Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

Keir Starmer Now Leader of the Labour Party and the Omens Are Not Good

April 6, 2020

Saturday was Jeremy Corbyn’s last day as the leader of the Labour Party. He stepped down with good grace, sending Labour members a letter thanking them for their support and looking back on his achievements. Although he never won an election, they were considerable. In 2017 he came within a cat’s whisker of achieving power. Decades of Thatcherite neoliberal dogma were vociferously challenged by a leader who believed in its ordinary members, and in actually doing something for the working class. He put renationalisation back on the table, as well as restoring union power, better working conditions and employment rights, and a properly funded NHS. And he gave people hope. Hundreds of thousands of people, who had left or perhaps never been members, flocked to join Labour under his leadership so that it became the biggest socialist party in Europe. And the situation with the Tories was reversed. Previously the Tories had been easily the biggest political party in terms of membership. But they’ve been hemorrhaging members due to their leadership’s absolute refusal to listen to them, rather than the corporate donors that are actually keeping the party afloat. Tory membership dwindled as Labour expanded.

This terrified the Tories, and the Blairites in the Labour party, who could feel their hold in power slipping away. So they began a campaign of vicious personal vilification and smearing. Corbyn, a man of peace and fervent anti-racist, was misrepresented as an anti-Semite and friend of terrorists. Corbyn’s own programme was pretty much the Old Labour centre ground, but he was presented as an extremist, a Trotskyite, or Stalinist Commie. He frightened the corrupt Jewish establishment through his support for the Palestinians, and so they fell back on their old tactic of smearing any and all critics of Israel as anti-Semites. He was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism and his supporters purged from the party on charges that would not stand up in a formal court of law. The Blairites fully participated in this. Whenever the Beeb or the rest of the Tory media needed someone to attack Corbyn, a Blairite could be found to scream and shout baseless accusations. They tried to split the party, overthrow him in coups, but the mass walkout they tried to engineer never happened. One of their coup attempts was so shambolic it was derisively called ‘the chicken coup’. The new, centrist party they tried to set up was a joke from the start. It gathered little more than a few members, before fizzling out.

But these campaigns had their effect. Labour lost heavily at the last election. The key issue was Brexit, with people in the north and midlands voting for the Tories because of Boris’ promise to get Brexit done. Labour’s policies of welfare improvement and renationalisation were still immensely popular,  but the abuse, lies and personal attacks had done their work. The public hated Corbyn, but if you asked them why, they couldn’t tell you. Which shows the malignant power of a mendacious, corrupt and despicable mass media.

Corbyn and his deputy, John McDonnell, have stepped down, and the party has instead replaced him with Keir Starmer as leader and Angela Rayner as deputy. It’s a lurch to the right, back to the Blairite status quo ante. Starmer has many admirable qualities. He is known for his pro bono work as a human rights lawyer, in which he took on cases for nothing. One of his clients was Doreen Lawrence, who gave him her support for his efforts on her and her former husband’s behalf trying to get their son’s killer to face justice. Starmer’s victory was almost a foregone conclusion. The press made much of the fact that he was the favourite from the first round of voting, with the support of many of the trade unions and local constituency parties.

But Starmer is a Blairite. He has promised to keep to the manifesto promises drawn up by Corbyn’s team, but it’s doubtful whether this can be trusted. As a Blairite, his instinct will be to pull the party further right – to what is mistakenly called ‘the centre ground’. He will probably jettison the promises about nationalisation, workers’ rights, a welfare state that actually gives people enough to live on, and a properly funded NHS in order to return to Blair’s tactics of triangulation. That meant finding out what the Tories were doing, then copy it. He will most likely purge the party of left-wingers, leaving it the much smaller, Tory-lite party created by Blair. And like Blair he will grovel to Murdoch and the rest of the press. Mike put up an article voicing these predictions a few days ago, and I’m very much afraid that it does look as if that’s what he’s going to do. And he won’t win back the voters Labour lost in the midlands and north. They wanted Brexit, and they turned against Labour when Starmer and his supporters insisted that it should be Labour’s policy to hold another referendum about Brexit.

There are already indications that this is the way he will go. He’s appointed to a cabinet place the odious Rachel Reeves, who has declared that Labour shouldn’t be a party for the unemployed. She announced that Labour was founded by working people, for working people, and so in power would be harder on the unemployed than the Conservatives. Well, when Labour had that attitude before the War, back in the last century, it set up what were basically forced Labour camps for the unemployed. Does she want a return to that? Or just have more people starve, as they are under the Tories.

He has also made the disastrous decision to kowtow to the Zionist organisations promoting the anti-Semitism smears. All of the candidates signed up to the demands by the Board of Deputies of British Jews for the immediate mass expulsion, with no right to any proper defence or representation, and excommunication from current members for those accused of anti-Semitism. Starmer has announced he’s determined to root out anti-Semitism in party, and has gone to meet organisations like the Board, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement. This meeting pointedly does not include the Jewish groups, that genuinely stand for socialism and which have supported Labour and Corbyn throughout – Jewdas, Jewish Voice for Labour, the Jewish Socialist Group. Starmer no doubt feels that he is clearing up the issue of anti-Semitism once and for all, but he’s just played into their hands. The loathsome Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has welcomed the move, but demanded that he now censure or expel Corbyn for anti-Semitism. Which shows you just how mean-spirited and vengeful Falter and his ghastly crew are. Starmer is now placed in the unenviable position of either attacking the party’s former leader, which will anger his supporters and lead to mass resignations, or else the CAA, Board and the rest of the scumbuckets will accuse him of being soft on anti-Semitism and kick up another round of abuse and accusations.

