unfairly excluded from the main literary prizes. However, the remarkable success of women writers in winning the mainstream awards has also, in the view of Private Eye a few years ago, also called into question the reason for Orange Prize. Why have a separate prize for women when that year the lists were dominated by female writers? And as for Angela Carter, I wonder if some of the problems she had didn’t just come from her writing feminist magic realist tales and fairy stories, but also because the genre SF/Fantasy crowd liked her. Flicking through an old SF anthology I found in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a piece by her about literary theory along with pieces by other, firmly genre figures. A few years ago Terry Pratchett commented that the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival looked at him as if he was going to talk to his fans about motorcycle maintenance, and he was certainly subject to appalling snobbery by the literary critics when he started out. I think it’s therefore quite possible that Carter was disdained by those who considered themselves the guardians of serious literature because she was too genre. But I also wonder if Winterson herself, despite her deep love of Carter’s work, doesn’t also have the same attitude that sees genre fiction as somehow not proper literature, as she, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and the others write.

I have to say that I don’t see the death of novel being anywhere near imminent. Not from looking along the shelves at Waterstone’s, and particularly not in the genre fiction, crime, horror, and SF. But it says something about the apparent lack of inspiration in literary fiction that it is turning to SF for its subjects. Winterson said some fascinating things in her interview, but to me, genre SF still did AI, robots and downloading first and better than the mainstream novelists now writing about it.

 

UN Calls for Inquiry into Torture by British Troops in Iraq

May 21, 2019

Saturday’s issue of the I had this article, ‘UN calls for inquiry into torture by Army’ on page 2, which runs

A United Nations body has called for an inquiry into allegations of unlawful killings, torture and ill-treatment by British troops in Iraq. The Committee against Torture, which monitors the implementation of the convention against torture, said the UK should “refrain from enacting legislation that would grant amnesty or pardon where torture is concerned”.

This reminds me very strongly of Abu Ghraib, the US interrogation and detention centre where it was revealed US squaddies were abusing Iraqi prisoners. As much as I’d like to believe that British troops are different and morally superior to the rest of the world, it strikes me as all too possible that some of our troops were also doing the same. Britain was involved in the secret renditions of terrorists or terrorist suspects to countries, where they could be tortured. Furthermore, it has also been revealed that the American troops and mercenaries in Iraq ran amok in a reign of terror, according to shocked American diplomats. The mercenaries ran prostitution rings and shot innocent Iraqi civilians for sport as they drove past them. It was also revealed that American troops also collaborated with Shi’a gangs in running death squads.

I don’t know, but unfortunately it wouldn’t surprise me if British troops were involved in similar atrocities. But I wonder if we will ever find out about it, considering how unwilling the mainstream media were in promoting the War in Iraq, at least in America, and the way the British state still has very strong powers to block Freedom of Information requests and any inquiries into its dodgy activities.

Video Urging Boycott of Eurovision to Combat Israeli Artwashing

May 15, 2019

The Eurovision Song Contest is nearly upon us, and TV stations all across Europe have started showing the contestants going through their moves and ditties ready for the big event. This year it’s in Israel, and last night the Beeb started their broadcast from that country. This raises the awkward issue of how the Israeli state is using the event as propaganda, to try to present itself as a liberal, progressive nation while in fact its the reverse. It’s an apartheid state, which has practised a 70 + year campaign of apartheid, arrest, torture and ethnic cleansing against its indigenous people, the Palestinians.

This video comes from Breadtube’s European All-Stars, with speakers including the Spanish Javi, Amelia Jane, Brit Kevin Logan, and Paul Morrin. It’s done with humour, with Javi himself opening the video with a piece in Spanish explaining to his compatriots that they are to hang on, because they’re experiencing cultural difficulties. But it’s very solidly factual, and presents a powerful, irrefutable argument why decent people should not go to Israel and should boycott the Song Contest.

Amelia Jane begins by describing the Song Contest’s origins. It’s staged by the European Broadcasting Union, and was devised to pull the various European nations together after the Second World War. It’s gone from a very upper class oriented event to something rather more democratic. It’s now campy and so LGBTQ positive that it’s almost the precursor to the full Pride parades later in the year.

Despite the EBU’s claim that it is apolitical, the contest has always had its share of controversies, and even the existence of state broadcasters like the EBU in an age of post-Milton Friedman neoliberalism is controversial. Turkey pulled out of the contest a few years ago in protest at two women kissing during one of the pieces. But before that, Austria refused to broadcast it following the inclusion of Franco’s Spain. The ghastly thug was using it to open up his Fascist state to the rest of the world. Since the fall of Communism, it’s included a number of states that were in the former Soviet Union, with the exception of Russia itself. These are using the Song Contest to position themselves as more liberal, progressive, and oriented towards north-west Europe and the free market.