And this is not to mention his decision to take up Johnson’s offer and work with him and the Tories in a constructive relationship to combat the Coronavirus. I understand the logic on which it’s based. He wants to be seen as the good guy, putting the needs of the country above party in a show of national unity during the emergency. He’s not the only one who wanted to do this. So did Lisa Nandy. But what will probably happen is that he will share the blame for Boris’ failings, while Boris will take any credit for any positive actions suggested by Labour. That is how the SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour Party – lost when they went into coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Merkel and her party moved left. They took credit for improvements to Germany’s welfare system, like greater benefit payments, which were actually the work of the SPD. But they let the SPD take the blame for their failings. And people will be discouraged to see him and Johnson working together. They will feel that Labour has once again let them down to become another Tory party.

I hope this is not the case, and that Starmer keeps his promises to Labour’s members. And I hope that enough of the left remains in the party to hold him to these promises, and make matters extremely difficult for him if he tries to reject them. But the evidence so far is not good.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/04/04/new-labour-leader-is-keir-starmer-the-party-is-doomed/

Starmer’s first decision as Labour leader: agreement to work WITH the Tories

Starmer’s first purge: anybody in Labour tainted with accusations of anti-Semitism

Outcry as Starmer promotes anti-Semite supporter Rachel Reeves into Shadow Cabinet

 

Tories Have Fiddled the Statistics on Coronavirus Deaths – Is Anyone Surprised?

April 4, 2020

Last Tuesday, 31st March 2020, Mike put up a piece reporting how the Office for National Statistics had caught the Tories fiddling the figures for the numbers of deaths from the Coronavirus to date. According to the government’s figures, the number of dead up to March 20th, the cut off date for the ONS figures, stood at 120. However, they achieved this figure by only counting deaths in hospitals. When the ONS factored these in, the real number of fatalities increased by 23.5 per cent or more, rising to 210. The official death toll at the time Mike put up his article was 1,408. But if the ONS’ estimation of the real figures is correct, then the real number of deaths was 1,739. This assumes that the proportion of deaths in hospitals has remained constant, but as Mike pointed out, it could be much higher.

Mike pointed out in his article that these stats are important, as they show that the government’s figures cannot be trusted. It also means that the government cannot be trusted when it claims that the spread of the virus is slowing. He was concerned that the government would be tempted to lift the lockdown prematurely, which would allow the virus a whole new lease of life.

Coronavirus: UK government death figures are FALSE

Mike wasn’t the only person smelling a rat with the government’s official Coronavirus stats. The previous Thursday, March 26th, Zelo Street put up a piece about how the government’s statistics had mysteriously changed as they altered the rules regarding how the deaths were counted. That Tuesday, the Department for Health and Social Care declared at 15.51 on Twitter that the number of people, who had tested positive for the virus, stood at 8,077 and 422 had died. But on Wednesday the situation appeared to change. At just past a quarter past two, the Department’s Twitter feed announced that the figures would be announced later that afternoon, but reassured readers that they were working hard to compile them. However, the figures were only released on Twitter at 2300 hours, after they had been given to the media. The number of people, who had tested positive was now 9,529, but there had been only 463 deaths in total.

Sienna Rogers of LabourList reported that it had been claimed that the government was changing the way it was releasing the death figures. The numbers of deaths reported may not be the same as the number of deaths that had occurred in the previous 24 hours, as family consent was now required to release the figures. Luke Cooper of the LSE called it what it looks like. He said that family consent was not required if the information was anonymised. This looked like the Tories were fiddling the stats. Chris Smyth of the Times then added that the low figure of the 28 new deaths that had been recorded wasn’t a piece of good news, but the opposite. There were now so many new deaths that the government had changed the cutoff time from 1 pm to 7.30 am. This was supposedly to give the government more time to inform the families and get the details on the locations of the deaths before releasing them. Zelo Street contrasted this with the situation in Italy and Spain, the two countries worst affected, where the hundreds of new deaths are freely reported to the media. The Street concluded that

‘We are told that there is bad news coming down the track; a new NHS facility is being built at the ExCeL centre in London’s Docklands; that facility, NHS Nightingale, has provision for thousands of beds and two morgues; individual reports of deaths are everywhere; TfL staff report scores of their colleagues falling ill from the virus; and the numbers dry up.

This is the stuff from which conspiracy theories spring. Government must come clean.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/virus-stats-is-government-being-honest.html

This, alas, is too much to hope for. The Tories are a party of liars – always have been, always will be. Their record on the unemployment stats abundantly testifies to that. When unemployment under Maggie Thatcher shot up to over 3 million – an unheard of record at that time, the Tories immediately changed the way the unemployment figures were counted in order to make it smaller. And they’ve kept doing it. A few years ago, when Dave Cameron was the latest malign presence squatting in No. 10, it was revealed that they’d changed the way the stats were collected once again. The unemployment figures were based only on those currently claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Which meant that the peeps, who were unemployed but ineligible to sign on, or who had refused to do so because of the humiliating way they were treated by the staff and the infamous ‘work coaches’, who ring you up at home to harangue you into getting work, weren’t included.

This is a government that prefers to hide embarrassing statistics. The DWP under another malign presence, the utterly vile Iain Duncan Smith, fought tooth and nail to stop Mike and the other great disability bloggers from getting the statistics for the number of people, who had died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by the government assessor, outsourcing company Atos. They stonewalled, tried to claim that Mike’s request was vexatious, appealed against the Information Commissioner’s ruling when he ruled in favour of Mike, and, when they finally had no choice but to release the stats, interpreted Mike’s request to give him a slightly different set of figures than those he requested. But these were damning enough, even so.

And the subsequent Tory leaders, Tweezer and now Boris, really don’t like meeting the public. They run away and hide from unexpected meetings and questions from the media. Tweezer’s appearances on the campaign trail were carefully choreographed with selected groups and closed to the general public. So were Johnson’s, who fled when confronted by someone he didn’t expect. Remember how he disappeared into a fridge when he was visiting a dairy in order to escape questions from a TV journo? And then we had the unedifying spectacle a few months ago of Boris and Cummings trying to divide the media lobby into inner and outer groups. The inner – who were all their loyal supporters – were to be rewarded by being invited to a press conference on Brexit at No. 10. That attempt to control the media didn’t work, as all the media, even those that staunchly support the Tories, immediately balked at such overt, cynical manipulation and walked out in protest.

The Tories are congenital, irremediable liars. No-one should be surprised that they fiddled the stats. They tried to hide the number of deaths of disabled people, who had been falsely declared fit for work. They’ve falsified the unemployment figures. It should come as no surprise that, as they have shown themselves incompetent and out of their depth at handling the Coronavirus crisis, they should be fiddling those statistics too.

And Mike is right. They are a menace. Boris dithered and tried everything possible to delay imposing a lockdown until it was too late, because he was too worried about the economy at the expense of people’s lives. And a sizable proportion of the Tory party and their supporters, like the noxious Brendan O’Neil of Spiked, Toby Young of the Spectator, Trevor Kavanagh of the Scum, still believe that people should sacrificed for the sake of the economy.

There is therefore a very real danger that the Tories will use the falsified stats to justify lifting the lockdown prematurely, and so starting off a new wave of illness and deaths.

Literary Authors on the Occupation of Palestine

March 31, 2020

Michael Chabon, ed., Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (Fourth Estate 2017).

This is another book I found in the Postscript catalogue for April, 2020. It seems to be a collection of pieces by prominent western literary types dealing criticising the occupation of Palestine. The blurb for it runs

Edited in cooperation with Breaking the Silence, an NGO of former Israeli soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories, this collection of essays reflects on the human cost of 50 years of occupation, conflict and destruction in the West Bank and Gaza. The contributors include such celebrated international writers as Mario Vargas Llosa, Colm Toibin, Eimear McBride, Hari Kunzru, Dave Eggers and Rachel Kushner.

It’s usual price is £12.99, but they’re offering it at £4.99.

Michael Chabon’s the author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which seems to be a fictional version of the creation of the superhero comic by two Jewish lads in ’30s America. Which is how Superman started, and immediately became a massive success and icon of modern American popular culture. More recently, he’s the showrunner for Star Trek: Picard, the latest installment in the Star Trek franchise. This has been massively pilloried by fans because it has moved away from the Utopian optimism of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, to become dark and dystopian. It is also very heavy-handed in its treatment of contemporary politics, such as immigration, Donald Trump and Brexit. And it’s terribly written. But it seems that Chabon has done excellent work here in compiling this volume, with its contributions from some very prominent writers. Mario Vargas Llosa is a giant of South American literature, Colm Toibin is a favourite of the British and Irish literary landscape, as is Hari Kunzru, and Dave Eggers is another famous literary name.

As for Breaking the Silence, they’re one of the many Israeli groups against the country’s brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians, like the human rights organisation B’Tsalem, that Netanyahu has raged against and tried to silence. Because the extreme right-wing Israeli establishment, as it stands, really cannot tolerate criticism from Jews, even when they are Zionists and/or domestic citizens. They have to be monstrous autocrats like Netanyahu. Who I’ve heard described by one Jewish academic as ‘that bastard Netanyahu’. None of these writers are anti-Semites and the book seems to be a successor to previous volumes by historians, writers and personalities attacking the occupation of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. One of the Jewish voices condemning the bombardment of Gaza nearly a decade ago was the respected British thesp, Miriam Margolyes. She said she spoke ‘as a proud Jew, and as an ashamed Jew’. This lost her the friendship of Maureen Lipman, who has spent the last five years ranting about how anti-Semitic the Labour party is. She began spouting this nonsense back in 2015 or thereabouts when the-then leader of the Party, Ed Miliband, who is Jewish, utter some mild criticism of Israel and dared to take a few steps away from Blairism.

Books like these are necessary, and they do seem to have an effect. The woefully misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism was set up in 2012 because the Zionist faction in Britain were worried about the bombardment of Gaza had resulted in Israel losing the support of many severely normal Brits. It’s why the organisation seems to spend its time and energy not on pursuing and attacking real anti-Semites and Fascists, but mostly left-wing critics of Israel.  It’s why the Israel lobby is trying to close down criticism of Israel worldwide through contrived definitions of anti-Semitism like that of the IHRA, which include criticism of Israel.

It’s great that books like this are still being published despite the efforts of the Israel lobby to silence their authors and the principled Israeli organisations that work with them. And it’s a disgusting scandal that, in 2020, they should still be crying out against this glaring injustice.

Mail on Sunday Blames EU for BoJob Catching Coronavirus

March 31, 2020

Here’s a question: how utterly bonkers and desperate is the Mail’s and its sister paper’s hatred of the EU? From last Sunday’s edition of the Mail on Sunday, pretty desperate and insane indeed. The paper devoted a two-page spread to claiming that the EU’s Michel Barnier may have infected Boris. No, there’s no evidence for this, no spokesman has come forward to say that it’s true. The paper just says that it’s a ‘theory’. Which I presume is the Mail on Sunday’s way of saying that they made it up, but want it to look credible. We officially left the EU at the end of January, though we’re still in the transition period. We really can’t blame the European Union for our problems any more. Or at least, we can’t blame them for Johnson coming down with the Coronavirus. It’s his own fault. He meets countless people every day, and shook hands with them against the advice of the experts. He knew better, you see, and decided that all you needed to stop yourself coming down with it was to wash your hands. Well, now that he’s got it and is self-isolating in No. 10, he knows better. But the MoS just can’t let all that hate go, and still has to blame someone for BoJob’s failings and illness. So it has to be the EU.