It’s also expanded far beyond the conventional boundaries of Europe. Since the beginning its included Israel, but now also includes Morocco and Australia. This was supposed to be only for a single time, but has somehow continued.

Here Kevin Logan takes up the narrative, talking about Israel as a colonialist, apartheid state. He states that it is a colonialist state, that took over a large proportion of Palestinian territory after the war of 1948 and the departure of the British. It is a religious state, where Jews are the privileged citizens. The indigenous Arabs, however, have been subjected to continuing arrest, massacre and ethnic cleansing. Those who remain in Israel are subjected to a form of apartheid. He states that current technology means that the Israelis cannot hide their atrocities, which include the arrest and torture of children as young as five. He compares this with apartheid South Africa, which also experienced boycotts in sport, the arts and elsewhere in protest at its racism.

This part of the video shows clips of the Israeli forces doing precisely what Logan describes, including arresting small children and a journo shot by the IDF. And to show what ordinary Israelis think of Islam and Palestinians, he shows clips from Abby Martin’s Empire Files, in which various young Israelis declare their hatred of Islam, desire to see Arabs and Israelis segregated, and that the whole of Palestine is theirs and Jews and Arabs should not intermarry, because they are God’s Chosen People.

Phil Morrin then takes over to show how the Israelis are turning to the arts and culture to burnish their very soiled image. He explains what green-, art-, and pinkwashing are. Greenwashing would be if the IDF tried to convince the world that it was now a progressive, caring organisation by putting its squaddies on a vegan diet. He declares that the real vegans wouldn’t be impressed, and would say that the diet was merely plant-based. Similarly, the Israeli state has also used Eurovision and queer issues to try to present itself as more humane and progressive than it really is. This was twenty years ago, when the Israeli contestant was bearded woman Dana International. Actually, I though International was really a pre-operative transsexual, meaning that she was biologically male, rather than completely female at that point. And then the other year their entry was a song about resisting bullying, performed by a plus-sized singer determined to combat stereotypes about body size. He wonders how that would have gone down with the 27 people the Israelis shot that year, which actually was one of the quietest.

The video ends with a call for people to get involved with the boycott campaign and stay away from Israel in order to overturn it, and create a Palestine, which is free, democratic, and where all its citizens enjoy equal rights. And this includes the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. It may not do much, but the Eurovision Song Contest now has such cachet that Madonna wanted to take part and was denouncing people, who were urging its boycott. Okay, Javi says, they’ve got Madonna, but we’ve got Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd. So the guitar on our side is better, but probably not the dancing. The video ends with Javi appealing for donations.

I’ve no doubt that this video, posted on May 7th, has already got the Zionists’ teeth gnashing. It’s precisely the kind of material that will have the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Board of Deputies, and the various parties’ ‘Friends of Israel’ all screaming ‘anti-Semitism’, including Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement. The groups, who howl with outrage at anyone, who dares to suggest that Israel has no right to exist as a state that declares itself as the homeland of the Jews, while denying the Palestinians a right to their homeland, or to live as equal citizens in a religiously and racially neutral Israel. But this doesn’t stop the video being true, and its arguments valid.

And Israel and its supporters are ultimately behind the anti-Semitism smears against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, and the foul lies against decent, anti-racists and campaigners and anti-Semitism and Fascism like Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Mike Sivier, Martin Odoni, Tony Greenstein, Cyril Chilson, and so many, many others.

Given how the Israeli state and its craven supporters have behaved to Mike and the rest, I don’t even want to see it on TV. Go boycott it, even if you’ve no intention of going to Israel anyway. Watch something on the other channels, or put in a DVD, listen to a CD, go on YouTube, play footie, snooker, go down the pub. Do anything, in fact, but give your precious time and attention to Israel’s efforts to divert the world’s attention away from its true, horrific, Fascist reality.

 

 

 

 

Yay! David R. Bunch’s ‘Moderan’ Now Back in Print

May 7, 2019

Bit of good news for fans of classic SF. Looking through the Cheltenham branch of Waterstone’s last week, I found that David R. Bunch’s Moderan was now in print. This was published in 1971, and is really a series of vignettes originally published in small magazines, as well as the big SF mags Amazing and Fantastic. These are set in a future in which organic humanity has decided that its reached the end of its natural evolution, and to evolve further it must transform itself into machines. This process is described as it affects the hero, Stronghold 10. The style is superficially sympathetic to heighten what the reality of what this new, cyborg humanity has become: immortal, but paranoid with each stronghold at war with their neighbours.