And if that wasn’t enough xenophobia, there was another two-page spread by the vile Iain Duncan Smith blaming the virus on China and demanding ‘a reckoning’. ‘We must stop kowtowing to these despots’, he thunders. The use of the term ‘kowtow’ is almost certainly deliberate. It’s from the Chinese word for the ‘nine knockings’, the traditional form of prostration before the Emperor or one’s superiors during the Chinese Empire. Naturally, the peeps on Twitter weren’t impressed with this display of blatant bigotry and attempts to deflect blame for the virus onto foreigners. Zelo Street in their article on this quotes a number of them. One of those was Annette Dittert, the London correspondent for German broadcaster ARD. And the Sage of Crewe also makes the point that this is all about trying to find someone else to blame for BoJob’s failure to tackle the disease. The Street comments

Our free and fearless press knows that the crisis response from alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was hesitant, slow – and late. He knew what was unfolding in Italy, the actions that were being taken in China, the mass testing that was being enacted in Germany, and he knew more needed to be done to properly equip the NHS for the onslaught of sick and indeed dying patients. He dithered and delayed.

Absolutely. But the MoS has seriously miscalculated the effect their pieces have had on the British public. I don’t doubt that many of their readers will have been taken in, and there is a certain section of the right that sides with Trump when he says that the Chinese should be made to pay. But for many other people, these two pieces have just shown how freakishly ridiculous the rag is. One commenter on Twitter, Martin Rowson, compared the newspaper to a mutant dog kept in pickle jar in Ripley’s ‘Believe It Or Not’ freak show. It’s a deformed creature that elicits amazement, disgust and laughter rather than being taken anywhere near seriously.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/mail-on-sunday-says-eu-done-it.html

Iain Duncan Smith Denounces Plan to Introduce Universal Basic Income

March 30, 2020

Universal Basic Income, the scheme by which governments give a specified guaranteed income to all their citizens regardless of personal wealth or employment, has been widely discussed in recent years. I think some countries may already have such schemes in place, and there might be a programme about it this week on Radio 4. It was also one of the ideas mooted to help people out of their financial difficulties caused by the Coronavirus lockdown. Ten days ago, on Friday, 20th of March 2020, Mike put up a piece reporting that Boris Johnson was then considering the idea. And not only that, the idea had the support of some British industrialists, like Liam Kelly, the chair of the Baltic Triangle group of companies. Kelly said that the scheme wasn’t quite as radical as dropping money from a helicopter, but was a plausible solution to the problem of the present crisis. He said “It will help stave off the unprecedented economic challenges we face and protect us from another. This is a sensible fiscal stimulus and it’s time it went directly to the people, not just to the banks.” This might be a reference to one of the criticisms of the government’s financial bailout of the 2008 banking crash. The money went to the banks, who have carried on as before. Some critics have said that what Brown should have done instead is given the money to the public, so that their spending would solve the crisis the bankers had created. Who would have to face the consequences of the massive financial bubble they had created, rather than expect everyone else to bear the costs imposed through austerity while they continued to enrich themselves.

One voice, however, spoke against this scheme: Iain Duncan Smith. The pandemic has had a profound personal effect on some people. It’s brought out the best in them, as friends and relatives rally round to look after those, who are too vulnerable to do things for themselves like go shopping. IDS, however, has remained untouched by this. He still remains a shabby, deplorable excuse for a human being. In an article in the Torygraph stuck behind a paywall – because the Tories don’t let the proles getting anything for free – IDS issued his criticisms of the scheme. He blandly stated that the scheme would make no difference to the financial problems of low-income households and would not alleviate poverty. For which he provided no evidence whatsoever. He also said that it would disincentive work, and cost an astronomic amount of money. This is despite the scheme being budgeted at £260 billion, which is £70 billion less than the £330 billion Rishi Sunak has already imposed.

Mike says of … Smith’s appalling attitudes that they come from a man, who seems to believe that the solution to poverty is killing the poor themselves. Why else, Mike asks, would he have imposed policies that have pushed the vulnerable so deeply into poverty that many have died.

Mike also makes the point that he’s also trying to protect his own political vanity projects, like the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credit, PIP and ESA assessments, which would all become redundant with the introduction of UBI. Mike concludes

And he wants to ensure that we do not get to see the beneficial effects of UBI, even if it is only brought in for a brief, experimental period.

It seems clear that, while the Tories are claiming to be doing what they can in the face of the crisis, the evil that motivates them remains as strong as it ever was.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/03/20/coronavirus-trust-iain-duncan-smith-to-try-to-wreck-our-chances-of-survival/

This is absolutely correct, though it can be added that the Gentleman Ranker isn’t afraid of seeing his own political legacy discarded, but the whole Tory attitude to poverty and the question of wealth redistribution. The Republicans in America and the Tories over here hate redistributive welfare policies. The rich, they believe, should be left to enjoy their wealth, ’cause they created it and its all theirs, and the poor should have to work for their money. If they can’t work, or are poor, it’s because of some fault of their own – they’re idle, or simply don’t have the qualities to prosper in the meritocratic society created by unfettered market capitalism. And since Maggie Thatcher, Tory and Blairite welfare policy is based on the assumption that a large percentage of people claiming disability or unemployment benefit are workshy scroungers. Hence the fitness to work tests, in which it has been claimed that the assessors are instructed to find a certain percentage fit, because Tory ideology demands that they do. Even if in reality they are severely disabled, terminally ill, or in some cases actually dead. This also applies to Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit, and the system of sanctions attached to them. It’s all the principle of less eligibility, by which the process of claiming benefit is meant to be as harsh, difficult and degrading as possible in order to deter people from doing it. It is designed to make them desperate for any job, no matter how low paid or degrading. Or if they cannot work, then they are expected to find some other way to support themselves or die. The death toll from benefit sanctions runs into hundreds, and the total death toll from Tory austerity is 120,000, or thereabouts. And many of these deaths are directly attributable to IDS’ wretched, murderous policies.

If Universal Basic Income were to be introduced and shown to be a success, it would effectively discredit Tory welfare policy. The idea that state welfare stops people from looking for work has been a Tory nostrum since before Thatcher. But with Thatcher came the belief that conditions for the poor should be made harder in order to make them try to do well for themselves. I can remember one Tory, or Tory supporter, actually saying that on the Beeb during Thatcher’s tenure of No. 10. But these ideas would be seriously damaged if UBI were successfully implemented. It would also help undermine the class system the Tories are so keen to preserve by closing the gap between rich and poor through state action, rather than market forces. Which, indeed, have never done anything of the sort and have only created glaring inequalities in wealth.

Iain Duncan Smith couldn’t bear to see this all discredited. And so to stop this, he blocked UBI, even though it offered a plausible solution to some of the financial difficulties people are suffering.

Which shows you exactly how despicable he is, and how devoted to the maintenance of a welfare system that has done nothing but push people into poverty, starvation and death.

 

 

Radio 3 Series Next Week on Paul Robeson

March 26, 2020

Radio 3’s The Essay next week is doing a series of programmes on Paul Robeson. The show’s called ‘The Essay: Paul Robeson in Five Songs’, and is on from Monday to Friday at 10.45 pm. The short description of the series by David McGillivray on page 122 of the Radio Times runs

The turbulent life of Paul Robeson, the American performer whose career was shamefully curtailed by racism and anti-Communist hysteria, is reflected in five of his songs in a series of essays through the week. His was one of the most magnificent bass baritone voices of the 20th century, and the story behind his biggest hit, Ol’ Man River, is told by his granddaughter tomorrow [Tuesday]. Robeson’s most sustained success in films was in the UK but mostly the roles offered him were demeaning and he turned to political activism. The trade union ballad, Joe Hill (Friday) provides a melancholic epitaph.

Here are the blurbs for the individual episodes by day.

Monday.

No More Auction Block

The life and struggles of New Jersey-born bass-baritone singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) are explored through five of his songs. Robeson’s signature performances include Show Boat and Othello, but spirituals defined his early career, and in 1925, Robeson and his accompanist Lawrence Brown turned them into “art music”. In this first installment, scholar and professor of black music Shana Redmond explores the ways in which Robeson’s performances of No More Auction Block map his own struggles.

Tuesday

Ol’ Man River

Susan Robeson explores the personal and political aspects of the song that is forever identified with her grandfather  – Ol’ Man River, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein expressly for Robeson for their groundbreaking 1927 musical Show Boat. But the singer would not wrap his unique voice around it  until the following year in the London production. He would have a lasting and complex relationship with the song, especially as a black superstar performing for white audiences. “My grandfather transformed Ol’ Man River from a song of submission and despair into a song of resistance.”

Wednesday

The Canoe Song

Paul Robeson and film should have been a perfect fit. The 20th Century’s first black superstar had presence, voice and fierce intelligence that projected from the screen. British audiences adored him, but for Robeson cinema was a constant betrayal of his political idealism. Matthew Sweet considers the confusing threads that make up Zoltan Korda’s 1935 Empire flag-waver Sanders of the River, which still hummed to the astonishing power of Robeson’s voice in the Canoe Song, prompting British audiences to declare him as “our Paul”. 

Thursday

Zog Nit Keynmol

When Paul Robeson stood before a Moscow audience on the evening of 14th June 1949 in the Tchaikowski Hall, few expected to hear him perform the Yiddish Partisan song Zog Nit Keynmol (Never Say). His rendition of this fierce anthem of defiance, composed in the middle of Nazi slaughter, was thick with emotion, and at the end the crowd either fiercely applauded or booed. Robeson had sung for those he knew were already murdered, imprisoned or facing death as a new wave of Stalinist repression against Soviet Jews was underway. Nigerian-born actor and singer Tayo Aluko explores Robeson’s torment and contradictory emotions that make this performance so dramatic.

Friday

Joe Hill

London-based cultural historian Marybeth Hamilton summons up the ghosts of both Earl Robinson’s 1936 song Joe Hill – about the Swedish-American labour activist – and Paul Robeson as she explores the ways Robeson was so completely erased from culture and memory for many Americans. “If any one song in Robeson’s repertoire sums up those histories of denial silencing it is Joe Hill.

Paul Robeson – one of the left-wing giants of the 20th century. I had a very left-wing aunt, who was a massive fan of Robeson. She would have loved this. I also wondered if all the Israel-critical Jews smeared and vilified by the Israel lobby shouldn’t sing Zog Nit Keynmol. From what I gather from reading David Rosenberg’s and Tony Greenbstein’s blog’s, the greatest resistance against the Nazis, including the Warsaw ghetto, came from the anti-Zionist Bund. The Zionists all too often made deals with the Nazis, as when the Zionist newspaper, the Judischer Rundschau, praised the Nazi Nuremberg Laws and urged its readers to ‘wear your yellow stars with pride.” Or when Rudolf Kasztner, the head of the Zionists in occupied Hungary, cut a deal with the Nazis whereby tens of thousands were deported to Auschwitz in return for a few being allowed to emigrate to Israel.