Brian Aldiss gives as sample paragraph of Bunch’s prose style, which explains the background to the novel, in his and David Wingrove’s history of SF, The Trillion Year Spree:

Now, to turn tedious for a time, this is what happened. Flesh-man had developed to that place on his random Earth-ball home where it was to be the quick slide down to oblivion. All the signs were up, the flags were out for change for man and GO was DOWN. To ENDING. Flesh-man was at the top, far as he could climb as flesh-man, and from there he was certain to tumble. But he had the luck to have these brave good white-maned men in the white smocks, the lab giants, the shoulders, and great-bulged thighs of our progress (what matter if they were weazened, probe-eyed, choleric scheming, little men sometimes – more often than not, REALLY?) authors of so much of man’s development and climb to that place where he was just due to die, expire, destroy himself and his home at this grand stage of development to make new-metal man and set him in the Strongholds upon the plasto-coated Earth that had been man’s random and inefficient home. New-metal replaced flesh (down to the few flesh-strips and those, we hope, may soon be gone) the bones were taken out and new metal rods, hinges and sheets put in (it was easy!) and the organs all became engines and marvellous tanks for scientifically controlled functional efficiency forever. YAY! Don’t you see?! Our Scientists made of life-man (the VERY-STRANGE-accident man) essentially a dead-elements man, one who could now cope with eternity, but he certainly was not a dead man. AH! Heavens no! He was alive! with all the wonderful scienc3e of the Earth ages, and just as functional as anyone could wish. YAY! science, take your plaudits now! You’ve shown what was meant from the beginning for the VERY-STRANGE-accident man. (p.324).

Aldiss states that it’s a technophobic piece in the SF tradition of questioning technological progress that began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Moderan was out of print for a long time, so I’m looking forward to reading it some time. Bunch also wrote poetry in an avant-garde style very much like his prose, though in verse. A collection of his pieces, of which only one or two were SF, The Heartacher and the Warehouseman, was published in the 1990s. The title poem is set in the Moderan world, and is about one of these cyborgs coming to a warehouse carrying his pump in his heart. He complains that he – and all the other cyborgs – have no heart. The cyborg warehouseman, suspicious, retreats behind his armoury of weapons, informing him of all the cyborg bits and pieces they have, like hearts and mechanical fingers. But he fails to understand the man’s real complaint – that their civilisation has no heart in the metaphorical sense. The warehouseman drives the Heartacher away, but wonders what will happen to him as he retreats back into his cubby-hole.

It’s one of those pieces that was acutely relevant in the 1990s, when there was much talk among the chattering classes of transhumanism and cyborgisation. It was the decade when Radio 3 broadcast the series Grave New Worlds examining these possibilities through interviews with writers, artists and scientists, including Paul J. McAuley, J.G. Ballard and the Australian performance artist, Stelarc, who really has tried to turn himself into a cyborg in performances in which he wired himself up to the net, so that images found online would work his body automatically through galvanic stimulators some Borg organic puppet, and by giving himself a third, cybernetic arm. It’s still relevant as prosthetic limbs continue to improve. While these are an immense benefit to those, who have lost their real limbs through accident or disease, it does raise the question of how far this process can go and humans become the cyborgs of SF. This was the central question David Whittaker was pondering when he created Dr. Who’s cybermen. Bunch’s novel also seems to have influenced one of the writers of Dr. Who Magazine way back in the ’70s. One of the comic strips, Throwback: The Soul of a Cyberman, was about a cyberman, who had some how retained his emotions and compassion. The story was set on the planet ‘Moderan’. And in the 1980s the British space scientist, Duncan Lunan, expressed concerns that people, who were heavily reliant on medical machines suffered a loss of creativity when he explored the possibility of similar mergers between humans and machines in his class Man and the Planets.

I’m glad that this lost classic is back in print. But still more than a little annoyed that it, and other SF works like it, are overlooked by the literary crowd in favour of those by ‘literary’ authors like Ian McEwan. Sorry to ride this old hobby-horse again, but a few weeks ago there was an interview with McEwan in the I. The newspaper mentioned to him that Science Fiction fans were upset about him denying that his book was part of the genre. McEwan repeated his sentiment, saying it wasn’t SF, but was based on him considering real world issues. Well, so is much Science Fiction, all the way back to Frankenstein. Aldiss has praised it as the first real work of Science Fiction as it was based on science as it was known at the time. This was Galvani’s experiments making the severed legs of frogs twitch and move through electricity. McEwan’s attitude shows the basic contempt of many literary authors and critics for the genre. They’re keen to borrow its tropes, but sneer at it as essentially trivial fantasy, unlike the serious stuff they’re writing. Much SF is, and doesn’t pretend otherwise. But there is a very large amount which isn’t, and which deserves to be taken as seriously as so-called ‘serious’ literary works like McEwan’s.