The Eugenicist Attitude to the Coronavirus: the Buck Stops with Boris

March 25, 2020

Earlier this week, I got a message from Labour leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy urging everyone to put their political differences,including trade unions and employers, and unite to tackle the current emergency. I’d agree with her, if I had faith in the current government. If I believed that Boris Johnson was a competent Prime Minister, who was also deeply concerned to protect the lives and livelihoods of everyone in this great nation. But I cannot honestly say that he is. And one of the reasons that he isn’t is that he let the government’s policy to the virus outbreak be determined by his pet polecat, Dominic Cummings. 

The Sunday Times astonished the British public last Sunday by revealing that the government’s attitude to the spread of the virus had been decided by Bojob’s favourite polecat, Dominic Cummings. And Cummings had decided that it should be tackled by allowing the British public to develop herd immunity. The virus was to be allowed to spread throughout the population, so that people became naturally immune. Biologists, doctors, and epidemiologists warned instead that this wouldn’t work. It has only ever been achieved using vaccination, and if the virus was allowed to spread, it could result in the deaths of a quarter of million people. Its victims would be chiefly the old and the already sick. Tragically, as we’re seeing now, its victims also include young, previously healthy people in their 20s and 30s. Cummings had told people privately that his chief concern was to protect the economy, and if a few old people died, too bad. It’s a disgusting attitude, and Zelo Street was exactly right in his article about it when he says that it places Cummings’ beyond the pale, and that he has to be removed and a public inquiry held afterwards.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/dominic-cummings-fan-hits-shit.html

Cummings’ attitude is rooted in eugenics. This views humans in very coarse, crudely Darwinian terms. For the race to improve, superior stock must be allowed and encouraged to breed. The inferior are to be weeded out through natural selection – they are either to be allowed to die through disease or their own mental and physical handicaps, or sterilised. In the 19th century, the American corporate elite advanced eugenicist arguments to prevent the government passing what would now be called ‘health and safety’ legislation. It was worse than useless to try to improve the condition of the poor with public welfare. The poor were sick and disabled not through poor working or living conditions, but simply because they were biologically unfit. Any attempt to improve their conditions would only result in the biologically inferior breeding, and so contaminating the rest of the human stock. By the 1920s, about 25 American states had passed legislation providing for the compulsory sterilisation of the disabled. The policy was enthusiastically adopted by the Nazis, who boasted that they were making absolutely no innovations. They took it to its horrific conclusion, however, with the SS’ murder of the insane and mentally handicapped in special clinics. A policy that prepared the way for the Holocaust and the wholesale murder of the Jews with cyanide gas.

And the Tories seem to be permeated through and through with eugenicist attitudes. They were forced to sack Andrew Sabisky as one of Bojob’s aides because he held similar noxious views. Toby Young, the Spectator journalist and media sleaze, lost his job on Tweezer’s board, set up to represent students, after it was revealed he was also a eugenicist. Tobes had attended conferences at University College London on eugenics, where real anti-Semites, racists and Nazis gathered. And Maggie’s mentor, the loathsome Keith Joseph, caused outrage in the 1970s when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’.

This doesn’t mean that the Tories actively want to round up the disabled and long term sick. But it does explain their absolute complacency about 120,000 deaths or so that have occurred through their austerity, including their obstinate refusal to abandon a policy that is killing people. Cummings should not, of course, have ever been allowed to decide that the government should favour the economy at the expense of ordinary people’s lives. But as Mike also pointed out in an article he posted on Monday, the buck ultimately stops with Bojob. It was Bojob who told the British people that many of them would lose loved ones before their time, when he had not then taken the ‘social distancing’ measures he’s now been forced to adopt to slow down the virus – the closure of schools, pubs, clubs, leisure facilities and social gatherings. And so while the media talked about the Polecat’s horrendous attitude, other peeps on Twitter knew where the real culpability lay. And one woman, MrsGee, probably spoke for many when she said Johnson should resign.

Bid to blame Tory coronavirus strategy on Cummings is baloney. The buck stops with Boris

There’s no question that people’s lives should come before the economy. They were debating precisely this kind of situation in the 19th century. The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, even wrote a piece about it. In one of his plays, the leaders of a spa town are faced with a dilemma. The spa is in the grip of a cholera epidemic, but they are unwilling to close the spa down because of the income it provides the community. Perhaps we would be better governed, and our leaders had been truly prepared for this crisis, if sometime during their education they’d actually read Ibsen or seen the play performed.

But I don’t think Johnson is any too interested in modern Continental literature. He’d rather see what the classics have to say about things and compare himself to Caesar and Churchill.

Radio 4 Adaptation on Saturday of Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’

March 25, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times, Radio 4 next Saturday, 28th March 2020, is broadcasting an adaptation of Jules Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’ at 3.00 pm. The blurb for it runs

‘Drama: To the Ends of the Earth: the Mysterious Island

Three very different people escape the American Civil War by stealing a balloon – which crashes near a deserted island. But perhaps it is not quite as deserted as they think. Gregory Evan’s dramatisation of Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’

What struck me about this is that Captain Nemo is played by an Asian actor, Sagar Arya. There’s a bitter controversy at the moment over ‘forced diversity’, the term used for writers, directors and producers altering the gender and race of established characters in order to make traditional, or long-established stories, plays, films or TV series more multicultural, feminist or otherwise inclusive. It might be thought that this is another example, but it would be wrong.

In an interview with Alan Moore I found on YouTube a few months ago, the comics legend behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and a series of other strips and graphic novels, explained why he made Nemo an Indian prince in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The comic, which was made into a film a little while ago starring Sean Connery, imagines a kind of late 19th – early 20th century superhero group formed by Alan Quartermain, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, Mr Hyde, and Captain Nemo. The group travels on their adventures in Nemo’s ship, the Nautilus. The strip was drawn by 2000 AD art robot, Kevin O’Neill, whose art back in the 1980s for an edition of the Green Lantern Corps was judged too horrific for children by the late, unlamented Comics Code. So far, however, I have heard of no-one being left psychologically scarred by his art on The League. Moore stated that he made Nemo Indian, with O’Neill’s art consequently showing the Nautilus’ interior decorated with Indian art and architectural motifs, because that is exactly how Verne described him in The Mysterious Island. He wasn’t at all like James Mason in the Disney movie.

Now I dare say that the Beeb may very well have chosen to adapt The Mysterious Island for radio in order to give this favourite Science Fiction character a new, multicultural twist. But it is faithful to Verne’s original conception of the character. It’ll be interesting to hear what it’s like.

Here’s the video from the AlanMooreVids channel on YouTube, in which Moore talks about the strip. It’s a segment from the BBC 4 series on comics, Comics Britannia. The video shows O’Neill’s art, and the artist himself working. Moore praises his collaborator on the strip, saying that he take the most disturbing of his ideas and make them two or three times more upsetting. But he admires his skill for the grotesque, which in Moore’s view places him up there with the caricaturists Gilray and Hogarth. It’s high praise, but I think Moore’s actually right. If O’Neill had become a caricaturist instead of a comics artist, I think he would be admired as the equal of such greats as Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

Star Trek: Was Gene Roddenberry Influenced by Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ Novels

March 20, 2020

This is just a bit of SF fan speculation before I start writing about the really serious stuff. I’ve just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Pirates of the Asteroids. First published in 1952, this is the second of five novels about David ‘Lucky’ Starr, Space Ranger. In  it, Starr goes after the Space Pirates, who killed his parents and left him to die when he was four. He tries to infiltrate their organisation by stowing away aboard a remote-controlled ship that’s deliberately sent into the asteroids to be attacked and boarded by the pirates. He’s captured, forced to fight for his life in a duel fought with the compressed air push guns NASA developed to help astronauts maneuver during spacewalks. After fighting off an attempt on his life by his opponent, Starr is taken by the pirates to the asteroid lair of a reclusive, elderly man, one of a number who have bought their own asteroids as retirement homes. The elderly man, Hansen, helps him to escape, and the pair fly back to Ceres to meet Starr’s old friends and mentors from the Science Academy. Starr and his diminutive Martian friend, Bigman, decide to return to the old hermit’s asteroid, despite it having disappeared from its predicted position according to Starr’s orbital calculations in the meantime. Searching for it, they find a pirate base. Starr is captured, his radio disabled, and literally catapulted into space to die and the pirates plan to attack his spaceship, left in the capable hands of Bigman. Starr and Bigman escape, travel back to Ceres, which they find has been attacked by the pirates in the meantime, and the hermit, Hansen, captured. Meanwhile Earth’s enemies, the Sirians, have taken over Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. Starr reasons that the pirates are operating in cahoots with them to conquer the solar system, and that the pirates are taking Hansen there. He heads off in hot pursuit, seeking not just to stop the pirates and their leader before they reach Ganymede, but thereby also prevent a devastating war between Earth and Sirius.

In many ways, it’s typical of the kind of SF written at the time. It’s simple fun, aimed at a juvenile and adolescent readership. Instead of using real profanity, the characters swear ‘By space’ and shout ‘Galloping Galaxies’ when surprised or shocked. It also seems typical of some SF of its time in that it’s anti-war. The same attitude is in the SF fiction written by Captain W.E. Johns, the author of the classic ‘Biggles’ books. Johns wrote a series of novels, such as Kings of Space, Now to the Stars, about a lad, Rex, and his friends, including a scientist mentor, who make contact with the civilisation behind the UFOs. These are a race of friendly, humanoid aliens from Mars and the asteroid belt, who befriend our heroes. Nevertheless, there is also an evil villain, who has to be defeated by the heroes. It’s a very long time since I read them, but one thing a I do remember very clearly is the anti-war message expressed by one the characters. The scientist and the other Earthmen are discussing war and the urge for conquest. The scientist mentions how Alexander the Great cried when he reached the borders of India, because there were no more countries left to conquer. The characters agree that such megalomaniac warriors are responsible for all the needless carnage in human history, and we’d be better off without them. This is the voice of a generation that lived through and fought two World Wars and had seen the horror of real conflict. They weren’t pacifists by any means, but they hated war. It’s been said that the people least likely to start a war are those who’ve actually fought in one. I don’t know if Asimov ever did, but he had the same attitude of many of those, who had. It’s in marked contrast with the aggressive militarism of Heinlein and Starship Troopers, and the ‘chickenhawks’ in George W. Bush’s administration way back at the beginning of this century. Bush and his neocon advisers were very keen to start wars in the Middle East, despite having done everything they could to make sure they were well out of it. Bush famously dodged national service in Vietnam. As has the latest incumbent of the White House, Donald Trump.

But what I found interesting was the similarity of some the elements in the book with Star Trek. Roddenberry, Trek’s creator, was influenced by another SF book, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, as well as the ‘Hornblower’ novels. The latter is shown very clearly in Kirk’s character. But I suspect he was also influenced by Asimov as well in details like the Vulcan Science Council, subspace radio and the energy shields protecting Star Trek’s space ships. The Science Council seems to be the chief organ of government on Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan. Which makes sense, as Vulcans are coldly logical and rational, specialising in science, maths and philosophy. But in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books, Earth’s Science Council is also a vital organ of government, exercising police powers across the Terrestrial Empire somewhat parallel to the admiralty.

Communications across space are through sub-etheric radio. This recalls the sub-etha radio in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and shows that Adams probably read Asimov as well. In Star Trek, space communications are through ‘sub-space radio’. The idea of FTL communications isn’t unique to Asimov. In Blish’s Cities in Flight novels, the spacefaring cities communicate through normal radio and the Dirac telephone. The ansible, another FTL communication device, appears in Ursula K. Le Guine’s 1970s novel, The Dispossessed. What is striking here is the similarity of terms: ‘sub-etheric’ and ‘sub-space’. These are similar names to describe a very similar concept.

Star Trek’s space ships were also protected by force fields, termed shields, from micrometeorites and the ray weapons and torpedoes of attacking aliens, like Klingons, Romulans, Orion pirates and other riff-raff. The spacecraft in Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ books are protected by histeresis shields. Histeresis is a scientific term to describe the lag in materials of the effects of an electromagnetic field, if I recall my ‘O’ level Physics correctly. Roddenberry seems to have taken over this concept and imported it into Trek, dropping the ‘histeresis’ bit. And from Trek it entered Star Wars and Science Fiction generally. The idea is absent in the recent SF series, The Expanse. This is set in the 23rd century, when humanity has expanded into space. The Solar System is divided into three political powers/ groups: the Earth, now a united planet under the government of the United Nations, the Mars Congressional Republic, and the Belt, which is a UN protectorate. The Martians have gained their independence from Earth only after a war, while the Belt is seething with disaffection against UN/Martian control and exploitation. The political situation is thus teetering on the brink of system-wide war, breaking out into instances of active conflict. The ships don’t possess shields, so that bullets and projectiles launched by rail guns smash straight through them, and the crews have to dodge them and hope that when they are hit, it doesn’t strike anything vital. The Expanse is very much hard SF, and I suspect the absence of shields is not just the result of a desire to produce proper, scientifically plausible SF, but also a reaction to force fields, which have become something of an SF cliche.

But returning to Asimov’s ‘Space Ranger’ novels, it does seem to me that Roddenberry was influenced by them when creating Star Trek’s universe alongside other SF novels,  just as Adams may have been when he wrote Hitch-Hiker. Asimov’s best known for his ‘Robot’ and ‘Foundation’ novels, which have also been highly influential. But it looks like these other books also exercised a much less obvious, though equally pervasive influence through Roddenberry’s Trek.

Cartoon: Carry on Apprentice

March 14, 2020

Hi, and welcome to another of my cartoons. This is one is a little bit different. I’ve decided to lighten the mood a little bit, and so it’s a bit of a break from satirising the Tory party and its monstrous denizens. This time it’s a mock movie poster for a ‘Carry On’ film of the Beeb’s The Apprentice. It’s because I noticed a certain physical similarity between Alan Sugar and Nick Hewer with Sid James and Kenneth Williams. And I have to say I’d rather watch Joan Sims than Tory shill Karen Brady.

So here it is. The slogan reads ‘There’s no decorum in the boardroom of Alan Nookie PLC’. I’ve also written a number of fake quotes for it like those that appear on movie posters. They are

‘Good rollicking fun’ – The Sun

‘Sheer sexist filth’ – Everyone born after 1980

‘Waugh! Waugh!’ – the late Side James.

I don’t think you could revive the ‘Carry On’ films today, as society has moved on so much from their heyday in the ’60s and ’70s’. The last film, Carry On Columbus, released in 1992 during 50th celebrations of Columbus’ discovery of America, was a flop despite having a cast that included Maureen Lipman, Julian Clary and Alexei Sayle. However, some of that style of humour would still be acceptable. Some of the visual gags in the Austin Powers movies, for example, owe something to the Carry On films and I can’t see some of the other gags causing offence, either. Like the cry of Kenneth Williams’ Julius Caesar in Carry On Cleo as he’s assassinated ‘Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!’ And then there’s that sequence in Carry On Screaming when Harry H. Corbet’s detective and his sidekick, played by Peter Butterworth, try working out on blackboard what the clues mean.

‘Right – is it fair play, or foul?’ asks Corbet.

‘Oh, foul, Inspector’. Corbet writes ‘foul’ on the blackboard.

‘Right, what makes us think it was foul?’

‘The footprints.’

‘Feet, right’. He writes ‘Feet’ on the board. ‘Anything else?’

‘The smell, Inspector’.

‘The smell!’ He write ‘smell on the blackboard.

‘What else?’

‘They saw something, something horrible’.

‘Something horrible’, he writes this on the board.

Corbet stands back. He asks, ‘And so, looking at the board, what have we got?’

Butterworth reads out ‘Foul feet smell something horrible’.

Okay, it’s schoolboy humour, but I still find it funny. And unlike the attitudes in the movies to sex and women, which are very ’70s, that kind of humour and punning could still be included in movies today without causing offence. Possibly also the double entendres. Julian Clary and others have said that they enjoyed the camp humour of radio shows like Round the Horne, which are similar to those of the Carry On films in that regard. This would require far more care, though.

Anyway, I hope this gives you a laugh. And don’t let the Tories give you nightmares.